By on Aug 24, 2017 in Clyde River and Firth, Holy Loch, Hunter's Quay, Largs | 2 comments

The early days of organized yachting on the Clyde date to the formation of the Northern Yacht Club at Rothesay in 1824. Almost immediately, the club hosted an annual regatta, initially alternating between Belfast Lough and the Clyde. The club gained a Royal Charter in 1830, becoming the Royal Northern Yacht Club. A glance at the Glasgow and sporting newspapers in late summer in the 1830s and 1840s reveals the intense interest in the “Clyde Regatta” and the yacht races. In the 1838 regatta held at Gourock at the end of July in the 25 tonner class Matthew Perston’s Wave, built by Robert Steele at Greenock in 1834, found success over James Smith’s Amethyst and James Macnair’s revolutionary Cyclops that was iron hulled to water line and built in 1836. Robert Kerr’s Falcon was fourth while Andrew Wauchope’s Nancy did not finish. Smaller yachts in the 10 tonner class featured a contest between John Dennistoun’s Mischief that pipped John Bannatyne’s popular Midge. The Largs cup (30 gns) was won by James Hunter’s Emma, beating Nancy, Wave, Nymph, Amethyst, and the veteran Clarence, built in 1830 by Messrs Scott & Sons for Robert Sinclair of Largs.

In 1840 at Dunoon, the Dunoon Tureen for the larger craft was won by Sir Robert G. Booth’s Gleam which beat Robert Thomson’s Amulet and Robert Kerr’s Falcon, while Bannatyne’s Midge beat Dennistoun’s new Raven and Thomas Graham’s Meteor in the 10 tonner class

In 1845 at Ardrossan, Midge, now owned by R. W Laurie beat the Greenock shipbuilder Robert Steele’s new Elfin and James Smith’s Brunette. The major race was won by T.D.C. Graham’s Meteor, beating Macnair’s Cyclops, Matthew Perston’s Wave, Robert Kerr’s yawl Siren, Brandreth’s Gem and Connor’s Victoria.

Yacht clubs sprang up in other communities; the Royal Clyde Yacht Club at Hunter’s Quay in 1856, the Royal Western at Millport in 1875, the Clyde Corinthian Yacht Club at Dunoon dating from a year later, and the Royal Gourock tracing back to 1894. With many other local clubs around the shores of the Firth, the summer was filled with regattas and opportunities for yachtsmen to try their skills against each other.

A significant advance in yacht design came in 1850 with Tiara from Messrs Simons of Renfrew. She was built for racing and had the narrow shape associated with modern yachts and a long fine bow and clean lines aft that allowed her a shallow draught forward.


Bell’s Life of August 18, gives a short account of the Royal Northern Regatta that year.

“Royal Northern Yacht Club Regatta This regatta commenced on Thursday, about noon. The Firth of Clyde presented an uncommonly gay appearance, from the large number of handsome vessels cruising about in all directions, and the many spectators assembled on shore.

“The first match was a time race, open to yachts of any royal yacht club, for yachts of 20 tons and upwards, for a piece of plate, value 25 gns. Three vessels started at the appointed signal, viz., the Stella, belonging to H. M. Lang, Esq., the Coralie, and the Viola. They kept well together for a time, the Coralie rather ahead, but the wind fell when they reached Kempoch on their way in, and she and the Viola got becalmed, the Stella catching a slight breeze which brought her in first.

“The match for a piece of plate of 20 gns., open to yachts of any royal yacht club, was won by the Tiara, belonging to William Simons, Esq., Greenock.

“The 10gns. prize, for gigs not over 36 feet, and of 5gns for gigs within 20 feet, were both won by the Foyle, an Irish boat. The weather, though rather still to try the full power of the yachts, was well suited for the gig races, as the sea was without a ripple.”

The rowing gig races were a feature of the early regattas and did much to popularize the aquatic sports among a public that could not aspire to owning a yacht.

The following year saw the Royal Yacht Squadron race around the Isle of Wight for the £100 Cup won by America that has provided so much impetus for racing yachts ever since. Many of the features of Tiara were also mirrored in the design of America and soon were incorporated into the best yachts on the Clyde and elsewhere.

The style of the yachts of the 1870s look cumbersome to the modern eye with their sheer bows and long bowsprits. Many of the older albumens I have of the time unfortunately do not provide identification.

Yachts of the 1870s

A racing start

Off Dunoon in the 1870s with the Cloch beyond

The 1880s saw interest develop in the larger yachts. The yard of Messrs Fife & Son in Fairlie became renowned for their construction. The Neptune was constructed at Fairlie for John S. & Ninian B. Stewart of Ascog.

Neptune (Washington Wilson)

The epic season of 1884 saw the introduction of the Genesta that became the unsuccessful America’s Cup contender in 1885. She was built by Messrs D. & W. Henderson & Co. of Glasgow for Sir Richard F. Sutton Bart., of Newbury, Berks.


Marguerite was an 1884 product of Fife’s yard, built for J. B. Macindoe, of Glasgow and had classic battles with Vanduara, built in 1886 by Messrs D.&W. Henderson for Stewart Clark, the thread manufacturer of Paisley.

Marguerite and Vanduara

Yachts in Gourock Bay (Washington Wilson)

The start of a race of 40 tonners with White Slave, Carina and Samoena. Carina was built by Messrs D & W Henderson & Co., Glasgow for Admiral Victor Montague of Andover Hampshire. Samoena was designed by Alexander Richardson for John Jameson of Dublin in 1880 and was a very successful vessel in the 1880s. White Slave belonged to F. W. Leybourne-Popham.

White Slave, Carina and Samoena off Hunter’s Quay

During the 1890s, the influence of designers such as G. L. Watson had a major impact on the racing yacht.

Gipsy and Brunette with Coats’ steam yacht Iris

The G. L. Watson designed Gipsy and Brunette on the Clyde in 1893 are shown in this view from an old and rather battered glass slide. They were an early identically matched pair of yachts, testing the skipper and crew in a race rather than the design. Built side by side in James Adam’s yard in Gourock, Gipsy was the faster of the two. Mr. James Coats of the Coats family of thread makers from Paisley, great enthusiasts on the yachting scene, was their original owner. Coats ultimately sold Gipsy to a son of Captain Duncan, the skipper of his large schooner yacht, Gleniffer for 1/-. After being laid up in Adam’s yard for a number of years, she was broken towards the end of August 1935.   A steam cutter that is not identified is following their progress.

Gipsy and Brunette

Racing yacht in Rothesay Bay in 1894 (Adamson)

Other famous yachts and contests of the period were the Isolde, a Fife product built for Mr. Peter Donaldson, of the Glasgow shipping line.


An older yacht in Loch Long around 1900

Considerable impetus to the Clyde racing scene was given by the attempts of Thomas Lipton to win back the America’s cup. Lipton’s first attempt was in 1899 with the Shamrock built on the Thames. She was not successful and on her return to home waters was renamed later Shamrock I, sailing against the subsequent vessels of the same name.

Shamrock I

Lipton went for a Watson design for Shamrock II, built at the yard of Messrs Denny at Dumbarton. Again facing Columbia, she was unsuccessful in 1901.

Shamrock II

Shamrock I and Shamrock II Ettrick Bay

The third attempt was the Fife designed and Denny built Shamrock III that was launched on St Patrick’s Day in 1903.

Launch of Shamrock III

Crew of Shamrock III

Shamrock III

Shamrock III was put through her racing paces against Shamrock I at Weymouth. On April 17 she lost her mast and had to return to the Clyde.

On board Erin at Weymouth

Shamrock III leading Shamrock I at Weymouth (Eva Ward)

Shamrock III dismasted at Weymouth (Eva Ward)

Shamrock III without mast at Weymouth (Eva Ward)

Recovering Shamrock III’s mast (Eva Ward)

Just over a month later on May 28, she left Gourock on her Atlantic crossing, towed by Lipton’s steam yacht, Erin. Again, Lipton faced defeat though he remained as enthusiastic for the contest as ever. Shamrock III remained in the United States.

Shamrock III and Shamrock I

Shamrock III on the Clyde

Lipton’s steam yacht Erin and Shamrock III off Gourock (Valentine)

Yachting was not just the province of the racing fraternity. There were those who enjoyed the pleasure of sailing on the Firth. The following sequence can be traced to Ms Eva M Ward of Rockville, Dumbarton on a day on board on the Rosemary, built in 1900 by Messrs Robert MacAlister & Son of Dumbarton for Mr B. W. Morris.

Rosemary’s skipper (Eva Ward)

The crew of Rosemary (Eva Ward)

Ladies at the stern (Eva Ward)

Keeping Rosemary on course (Eva Ward)

Taking a breather (Eva Ward)

A rather tongue-in-cheek greeting from the Royal Clyde Yacht Club steamer in 1903.


Snarley Yow

These postcard views from the Wrench series show yachts at the beginning of the new century. The Senga was built by Messrs Fife at Fairlie in 1896 for Frank A. Dubbs of Glasgow. Snarley Yow came from the yard of Messrs Paul Jones & Son of Gourock in 1899 for Mr A. F. Maclaren Glasgow, the owner of Eglinton Foundry.

Shamrock I, Sybarita, Kariad, and Meteor

This Wrench view shows the start of an international class yacht race during the Clyde fortnight around 1904. The yachts are the Kaiser’s Meteor at the right, followed by Kariad, Sabarita and Thomas Lipton’s Shamrock I. Trailing in the distance at the left of the view, the Glasgow and South Western Railway paddle steamer Glen Sannox of 1892 is following the race as club steamer.

There was a new classification for racing yachts introduced in 1906. Lipton produced a new Shamrock in 1908.

Launch of Shamrock at Fairlie

Shamrock in the 23 meter class

Many of the following photographs are by the Davidson Series produced about 1910 and showing some of the important yachts of the age engaged in races.

A new 19 metre class was required for a number of large yachts introduced around 1911, signaling some exciting races in the years before the first world war.

Norada, Octavia and Mariquita

Octavia was designed by Mylne and built at Dumbarton by Messrs Robert MacAlister in 1911 for Sir William P. Burton. Mariquita was built by Fife, also in 1911 for Arthur K Stothert of London. Norada was the last of four ships of the class to appear. (Fife built Corona is not pictured). She was designed by Nicholson of Gosport for Mr Milburn.

In the 12-metre class.

Javotte, Alachie and Cintra

Javotte was built by the yard of Messrs Robert McAlister & Son, Dumbarton in 1909 for the Merseyside shipowner, Charles MacIver. Like others in this class, she was around 50 feet in length. Alachie came out in 1908 from Messrs Fife & Son of Fairlie for George Coats of Aboyne, part of the Paisley thread manufacturing family. Cintra was also a product of Fife’s yard, in 1909 for Andrew Coats of Melton Mowbray, another of the Paisley family. Ierne was a 1911 Fife product for Mr A. F. Sharman-Crawford, the Dublin born Brewer.



Alachie, Ierne and Cintra

Cintra and Javotte

There were also notable contests involving older yachts. The Watson designed Carina was built in 1894 by D & W Henderson & Co., Glasgow but by 1910 was refurbrished and owned by William Fife of Fairlie. She had a keen contest sailing against the veteran Bloodhound built by Fife in 1874 but bought by the Marquis of Ailsa, of Culzean Castle in 1907 and brought back into racing trim.

Carina and Bloodhound

At Largs with steam yacht Beryl and Valkyrie

Largs Regatta with steam yacht Beryl

In the 10 meter class, The Lady Anne was built by Fife in 1912 for George Coats of Aboyne.

The Lady Anne

The Lady Anne off Largs

The 32 metre White Heather was a 1907 Fife product for R. Cecil Leigh of Port Glasgow.

White Heather on the Clyde

White Heather

White Heather and Shamrock jockeying for the start

Some of the smaller yachting classes at 6 and 8 metres are also featured.

The 8 metre class

6 metre class Off Toward

Off Hunter’s Quay

White Wings on the Clyde

After the first world war, yachting experienced a revival in the 1920s with a return of the large yachts. The King was a keen yachtsman and participated with his yacht Cambria.

Cambria at anchor in the Holy Loch in 1922

Off Hunter’s Quay (McGeachie)

Thamar off Dunoon (McGeachie)

6 meter class off Hunter’s Quay

A race off Tighnabruaich in the late 1920s

Black, Martin: G. L. Watson, The Art and Science of Yacht Design, Peggy Bawn Press, London, 2011


  1. Frank Stamos

    December 30, 2017

    Post a Reply

    Hi, I live in Melbourne, Australia and have an item of interest.

    The item is a yachting trophy which dates back to 1884. Engraved on the trophy appears to be the historical British Union flag of St. Patrick which had long been a symbol for Ireland. Engraved below the flag appear the words “Yacht Marguerite” followed by the name “ J .B Macindoe” and the year 1884″.

    Engraved around the body of the trophy are the years 1884, 1885, 1886 & 1887 (May – Sept) which I assume are the months representing the sailing / racing calendar and the names or rather the acronym of the winning & placing yacht / club of each race held during the corresponding year. (e.g – 1884 May 30th RCYC 1st Prize) .


    Frank Stamos

    • valeman

      December 31, 2017

      Post a Reply

      Yachting Trophy
      Yachting Trophy 2
      Frank this appears to be a commemoration gift to Mr MacIndoe. He may have been the skipper. I’ll try and find out.

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