Monday, 29 November 2010

Hull Colours again

Followers of this blog will understand that having analysed the racing results for the period to 1935 we are all in need of a little break, so here is something different.

While researching the Thom archive I came across some further information about hull colours. It's never been obvious to me why the original owners took this subject so seriously, but there's evidence that they did, especially when Herbert Thom insisted that a varnished finish was "a colour," which common sense suggests is correct.

The reason Herbert Thom gave in an interview with George Findlay of the Glasgow Herald was simply that a painted hull would accumulate layers of paint and become heavier as the years went by, whereas presumably his boat would be scraped off at the end of the season and refinished in the Spring. I suppose this would also allow the topsides to dry out a bit.

In a letter to Yachting Life in June 1999 Mr Robert S Sharp, son of R K Sharp, the sometime owner of Bernera and Sanda, confirmed the original hull colours as follows:-

Westra           yellow
Cara               mid blue
Bernera          black for one year, then green
Stroma           grey
Sanda            navy blue
Jura               light blue
Fidra             red
Iona              white
Gigha            varnished
Canna           white
Isla               white

To comply with the class rules Iona must have changed colour before Canna arrived. Canna was varnished (JHT again) before Isla arrived.

I'm not going to change Stroma, as I'm fond of her Epifanes green 30.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

1934 Racing Season

winning flags 1934

"As before, Mr J H Thom headed the Scottish Islands class; he won with Gigha last year, and this time has repeated with another and older boat, which shows that it is the man who counts." The Field.

The Glasgow Herald:-

"Mr J H Thom scored a success in Westra, with which he tops the list in the Scottish islands class with 29 flags in 38 starts. His prizes include the Bryce Allan Cup and the No 2 Tarbert Cup."

Need I add more?

The Official Results:-

                                               Starts    1st    2nd    other    total

Westra- J H Thom                       38     20        4         5       29
Sanda- James Buchanan               35       6      11         6       23
Cara- J M Christie                        31      4       11         2       17
Bernera- R K Sharp                     34       2         6         7       15
Stroma- Geo Nisbet                     38       2         1         8       11
Iona- J B Whyte                           19       3         2         3         8
Fidra- A R Keith Thomson           38       1         3         4         8

So we can see that William Russell has sold Sanda to James Buchanan, who has in turn sold Iona to a newcomer to the class, J B Whyte.

A major event in the calendar was the Tarbert Cup Races, held over the first weekend of August. Westra's victory in the No 2 Cup was the first time an Islander had won. Herbert Thom had built a reputation as a heavy weather helm and he was in his element in this demanding race. The Glasgow Herald again:-

"There was a fresh breeze from the south-south-west, with very hard squalls and heavy rain in Loch Fyne. The conditions gave the yachts a hard beat from Hunters Quay... The second division racers found the conditions quieter in the Kyle of Bute than in the firth.....they had a keen race in hard squalls to the finish."

Westra and Sanda
a close race
Cara, Bernera, Westra and Stroma

The 1933 Racing Season

Herbert Thom in his prime

Cara returned to the racing but Westra and Jura still stayed away, leaving a fleet of seven. Gigha didn't get it all entirely her own way, as Sanda ran her a close second. Again the Glasgow Herald:-

"In the Scottish Islands Class Gigha secured the most firsts, but Sanda has the distinction of winning most flags, not only in the class but in the fleet. Some protests towards the end of the season have yet to be decided, and may make some slight alterations in the records."

The reference to protests, that obviously hadn't been quickly resolved, suggests that Islander racing had not been an entirely pleasurable activity for some. The official records show:-

                                         Starts    1st    2nd    other    total

Gigha- J H Thom                    36    14        7         3    24
Sanda- Wm Russell                36    10       11        7    28
Stroma- Geo Nisbet               35      6         4        8    18
Bernera- R K Sharp               33      3         4        6    13
Iona- Jas Buchanan                25      3         5         3    11
Fidra- A R Keith Thomson     32      0         3         1      4
Cara- Dr Christie                    21      0         2         2     4

Sanda's wins include the Bryce Allan Cup

In general we can see that a finishing order has been established by now, with William Russell's Sanda the only boat seriously challenging Gigha. Discontent within the class was now at a height, with much rumouring about Gigha being simply a faster boat. George Jackson's Westra had now missed two seasons and he put her up for sale. When Herbert Thom heard that she had been sold to someone on the Solway he persuaded the purchaser to accept his Gigha instead. The Field's correspondent reports:-

"On the relative performance of the two boats the exchange may seem somewhat surprising. There is only one explanation I can think of. Allegations were sometimes heard that the success of Gigha was accounted for by her out-size. Remeasurement more than once showed that there was no foundation for these statements, but Mr Thom is a good sportsman and I expect that he has taken this course to remove any unpleasantness, no matter how unjustified."

The 1932 Racing Season

Gigha well heeled

1932 saw no new boats joining the fleet, but George Nisbet's Stroma, which had not competed in 1931, returned to the fray. Fidra appears under the flag of Mr A R Keith Thomson, who had either bought or chartered her from Mr Wordie. Mr Thomson was certainly her owner by 1935 and his family's ownership only ended in 1978 with the death of his widow. Westra, Cara and Jura, their owners perhaps dispirited at being beaten most weeks by Herbert Thom, stayed away leaving a diminished fleet.

Once again Gigha was almost unbeatable. The Glasgow Herald reports:-

"Gigha for the second season was champion in the Scottish Islands Class with a total of 27 prizes, including 21 wins, a record for the class. Next in place was Sanda, with Stroma close up, followed by Bernera, Iona and Fidra."

The official results were:-

                                    Starts    1st    2nd    other    total

Gigha- J H Thom                38     21       4         2       27
Sanda- Wm Russell            33       6       7         7       20
Stroma- Geo Nisbet           37       9       5         8       19
Bernera- R K Sharp           31       2     10         3       15
Iona- Jas Buchanan            29       2       6         1         9
Fidra- A R Keith Thomson 17       0       4         1         5

Gigha and Sanda
before the start at Largs
start at Largs 6 August 1932
close finish

The 1931 Racing Season - Arrival of the Yellow Peril

At the start of the season the fleet was joined by two newcomers, James Buchana's Iona, no 8 and Herbert Thom's Gigha, no 9, both built by Alfred Mylne's own Bute Slip Dockyard at Ardmaleish on Bute. Thus while the first five boats had been built by McGruers the next four were all from Bute. An article in Classic Boat from 1995 stated that the two yards used identical sets of moulds for the hulls, but it would be good to have chapter and verse for this, as the article contains a number of inaccuracies, for example stating that the boats had iron keels. This is important, as it is likely that the involvement of two yards gave rise to later accusations about Gigha.
Westra, Sanda, Bernera, Cara, Gigha and Iona

Again I quote from the Glasgow Herald's end of season report:-


...Mr J H Thom dominated the Scottish Islands class with his new boat, Gigha, which had the score of 29 prizes in 33 starts, including 18 firsts. Her wins included the Bryce Allan Cup, and she also won the Coulson Points Cup. Sanda, last year's champion of the class, was the runner-up with 24 flags in 34 races. In addition she won the McBeth Points Prize at the 'Fortnight.' "

The season's records were as follows:-


                                    Starts    1st    2nd    other    total

Gigha- J H Thom              33     18     10        1         29
Sanda- W Russell             34       9     11        4         24
Westra- G Jackson           21       5       5        4         14
Bernera- R K Sharp          31       1       1      10         12
Cara- Dr Christie              28        1       5       3           9
Iona- James Buchanan      31       1       1       4           6
Fidra- W Wordie               20       1       1       2           4

Following the Bryce Allan competition in August The Field commented:-

"This [The race from Hunter's Quay to the Kyles of Bute] is one of the most popular events of the Clyde racing season. All the yachts competed on a general handicap for the trophy, and each boat from the smallest to the largest had a sporting chance of success, and Gigha's victory was gained by the narrowest margin, as she saved her time from Mr W F Robertson's 8-metre Caryl, which was conceding her 1 hr 7 min 12 sec, by only 1 1/2 min over a course of 24 miles...."

And in  October the anonymous Clyde Notes commented:-

"...Mr J H Thom, with his new boat Gigha was signally successful throughout the season, so much so that the varnished racer- the only one in the class- earned the nickname of "The Yellow Peril." The Islands Class is one-design, and I cannot credit the scarcely veiled suggestions in some quarters that Gigha was something different from the others. Rather do I favour the view that Mr Thom is too good for a local class and would be more in place, as he was last year, in the 6-metre lot."
winning flags 1931

Many years ago I was told, I can't remember by whom, that Gigha was secretly examined after she was laid up for the winter and that her mast was weighed, but no discrepancies found. However the rumbles and rumours were to continue over the next two seasons until Herbert Thom took some decisive action, as we shall see in a future post.

Friday, 26 November 2010

The 1930 Racing Season

At the start of the season the existing five boats were joined by Thomas Dunlop Junior's Jura, no 6 and William Wardie's Fidra, no 7, both built by Alfred Mylne's own Bute Slip Dock at Ardmaleish. For a description of the years racing I can do no better than to quote from the local paper once again:-

The Glasgow Herald 4 September 1930





The Clyde yacht racing season, which has just come to a close, was favoured with remarkably good sailing weather. There were comparatively few days of prolonged calms and of really hard weather, and what there were of these were the exceptions to eh general rule of racing days with breezes of nice summer strength. Seldom has there been a season in which finishes were so consistently early. The stormiest experience the yachts had was at the Tighnabruaich regatta on July 21, when out of 35 starters 13 boats were forced to give up owing to mishaps. One dismasting took place early in June, but it was due to an extraneous circumstance, Mr J Buchanan's Pallas having her "stick" snapped in the wash of a passing liner. Great popular interest was shown in the appearance of Shamrock V at the Clyde Fortnight, and her successful performances gave immense satisfaction. Nine days hence the challenger will start on her bid for the America's Cup, and there is a widespread feeling of hopelessness as to her chance against the American defender, Enterprise."
Prophetically, for what was to come in the Islands Class in later years, the paper went on to note that:-

"As usual, the contests in the 6-metre class were tremendously keen, and provided excellent sport. Mr J H Thom's Susette headed the A Section and took 24 flags in 39 starts.....Susette took a considerable time to strike her form, but from July 5 onwards she was only twice out of the prize list, and Mr Thom had the satisfaction of winning three races in succession before Fintra and Coral went to America and Finvola was laid up..."

With regard to the Islanders the paper noted

"Mr William Russell's Sanda was the champion in the sporting Scottish Islands Class, which continued to be notable for its remarkably keen racing and close fnishes. The runners-up were Cara and Westra. Sanda also won the cup for the points competition for the class. The official figures show that her margin was only four points ahead of Cara, which were in turn was four points ahead of Westra."
The closing records for the class were:-

                                Starts    1st    2nd    other    Total

Sanda- W Russell          36    14        6          3        23   
Cara- Dr Christie           33      9        5          5        19
Westra- G Jackson        35      6        7          8        21
Jura- T Dunlop Jnr         37      3        8          7        18
Stroma- G Nisbet          35      2        6          7        15
Bernera- R K Sharp      30      3        3           2         8
Fidra- W Wordie          30      2        3           2         7

The official figures in the points competition for the cup presented by Mr J M McEwan are:- Sanda (winner) 100 points, Cara, 96, Westra 92, Stroma 77, Jura 74, Fidra, 63 and Bernera, 56.

One person who no doubt watched the Islanders' racing very closely was J Herbert Thom. He had made his name in the 19/24 Class, which disbanded at the end of 1928, having given keen racing since 1897 and the Islanders had effectively taken their place. Herbert Thom had won 108 prizes, including 67 firsts, in his Sunbeam over the four seasons 1925 to 1928 inclusive. In 1929 he had decided to move to the 6-metre class with the Fife-designed Lucille, which he had bought and renamed Susette. He was the class champion, as noted above, his 24 flags including 8 firsts, but maybe felt that his skills would be better tested in the strict one-design racing offered by the Islanders. He duly placed an order with Bute Slip for what was to be Gigha, yacht no 9.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

A hearty welcome to friends from Germany

I was excited and pleased to find that my blogs have been picked up by, because I have happy memories of friendships made in Germany and sailing in the Baltic. Sailing together in small boats is a great way to get to know another country and make lasting connections. As you will see from my posts I am interested in researching Scottish/German connections and it would be fantastic to develop some research partnerships on specific topics.

It is obvious from the archives of the leading Scottish designers that many fine yachts went from their desks and yards to Germany in the period prior to 1914. A good example of a German client is Edmund Nordheim, who had five yachts designed by Alfred Mylne and built by Alexander Robertson on the Clyde.

After my first sailing visit in 1997 I started to learn German and can now read the language reasonably well, so please don't bother to translate any contribution.

Mit herzliche Gruesse


Wednesday, 3 November 2010

The young Alfred Mylne

I am indebted to Martyn Webster for the above image and the following article from The Bailie magazine of 29 June 1904 :-