The History of Yachting/Chapter 4
EARLY ENGLISH YACHTS
KING CHARLES appears to have possessed a genius for amusing himself; he is known in history as the "Merry Monarch." Fortunately, yachting was one of his pleasures, and it seems reasonable to suppose that during his exile, some seventeen years, and while in Holland, he acquired a knowledge of yachts and yachting. The first yacht ever known in England as such was the one that, as we have seen, was presented to King Charles II. before his departure from Holland. In due course, she came to England, together with her appellation.
Concerning the yachts of England at that period, we are indebted to Samuel Pepys, John Evelyn, and the Admiralty and State papers, for nearly all our information, but chiefly to Pepys, who was Clerk of the Acts, and subsequently Secretary to the Admiralty. These positions gave him the opportunity, which he improved, of understanding the building of yachts, their cost, equipment, and exploits, all of which he recorded in voluminous writing, preserved in Magdalene College, Cambridge, and which comprise almost all the data obtainable concerning maritime affairs in England, during the reign of King Charles II. The most important manuscripts were those prepared for his intended History of the Navy, among which are the Admiralty Letters, Naval Presidents, Miscellanies, and Naval Minutes; but it is in his Diary that we know Pepys at his best, with his quaint and graphic manner of description, so agreeable, and revealing those redeeming human weaknesses, that are at once pleasing and consoling to contemplate.
Samuel Pepys was born in February 23, 1632; was educated at St. Paul's School, and, afterward, at the University of Cambridge. In the register book of the College the following entry appears: "October 21, 1653. Mem. That Pepys and Hind were solemly admonished by himself and Mr. Hill for having been scandalously overserved with drink ye night before. This was done in the presence of all the fellows then resident, in Mr. Hill's chamber, (signed) John Wood, Register." Evidently, Pepys in his undergraduate days, as in after life, was a bon vivant.
Pepys and Evelyn were life-long friends, and frequently visited each other. Evelyn records under date of September 22, 1700: "I went to visit Mr. Pepys at Clapham where he has a very noble and wonderful well-furnished house, especially with India and Chinese curiosities. The offices and gardens well accommodated for pleasure and retirement."
Pepys rescued a great deal of naval history from the records in the Tower, and owned many fine models and historical paintings of ships, which he collected with good judgment and untiring industry.
John Evelyn, to whom we are also indebted for much valuable information, was born at Watton, Surrey, October 31, 1620. In 1640 he came to London to study law, but soon tired of it, and made an extended tour through Holland and Belgium. His Diary gives an interesting description of the yachts of that period. Under date of October 1, 1641, he writes: "I tooke leave of sweete Antwerp, as late as it was, embarquing for Bruxelles on the Scheld, in a vessel which delivered us to a second boate (in another river) drawn or tow'd by horses. In this passage we frequently chang'd our barge, by reason of the bridges thwarting our course. Here I observed numerous families inhabiting their vessels, and floating dwellings, so built and divided by cabins, as few houses on land enjoy's better accommodation, stor'd with all sorts of utensills, neate chambers, a pretty parlour, and kept so sweete that nothing could be more refreshing. The rivers on which they are drawne are very clear & still waters, and passe through a most pleasant country on both the bankes. We had in our boate a very good ordinary and excellent company." On his return home Evelyn gives a picture of travelling by sea in those days, and records under date of October 14, 1641: " From hence the next day, I marched three English miles towards the pack-boate, being a pretty fregat of six guns, which embarked us for England about three in the after-noone. At our going off, the Fort against which our pinnace ankered saluted my Lord Marshall with twelve greate guns, while we answered with three. Not having the wind favourable, we ankered that night before Calais. About mid-night we weighed and at four in the morning, tho' not far from Dover, we could not make the peere till four in the afternoon, the wind proving contrary and driving us Westward; but at last we got on shore Oct. the 12th."
To the writings of Pepys and Evelyn we are indebted, not only for almost everything known concerning yachts and yachting at this period, but also for the daily lives and customs of the English people during this era, which may be regarded as the opening years in the history of modern England. It was during the reign of King Charles II., and largely through his influence and efforts, that England took her first infant steps in scientific knowledge as applied to naval architecture.
On August 15, 1660, Pepys records: "To the office, and after dinner by water to White Hall, where I found the King gone this morning by five of the clock to see a Dutch pleasure-boat below bridge where he dines, and my Lord with him, the King do tire all his people that are about him with early rising since he came."
The Dutch pleasure-boat was the yacht Mary, which, as we have seen, was presented to King Charles upon his departure from Holland. Pepys records the fact as follows: "In the year '60 the Dutch gave his Majesty a yacht called the Mary, from whence came the improvements of our present yachts; for until that time we had not heard of such a name in England" (Naval Minutes, p. 267). Evelyn also writes in his diary under date of October 1, 1661: "I sailed this morning with his Majesty in one of his yachts or pleasure-boats, vessels not known among us till the Dutch East India Company presented that curious piece to the King."
The dimensions of the Mary were: Length of keel, 52 feet; breadth, 19 feet; depth, 7 feet 7 inches; draught, 10 feet; and 100 tons burden. The length of keel, or "as she treads the ground," is given in all the measurements of yachts at that period, to which should be added from ten to fifteen per cent, for the length over all. The Mary carried 8 guns and a crew of 30 men. The portrait here reproduced—from an unfinished drawing in India ink by Jan Beerstraten—is of a yacht with the royal arms of England on her stern. The artist died in 1666 at Amsterdam, where, as we have seen, the Mary was built. It seems probable, therefore, that this is her portrait before she left Holland. If so, it is the only one extant.Judging from the people about her deck, the
Yacht with the Arms of England on her stern. Believed to be the Mary, Presented to King Charles II. by the Dutch. 1660.
It is pleasant to reflect upon the fact of the young monarch turning out and going down the river "by five of the clock" on that August morning so long ago, eager to see his new yacht. It is also pleasant to know that there are many young yachtsmen to-day—and, for that matter, old ones too—who would do the same thing, or something very much like it; for what yachtsman has not felt a keen pleasure upon seeing his yacht for the first time, either building, fitting out, ready for sea, or after an absence from her; a feeling only less joyful than would be his delight at meeting the lady of his love.
The Admiralty Papers record on November 3, 1660, an "Estimate by Peter Pett of the charges of building a new yacht of eighty tons for the King at Deptford; total 1335 pounds sterling." This appears to be the first record of the use of the word "yacht " in English literature.
On November 8, 1660, Pepys records that, "In the afternoon Commissioner Pett and I went on board the yacht (Mary), which indeed is one of the finest things that I ever saw for neatness and room in so small a vessel, Mr. Pett is to make one to outdo this for the honour of his country, which I fear he will scarce better." And on January 13, 1661: "So to the Globe to dinner, and then with Commissioner Pett to his lodging there, which he had for the present to be near his important business while he is building the King's yacht, which will be a pretty thing, and beyond the Dutchman." And on January 15th: "The King hath been this afternoon to Deptford to see the yacht which Commissioner Pett is building, which will be very pretty, as also that his brother at Woolwich is making."
The yacht at Woolwich was being built by Christopher Pett, who was ten years younger than his brother, Commissioner Peter Pett. On December 19, 1660, Christopher Pett complains to the Board of Naval Commissioners, that he "has no timber for his Highness' pleasure yacht." And again on the 28th that he " wants planks for his Highness' pleasure yacht: purveyor should be quickened." And on February 4, 1661, he appears to be getting somewhat uneasy about his sails, and dictates to the Naval Commissioners exactly what he requires, as follows: " Holland duck is the best canvas for sails for the Duke of York's pleasure yacht now building, the same as is to be bought for the King's new yacht now at Deptford."
The zealous master-shipwright, Christopher Pett, was no doubt greatly delayed and annoyed in many ways through the jealousy of his brother the Commissioner. This can be traced in the official records; and Pepys also refers to this matter. Christopher Pett, sorely vexed, on March 28, 1661, writes to the Commissioners that he wishes "the workmen-carvers Thomas Eaton and Richard Swain severely punished for contempt; they know the great necessity there is for them, and that the vessel cannot be finished at the time prefixed." However, on April 12th, the Duke of York orders the yacht launched, "though the joiners and carvers are not completed." The King's yacht also was launched about the same time.
On May 12, 1661, Christopher Pett makes the following requisition upon the Navy Commissioners: "Six tons of old shot from the Tower for ballast for the Duke of York's yacht, and hurry the lead for ballast."
The italics are mine, but the shot and lead ballast were Christopher Pett's nearly two centuries and a half ago. When, therefore, we reflect that well into the last century, crack racing-yachts in England and America were ballasted with pig iron and iron ore, and in 1851 the America had iron ballast moulded to fit her floors and frames—at that time an extravagant novelty—and that only of late years lead ballast has come into general use as a modern improvement, we may well be cautious in accepting anything as new. It is interesting also to note Christopher Pett's anxiety with regard to the quality of canvas for the sails of the new yacht; also that he knew just what kind of canvas the rival yacht was to have. Indeed, all of his communications to the Naval Commissioners read strangely modern; showing, too, that though yachts have changed, human nature has remained pretty much as it was. And while we sympathize with Christopher Pett in his annoyance and delay in obtaining what he required from the Commissioners, it was still fortunate; otherwise, these interesting details would, like so many others, be lost in oblivion.
One of the new yachts was the Catherine, built for King Charles by Commissioner Peter Pett at Deptford, and named for the Queen. Length of keel, 49 feet; breadth, 19 feet; depth, 7 feet; draught, 7 feet; 94 tons burden. The other yacht was the Anne, built by Christopher Pett at Woolwich, for the King's brother William, Duke of York, and named for the Duchess of York. Length of keel, 52 feet; breadth, 19 feet; depth, 7 feet; draught, 7 feet; 100 tons burden. Each of these yachts carried 8 guns and a crew of 30 men.
By comparing the dimensions, it will be seen that the new yachts were close copies of the Mary. The Catherine was three feet shorter on the keel, but may have been the same length on the waterline, as her beam was the same, with 7 inches less depth of hold; while the Anne was the same length on the keel, and the same beam, with 7 inches less depth of hold. Both latter yachts, however, drew 3 feet less water, which is difficult to explain. The Mary was certainly fitted with lee-boards, and if the draught of these yachts were reversed, we might suppose that the Petts had abandoned the lee-boards in favor of a deeper hull, but the Mary had by 3 feet the greater draught, with only 7 inches more depth of hold.
And so yacht-building in England began in a truly characteristic English way. The yachts were built by brothers for brothers, and were named for the wives of their owners; and we find that the sagacious Pepys, on his first examination of the Mary, had a fear that the yacht to be built by Commissioner Pett, "for the honour of his country," would "scarce better" her. However, the dinner at the Globe with the Commissioner, and a visit to the new yacht, removed this fear, and made him hopeful, so that he is able to record his opinion that she will prove " beyond the Dutchman." This is by no means a solitary instance in English history of a dinner—provided it be a good one—inspiring hope and even confidence.
May 21st, Pepys writes: "So took barge again and were overtaken by the King in his barge, he having been down the river with his yacht this day for pleasure to try it, and as I hear, Commissioner Pett's do prove better than the Dutch one, and that his brother built." It now begins to appear evident that the dinner at the Globe must have been an excellent one.
Still, after this trial trip, and probably others, and notwithstanding the flattering accounts chronicled by Pepys, the King, who had a very good idea of what a yacht ought to be, was by no means satisfied with the new yacht's performance. On June 4th Commissioner Pett's troubles began; for on that date the King required new sails, and requested the Commissioners to "bargain for the cloth and order the putting of them in hand." On the following day Commissioner Pett repeated the order from the Chatham dockyard as follows: "New sails and four tons of musket shot required for ballast for the king's new yacht."
A whole new suit of sails within two months after launching! This appears decidedly modern, especially when we remember that up to the last quarter of the nineteenth century a racing-yacht's sails were supposed to last three seasons. It is only indeed of late years that racing-yachts have had a new suit of sails each season; although, for the America's Cup contests, yachts during the last decade have been provided with almost as many spare racing-sails as a Newport belle is provided with frocks.
The fleet had another addition this year in the Bezan, a small yacht; length of keel, 34 feet; breadth, 14 feet; depth, 7 feet; draught, 3 feet 6 inches; she came from Holland and was given to the King by the Dutch, but exactly by whom, is not recorded.
June 13th, Pepys relates that "with my Lord Sandwich visited the Deptford dockyard and went aboard the Dutch yacht, by and by we came to Greenwich and thinking to have gone on the King's yacht, the King was in her, so we passed by, and at Woolwich went on shore, I home and with wine enough in my head."
At this time it appears that the King was providing himself with pleasure-craft for all occasions, as Pepys mentions under date of September 12th: "In my way upon the Thames, I saw the King's new pleasure-boat that is come now for the King to take pleasure in above bridge; and also two Gundaloes that are lately bought, which are very rich and fine."
September 14th, Sir R. Slingsby made up a barge-party of ladies and gentlemen, including Pepys and his wife, and took them to see the yachts of the King and the Duke. Pepys records that they had "great pleasure in seeing all four yachts—these two and the Dutch ones." That is, this little fleet was composed of the King's new yacht Catherine, the Duke of York's new yacht Anne, and the King's Dutch yachts Mary and Bezan. And this is the first record of a squadron of yachts in England.
The King and Duke of York were wholly different in temperament, as brothers frequently are. Charles appears to have been a man of unusual intelligence and ability, good-natured and generous; regarding things in general, and particularly human nature, as problems not to be taken too seriously or from which much could be expected. In a proper light, he viewed them rather as subjects from which much amusement might be derived. He was a man of refined tastes, who exerted himself toward introducing art and science into England. Flattery he detested. Once, also, he declared to Bishop Burnett that he looked upon "falsehood and cruelty as the greatest crimes in the sight of God." Having a natural taste and liking for vessels, it almost follows that Charles was fond of being on the water. He possessed also an exceedingly good knowledge of ships. And all historians concur in the fact that he had a strong inclination for philosophical pursuits and mechanics, and that at any time, in any place, with any person, he would discourse upon his favorite hobby—naval affairs and shipbuilding. "It was his only pleasure," said the Duke of Buckingham. Indeed, during the early part of the reign of Charles, two-thirds of the money granted him by Parliament was expended upon his Navy. Furthermore, according to Pepys, "he possessed a transcendent mastery of all maritime knowledge," and "two leagues' travel at sea was more pleasure to him than twenty by land." It is also recorded that the King "usually attended the launching of a new ship, the day being specially arranged to suit his convenience; and that he was accustomed to visit the dockyards on other occasions also." We find him desiring "for his own satisfaction and use to have an account of the Just Rake of all the upright-stemmed ships in his Royal Navy, and the present seat of each ship's main mast." He also was much interested in establishing the Royal Philosophical Society, to which he presented Irish lands,—intended as a substantial gift.
We must remember that shipbuilding then was believed to descend from father to son in some occult manner. In this respect the family of Petts was thought to be especially favored. Peter and Christopher, as already noted, held good dockyard positions, and were descended from one Pett who had been master-shipwright at Deptford in the reign of Edward VI. Their cousin, Joseph Pett, also was master-shipwright at Chatham; another cousin, Richard Holborne, was master-mastmaker; and a brother, Phineas, Master of the Shipwright's Company. These men, no doubt, were good, practical shipbuilders; innocent, however, of any mathematical knowledge, yet supposed to possess the "art or mystery," which they were always bound by indentures to impart to their apprentices.
Their envious contemporaries called them the "indestructible Petts"; but they gallantly kept on serving their country, sticking to their posts like South-Sea barnacles.
King Charles had a bent for natural science, and, by his own efforts,—and more by encouraging others,—did much to dispel the "art or mystery" superstition relative to shipbuilding. It was during his reign that Sir Anthony Deane first calculated a vessel's displacement, thus described by Pepys, under date of May 19, 1666:
"Mr. Deane and I did discourse about his ship Rupert, built by him there, which succeeds so well that he hath got great honor by it, and I have some by recommending him; the King, Duke, and everybody saying it is the best ship that was ever built; and then he fell to explain to me his manner of casting the draught of water which a ship will draw beforehand; which is a secret the King and all admire in him; and he is the first that hath come to any certainty beforehand foretelling the draught of water of a ship before she be launched." This was the first step, and an important one, in the science of shipbuilding.
If it be a fact that only a humorist is able to enjoy hearing his own follies satirized, then Charles was a true humorist. To illustrate briefly : One day he requested his witty favorite, the Earl of Rochester, to compose his epitaph, and this is the result :
"Here lies our Sovereign lord and King
Whose word no man relied on.
Who never said a foolish thing
And never did a wise one."
With his usual good humor Charles laughed heartily upon reading it. He deemed it an excellent joke. He remarked, however, that "The matter was easily accounted for, as his discourse was his own, his actions his ministry's."
James was a man who, to put it mildly, was self-contained; who took himself and everything about him quite seriously. Moreover, he does not appear to have had any of the brilliant and attractive mental qualities possessed by his brother. Some decidedly amusing stories are related that tend to illustrate the relationship existing between them: One of them is: One morning, after taking two or three turns in St. James Park, the King, attended only by the Duke of Leeds and Lord Cromarty, strolled up Constitution Hill to Hyde Park. While they were crossing the road where Apsley House now stands, the Duke of York, who had been hunting that morning on Hounslow Heath, was seen returning in his coach, escorted by a party of the guards. As soon as they recognized the King, they suddenly halted and stopped the coach; the Duke of York saluted his brother, and said, he was greatly surprised to find his Majesty in that place with so small an attendance, and he thought his Majesty exposed himself to much danger. "No kind of danger, James," replied Charles; "for I am sure no man in England will take away my life to make you King." In his old age, Lord Cromarty was fond of relating this anecdote to his friends.
At another time, alluding to the amours of the Duke of York and to the plain looks of his favorites, Charles remarked that "he believed his brother had his mistresses given him by his priests for penance."
Still, these brothers managed to get on fairly well, the one bond of sympathy between them seeming to have been their fondness for the sea and for maritime affairs. The new yachts gave them an opportunity for fraternal rivalry also, and excitement no doubt ran high in Court-circles and along the banks of the Thames when it became known that the royal brothers had made a match to sail their yachts for a wager of £100. This classic event in yachting history is thus described by Evelyn:
"October 1, 1661. I had sailed this morning with his Majesty in one of the yachts, or pleasureboats, vessels not known among us till the Dutch East India Company presented that curious piece to the King; being very excellent sailing vessels. It was on a wager between his other new pleasureboat—built frigate-like—and one of the Duke of York's; the wager 100 pounds sterling; the race from Greenwich to Gravesend and back. The King lost in going, the wind being contrary, but saved stakes in returning. There were divers noble persons and Lords on board, his Majesty sometimes steering himself. His barge and kitchen-boat attended. I brake fast this morning with the King at return in his smaller vessel, he being pleased to take me and only four more, who were noblemen, with him; but dined in his yacht where we ate together with his Majesty."
That is the only known account of the race; and it is by no means clear or satisfactory. The Encyclopædia Britannica (ninth edition) states that "In that year (1662) the Jamie was matched for £100 against a small Dutch yacht, under the Duke of York, from Greenwich to Gravesend and back, and beat her, the King steering part of the time—apparently, the first record of a yacht match and of amateur helmsmen."
This must be an error, as the only match sailed at that period of which any record appears, was in 1661, as stated by Evelyn. There can be no doubt that "his (the King's) other new pleasure-boat, built frigate-like," was the Katherine, the only other new pleasure-boats being the Bezan and the boat that Pepys records having seen going up the river; but they were not built frigate-like, and the Mary at that time was not new. The Duke of York had only one yacht, the Anne; so it is difficult to understand how the Jamie could have sailed a match in 1661. She was not even launched, as we shall presently see, until 1662; hence, there can be no question that this first yacht race was sailed between the Katherine and the Anne.
"The King lost in going, the wind being contrary, but saved stakes in returning." This is rather vague, and leaves us in doubt as to who really won the match. If the King won, it would have been natural for Evelyn to say that he "gained" or "won" stakes in returning. How he could have "saved" stakes is hard to imagine, unless the match was arranged to be sailed first from Greenwich to Gravesend, and then to make a fresh start from Gravesend to Greenwich, in which case the match may have been called off at Gravesend. The King, satisfied that the Anne was the faster yacht, may, in this way have "saved" stakes. How he could have done so otherwise, it is difficult to understand.
And there is one significant fact in connection with this match. Pepys nowhere makes mention of it. Accordingly, the only reasonable supposition of his silence seems to be that the yacht of his friend the Commissioner, who had built her "for the honour of his country," and from which Pepys,—after the dinner,—had expected so much, had suffered a humiliating defeat, Pepys therefore preferring to ignore the whole matter. For he certainly must have known of this match; and probably saw it. It was also, no doubt, a subject of general gossip at the Court, and about every London inn and tavern.
Evelyn sailed with the King. Therefore, it is within bounds to suppose that both he and Pepys hoped and expected that the King's yacht would be successful. Hence, if she had won, we should probably have heard of it; for no two men in England were better qualified to express their ideas in a manner not to be misunderstood.
"His barge and kitchen-boat attended" is a phrase that calls to mind the energetic tug and patient tender attached to racing-yachts of the present, and is the one slender thread that connects this ancient racing-yacht with her young and beautiful sisters of to-day.
Early in 1662 the accounts for "adorning, carving, gilding, and painting" the King's new yachts appear in the records. Sir Robert Howard was paid on January 6th "three hundred pounds sterling for painting and adorning the King's yacht"; and on February 8th, four hundred and fifty pounds sterling was paid for similar work on another royal yacht. On March 5th, Christopher Pett writes to the Navy Commissioners that "Mr. Walker will gild and adorn the King's new Besano yacht for one hundred and sixty pounds sterling." Now, at that time, carvers, gilders, and painters were paid two shillings and six pence per day, which rate—allowing for material and a contractor's profit of ten per cent.—gives an idea of the extent to which the embellishment of yachts was carried in the days of King Charles II.
In 1662 two small yachts were added to the fleet: the Jamie, built at Lambeth; length of keel, 31 feet; breadth, 12 feet 6 inches; depth 6 feet; draught, 3 feet 6 inches; 25 tons burden; and the Charles, built at Woolwich by Christopher Pett; length of keel, 36 feet; breadth, 14 feet 2 inches; depth, 7 feet; draught, 6 feet; 38 tons burden. The Jamie carried a crew of four men and four guns, the Charles a crew of ten men and six guns.
The accounts of the cost of yachts at this period, filed with the Admiralty, are of interest. The records of September 8, 1662, show that Christopher Pett's charges for building the Charles were £722.1.5., and for the Duke of York's Anne, built the year before, £1815.2.4.
July 4, 1662, Pepys studies mathematics and "begins with the multiplication table." And on August 11th master-shipwright Deane promises to enlighten him concerning the details of shipbuilding. And no doubt he did so. However, on July 12, 1663, Pepys encounters the "mystery" of the art at Chatham; for on that date, he records as follows: "Commissioner Pett showed me alone his bodies (draughts) as a secret, which I found afterwards by discourse with Sir J. Minnes, that he had shown them to him, wherein he seems to suppose great mystery in the nature of lines to be hid, but I do not understand it at all. Commissioner Pett is a man of words," and the like. Pepys evidently resents the attempt of Commissioner Pett to impose upon his credulity, and a coolness is afterwards noticeable in Pepys's allusions to the Commissioner. It culminates in 1667, when he does not scruple to stigmatize Pett as "a rogue," "a fawning rogue," "a knave," and in other terms of disapproval. It is probable that Sir Anthony Deane really taught Pepys a good deal about shipbuilding. If so, it is indeed fortunate, as Pepys's writings are of value from his knowledge thereof.
While visiting Lambeth, August 13, 1662, Pepys mentions that he saw "the little pleasure-boat in building by the King, my Lord Brouncker, and the virtuosoes of the town, according to new lines, which Mr. Peter Pett cries up mightily; but how it will prove we shall soon see."
He did not remain in doubt very long; for, on September 5th, while on one of his official pleasure trips on the river, Pepys saw this new yacht, the Jamie, "set out from Greenwich, with the little Dutch Bezan, to try for mastery; and before they got to Woolwich the Dutch beat them half a mile; and I hear that in coming home it got above three miles; which all our people are glad of."
By "our people" Pepys meant the officials at the Admiralty Office. No doubt they were disturbed by outsiders interfering in business that they deemed belonged strictly to the regular Naval Board, as did also the building of all vessels for the King in time of peace. Therefore, the report of the discomfiture of "the virtuosoes," through their presumption in attempting the "art or mystery" of yacht-building, was pleasant to them.
December 22, 1662, Pepys writes: "I went to the launching of a new ship with two bottoms invented by Sir William Petty, on which were various opinions: his Majesty being present gave her the name of The Experiment." Pepys further writes of this vessel, under date of July 13, 1663: "Mr. Grant showed me letters of Sir William Petty's wherein he says, that this vessel which he hath built upon two keels, (a model where of, built for the King, he showed me) hath this month won a wager of; £50 in sailing between Dublin and Holyhead with the pacquett-boat, the best ship or vessel the King hath there; and he offers to lay with any vessel in the world. It is about 30 tons burden, and carries 30 men, with good accommodation (as much more as any ship of her burden), and so any vessel of this figure shall carry more men, with better accommodation by half, than any other ship. This carries also ten guns, of about five tons weigh. In their coming back from Holyhead they started together, and this vessel come to Dublin by five at night, and the pacquett-boat not before eight the next morning; and when they come they did believe this vessel had been drowned, or at least behind, not thinking she could have lived in that sea. Strange things are told of this vessel." Petty concludes his letter with this remark: "I only affirm that the perfection of sayling lies in my principle, finde it out who can." This is the first record of an ocean-race, and we all know that the waters between Dublin and Holyhead, in a gale of wind, are a severe test of any vessel's qualities as a sea-boat.
That she was "built upon two keels" is at first sight somewhat confusing. We remember, however, that the Saxons made their descent on Britain in boats covered with leather that they called "caele," from which is derived the English word "keel,"—a boat or barge used in the north of England,—carrying 21 ton 4 cwt. or a "keel of coals." It is probable that Petty may have taken two of these keels, and connected them, or he may have constructed two new keels for this purpose.
Pepys again writes "January 22nd, 1664: To Deptford, and there viewed Sir W. Petty's vessel; which hath an odd appearance, but not such as people do make of it"; and February 1st: "Thence to White Hall; where, in the Duke's chamber, the King come and stayed an hour or two laughing at Sir W. Petty, who was there about his boat; and at Gresham College in general; at which poor Petty was, I perceive, at some loss; but did argue discreetly, and bear the unreasonable follies of the King's objections, and other bystanders, with great discretion; and offered to make oddes against the King's best boates; but the King would not lay, but cried him down with words only."
It does not appear that the Experiment ever raced again. Eventually she was lost with all hands, during a violent gale in the Bay of Biscay. Several other vessels were wrecked at that time also. To this Evelyn thus refers, under date of March 22, 1675: "Sir William, amongst other invitations, was author of the double bottom's ship, which tho' it perished and he was censured for rashnesse, being lost in the Bay of Biscay in a storm, when, I think, 15 other vessels miscarried. The vessel was flat-bottomed, of exceeding use to put into shallow ports, and ride over small depths of water. It consisted of two distinct keeles crampt (clamped) together with huge timbers, etc., so as that a violent streame ran between. It bear a monstrous broad saile, and he still persists that it is practicable and of exceeding use; and he had often told me that he would adventure himself in such another, could he procure sailors, and his Majesty's permission to make a second Experiment, which name the King gave it at the launching."
About the year 1646, the Royal Society was formed. It was composed of "divers worthy persons, inquisitive into natural philosophy, and other parts of human learning." It met once a week; sometimes at Dr. Goddard's lodgings in Wood Street, London, or at the Bull Head Tavern, Cheapside; more often, however, at Gresham College. This is not only the oldest scientific society in Great Britain, but one of the oldest in Europe, being founded in 1660, and incorporated August 13, 1662, as recorded by Evelyn under that date: "Our Charter being now passed under the broad seal constituting us a corporation under the name of The Royal Society for the improvement of natural knowledge by Experiment, was this day read, and was all that was done this afternoon, being very large."
Sir William Petty was also the inventor of the "double boat." This idea, together with that of the "double bottom's ship," was probably borrowed from some early navigator who had observed the swift catamaran among the islands of the Pacific. At all events, Sir William built the first craft of this kind in Europe, an illustration of which is here given from the records of the Royal Society, which furnished the first Regatta Committee.
It is notable that the first open sailing-match in the United Kingdom, so far as any record appears, was sailed under the auspices of the Royal Society. The season opened early, and the match was sailed on Twelfth day in January, 1663. Here is the report as it appears in the Society's records:
"The report of the Committee appointed November, 26th, 1662, to examine and give in an account of the matter concerning the Structure and sailing of Sir William Petty's new ship was read and registered as follows:
"They had before them, the draught herewith sent, an exact model of about 2½ feet long of the said present vessel; whereupon most of the company, and especially the seamen, made several objections concerning her strength and otherwise; but declaring their judgment that they saw in her the causes of outsailing anything in use, and were satisfied by their own observations of her keeping a good wind, feeling her helm, staying well, round and quick, without loosing way. The chief objections were these which follow: 1st. The danger of divulsion and separation of the two cylinders, by the irruition of the water; for as much as the same is received by two heads, which stand diverging as in the wind end of a tunnel. 2nd: The falling in of the water between the two heads obliquely. 3rd: The danger of being over run, and submerged by a head sea, the vessel sailing swiftly against it, especially when her stern is raised, and consequently the head depressed in a wave. 4th: The danger of her platform being blown up, either with the rising of the sea between the cylinders, or rather by the seas coming in by her broad windward side, and cuffing her under the platform.
"We might here insert the report that several of the gentlemen then present made of this vessel's sailing upon several occasions; as that it had outsailed several good vessels half in half in stiff winds and grown seas, thwart tides, and that it steered and sailed extraordinary well. But the company, for the fuller satisfaction both of themselves and the Royal Society that intrusted them, caused a flag to be made, and offered it to any that could win it at a sailing to be made for that purpose on Twelfth day, and committed to the seamen and shipwrights to give general notice thereof throughout the harbor; of which contest be pleased to take the following account":
"Dublin, January 9, 1663.
"To the President of the Society,
"In obedience to an order of the Royal Society, dated the 28th of November last, appointing us to consider and report the Structure and Sailing of Sir William Petty's double bottomed ship, we have proceeded as followeth, viz.
"The members of the society meeting did, in the first place, issue an order that as many ingenious gentlemen, especially such as had been most conversant in naval affairs, who were in and near this town, together with the chief shipwrights and seamen of this place, should be desired to meet and confer about the premises, which accordingly was done; and there was an appearance of the several persons undernamed, viz:
Of the Society:
The Lord Massareene,
Sir Anthony Morgan,
Dr. Peter Pett,
Mr. Southwall, and
Sir William Petty, himself.
Together with Dr. Woods, Mr. Muschamp, Mr. Tucker, Mr. Armory, Mr. Pierson, Mr. Taylor, Mr. Lancelot, Capt. Samuel Molyneux, Capt. Webbe, Capt. Gloner, Mr. Bathurst, Mr. Fitzgerald, Mr. Osberne, and Mr. William Pett, master shipwright.
"We have sent the relation less whole than it might have been to avail ourselves of the opportunity by Sir Maurice Berkley; however as to the truth of all passages we hereunto subscribe.
(Signed by order)
"Report of the Sailing of Sir William Petty's
Ship on Twelfth Day.
"Dublin, January 14, 1663.
"We could not think of better expedient to call together all such who were conversant with boats and the water, than on a holiday to propose a match and to make a free offering (without any danger or loss on their side) of a flag of silk, charged with a gilded harp, and in a wreath of laurel above, and in a scroll beneath, this inscription,
'Præmium regalis societas velocioris'.
and this to be given to any boat that should out-sail Sir William Petty's vessel in such course as should be set. The prize being published and the day come, the only boats that would adventure for this reward, and for the day, were but three, for all the rest judged in vain to contest when these three did appear, and as we do believe them the prime ones which this place does afford, so had they amongst them the two advantages of fabric; for it lies in the Shipwright's skill, to make a boat do well in her course before the wind; or to alter that shape and make her a good sailer by the wind. But both these advantages they cannot in perfection unite in one; the first requiring only a shallow floating in the water, and the other for being windward, a good deep rooting in it; yet both these advantages Sir William affirmed to be in his ship.
"The Company being in great numbers assembled, the mark for goal was agreed on by the parties concerned, which was a ship that rid at anchor about two miles below the haven. The flag of reward was pitched on a pole at the starting place, and to be given to the boat that first sailed round the Ship, and returned against the wind, bade to take it down. It was then tide of flood, and the wind blew very hard, and that in sudden broken flaws as they term it.
"The three boats were, one of them the King's barge; another, a large black pleasure-boat laden with two tons of ballast, and the third a man-a'war's boat belonging to Captain Darcy.
"At the sign given they all hoisted sail, and they got the start of Sir William's and Darcy's boat and kept it by half a score of lengths, until such time as Sir William's was settled in her course and the men had done running up and down, but then she soon passed them by, and come to the ship near one tenth part of the way before her; so that the tacking round, and taking a great stretch back into the wind out toward the right hand, he could easily perceive that Darcy's boat, which also turned round the ship some time after her, was clearly baffled by the wind; she not being able to bear up, nor do any thing against the wind, although she had done very well before it; but her shape of build would not permit this, and therefore they had by way of stratagem, taken two empty barrels aboard them, with design to take in ballast at sea, and to fill these up as soon as they came to work against the wind, yet notwithstanding, they did so ill, as they had near two miles to turn, when Sir William's vessel did arrive.
"We shall now tell your lordship the adventures of the black boat and the barge; these two not being shaped to sail with advantage before the wind, were half a mile behind when Sir William's vessel turned round the ship; and therefore seeing how much she was already on her return, they very fairly, not going unto the mark, tacked about; and the black boat performed now much better than before. Yet however by the ill play she turned too short, Sir William's now would needs try it with her still; and truly she sculed up and came near the wind, as that by these following misfortunes, she cameth to get before them. Sir William's men, for want of dexterity to shift their sails, stopped twice in the wind, and ran back near a quarter of a mile, in one of which errors, one of her rudders was broken, she also grated twice on the shoal ground, and by reason of the sudden flaws of wind, the sheet of the mainsail did sometimes break loose; and the men were yet confounded (in this new way) in the names of the ropes.
"By these disadvantages, the black boat got to tack about before her, whereof she was so proud, as that making too daringly in the eye of the wind, the violence of it snapped off their boom by the board, and so the cylinders soon passed her by leaving her to make a pole with the part broken, which helped them to get home by setting.
"As for the barge she was so distressed by too much wind, and the disorder of her sails did entangle her, so that Darcy's boat, that sailed out the full course, was at a great distance off, laboring in the wind. The barge was near half a mile short, and the black boat could sail no more.
"So that the Præmium was taken down by Sir William Petty's men; and now they bear it in the main top as Admiral of the Cylinders.
"This is a true state of the day's expedition; for the better knowledge of which Mr. Soutwall did then, at the match, sail in her, and does report, that for strength of her contexture, he never did perceive the first tendence to a divulsion of the cylinders, but that, on the contrary, the waves that rose up big and strong, fell mostly on them, for their rounded shapes made all the force slide away on each side, so as not to make the least contusion or balsery, and he says, that the objection of her being wind-taught lies much more strongly against her; but for this Sir William avouches a perfect remedy, and that greater vessels shall be less subject to it than small ones.
"As for sailing against the wind she does it extremely well, she stops well at a tack; she makes way as she looks without sliding down the wind; and come within less than five points of the compass, some say very much less.
"And all this we have observed in this present fabric of the first trial in the build; and which the men that sail in her offer to go where any vessel of double their burden dare venture, she being a ton and three quarters.
"And they make another offer, that even in the winter, with a month's warning, they will give out twenty pieces (of gold) here to receive an hundred at their return from Holyland, and that no man may urge the scruple of venturing men's lives, Sir William saith that another vessel shall go out with them; and if by the way they at any time call to her for aid, the wager shall be acknowledged lost.
"Since ours of the 5th instant, we have made the above mentioned experiment, and do attend the truth thereof.
"Signed by order
"After reading this report Mr. Grant observed that he had received a letter of a further date than that, which contained the above mentioned report; and that in this letter Sir Wm. Petty mentions that he had so altered his vessel since, that it would now bear 720 square feet of sail, whereas it carried but 600 before." The foregoing particulars are taken from the History of the Royal Society, by Thomas Birch, D.D., published in 1756. It is interesting to note that the objections raised by "most of the company and especially the seamen" to this first catamaran, are those that experience has confirmed, and that accordingly debar these swift vessels from contending in modern sailing-matches. The use of the word "match" in describing the first contest between more than two vessels is also of interest, showing as it does that the term was then introduced which continues in England to the present day—as applied to yachts; also—since "by way of strategem" they had "taken two empty barrels aboard them with design to take in ballast at sea, and to fill these up as soon as they came to work against the wind"—that the idea of water for shifting ballast, introduced on board of yachts about the middle of the last century, was by no means a modern device.
Petty built several "double bottomes ships," and experimented in other directions. Evelyn records, under November 30, 1661, "At the Royal Society Sir William Petty proposed divers things for the improvement of Shipping, a versatile keel that should be on hinges, and concerning sheathing ships with thin lead." The "versatile keel" points to the centre-board, but there appears to be no record at that time of its being applied, although the lee-boards of the yachts from Holland had attracted attention.
Sir William Petty was born at Rumsey, a small town in Hampshire, in 1623. When quite young he was apprenticed to a sea captain; and he followed the sea until near-sightedness compelled him to give it up. He then studied medicine at Leyden and at Paris. In 1644 he returned to England, and continued his studies at Oxford, where he was graduated as Doctor of Physics. In 1652 he was appointed Physician-General of the Army in Ireland. Here he added greatly to his reputation and fortune. He was one of the founders of the Royal Society; and, furthermore, he had—the records show—at one time no less than sixty-three miscellaneous experiments to be prosecuted by the Society. One of them was "to fix an engine (machine) with propelling power in a ship." He also invented the "double writing," or copying machine. The double-bottomed ship, however, was his favorite invention. In 1684—as the records of the Royal Society show—he sent a challenge to Sir Anthony Deane—at that time the leading naval constructor in England—embracing some fifteen propositions "wherein are effected the virtues of the sluice-bottomed vessel beyond any vessel of common make." He closes his letter by saying that he intends "to spend his life in examining the greatest and noblest of all machines—a ship."
Sir William presented a model of one of his vessels to the Royal Society, and another to Gresham College, both being still preserved. In 1665 he communicated a discourse about the building of ships to the Royal Society, containing some curious secrets concerning the "art or mystery." This paper was taken away by Lord Broucnker, who kept it in his possession, saying, that "it was too great an arcanum of State to be commonly perused." He also wrote a treatise on Naval Philosophy, in three parts, and at the end, as an appendix, "An account of several new Inventions, in a discourse by way of letter to the Earl of Marlborough," published in 1691; and he drew up the 198th Number of the Philosophical Transactions, entitled "What a complete Treatise of Navigation should contain." He died in his sixty-fifth year, December 16, 1687, one of the most accomplished and learned men of his time.
A plain flat stone marks his grave at Rumsey, bearing this inscription: