The Weekend Watson – Lufra


For those suffering the worst of winter right now, here’s a bright sunny image – even in monochrome – from the mid-1890s.

The gaff-rigged cutter Lufra eats up the Clyde off Dunoon in a stiff nor’westerly, her cotton sails by Lapthorn of Gourock setting perfectly.

A paddle steamer puffing purposefully towards Innellan, her plume almost obscuring the Isle of Bute, helps to complete an evocative picture of Firth of Clyde summers past.

Lufra was G.L. Watson & Co. design number 299, of 1894. Built by Peter MacLean of Rosneath on the site of the present incarnation of the famous Silvers yard, she measured 30 feet (9.1m) on the waterline and 40 feet (12.2m) on deck.

Her sweet profile and mid-section can be found in Martin Black’s exquisite biography of her designer: G.L. Watson – The Art and Science of Yacht Design.


Such scenes will burst into colour on the Firth of Clyde this summer with the return of the quinquennial Fife Regatta.

~ Iain McAllister ~

About Peggy Bawn Press

496pg biography of Scottish yacht designer, George Lennox Watson (1851-1904). Significant book on the history of yacht design & the development of modern yachting. Beautifully illustrated. Many photographs previously unpublished.
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9 Responses to The Weekend Watson – Lufra

  1. Donan Raven says:

    Splendid picture!
    Could she belonged to the Houldsworth family? (there is a record of a first class yawl belonging to J. Houldsworth in 1878).

  2. Thanks for your comment Donan. That’s a very interesting question, because Houdsworth’s ‘Lufra’ was built by Michael Ratsey at Cowes in 1865, but that is where the connection ends, as the yacht builder Ratsey was so distantly related to the sailmaker Ratsey that, according to Dr. William Collier’s history of the sailmakers, the families refused to consider themselves related.

    Regarding the yachts: well, in the immortal words of Barbara Mullen, “the difference is in the thickness”. Houldsworth’s ‘Lufra’ was a yawl of 208 Thames Tons, later 222 after lengthening. Watson’s ‘Lufra’ measured just 12 Thames Tons.

    Both yachts would have been named from the extremely popular at the time Sir Walter Scott poem ‘The Lady of the Lake’, in which Lord James Douglas’s dog, Lufra, is, “The fleetest hound in all the North”.

    The Greenock, later Gourock, Ratsey & Lapthorn sail loft was often known locally as Lapthorn’s, as it was run by a Lapthorn.

    • Gale Taylor says:

      Hi. In my research of Sir Cecil Miles I note that the crew of his yacht Lufra attended his funeral in the Bristol area on 3 Nov 1898. Which “Lufra” is that likely to have been?? Many thanks for any further info.

  3. … One is reminded of the often used in the past expression, “with a bone in her teeth”, of a yacht’s bow-wave when sailing at speed…

  4. Donan Raven says:

    Thank you Iain for explaining the ‘Lufra’s namesake; My record of poetry recitals on Burns Night is too poor, but I appreciate that a Scottish yacht would be named after a fellow countryman’s poem.

    I read Martin Black’s book from cover to cover and I eagerly await the ‘Justice to the Line’ sequel, particularly if Mr. Collier is as generous in providing lines plans as Mr. Black in writing his 500 pages of research!

    Was ‘Lufra’ a 5-rater?

  5. On behalf of Martin, thanks for your kind comments Donan.

    Sir Walter Scott’s writings really caught the 19th Century Scottish public’s fancy. The tradition of naming Clyde paddle steamers after characters from his novels continued into the last century.

    I’m old enough to have been enthralled by the paddlers ‘Jeanie Deans’ and ‘Talisman’, but far too young to have encountered the wonderfully named ‘Madge Wildfire’, broken up long before I was born. They’re all at Wikipedia (the characters that is; the ships can be found by searching at

    The last of these wonderful vessels, ‘Waverley’, remains in service, the sole survivor; it’s well worth shipping aboard for a voyage “doon the watter”, especially to view her immaculate, sweet smelling, mesmerising engine room. See our “Blogroll”.

    In modern terminology, ‘Lufra’ would have been a “Cruiser/ Racer”. In those days the term “Fast Cruiser” was used, and I think that slips off the tongue more sweetly. She was in effect a stretched version of ‘Peggy Bawn’, but with a “spoon” bow. She may have been rigged to fit in with the 5-Rater class, but as ‘Peggy Bawn’s’ original owner, Alfred Lepper, once wrote in retort to someone describing ‘Peggy’ as a 2½-Rater, (ie, a racing yacht), she would have been intended as a “bona fide cruiser”.

    I think we’ll have to post more on ‘Lufra’, and what became of her…

  6. PS: PS ‘Madge Wildfire’ at speed. Was she using smokeless fuel?

  7. Donan says:

    Since we had discussed the older yawl Lufra here, I would like to point out the two photographs taken by NL Stebbins in 1886, probably when he travelled to Europe before publishing English & American Yachts in 1887. It is also the first time that I see a photograph of the Egeria…remarkable.
    Browse and search the online collection (average quality) at Historic New England:

    • Wonderful, Donan. That port bow image of the 1865 Lufra popped up during a lengthy email correspondence with our commenter Gale Taylor, above, which I meant to bring back to here, but somehow things moved on. 18 months ago, only that image was up at Historic New England, but now there are two there, the world of the image is moving fast and this venerable institution (I loved its previous name: The Society of New England Antiquities) is moving with the times and encouraging us to share. Sadly images can’t be added to comments on this platform but the direct link comes after this. I adore the doghouse addition. One almost can imagine the designers of those awful “spirit of tradition” things taking their influence from it: it somehow makes her look modern…

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