Wednesday, 8 September 2010

The designer unconstrained

half models by David Spy at
As is well known the major challenge for any designer of racing yachts is exploiting the rating rule. Whether we are talking about America's Cup boats or small restricted design classes whichever yacht goes faster through the water will have a better chance of the gold. Such boats can have great disadvantages, sometimes being quirky and even unsafe. Once outclassed, as they inevitably are, they may have little residual value.

It must come as a welcome relief, therefore, to be asked to design something that is unconstrained by a rule. The designer can then apply his creative ability and experience purely to achieve the requirements of his client.

The picture above shows examples of the work of the three greatest Scottish yacht designers (in my opinion) of all time.

At the top is Thistle, George Lennox Watson's 1887 design for a syndicate of members of the Royal Clyde Yacht Club to challenge for the America's Cup. She was the only one of the three to be built to a rule, the YRA rule of the same year, which was intended to encourage greater beam to produce stiffer yachts than previously. She was 86 feet 4 inches on the waterline.

The designers of the other two did not require to comply with a rule.

The middle yacht is Rosemary IV, designed and built by William Fife III of Fairlie in 1928, when his yard was without an order, to keep the workforce busy. She is 36 feet on the waterline. Having no client to please allowed Fife even more freedom and the design is in my view one of his best, having significantly shorter overhangs than his normal productions.

The yacht at the foot is Alfred Mylne's Islander, also designed in 1928. Not only are the ends much shorter than the designs that Mylne did to a rule, she has much firmer sections than either of my other examples.

When the Clyde Clubs Conference were considering a new design in 1928 Alfred Mylne would have been extremely keen to get it. There was a general recognition that existing classes, such as the 19/24s, whose rules had resulted in some pretty extreme boats and several accidents, should be replaced with a new more wholesome design.

The Conference considered various existing designs, such as Westmacott's Sea View Mermaid and Solent Sunbeams and Alfred Mylne's own Belfast Lough River Class of 1921, before deciding to commission a new Mylne design.

The Conference would have been aware of the success of the Rivers Class and wanted something slightly larger, probably because of the better opportunities for short cruises on the Clyde and the Scottish West coast. The Islander would be 20 feet on the waterline as opposed to the Rivers 18, with the same overall length of 28 feet 6 inches. The sail area would 420 square feet, against the River's 350.

In February 1929 The Yachting Monthly reported that

"The new class has one feature which is a sign of the times, in that the boats will be fitted with auxiliary power and side propellers, those owners who do not wish to carry an engine being required to fit the engine and carry a weight equivalent to that of the engine."

The view was also also expressed that

"fitted with auxiliaries the new boats will not be very fast, particularly in view of their moderate sail spread..."

There is no doubt that with modern sailcloth the boats are nowadays not under-canvassed. The seas are timeless and the short overhangs, buoyant ends and firm sections are still as valid for safe sailing in a small boat as they ever were.

Ace Marine now own the Mylne archives and further information about Alfred Mylne can be found at A Mylne & Co

Alfred Mylne also has an entry on wikipedia here

Alfred Mylne in his prime


  1. In 1893,John Coats Jr.commissioned the great G L Watson, at the height of his career, to create two identical 36ft cutters purely for match racing. These were specifically not to be influenced by any rating rule, truly unconstrained. The result was the delightful clipper-bowed pair Gypsy and Brunette.In his extraordinary busy period,also designing the America's Cup challenger Valkyrie and Britannia II and a steam yacht of 1025 tons for Arthur H E Wood, he also managed to find time to occasionaly helm one of the pair in their frequent Saturday races. My beautiful Peggy Bawn, built the following season as a "fast cruiser" which could also race as a 2.5 Rater, is almost a sistership to the match racers. So she also represents an unconstrained design, from the Golden Age of Yacht design. Indeed her hull shape and hydrostatic paramerers conform closely to the "Britannia Ideal" which, for a sea-kindly sailing craft, persisted as a type right up to the late 1960s, until more powerful auxiliary engines caused sailing yacht design to move in the direction of quasi motor sailers. See also my foreword to Martin Black's "G L Watson--the Art & Science of Yacht Design".
    Hal Sisk
    PS Yachtsmen are slavish followers of fashion and most one designs reflected the style of recent racing craft. An classic example is the Dragon class, with unnecessary long U-shaped overhangs, looking backwards to racing rules which primarily measured waterline length.

    1. Thanks for your comment Hal and I hope you're all well over in Ireland. When I get a chance I'll do an updated post over at on this subject.