Dutch influence

It has often been said that yachting history begins with the Restoration of Charles II., and it is indeed certain that the date of the home-corning marks an epoch. As has already been shown, the seeds of the sudden growth were sown in the dark ages; but there was small visible development before 1660, when the young plant shot up with great rapidity. From this time on­ward it begins to be possible to associate names with progress and with events, not as fully as we could wish, but to an extent which contrasts favourably with the obscurity of the preceding age. But there is still a considerable period to be traversed before the story ceases to tell of British yachts rather than of British yachtsmen.

Popular opinion has it that the history of the Restoration yachts is all plain sailing. That the Dutch gave the Mary to the King; that the King and the Duke of York used her as a model, and pro­ceeded to multiply the type; that a yacht race took place upon the Thames, and that presently war came and stopped the development of a promising sport – for all this, and for a good deal more of like nature, ‘Pepys’ Diary’ stands responsible. Without denying a very considerable value to this quaint and popular work, the author may be allowed to point out that, as regards yachting, Pepys was in 1660 at a great disadvantage. To form a true appreciation of what the movement actually meant, a knowledge of the sea and of ships was above all things necessary; and we have no reason whatever to suppose that Pepys at this date had acquired any technical know­ledge. He learnt a great deal in the years that followed, and within limits may be regarded as an authority on naval and maritime affairs; but his period of authority was not yet, and at the Restoration he spoke of the sea and of ships with guileless irresponsibility. For facts within his own personal experience he is as good a witness as is to be desired, but when, in the earlier days of his connection with shipping, he expresses an opinion on a matter of which he could not have full cognizance, he must be content to submit to cross-examination. When he says that he slept on cushions in the cabin of one of the yachts, and laughed till he was fit to burst when the snoring of his companions woke him, we believe him and envy him his frame of mind; but when he speaks of yachts as being entirely a new thing, it becomes necessary to inquire more closely into the details of the matter.

And, indeed, there are fairly numerous difficulties to be over­come. Was the name ‘yacht’so entirely new in England in 1660? Was the thing itself quite a novelty? If so, in what did the novelty consist? In the form of hull? In the rig? Or in the luxury of the appointments? To most of these questions the answer is at least a partial negative. The name ‘yacht’’ was not then for the first time heard in England. All through the early part of the century yachts had accompanied every great Dutch fleet that put to sea; yachts had served as advice boats to the fleet with which Tromp destroyed Oquendo in the Downs; yachts scouted for every fleet that fought against us under the Common­wealth. The name was well known to every man who took an interest in sea affairs, but it had as yet no reference to pleasure-sailing.

Was there, then, any novelty in the hull or rig? As far as we can decide from existing evidence, there was not. The hulls of the first yachts seem to have followed normal lines of development, and as to rig, there was no essential difference between the early yachts and the fore and aft rigged coasters – no more, in fact, than there is between the cutter yacht of the present day and the East Coast oyster boat. It would be impossible to point to any one detail as essential to a yacht, or to name any feature of rig or hull that was not already present in England in existing types of ships. The yachts were fore and aft rigged, but fore and aft rigs were common to Northern Europe in Elizabeth’s time. Some of them had gaff sails and jibs; but gaff sails and jibs were in common use in coasters  at the very beginning of this reign,and cannot have been intro­duced with lightning rapidity. Then, as now, the sailor-man was conservative. Leeboards, as we have seen, were common through­out Northern waters in 1634, and probably much earlier; and the Dunkirk prizes taken under the Commonwealth had already shown us what was known across the water as to the way in which to build a fast-sailing ship.

The truth would seem to be that there was little that was novel about the ship herself; but the idea of owning a private sailing vessel was new to England, though doubtless not new to those courtiers who had shared Charles’s exile in Holland, and certainly not new to the King himself. The Dutch neatness of equipment, too, must have been a revelation to men who had always been accustomed to look upon life afloat as a time of inevitable hardship; the royal interest in the details of nautical affairs was also a new departure; and, finally, there came the word ‘yacht’ itself, new to the non-seagoing public, and seeming to summarize and, as it were, to hall-mark these various new tendencies. The word instantly became popular, and its use survived the short era of pleasure-sailing. When the yachts were turned over, as they very soon were, to perform the various minor naval duties appropriate to small craft, they carried their name with them, and it may be said with a reasonable degree of truth that for nearly a century a yacht ceased to be a pleasure boat, and that a pleasure boat was not a yacht. This statement would not indeed be strictly true, but it is true that from about 1670 onwards the term ‘yacht,’ when it occurs, should always be understood to mean a navy tender unless there is distinct reason to suppose that such is not the case. The yachts of the end of the seventeenth and the first half of the eighteenth century corresponded rather to the Victoria and Albert and the Enchantress than to the Britannia or Sunbeam.

It appears to be well established that the yachts of 1660 differed from other contemporary small craft chiefly in the luxury of their fittings. It was not the rig that made the yacht, for spritsails and gaff-sails flourished side by side, and a yacht might have a jib or no jib, might have a square topsail or a stump mast; but the essential feature lay in fitting the whole of the interior for the accommoda­tion and comfort of passengers, in the carving and gilding, in the neatness and space below deck, and last, but not least, in the luxurious cooking appointments. It is true that the germ of the cutter rig belongs to this period, but so, too, does the germ of every existing fore and aft rig. It is not true, however, to say that the Maryrepresents the furthest point to which this rig can be traced back, for not only was the rig of gaff mainsail with foresail and jib fairly common, but there is, on the other hand, no sure evidence that the Mary was rigged in this way.

The first stage of Charles II’s journey home, from Breda to Delft, was made in a yacht, and that considerable importance should be attached to the event will appear from the following descrip­tion of it:

‘The yacht on board of which the King sailed had been built for himself by the Prince of Orange, but now belongs to the Board of Admiralty of Rotterdam, and it was without doubt the finest of the little fleet, which consisted, without other ships, of thirteen large yachts, which the persons of rank use in the rivers and on the sea, to pass from one province to another, for necessity as well as for pleasure.

‘The King found his yacht so convenient and comfortable that he remarked, while discoursing with the Deputies, that he might order one of the same style, so soon as he should arrive in England, to use in the River Thames. The Burgermaster of Amsterdam, taking occasion to do a considerable service to his fatherland, said to the King that lately a yacht had been built in Amsterdam which was almost of the same size, and at least as handsome, and he took the liberty of presenting it to His Majesty, praying him to do a favour to the Magistrate by accepting it.

‘The King did not absolutely accept it, but at the same time did not refuse, so that the yacht was bought, which the Board of Admiralty has now received from the East India Company, and has been brought to an excellent state for giving pleasure to the great King, and, to give it greater brilliancy, the Magistrate has had the interior of the cabins decorated and gilded, while some of the best artists have been engaged in making beautiful paintings and sculptures with which to embellish it within and without.’

With the exercise of some tact, the King’s retinue was distributed satisfactorily among the thirteen yachts, in all of which every possible luxury was present:

‘Each yacht had her own steward, cooks, and officers who were in charge of the pantry, kitchen and wines, and those yachts which had not suitable kitchens on board were accompanied by other vessels, wherein stoves for the kitchen had been provided, also ovens for baking, and there had been made great provision of so great a quantity of all kinds of food, game, confitures, and wines, and all the tables were so fully served, that the stewards of the English lords, though accustomed to abundance, were astonished thereat, and confessed that they could not conceive by what means twenty or twenty-five great dishes for each table could be prepared on board the yachts and with the motion of the water.’

During the passage the yachts stopped at Rotterdam, and Mr. Clark gives a reproduction of Verschuring’s picture of the event, which shows all the yachts save one rigged with a spritsail and forestay-sail only. The remaining one has a gaff mainsail with a very short gaff. All the masts are stump masts, and, though many of the yachts show bowsprits, there are no jibs set. Nearly all, including the yacht in which the King was, have leeboards.

From Delft Charles went by land to Scheveningen, where he found the fleet sent from England to receive him. The elder Van der Velde is reported to have been present on the occasion of this embarkation, and his picture of it has therefore a high value as a piece of evidence. In it there are shown at least three undoubted yachts, their hulls the miniatures of great ships of the period, with low head, high poop, and a profusion of carving and gilding. They are not rigged with spritsails and stump masts, like the yachts that escorted Charles in Holland, but with long gaffs, lofty pole masts, square topsails, and jibs running on stays; that is, they were as near to the modern sloop or cutter idea as that age was destined to reach. One of the most important points for considera­tion, however, is that they are one and all flying English ensigns and pennants.

There is, however, an obvious discrepancy. England had no yachts before the Mary, yet here are, at least, three big yachts, as we would call them, under English colours employed in escorting Charles back to his kingdom. The Mary was Dutch, and the Mary introduced developments of rig (so goes the popular belief); but here are craft, seemingly English, of earlier date, and showing a sail plan which, in view of subsequent history, we recognise as being more highly developed than that which found most favour among the Dutch yachts of the period. What, then, is the solution of the riddle? Did Van der Velde paint the thing that was not, or were the craft in question Dutch or really English? As to the first proposition, if Van der Velde is not to be relied on, then there can be no faith in pictures. It may be accepted as practically certain that craft like those depicted were present on that occasion, or, at least, if they were not present, they existed, and might have been expected to be there. For two reasons they were not Dutch. In the first place, the Dutch were extremely jealous of their mari­time rights, and would not have been likely to disguise their yachts under English bunting; and secondly, they had no great yachts rigged in this fashion. Vlackett’s account quoted above says that there were thirteen large Dutch yachts in all; Verschuring’s pic­ture, to which reference has been made, shows that they were very different in appearance from these.

Read on … the King’s Pleasure Fleet