Scotia’s “Thistle”

Thistle thundering down Kieler Fjord c1910 as Kaiserliche Marine’s training yacht Comet. (© Jorma Rautapää)

Kaiserliche Marine’s training yacht Comet (ex Meteor, ex Thistle) thundering down Kiel Fjord c1910.
(© Jorma Rautapää)

Inevitably, a 127 year-old challenge from Glasgow, Scotland to New York, USA for yachting’s Holy Grail, the America’s Cup, has left lingering family memories and mementoes.

It was a big deal, as it would be now, and is still within a timescale where handed-down knowledge is informed by human interaction. For example, my father just knew his grandfather, who crewed aboard the G.L. Watson-designed Royal Clyde Yacht Club challenger, Thistle, in the 1887 America’s Cup match. And I learned about it from my father. Sadly, nothing tangible survived; they were a family of thrower-outers.

But this ditty by Victorian Lochfyneside poet – and perhaps story teller  – William Rhind, has been passed down in the family of one of Thistle’s post-America’s Cup crew, Duncan McArthur, who, like my great-grandfather, came from the parish of Strachur, Argyll, on Loch Fyne’s east coast. It reached me via Duncan’s great niece, someone I’ve known for many years without realising that we had this connection:

Scotia’s ‘Thistle”

by William Rhind

(A Ditty) Air “Duncan Gray” [see below]

Scotia’s Thistle long ago
Blow! Breezes, Blow! Heave Yo
Set at Bay the Danish foe
Blow! Breezes, Blow! Heave Yo
Our Modern “Thistle” ploughs the Main
With her cordage on the strain
Her path is o’er the watery plain
Blow! Breezes, Blow! Heave Yo

Her advent in the bustling West
Blow! Breezes, Blow! Heave Yo
Was but a muddle at the best
Blow! Breezes, Blow! Heave Yo
“Stars and Stripes,” have nought to boast
Of Laurels won, or Laurels lost
We wish them welcome on our coast
Blow! Breezes, Blow! Heave Yo

Mark the Thistle Chief and Crew
Blow! Breezes Blow! Heave Yo
Ready hands, and will to do
Blow! Breezes, Blow! Heave Yo
When her breast is in the Sea
Rolling foam is on the Lee
Bounding o’er the billows free
Blow! Breezes, Blow! Heave Yo

Royal Trophies are her due
Blow! Breezes, Blow! Heave Yo
She has won them, not a few
Blow! Breezes, Blow! Heave Yo
And long may the “Thistle” ride
O’er the current and the tide
Shed her fame both far and wide
Blow! Breezes, Blow! Heave Yo

Musical enlightenment here by Ewan MacColl:

There will be other families who know that their forebear was one of Thistle’s crew: in the America’s Cup, around the Scottish, English and Irish coasts during the racing seasons of 1887 to 1890, or from 1891/92 when her name changed to Meteor under Kaiser Wilhelm II, or from 1895, when ownership was transferred to Kaiserliche Marine, the German Navy of that time, and she took the name, Comet. She was broken up in 1921. It would be wonderful to hear from them. Our earlier post about the Thistle and her crew has so far found three descendants with one new positive identification made. More on that to come, and look out for news at Thistle’s Twitter feed @Thistle1887.

"Was but a muddle at the best". Thistle is nowhere to be see, 21 minutes behind, as the Americandefender Volunteer rounds Sandy Hook Light Vessel, the turning mark (fvffgbfb)

“Was but a muddle at the best”. Thistle is nowhere to be seen, 21 minutes behind, as the American defender, Volunteer, rounds Sandy Hook Light Vessel during the first race, America’s Cup 1887.
(Library of Congress)


G.L. Watson designed  four America’s Cup challengers. After Thistle’s failure in 1887, his learning curve steepened: Valkyrie II (1893) and Valkyrie III (1895) were very good boats, and Shamrock II (1901) was probably outdone only by the genius of Charlie Barr at the helm of the defender, Columbia. Ironically, Barr was one of Thistle’s crew in 1887 under his half-brother, John, and was born in Gourock on the Clyde. Martin Black’s  beautifully illustrated biography, G.L. WATSON – THE ART AND SCIENCE OF YACHT DESIGN, takes a fresh look at these challenges, using primary sources to reveal that the British challengers more often than not snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. It can be ordered online here, or from the growing list of worldwide stockists here.


by ~ Iain McAllister ~


Further reading:

Order of the Thistle

All mod cons – the steam yacht Hermione, 1891

Strachur’s first international sporting hero





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.
This entry was posted in America's Cup, archives, Baltic Germany, Big Class, book, Captains, Clyde yachting, Clydebuilt, G.L. Watson, G.L. Watson clients, gift, Glasgow, Martin Black, object of desire, photography, yacht design, yacht designer, yacht racing, yachting history and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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