Here is an interesting article written for the International Cartography Association on the History of Cartography by Andrew David, Lt Cdr RN (Retd) called ‘The Emergence of the AdmiraltyChart in the 19th Century.
Emergence of the Admiralty Chart in the 19th C
Ireland’s Centenaries Ashore Are Matched By Sailing Centenaries Afloat
By WM Nixon (from Afloat Ireland)
In Ireland, we’re living through the Decade of Centenaries in terms of marking conflict-laden historical events and major national happenings ashore. So it says everything about the blissful sense of having a world of our own in sailing that in 2021 and 2022, Ireland-on-the-water is likewise in the midst of celebrating the Centenary of the establishment of two very significant and thriving boat classes, classes which are in such good heart today that you’d assume they came into being in a time of piping peace and powerful prosperity.
You can say a lot about the tumultuous years of 1921 and 1922 in Ireland. But “piping peace and powerful prosperity” is not a phrase that would spring readily to mind. Yet despite the turmoil of the times with Northern Ireland emerging in 1921 and the Irish Free State being recognised in 1922, in 1921 the new Alfred Mylne-designed Bermuda-rigged sloops of the River Class One-Designs of 28ft 3ins LOA started racing on Belfast Lough. And in 1922, racing started on the great lakes of our longest river for the new una-rigged Shannon One Designs – the Sods, as they immediately and inevitably became known.
Designed by Morgan Giles and built by the best of the local craftsmen, the new 18ft clinker-built boats were a very refined sailing development of the classic Irish lakeboat. Racing was mustard-keen from the start, so all construction was of the permitted minimum weight, resulting in a hull which – when hard on the wind in a bit of a breeze – “would turn round and look at
From the inauguration of the class, it was realised that hull flexibility was an inevitable factor which had to be accommodated in a successful Shannon One Design
RIVER CLASS – WEIGHT IS GREAT…….
The Rivers by contrast are of hefty form, and not afraid of carrying a bit of extra weight. In fact, it’s the contrast which sailing a River provides – when set against the experience of racing an ultra-light turn-on-a-sixpence modern machine – which is a part of the boats’ charm. Though they’re no slouches in terms of speed, things may happen slowly when manoeuvring. But they happen very surely too. Collisions can be epic, so thinking well ahead to the next close interaction with other boats is part of a successful River sailor’s mental makeup.
While it’s believed they were the world’s first Bermuda-rigged One-Design, it’s surprising how little has been made of this – other than by River Class aficionados – either now or at the time of their inception. For when the boats were first being discussed in 1919, the use of Bermuda rig was primarily for its relative ease of handling rather than innovation for its own sake.
Somewhere it is mentioned – though quite where nobody now knows – that when the early discussions were under way about the new class, it was stated that a basic requirement was that the new boat “should be capable of being raced by a man and his daughters”.
Sadly, this is far from being an enlightened early initiative to promote Women on Water. On the contrary, it was an expression of hidden loss. Before World War I broke out in 1914, the northern waters of Ireland were home to several labour-intensive spectacularly-rigged boat classes which sported demanding jackyard topsails and the like, boats such as the “old” Belfast Lough No 1s, the new Island Class yawls, a nascent class of International 8 Metres, the Belfast Lough Star Class, and quite a few hard-raced cruiser-racers.
But with the huge loss of life sustained among the fittest young men in the Great War, the able topsail-setters and spinnaker hands never returned. Or if they did return, it was as disabled ex-servicemen. At its most extreme, it could be argued that that the River Class emerged from the Battle of the Somme. But in fact although the war ended in 1918, what with the severe post-war economic depression and the ravages of the Spanish flu epidemic, it was 1925 by the time Belfast Lough sailing had returned to anything like its pre-1914 levels in what had been the Golden Age of Yachting.
Thus the Rivers were probably seen by some as a poor substitute for the spectacular racing yachts of the Golden Age, but they were soon proving themselves very capable craft. Although they had originated in Belfast Lough in the Royal Ulster YC, the wealthy landowners around Strangford Lough were soon snapping them up, such that by the 1930s, every self-respecting big house around Strangford Lough had a River moored at the bottom of the garden.
This development – and the many others which saw the class increased to twelve boats all of which took part in the 2021 Centenary – is detailed in its proper context in the excellent Centenary history, The Strangford Lough River Class by James Nixon. And yes, he is the brother, despite which it really is a superb and profusely-illustrated book.
You’ll note that they’re now called the Strangford Lough River Class, for since the late 1930s the class’s home has been Strangford Lough YC at Whiterock. Before that, they had that period of being the “boats from the big houses”, the playthings of the rich and powerful. In 1930s Northern Ireland, this meant that while the Ulster Farmers’ Union was “The Unionist Party Up On A Tractor”, the River Class was “The Upper Echelons of the Unionist Party Out In A Boat”.
Be that as it may, several of the class have come through the inevitable period of being seen as old tore-outs of no further value to become – by some miracle of survival – classics whose intrinsic worth merits restoration. The shipwrights’ skills of the Smyth family of Whiterock Boatyard played a leading role in having these fine boats in peak order for their class’s hundredth birthday in 2021, and Graham Smyth in the immaculate Enler (no 12, originally built 1936) won the Centenary Series in a busy season which involved, as usual, the Rivers’ stately involvement in the rough and tumble of the Narrows Regatta down at Portaferry and Strangford village.
TWO BOATS OF VERY DIFFERENT STYLE
In terms of boat styles and sailing locations, the River Class and the Shannon One Designs could not be more different. And that -added to simple geographical separation – means there are probably very few people who have raced in both. Your columnist makes this point out of total self-interest, as he happens to be one of them, having raced in the Rivers at Whiterock with Brian Law in Uladh to achieve a bullet and a third in evening races, and at Kircubbin Regatta a very very long time ago with the late Jack Andrews in Shimna, when we notched a second.
The Andrews family have owned Shimna since 1924, so this was River Class Immersion Therapy in a big way. But the Shannon One Designs can well match it, as I realised when getting the Royal Command from Alf Delany to join him for two races in the Shannon One Designs Golden Jubilee Regatta at Dromineer in August 1972.
Feeble excuses about knowing nothing whatever about SOD sailing were airily dismissed by the great man – a multiple champion and former Olympian – with the comment that if I proved to be useless at everything else, then I could always be the bailer-hand. That was not encouraging for someone raised in the safety of keelboat culture, but when we started sailing it was hectic from the word go, as the fleet was so large that we seemed to be racing against a new wave of boats with every tack.
And despite having only one sail to set and trim, it was a continuous surprise to learn how much work was required with a crew of three to keep a Shannon One Design at optimum performance, particularly with a neophyte crewman disguising a severe case of imposter syndrome and somehow managing not to be found out, even when asked to take a spell at the helm.
Fortunately, they were only brief periods of steering, and Alf’s genius ensured that we were in the frame in both races, by which time I was well knackered. Thus the message is that if you want to experience a totally new kind of sailing without leaving the island, then inveigle your way aboard a SOD. But take care that your initial introduction is for one day only, as you’ll head away from Dromineer or Ballyglass or wherever with aches and bruises in muscles that you didn’t even know existed.
It may at times be torture, but it’s exquisite torture – the Shannon One Designs are so perfectly suited to sailing our larger lakes that they’ve become the very expression of them. And despite the hard-driving they receive, they are built with the sort of loving attention that is reserved for works of art, with the style being set by the first main builder, Walter Levinge of Lough Ree, who started in 1922 and had built sixty SODs by the time of his death, with the mantle being taken up by Jimmy Furey of Lecarrow, who was so much his own man that he was largely self-taught, yet his boats and boat models won awards for creative skill.
The wonder of the Shannon One Designs has been well matched by the colourful characters who sail them. As Class Chairman Philip Mayne and Honorary Secretary Naomi Algeo and their helpers beaver away to put together a manageable Centenary programme even as we wonder just how much of the pandemic will still linger next year to hamper events, we’ll know that in addition to possible difficulties of nationwide health circumstances, they’ll be dealing with a numerous class of such individuality that getting co-ordinated activity is sometimes akin to herding cats at a cross-roads.
That said, they’ll be celebrating the Centenary of a class which was brought into being despite the country being in general turmoil. Apparently a face-to-face meeting was required of the Steering Committee in 1922 to finalise rules, and two lakeside members decided the safest way to get to it was aboard a motor-launch belonging to one of them. Being proper yotties, they put on proper yachting caps. Big mistake. The word spread along the lake shore like wildfire that an organized uniformed waterborne military patrol of hostile intent was clearly on the move. Somehow it was all calmed down, but according to one report, lead flew before peace broke out.
The origins of the wearing of the White Ensign by the Royal Yacht Squadron
Extracted from ’Memorials of the Royal Yacht Squadron’ by Montague Guest (Librarian of the RYS) and William B Boulton, printed in London in 1902.
In 1859 was agitated the famous grievance of the supposed privileged possessed by the [Royal Yacht] Squadron of flying the White Ensign. A debate in Parliament and the publication of a Blue Book were necessary to compose the agitation of the group of the aggrieved ones in this matter. It was really, in essence, a very simple one, which had been somewhat complicated by the blundering of a clerk at the Admiralty, and the privilege as a fact was no privilege at all. As some misconception of the matter still exists, it may perhaps be well but it’s history should here be plainly stated.
….the vessels of the Squadron were by successive concessions of foreign governments granted privileges of exemption from port dues in foreign harbours, which placed them as pleasure vessels in a class apart from merchant vessels. [Briefly, this was because Squadron yachts, many of them armed and often with royalty or the ‘great and good’ on board, frequently visited foreign ports together with the British fleet. It was for this reason also that King William IV decreed in 1833 that the ‘Club’ should be called the ‘Squadron’.] These privileges in fact set them on the same footing as the King’s ships and it was felt by the Admiralty that a distinguishing ensign for these vessels was necessary for the convenience of the officials of the foreign Governments whose harbours they visited. There were only three ensigns available for the purpose – the Red, the White, and Blue. Of these the Red was already allocated to merchantmen, the White was worn then, as now, by the King’s ships, and the Blue by another class of vessel under the Admiralty – transports and the like. The privileges granted by foreign Governments to yachts being exactly those enjoyed by the King’s ships, it no doubt occurred to the Admiralty that the same ensign would be most suitable as a distinguishing flag for the pleasure vessels. In any case, as we have seen, permission to wear the White or St George’s Ensign was given to the Squadron by a warrant of the Admiralty in the year 1829.
it is important to note that the wearing of the ensign was not confined to the yachts of the Squadron, but was permitted by those of any other recognised yacht clubs who chose to apply for it. Most of the clubs existing at the time availed themselves of the permission – the Royal Thames, the Royal Eastern, and the Royal Western Yacht Clubs, among others. Shortly after 1829 the Irish members of the Royal Western Yacht Club seceded and formed a club of their own entitled the Royal Western of Ireland Yacht Club. This club was granted the use of the White Ensign in 1832 in circumstances which show how little the flag was valued at the time, and that its use was not regarded in any way as a privilege. Mr O’Connell, the original Commodore of that club, addressed a letter to the Admiralty dated the 30th January, 1832 which contain the following passage:-
“A White Ensign has been granted to the Royal Yacht Club, a Red Ensign to the Royal Cork, a Blue Ensign to the Royal Northern, and as the only unoccupied national flag, we have assumed the Green Ensign.”
To this the Secretary of the Admiralty replied:-
“I am commanded by my Lords Commissioners to acquaint you that you may have as a flag for this club either a Red, White or Blue Ensign with such device thereon as you may point out, but their lordships cannot sanction the introduction of a new colour to be worn by British ships.”
The Irish club then chose the White Ensign, not considering it as any privilege, as is evident from Mr. O’Connell’s letter, but rather the reverse, and they added a crown and a very small wreath of pale shamrock leaves as a distinguishing mark. So the matter rested for ten years.
Meanwhile as the number of yacht clubs and of private vessels increased there were constant complaints reaching the Admiralty through the Foreign Office of irregularities committed in foreign ports by owners of pleasure vessels flying the White Ensign. There were charges of smuggling, of evasions of quarantine regulations, of landing and embarking passengers, and of a general abuse of the privileges which the flag conferred in foreign ports – privileges which had been granted to yachtsman entirely by the efforts of the Royal Yacht Squadron in the early days. There was a continual correspondence between the Admiralty and the secretary of the Squadron on the subject during those ten years which is preserved at the Castle [clubhouse of the RYS in Cowes on the Isle of Wight],and goes to show that a great part of that gentleman’s time was spent explaining that such and such a vessel which had committed such and such an outrage at Lisbon or Marseilles or Naples had no connection with the club. These irregularities had the natural result of bringing odium upon other yachtsmen flying the same ensign and who were innocent of any abuse of its privilege, and the nuisance at last became so injurious to the reputation of the Squadron that a meeting of the club in 1842 passed the following resolution:-
“The meeting requested the Earl of Yarborough to solicit the Admiralty to alter the present colours of the Royal Yacht Squadron, or permission to wear the Blue Ensign, etc, in addition, in consequence of so many yacht clubs and private yachts wearing colours similar to those at present worn by the Royal Yacht Squadron.”
There followed a correspondence between Lord Yarborough and the Admiralty in which the former made complete of, “the many irregularities committed by persons falsely representing themselves as members and bringing undeserved disgrace on the Royal Yacht Squadron.” The result of the correspondence appears in a letter from Mr. Sidney Herbert to the Secretary of the Squadron dated from the Admiralty on July 22nd, 1842. The Admiralty refused permission to the Squadron to change their flag, and decided to confine the use of the White Ensign to its members. “ I am commanded by my Lords,” wrote Mr. Herbert, “to inform you that they have consented to much of the above request as relates to the privilege of wearing the White Ensign being confined to the Royal Yacht Squadron, and that they have taken measures that the other yacht clubs may wear such other ensigns only as shall be easily distinguished from that of the Royal Yacht Squadron.” In pursuance of this decision all clubs were notified that the permission to fly the White Ensign was henceforward confined to the members of the Squadron and the matter again appear to be settled.
In notifying these clubs , however, the clerk at the Admiralty being unaware of the secession of the Royal Western of Ireland Yacht Club from that of England, addressed his letter to the English club only, and in the absence of any instructions to the contrary, the Irish club continued to fly the White Ensign. Matters rested there until a further correspondence between the Admiralty and yacht clubs arose in 1858. Some years previously the Admiralty had issued particular warrants to the owners of particular vessels in addition to the general warrant issued to the clubs as corporate bodies. In that year the Royal Western of Ireland Yacht Club applied for particular warrants for its members, but was a first refused on the ground, ”that it was defying the Admiralty by flying the ensign, and that the accidental omission of a letter in1842 was not considered to confer a claim to exemption from the general rule then established, viz. the restriction of the privilege of wearing the White Ensign to the Royal Yacht Squadron.” On renewed application, however, the Admiralty weakly gave way and issued particular warrants to members of the Royal Western of Ireland Yacht Club. This was immediately seized upon by another Irish club, the Royal St George’s, as a grievance. Its Commodore, the Marquess of Conyngham, wrote to the Admiralty to the effect that his club, ”felt aggrieved that a club in no way better conducted – the Royal Western of Ireland Yacht Club – should be permitted to carry the White Ensign, as it appears that this privilege is no longer confined to the Royal Yacht Squadron,” and requested permission for the club to again fly the flag. The matter was at length set at rest by the Admiralty in a letter to Lord Wilton as Commodore of the RYS.
Admiralty 25th June 1858
“My Lord, – I am commanded by my Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty to acquaint your lordship that my Lords, having received some recent application from yacht clubs for permission to wear the White Ensign of Her Majesty’s fleet, have considered that they may have to choose between the alternative of reverting to the principal established in the year 1842 whereby the privilege was restricted to the Royal Yacht Squadron, or to extend still further the concession which was made in this respect to the Royal Western Yacht Club of Ireland in the year 1853, and that they have decided on the former alternative. They have accordingly cancelled the warrants authorising the vessels of the Royal Western Yacht Club of Ireland to wear the White Ensign, and this privilege for the future is to be enjoyed by the Royal Yacht Squadron only.
I am, my Lord, your most obedient servant
Such is the history of the White Ensign in relation to pleasure vessels. The matter was twice before Parliament, once in 1858 when an Irish member found a grievance in the decision of the Admiralty, and in later times in 1883, when Lord (then Mr.) Brassey, replying to Mr. Labouchere for Sir Henry Campbell Bannerman, cited the minute of 1842, and declared that, “as the matter was historical he was not authorised to make any changes.” Whatever privilege is attached to the wearing of the flag was never sought by the Squadron, and it was not valued by other clubs until the irregularities of many private owners resulted in its use being confined to the old club which had first flown the flag. As a writer of 1858 pointed out, its wearing by the vessels of the Squadron alone eventually gave it a distinction among yacht ensigns, and there would probably have been the same struggle for its possession had the Squadron flown an ensign of purple or pink.
(Transcribed from the original text by John Clementson, May 2019)