Vitbar192 ® 19-Dec-2019 13:17

An Eye for a Yacht


Year: 1955
Language: english
Author: Phillips-Birt D.H.C.
Genre: Manual
Publisher: A.S. Barnes and Company
Format: PDF
Quality: Scanned pages
Pages count: 146
Description: There are today more than three hundred and sixty yacht and sailing clubs listed in Lloyd’s Register. So many clubs as this constitute an appreciable feature of the British way of life, and if a social historian turns one day to study the fallen civilization of the West and attempts to understand the things that were, these clubs will have to pass under his survey. For it is not by the bread and butter essentials that an age is judged. A civilization is known by its flowers, not its vegetables. Greece lives by its marbles; Elizabethan England is a projection of its theatre, ofRaleigh, and ofthe poems of a few courtiers; and it is Velasquez and Cervantes who are remembered when the squalid injustices of medieval Spain are forgotten, and the once-soaring pride of Castile is a provincial affectation. But the dreams their children dreamed... these remain.’
During the nineteenth century yachting developed from the rather esoteric pastime of a very few to a normal sport, allied with hunting and horsebreeding, and followed by a number of rich men. Between 1870 and 1914 there was a grandeur and beauty in yachting, encouraged by the participation in the sport of numerous kings and emperors, which has never been surpassed; though there was, between 1918 and 1939, a fading twilight of that earlier day. In the mid-nineteenth century many countries which had not sailed before adopted this new occupation; yachts appeared for the first time on the waters of Long Island Sound, and later in Kiel Bay.
Yachting was as exclusive, as brilliant, as undemocratic as a Florentine palace. And it was creative. Some of the most original and talented minds in several countries devoted themselves to the creation of the yachting fleets — men who might have reached the top in any sphere of imaginative work. They had the opportunity to exercise their talents fully, on large steam yachts, small half- decked racers, cruising schooners, the loftiest racing cutters, high-speed motorboats, and all these perhaps in the course of a year. There are few such men left, and they must become fewer, not because there is lack of appreciation for their work, but because nobody can pay for it. The practitioners of such an art become rusty when they have to devote themselves to a few small craft each year, all of them much the same. We may say: The smaller the boat the better the sport , and an inverted snobbery may produce the current feeling that a large yacht is faintly indecent. True, the sport is good, equally so, whatever the size of the boat; and many yachtsmen still know a good boat and will pay what they can for it. But what they are able to afford will probably be a small, relatively simple craft produced by men exercising half their talents. Before we consider all that yachting has gained by this change — and possibly the credit entries are longer than the debit — it is well to have paused over what has been lost. An art is dying. Yachting may be becoming a better sport, but its creative life is failing. Men still dream lovely ships, and dreams they remain.
The sport has changed its nature so completely that one rarely finds now the yacht or the club in which the atmosphere of the older day survives. Yachting had its roots in wealth, and there is no need to be so fervidly democratic as to condemn it for that reason. Goethe might never have written Faust but for the wealth of a petty German princeling; and the opulence of the Medicis gathered beside the sunny Arno the concourse of brilliant men which included Michelangelo and Botticelli. During what we may call the golden age of yachting money produced a kind of beauty upon the sea which had never been seen before, and which will probably never be seen again; and established a graceful way of life which adopted something from the habits of the country houses and something from the manners of the warship’s wardroom.
This period may be stretched over threequarters of a century; its effulgence occupied perhaps fifty years; today it is dead, embalmed in the photographs of Beken. Two sets of people produced it: those who created the most beautiful, the swiftest, and the most comfortable sailing craft of their size to which naval architecture has ever attained; those who paid the price for such rare and expensive vessels. It was one more example of the ancient relationship, which has reoccurred in such countless forms throughout history, between the artist and the patron. The patron and the artist created yachting — those who loved fine craft enough to be satisfied only with the best, and to pay for it, and those who had it in them to create the best. Around them and their boats the ramifications of the sport grew.
Where are the great yachts today? A feature of the last eight years in British yachting has been the steady procession of large yachts going abroad to foreign owners. It is a one-way traffic which has been flowing continuously since the war. Visit the harbours of the French Riviera, and in St. Raphael, Cannes, Antibes, Villefranche and Monte Carlo you will find the big yachts whose names were waterside currency round the English coast. But you must have with you a Lloyd’s Register of Yachts with a bookmark in the 4 Liste des Anciens Noms de Yachts’; for the yachts are disguised today, often with new rigs very different from the graceful and expansive areas of canvas which they once carried, with new deckhouses which sit, one feels, a little awkwardly upon hulls which are vaguely familiar, and on the yachts are names which strike no chords ofmemory — Norlanda, Lillias, Deo Juvante, Erna.
But if your eye is good your suspicions are aroused. Norlanda and Lillias are recognized as Lulworth and Cambria, which raced one another round so many courses in company with Astra, Britannia and Westward in the Big Class of the inter-war years. Deo Juvante, now a Bermudian ketch, looking low in the water with all the weight of furnishing and machinery that she carries, was once the 93-ton Fife cutter Moonbeam whose original beauty is preserved in Frank H. Mason’s water-colour. Then there is Erna, another Fife boat of almost the same size, and once the well-known gaff yawl Sumuran. Two years ago I converted her from that rig to the Bermudian ketch rig that she now carries, but the hull is still pure Fife in all its original beauty. There is Black Swan, her hull like ebony, her deck and upper works an example of what is meant by ‘ yacht-like’, and there she lies a youngster of fifty-four summers, the old racing yawl Brynhild by Charles E. Nicholson. These and many others lie scattered in foreign ports, though sometimes their names are unchanged and their history still clings to them; as in the case of the huge cruising ketch Sylvia of 254 tons, and the schooner Altair, whose registered port is now Barcelona, and which took part in what was I suppose the last race for big schooners, off Ryde in 1935, when her competitors were Westward, Golden Hind, Cetonia, and the Newfoundland Banks fishing schooner Bluenose. There they all are, these aristocratic emigres, seeing their lives out on the sea which Pericles ruled in the days when the land of their birth was dark with forests and inhabited by savages.
Yet yachting has probably gained more than it has lost. It depends on the values applied; and in fact a comparison is impossible. In the days of the beauti- ful yachts only a tiny fraction of the population took its pleasure on the water. Talk about the Viking breed and of yachting being a national sport bore no relation to the facts; it was no more a national sport than the breeding of Derby winners. Even the racing of small boats and the cruising far offshore m craft a fraction of the size of those which once confined themselves to the Solent-sports which were developing before 1914 — were limited to a little section of the population.
The change may be seen most clearly in class racing; that is, in the boats designed to race on level terms over regatta courses. The largest inshore racing class of boat now at Cowes, the 6-Metres, were the smallest in 1911, when the classes ranged up to 23-Metres, with the Big Class above this which included the Kaiser’s Meteor. In that year the combined entries for the 15-, 19- and 23-Metre classes totalled fourteen, and there were twenty-five boats in the 8-Metre class. Yet draw a line under this class in 1911 and there were hardly enough boats beneath it to produce a stir in the tiny harbour of Porthleven. Today the number of boats smaller than an 8-Metre exceeds many times the whole regatta in 1911.
The sport of yachting was indeed a top-heavy structure and one which might easily have been thrown sufficiently off its balance never to recover. Even as late as 1939 this was so, though to a lesser extent. If the changed economic and social world of 1955 had been foreseen in 1914 nobody could reasonably have denied that yachting must die; it would have seemed logically indefensible that it should have done anything else.

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