Sunday, 3 October 2010

J Herbert Thom

I am now researching the racing career of the legendary J Herbert Thom, who really deserves a whole book to himself as one of the most successful racing helms of all time, having proved almost unbeatable in local, national and international competitions.

In the pre-war years Thom won hundreds of races, mainly in the Islands Class and whether sailing his own or one of the other boats. In 1938 he took his new six metre yacht Circe, designed by David Boyd and built the previous year by Robertsons, to Oyster Bay at New York to win the Seawanhaka Cup, which he successfully defended on the Clyde against the Norwegians the following year. Later he was involved in the preparations of the America's Cup challengers Sceptre and Sovereign, but did not helm in either of the actual competitions.

I first heard about Herbert Thom as a sailing-daft child in the 1950s and I know that there are countless stories out there about his meticulous ways, racing tactics and so on. I'm very anxious to record everything and am pretty sure that people a little older than me will have memories they can share.

Alistair Thom has kindly agreed to give me access to his grandfather's archives, so I will have chapter and verse for much of the factual stuff, but anecdotes and memories are what make these projects interesting, so if anyone reading this can help please get in touch.

Herbert Thom was devoted to introducing young people to sailing and there is a fascinating educational film from 1961 on the Scottish Film Archive. The opening sequence shows the man himself on board Canna and apart from the sailing footage the film gives an interesting insight into how attitudes to certain things have changed in quite a short period. I'll refrain from detailed comment so as not to spoil your enjoyment.

Clyde Sailing Video


  1. I cant provide you with any new information except I do own FireFay one of his boats. She would have been the tender to Circe or another 6 metre after the war. She is due for relaunch some time in 2011 her 89th year.
    Best Regards

  2. Thanks for the comment about FireFay. I see that she is on the Historic Ship Register, where they comment

    "FIREFAY was one of many boats built by William Fife III for E S Parker, the well known Clyde yachtsman and treasurer of the R.Y.A. Mr Parker had five Fife-built 6 metre yachts and he represented Great Britain in the 1928 British America's Cup races. FIREFAY was designed as a tender for these metre boats. She also served as a ferry to and from Little Cumbrae where he lived.

    Between 1937 and 1947, FIREFAY became known as AMY II. John Thorn, another well known 6 metre owner, owned her briefly and re-named her FIREFAY. She had a long association with the Royal Clyde Yacht Club. For forty years she was owned by John MacNeil J P and cruised the Hebrides, visiting St Kilda. She was originally fitted with a 4 cylinder Thornycroft petrol engine, but has since had a B M C diesel engine installed.

    During World War II the vessel was known as HMS Amy II and served as an Echo Sounding Boat based at Glasgow and operating in Western Approaches Command."

    I'd be happy to do a post about FireFay on and if you would be interested please contact me privately on

    Best wishes