Other accounts

Singularly few mentions of private yachts occur during this period. There is, indeed, the case of Jan Griffier, the artist; but Griffier, though long settled in England, was by birth a Dutchman. There is also the case of Roger North; but North belongs to the border-line of this age, and will more properly be mentioned later. Jan Griffier is of more importance, because, being a humble painter, he did not hold the Court idea of pleasure-sailing, which was gilt-edged in the extreme, but preferred a sailing house-boat in which he could combine business with pleasure. We have no detailed account of the vessel with which he provided himself; nor of when he began this manner of life. Probably he bought a smack or small hoy; and, to judge by the date of his birth, it may be assumed that he did not acquire this floating studio till 1670, perhaps much later. He seems to have cruised up and down the Thames from Windsor to Gravesend, and not ‘along the coast,’ as has been said. His pictures are almost exclusively landscapes, not sea pictures. Having in this way got together a moderate fortune, he returned to Holland to spend it, and from this point the accounts conflict. One account says that he was wrecked on the Dutch coast, losing his all, on his journey home; another says that, having reached Holland, he started again for England at once, but was wrecked at the outset and lost his belongings. Whatever the cause may have been, he remained ten years in Holland before he again sailed for England; and when at last he did so, he ran on a sandbank during the passage and remained there for eight days. This, says Horace Walpole, cured him of his taste for the water. It will be seen that the accounts of this yachtsman are very hazy. There is no need, however, to doubt the existence of the sailing studio, for we have at this same date Van der Velde the younger at sea in his own galliot – which, of course, may mean a vessel hired by him – acting as ‘our special artist’ on the spot, and making sketches of the battles of the Dutch War. Some of these survive, and are very interesting. One is in the British Museum; others are in Lord Dartmouth’s collection, and will shortly be reproduced by the Navy Records Society. Van der Velde’s galliot is shown ketch-rigged (by the modern meaning of the word), as a galliot should be. This, too, is interest­ing when we remember that there is at this time no mention of English galliots, and that Van der Velde was settled in England and working for English patrons, presumably in an English vessel.

There are no more of these private adventures to record in this place. Mr. Clark does, indeed, chronicle an incident in which ‘Lord Dunblane’s pleasure-boat’ off Greenwich is mentioned; but Lord Dunblane is, from a yachting point of view, as will be seen presently, an exceedingly unsatisfactory person. We may infer from this mention, which is supported by an imcomprehensible reference, that he had a ‘pleasure-boat’ at this date, but that is all that we know of the matter. The entry is suggestive, however, for if this pleasure-boat was a yacht, as she may perhaps have been, there may well have existed at this date (1682) other private yachts of which we have no hint. The rest of the story of Charles II.’s reign is concerned with the royal yachts, and with the interesting experiments which were made in shipbuilding.

As to the royal yachts, one of the last recorded passages of Charles II. was made in the Fubbs round the North Foreland, seemingly about 1680. We are indebted for an account of this voyage to the fact that John Gostling, then minor canon of Canterbury, was the King’s guest, presumably on account of his fine bass voice. It appears that the yacht was bound south, and as they hauled to the wind round the North Foreland, they found the wind blowing strong, so that the King and the Duke of York were fain to turn to, to haul the ropes with the mariners. Gostling thought much of it, and considered that their getting safe to land, probably in Ramsgate, was due to a special interposition of Provi­dence. We need not quarrel with him on that account, for on his return to London he confided his adventure to the great musician Henry Purcell, and Purcell, in honour of the event, wrote ‘the most remarkable of his anthems,’ ‘ They that go down to the sea in ships,’ adapting it to the scope of Gostling’s voice. Of what the King and the sailor-men of the party thought we have no trace; probably they had had a similar experience often enough before, as most people have had whose occasions take them round that particular corner against a south-west wind.

We would be glad to have more account of the Queen’s water-parties than have been recorded. The Saudadoes was built in 1670, and was used like the proverbial new toy. On April 21 of that year we read that the Court was forlorn, ‘but the ladies pass their time without any great show of mourning; Her Majesty gives life to all by frequent divertisement upon the river, in her new vessel the Sodalis. They undertake several long voyages, and, falling short of provisions, victual sometimes at Vauxhall, sometimes at Lambeth Palace.’ This is the same vessel that, as has been seen, crossed the Bay of Biscay to Lisbon during this summer, but of her further use there seems to be no information. The ladies, perhaps, got tired of the water; the Saudadoes certainly was needed for the navy, and was rebuilt and enlarged to an extent which must have made her cease to be a yacht.

The royal yachts at this time were kept constantly in commis­sion, those which were not being actually used by the King being busily employed in carrying ambassadors, in cruising for fishery protection, or against privateers, and in surveying. Sometimes they had a man-of-war to convoy them, more often they had not; and it was found that an Ostend rover showed small respect to a royal yacht, even with the King of England on board. The Anne suffered some such ‘indignity’ in 1674, and orders were issued for the men-of-war on the station to ‘bring in the Ostender.’ Whether they did so or not does not seem to be recorded. 

There is extant a petition of the officers and seamen of the Mary yacht to the Navy Commissioners for pay, ‘that their families may not be starved in the streets, and themselves go like heathen, having nothing to cover their nakedness. They have 52 months pay due, and neither money nor credit.’ This, of course, has little or nothing to do with yachting proper, and only shows that the Mary, which was for long employed on the Irish station, and was, in fact, even­tually cast away while serving there, was very thoroughly on the Navy List. The experience of the Mary’s men might seem impossible to yachtsmen of this age, but to seamen of the navy in the seventeenth century it was unfortunately the rule rather than the exception.

Apart from isolated cases of yachts being sent to look for sus­pected sands, we have the testimony of Captain Greenville Collins, whose ‘Coasting Pilot’ was published in 1693. ‘His most excel­lent Majesty King Charles the Second, who was a great lover of the noble art of Navigation, finding that there were no Sea Charts or Maps of these Kingdoms but what were Dutch, and copies from them, and those very erroneous . . was pleased in the year 1681 to give me the command of a Yacht for the making this survey; in which service I spent 7 years time.’ It may be worth while to add that the yachts in which he served were the Merlin, 1681 to 1683, and the Monmouth1683 to 1688. If he had any ‘out of school’ adventures, he does not mention them; but we may assume that we would have heard of it if, in the course of his lying in all the ports of the kingdom, he had had such an experience as another yacht captain had some years earlier. ‘Fifteen Ostend captains who went in a bravado in one of their boats to the King’s yacht Katherine (at Dover) to be merry with Captain Crow, were over­turned near the shore at returning, and 14 of them drowned.’ It is a bare mention, but it reeks of the profuse hospitality of that none too sober period.

There is an interesting order of July, 1674, from Pepys to Anthony Deane, then Commissioner at Portsmouth: ‘To repair up hither to receive the King’s commands touching the building of 2 yachts which the King of France desires to have built for him here in imitation of his Majesty’s.’ Perhaps the yachts were not built after all, but the order is of value as showing the reputation of England as a yacht-producing country. But it must be remem­bered that France and Holland were at that time so far from being friends that Louis could not have placed orders for yachts in Holland even if he would.

No account of any form of shipbuilding enterprise during the reign of Charles II. would be complete without some reference to the projects of Sir William Petty. But it must not be supposed that Petty stands alone, even among his own countrymen. To name only one or two from among the most illustrious of his predecessors, we have William Bourne, the projector of the centre-board, and the exiled Sir Robert Dudley, styling himself Duke of Northumberland, who, in his great book, reviewed and suggested radical improvements upon the whole naval practice of the age. Another noble inventor was the Marquis of Worcester, whose ‘Century of Inventions’ included various nautical sugges­tions. But Petty and other projectors of this date differed from all who had gone before in being able to find patronage for their schemes. It might have been well for shipbuilding had Bourne or Dudley had such encouragement, but they lived in times when monarchs were not scientists, and before the Royal Society sprang to life.

Read on … Sir William Petty