Maintenance costs

The question of the cost of these yachts is far from being unimportant, especially if we are right in supposing that the extravagance of the pastime went a long way towards ruining it. It is true that in 1665, when war had broken out with the Dutch, the gallants of the Court elected to go to sea in the great ships and to fight the enemy; and this being so, it is obvious that yachting as a popular pastime must have stagnated terribly. But the war did not last long, and, save for the lack of money which accom­panied and followed it, we might have expected to find that the return of the courtiers to Whitehall was marked by a recrudescence of water-parties. Yacht-racing, in fact, might have stood a chance of being established; but the case was far otherwise. After the first few years of the reign the yachts were turned over to the Navy to earn their bread, and mentions of pleasure-parties become few and far between. ‘Pepys’s Diary,’ for instance, extends only to 1669, but even this short period is long enough to carry us beyond the days when he thought yachts worth a mention. His last entry touching on the subject belongs to September, 1666, when he used the Bezan as a pantechnicon in which to move his household goods from Deptford to London.

But, moralizing apart, there is a good deal to interest us in the accounts of Charles II.’s yachts, and tolerably complete figures for the earlier yachts are here given. Nothing more than a few mis­leading excerpts has previously been published. The first to be given is a statement of charges  for the hulls of the Anne and the Charles, both built at Woolwich by Christopher Pett:

Pett’s account for the rigging would be more interesting if he had descended to particulars of blocks, spars, etc., and had enabled us to be certain of the rig of the yachts. Some, we believe, had gaffsails, others may 10ve had sprit mainsails; but of such essential points as whether all had jibs, how many jibs were included in a suit of sails, or whether any of the yachts had mizens  – of these and similar details we have no certain knowledge.

Inasmuch as the Mary was presented to the King all standing, it is obvious that the valuation of her gear is a matter of guesswork; but in all probability the figures for the Katherine and Little Charles represent a return of sums actually spent.

The next item to be assessed is the cost of the guns, which were brass 3-pounders in every instance. The uniformity simplifies matters. There is extant a warrant ‘to pay the Lieutenant-General of the Ordnance £372 19s. 7d. for furnishing brass ordnance for two yachts built at Deptford and Woolwich for the King and the Duke of York.’ As these two yachts, the Anne and Katherine, were sisters, and each carried eight guns, it is obvious that £186 9s. 10d. will be approximately the cost of the guns of each. Similarly, the Charles carried six guns, which by the same scale would cost £139 12s. 6d.; but as the custom of the time was to place lighter pieces of the same calibre in the smaller ships, it may reasonably be inferred that the armament of the Charles cost £120, or less.

Another paper of Christopher Pett’s refers to the ballasting of the yachts, and, though it is but a rough draft or memorandum, a good deal can be made out from it. It begins with an unexplained table of names and weights, thus:

These figures imply the quantity of ballast delivered out of store for each yacht, as is shown by other official papers of 1661. The Anne and Katherine were practically sister ships, and it would be reasonable to suppose that their needs would be the same, and so thought Mr. Pett. He added together the amounts issued for the two yachts, and divided the total equally between them, each getting a little short of 18 tons. The other figures were allowed to stand. The memorandum also includes a note of various purchases of lead, the price paid varying from about £16 to above £22 per ton; and there is an entry showing that 23 tons odd of the lead bought was specially cast to Pett’s order. The several parcels of lead bought totalled 44 tons 11 hundredweights 4 pounds, and to this Pett added 4 tons of shots which he got free, and 15 hundredweights ‘of the Diver’s, not included,’ the Diver being a hoy out of which he ‘collected’ 30 leaden ½-hundred­weights. All told, Pett had got together 49 tons 6 hundred­weights 4 pounds, which is only 68 pounds less than the aggregate of the quantities set against the yachts’ names; and although he got 4 tons 15 hundredweights for nothing, he had to pay £92 odd – which seems a long price – for casting, so that, taken together, his lead cost him almostly exactly£20 per ton – viz., £989 2s. 11d. for 49 tons 6 hundredweights. For each yacht twelve leaden scuppers, together with some hundredweights of new pipe and sheet lead, were issued. These were included in the totals given, though they were certainly not ballast. One of the most interesting details which these papers give runs thus:

For the Charles:

Old lead cast into the Heele of the Mast: 27 Cwt. 0 qr. 0 lb

New lead cast into the Heele of the Mast: 22 Cwt. 2 qr. 12 lb

That is, nearly 2½ tons in the heel of the mast. The explanation comes from Pepys: ‘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 brought, which are very rich and fine.’ As Pepys records this item on September 12, 1661, it is obvious that he refers to the original Bezan, not to the Charles; but the Bezan to go under old London Bridge must have had her mast on a tabernacle – Norfolk wherry fashion, it would seem – and as the Charles was obviously copied from her, she, too, would have a counterpoise on her mast. The sums charged against the several yachts were: Katherine and Anne, £324 each; Charles, £159 13s. 7d; and Mary, £88 10s.

It is not easy to decide whether these figures represent the total amount of ballast carried by the yachts. For the Anne or Katherine 18 tons seems reasonable, but for the Mary, of the same size, less than 5½ tons is very little. But the Mary was much deeper than the others, and possibly needed less ballast; perhaps, also, this figure represents a small addition to what she carried already. We know that the Henrietta, built in 1663, carried much more ballast than any of these yachts. With 16 tons of shot received from the Tower, and 13 tons of ‘lead’ – meaning, pre­sumably, cast lead – she was still too light, and needed 16 tons more. Pett refused point-blank to be put off with anything but lead. One thrifty soul, frightened, perhaps, at the cost of the yachting craze, and reflecting that money was becoming tighter every day, suggested that the yacht should top up with stone ballast; but Pett answered that if stones were used instead of shot for ballast, the yacht would be damaged, for the quantity of stones required would make it needful to half fill the cabins, and would make her ‘run leeward.’ Nor would he have anything to say to some ‘broken ordnance’ – i.e., scrap-iron – offered from Chatham; even that would take up too much room. So we may presume that eventually the yacht went to sea with about 45 tons (£900 worth) of lead in her.

These figures are very closely confirmed from another source. In these further accounts the entry against the Anne yacht runs: ‘The charge in building the said yatch in reference to timber plank ironworke joyning carveing painting plasterers Braziers and Masons worke &c with masts yards cordage sailes anchors colours and other particulers with workmens wages amounts to per estimacon, £2,538.’ This it will be noticed, does not include guns, but does include colours. Similarly, the entry for the Charles Bezan is £1,157, not including guns, but including colours. The figures agree remarkably closely, and from them it may be inferred that the cost of the colours of the Anne should be about £158. The cost of these ‘colours,’ or sets of flags, seems enormous, but is explained by flagmakers’ bills of 1660 and 1661, which show that a set of flags, consisting of ensign, standard, Admiralty flag, and pennants cost well over £100 when made of silk. ‘Sarsnett,’ at from 12s. 6d. to19s. 6d. per ell, seems unthrifty stuff to make big flags off, but then Charles was not setting up for a thrifty soul.

As the Anne without her guns cost £2,538, an explanation is needed for the total of only £1,935, which stands against a precisely similar entry for her sister ship, the Katherine. No such explana­tion seems to be forthcoming. It is very suspicious, however, that the sum agrees exactly with the original estimate.

It cannot be disputed that these figures are very high, absurdly high. For the Charles the result is £33 13s. per ton; for the Anne, taking her nominal tonnage of 100, it is £27 5s. The result looks even worse when it is noticed that the dimensions of the Anne, and of all the larger yachts, do not by the rating rule then in force give a result anything like as high as the accepted figure. For purposes of comparison the Anne would have to be rated at about 74 tons, which would make her cost per ton £36 16s. A man-of-war at that date, equipped for sea, cost about £15 per ton, and a merchantman from £7 to £8 per ton.

Some small attempt was made to reduce the cost of later yachts, the total estimate for the Henrietta being £1,850 without guns. The original estimate for the Katherine, a somewhat smaller ship, was £1,935, and the actual cost, if we may judge by the Anne, was about 40 per cent higher. Probably the Henrietta also exceeded the estimate, but the reduction intended was to have resulted from hanging the cabins with gilded leather instead of the elaborate carved work ‘on the sides,’ by which we may understand the ceilings and bulkheads.

Apart from the initial cost of the yachts there was the expense of running them, which was not inconsiderable. Wages at this period were low, and even though the men in the yachts did, on some occasions at least, receive higher pay than their opposite numbers in the regular service of the navy, still, the wages bill looks insignificant when compared with modern figures. And there was no racing money to be paid. The standard rate of wages in the navy at this time was, for able seamen, 24s. per lunar month; for ordinary seamen, 19s.; for ‘grommets’ (an intermediate rating), 14s. 3d.; and for boys, 9s. 6d. Probably these wages were paid in most instances in the yachts – at any rate, after the first few years – but the following list shows exceptions, and will also serve to indicate the continuous nature of the service of the yachts. It also shows that Pepys’s list of the nominal complements of the yachts was far from being respected in times of peace.

We have next to consider that the yachts of today hold no monopoly of accidents. The Mary, for instance, though still quite new, was, by September 8, 1662, in hand for a thorough refit, which it was estimated would cost about £400. In point of fact it actually cost £671, and the entry shows that it included ‘Repaireing her hull, makeing her a newe Mast and yard with other workes fitting her with new rigging sailes &c.’

After this the Anne’s repair at a cost of £66 in March, 1663, seems quite moderate. This sum included ‘new Catt heeds the ould ones being to short,’ caulking, glazing, joinery, brazier’s work, and ‘for the making of a new maine mast, the ould one being sprung both aloft and alow, per estimate, £26.’ Perhaps the mention of a mainmast implies the presence of a mizen, but it is possible that ‘main’ means ‘lower,’ though as far as we know a pole-masted rig was in favour for yachts. But whatever it may have been, this new mainmast did not last very long, for about two years later a new one had to be ordered. The Anne was in hand again for repair in 1668 at an estimated cost of £185, and the Katherine at the same time was to be repaired for £138.

Sails, as has been seen already, cost £70 or £75 per suit for a 100-ton yacht. The material used was Holland duck, which was stated to be the best for the purpose. The King certainly was hard to please in the matter of sails. In June, 1661, he ordered ‘a new suit of sails for his new yacht,’ and whether ‘the new yacht’ means the Mary, or, as is more likely, the Katherine, it is clear that the quarrel was with the fit of the old sails rather than with their wear. This was four months before the race with the Duke of York’s Anne, and shows that the King wished his yacht to do her best whether she was racing for money or not. It is probable that going for a sail in 1661 implied a race with every craft met, much as it does in the present year of grace, and seventeenth-cen­tury hints that this was so are not uncommon. Other mentions of new sails occur – e.g., for the Annein 1665, when ‘blue and white colours’ were also needed. In 1671 we get a hint that extrava­gance in sails is a thing of the past, French canvas, which was the material in ordinary use, being ordered for the making of sails for the Mary yacht. The price of this canvas was about two-thirds that of duck.

However, if sails were dear, boats were tantalizingly cheap. Witness Christopher Pett in a letter to the Navy Commissioners: ‘The boat sent is not fit for the King’s new yacht. A shipwright in the town (Woolwich) offers a very pretty boat at five shillings per foot.’ Incidentally, it is pleasant to think that this old-fashioned way of buying boats is not yet dead.

When not on duty the yachts lay tugging at their moorings at Greenwich. They tugged to some purpose, as the officer responsible discovered. ‘New chains and bridles are wanted for moorings. Those of the King’s pleasure-boats at Greenwich wear out fast.’

No inventories of the furniture or descriptions of the accom­modation of these yachts seem to have survived. We know by the cost that they were luxurious, that gilt leather was introduced vice elaborate carving, so as to economize in internal fittings, and that the Henrietta had three copper chimneys, one of which belonged to a fireplace fitted with marble, but beyond this we know very little.

Before leaving this branch of the subject we may refer to the difficulties which lack of money strewed in the path of the con­structors from the very beginning of the reign. Thus, in Decem­ber, 1660, ‘His Highnesses pleasure yacht’ was delayed for lack of planks and timber. The delay continued, and the yacht was not ready when she should have been; on the day at first ordered for the launch’ the joiners and carvers works are not completed,’ which is hardly to be wondered at when we find Christopher Pett writing to the Navy Commissioners shortly before that he ‘wishes Thomas Eaton and Richard Swain, workman carvers, for some time employed on the Duke of York’s yacht, to be severely punished for contempt if they continue to refuse to work; they know the great necessity there is for them, and that without them the vessel cannot be finished at the time prefixed.’ In the same paper we find that a plumberess was employed, and also that she wanted her bill paid. Another disadvantage incurred in building these yachts was that courtiers ran down to see how the work was progressing, and expected to be entertained. Christopher Pett thought that such expenses ought to be made good to him, and petitioned accordingly.

It has often been noticed that Charles II took a great interest in everything connected with shipping, and that he waxed enthusi­astic over the new yachts. It was on August 15, 1660, that Pepys ‘found the King gone this morning by five of the clock to see a Dutch pleasure-boat below bridge’; but it was not till November 8 that Pepys saw more than the outside of her. ‘Commissioner Pett and I went on board the yacht, which indeed is one of the finest things that ever I 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.’ However, by January 13 Mr. Pepys had made up his mind that she ‘will be a pretty thing, and much beyond the Dutchman’s.’ It might be supposed that Pepys was not likely to know much more of a yacht at that date than the profusion of carving and gilding told him; but he was presumably quoting his authorities, for on May 21 the King was ‘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 that his brother built’ (i.e., Anne). It is to be noticed that there is a distinct reference here to a race of some sort, prior to the much-advertised contest of October 1 following. However, as there was no betting on this occasion, it seems best to consider that our fore­bears looked upon it much as we would do, not as a race, but as a tuning-up spin.

As soon as the Katherine was ready, the Mary was turned over to the general use. Pepys had his first sail in her on June 13, 1661. The original Bezan came over in this summer, and her chief effect was to give a fillip to yacht-building. Just as two improved copies of the Mary were made, so two improvements on the Bezan had to be immediately put in hand. But the Bezan was not so much used by the King as his bigger yacht, unless, perhaps, above bridge, where the Mary could not go.

Read on … Pepys’ accounts