Sunday, April 15, 2012

"straight is the line of duty; curved is the line of beauty": G.L. Watson - the Art and Science of Yacht Design

The handsome cover of this volume from the Peggy Bawn Press

George Lennox Watson by Sir James Guthrie RSA

Peggy Bawn sailing herself off Brooklin, Maine, 2007

Peggy Bawn on Belfast Lough c.1894

Shamrock II's launch, Clydeside

Hunter's Quay c.1882 Royal Clyde Regatta

In Famous Clyde Yachts, Henry Sheilds painted Watson's 1884 5 tonner Shona. Shona gained her fame in America as Charlie Barr's first command.

J. Stwart Clark's Ornsay on Rothsay Bay.

Watson designed this Lowestoft Beach Yawl Happy New Year IV, 1893

Spinnaker Letting Go by Barlow Moore depicts Watson's Valkyrie II losing the 1893 Americas Cup to Nat Herreshoff's Vigilant

Watson, c.1894

Sir Thomas Liptons Watson designed Shamrock II in the 1901 America's Cup

A rare onboard view of Shamrock II during the 1901 Cup. That's Watson with binoculars.

Queen of Scots (1903) designed for William Coats

I must confess that when I received this lavishly illustrated work, I had no knowledge of Watson or his renown. Gary MacMahon (see my AK Ilen posts) was a member of the production team for this sumptuous book through the work of his design firm Copper Reed Studio in Limerick, Ireland and was kind enough to send me a copy. The publisher, Peggy Bawn Press, is named after the small cruising/racing yacht, recently restored and pictured above. Below is a synopsis of this beautifully designed and exhaustively researched volume found on the publisher's website. I'm including this as it is far more succinct than I would be.

"Martin Black’s biography of the great Scottish designer, George Lennox Watson, is much more than a record of his life and work during the Golden Age of Yacht Design. Perhaps uniquely, it also describes the emergence of the role of the modern independent designer, of any profession or discipline. Watson’s career spanned a seminal period in industrial and social development, marking the transition from instinctive and evolutionary craft work to the application of disciplined technological innovation, using new material technology and tank testing.
So this book sheds light on social and industrial history with hundreds of contemporary illustrations, most of which are previously unpublished. Watson’s genius shines through in early racing cutters carrying clouds of sail, pro-bono pioneering work on lifeboats, America’s Cup challengers, and ultimately in sumptuous steam yachts, Watson’s adage: Straight is the line of duty; curved is the line of beauty... is consistently evident.
Carrying his prodigious research lightly, the author’s work floats easily above its load waterline, including delightful mini biographies of the colourful leading characters. Even the footnotes are entertaining.
Meanwhile this extensive and ambitious first volume has an easy “dip-in” structure to be savoured in slices. For example, the chapters on the America’s Cup challenge the conventional histories with newly discovered first hand insider sources.
In recent years, through many superb restorations, classic yachting has found a significant nostalgic niche in the yachting media, if only because of the innate beauty of the yachts and the spectacle they provide. This has revived the reputations of designers Herreshoff and Fife, but Watson’s genius needed to be rescued from a relative obscurity which was triggered by his early death. Was he “the greatest yacht designer of the 19th century”, as Olin Stephens acknowledged? Read Martin Black’s book and see if you agree. At the very least, you will find that George Lennox Watson deserves his place among the pantheon of the greats.
Then you may also answer the question I posed initially; along the way, you will enjoy many illuminating experiences, and also a rattling good yarn!"

Henry J Cooney

While this is not an inexpensive book, it is one that deserves a place on the bookshelf of anyone interested in yacht design and/or the America's Cup. Have a look!

Originally published by Thomas Armstrong in 70.8%


Gavin Atkin said...

I love that beach yawl! It must have sailed wonderfully. Gav

Gavin Atkin said...

I love that beach yawl! It must have sailed wonderfully. Gav

Thomas Armstrong said...

Originally Pilot boats, at the time Watson's design was built these boats were primarily used for racing. So yes Gavin, I'd guess you are right!

Keep Reaching said...

I didn't know about Watson either - but he surely had an eye for design. Thanks for a treat.