Peggy Bawn, the fine 19th Century yacht that acted as the catalyst for author Martin Black to honour many years of research – resulting in the exquisite book, G.L. Watson – The Art and Science of Yacht Design – is a rare thing indeed. The number of surviving vessels from Clydeside yacht designer George Lennox Watson’s lifetime (1851-1904) can be counted on a careless carpenter’s fingers.
Long gone are the huge America’s Cup challengers and “Big Class” racing yachts, and only two of the fleet of palatial steam yachts – the superyachts of their day – from his Glasgow drawing boards are known to survive, in fabulous condition although barely recognizable from their original appearance, but with yarns to tell of fascinating and famous owners.
The company Watson started in 1873 survived his untimely death, and for three decades continued to service a demand for very large steam and motor yachts. Perhaps the finest example (and at 300ft/91m, the largest), Nahlin, survives. Launched by the famous John Brown yard at Clydebank in 1930, her epic rescue in the 1990’s, and impeccable restoration to her former glory by 2010 was directed by the present day G.L. Watson & Co. Ltd.
But it is left to the 36ft/11m cutter, Peggy Bawn, to carry the flame for Watson’s ground breaking mid 1890s work in setting the standard for moderation in sailing yacht design, work that has never been challenged – only endorsed by those who followed his lead through the 20th century, especially Olin J. Stephens, who was a self-confessed Watson fan.
Peggy Bawn’s gilded “fiddle” bow was anachronistic even at her launching in 1894, partly a past fad, partly practical, undoubtedly beautiful – an interim stage in the development of extending immersed waterlines for faster sailing when heeled with a more buoyant hull – but it conceals the fact that when her restoration team began assessing what they’d found in a County Waterford hay barn in 2003, they quickly realised that the “numbers” – the yacht designer speak for the various ratios that define a hull – were simply a scaled-down version of those for Watson’s famous royal racing cutter Britannia of 1893.
Her name gave rise to the so called “Britannia Ideal”, as she was and is considered the epitome of sea kindliness. We can vouch for that from eight seasons of racing and cruising aboard Peggy Bawn in northern and Mediterranean Europe, and east coast USA.
She is quite simply the best behaved yacht any of us has had the pleasure to sail.
We like to think that the exquisite standards of quality in research, materials and craftsmanship employed in Peggy Bawn’s rebuilding also set the tone for her first publishing venture, a passionate combination of knowledgeable sleuthing, high production values, sheer good looks and a rattling good yarn.
~ Iain McAllister ~