Grace's Guide To British Industrial History

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Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 149,755 pages of information and 235,473 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 147,919 pages of information and 233,587 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

A Shipbuilding History. 1750-1932 (Alexander Stephen and Sons): Chapter 10

From Graces Guide
'Emerald'. Turbine Steam yacht. The first turbine vessel to cross the Atlantic. 1903
'Rover'. 2,115 Ton Steam Yacht. 1930
'Rover'. The owner's Room
'Golden Hind'. Composite Schooner Yacht. 1931
'Coila III'. 1922

CHAPTER TEN. Steam, Motor, Auxiliary and Racing Yachts

. . . those proud ones swaying home,
With maigards backed and bows a cream of foam,
Those bows so lovely-curving, cut so fine.
Those coulters of the many-bubbled brine.

THOUGH the late Alexander Stephen was a Glasgow man, and resided for many years in that city, he invariably spent the summer months at his residence, "Fearan Collie," at the Bullwood, about two miles from Dunoon. From there he travelled daily to the yard for about twenty-four years, until 1890, when he moved to Wemyss Bay, where he had built a new house on the estate of Kelly. Living on the Firth of Clyde throughout the summer, it was natural that he and his family should take up yachting with an enthusiasm characteristic of their line.


The first yacht owned by Alexander Stephen was the Coolan, an old iron cutter of 37 tons, yacht measurement, purchased in 1878, in which he made several cruises up the west coast of Scotland. This vessel was retained by her owner for about four years until, being badly becalmed on several occasions, and becoming impatient of the uncertainty of reaching his destination on time, Mr. Stephen sold her and chartered the steam yacht Ada, of 110 tons, for the season of 1881.

The following year he had built at Linthouse the Sylvia, of 136 tons, which gave himself and family so much enjoyment that he decided to construct a larger vessel. He therefore sold the Sylvia, in 1884, and constructed, in 1885, the Nerissa, a very able and successful vessel of 264 tons, yacht measurement, which proved a great advance on her predecessor.

Some years later, in 1898, just prior to his death, Alexander Stephen built the Calanthe, of 429 tons, which was afterwards sold to Mr. Hinckley of New York. The success of these steam yachts, all of which were very efficient and typical vessels of their time, doubtless led to many future orders for the Firm. Alexander Stephen made various extended cruises in them up the west coast of Scotland, as far as Orkney and Shetland, down the east coast to the Tay, and across to Norway and the Baltic.

In 1903 the Firm designed and built, for the late Lord Furness, the Emerald, a yacht of 797 tons. At that time steam turbines, invented by the late Sir Charles Parsons, were in their infancy, and Lord Furness, who had great faith in both the invention and the inventor, wished to assist in their development. He therefore decided, in co-operation with the builders, to fit turbines into his new yacht, the Emerald.

At that period it was Messrs. Parsons' practice to fit three turbines driving three shafts, with one propeller in the centre shaft and two on each of the side shafts. The five propellers were of small diameter, and fast running, which evidently did not suit the Emerald, a vessel of fairly deep draft and rather large displacement. The results were somewhat disappointing, both as regards speed and the fact that there was a disagreeable noise in the after end of the vessel. The Stephens then suggested that a single propeller on each side shaft might be an improvement, as they considered that the forward propeller on the side shaft was not conducive to efficiency in the after propeller on that shaft. This suggestion was ultimately adopted, with a considerable gain in speed and the disappearance of the noise in the after cabins. Following the success of this experiment, single screws were always fitted on the side shafts in turbine vessels with three shafts. For example, the very successful and popular Clyde river steamer, King Edward, the pioneer commercial turbine-engined vessel, which had originally five propellers, was altered to three with excellent results.

It is interesting to recall that the Emerald, which later became the property of Lord Inverclyde, was the first turbine-engined ship to cross the Atlantic. She was also chartered by the late Mr. Jay Gould, who used her for following the races for the America Cup. After she had changed hands, however, and while lying up in the Gareloch, she was fired by the suffragettes, in their campaign of propaganda, and became a total loss. At the same time a similar fate befell Kelly House, the ruins of which are still one of the landmarks of the Firth of Clyde, above Wemyss Bay.

In 1904, Captain W. MacAllister Hall, of Torrisdale, sent out an enquiry for the construction of a steam yacht of 137 tons, to be delivered within three months, in time for the shooting season. This contract was secured by the Stephens, as they were the only builders who would undertake to construct the yacht in so short a period. As there was not a great deal of work on hand at Linthouse when the contract was obtained, the Firm was able to push the order through so well that only fifty-one working days elapsed between the laying of the keel and the completion of the vessel. She was launched with her engines and boilers on board, steam up, and complete in every detail. Two days later she was handed over to her owner, who expressed his complete satisfaction — especially in receiving the yacht in time for his requirements. This feat the Firm regards as one of its records in shipbuilding.

The yacht in question, which was named the Medea, has had a very varied career, having passed through many hands since she first took the water. In 1912 she was purchased by the late John Stephen, after whose death she was sold by the trustees to Mr. Graham-White, who lent her to the French Red Cross during the War, when she appears to have been employed in carrying wounded on the Seine. Later, in 1928, when Fred Stephen was prevented by illness from continuing yacht-racing, he re-purchased the Medea, which is still in his possession. As he is Commodore of the Royal Northern Yacht Club she is often to be seen as the Commodore vessel at the Club's Regattas.

In 1926 Mr. Kenneth Clark placed an order with the Firm for a 230 ton motor yacht, the Mingary, to the design of Messrs. Cox and King. This vessel, which was of the modern type, with straight stem and cruiser stern, was luxuriously fitted in every way, having hot and cold forced ventilation and central heating throughout. Her machinery consisted of two Sulzer Diesel engines, capable of obtaining a speed of about 12.5 knots.

The finest yacht ever built by the Firm is undoubtedly the steam yacht, Rover, constructed in 1930 for the Right Hon. The Earl of Inchcape, G.C.S.I., G.C.M.G., Chairman of the Peninsular and Oriental and British India Companies. She is a vessel of 2,115 tons, Thames measurement, and the largest and most luxurious yacht yet built in this country, save the Royal yacht Victoria and Albert. Schooner-rigged, with cut-water stem and long counter giving her an extremely handsome appearance, the Rover is driven by triple-expansion four-crank engines, operating two screws which enable her to obtain a speed of nearly 16 knots. Her public rooms are exceedingly spacious, and most handsomely decorated. She has forced mechanical ventilation throughout, marbled bathrooms attached to every state-room, and special storerooms and oil-fuel tanks are provided to enable her to remain at sea for long voyages and world cruises. Large open deck spaces for dancing and games are also a feature of this vessel. She was visited during Cowes Regatta in August, 193o, by Their Majesties The King and Queen.


The Stephens have also constructed several very fine examples of the best type of cruising yacht, including the auxiliary yawl, Vadura, built in 1926 for Mr. J. H. M. Clark, to the design of Messrs. Alfred Mylne and Company. She was a vessel of 111 tons, 65 ft. on the water-line, and 19 ft. 4 ins. beam, having over 30 tons of lead in her keel, which was cast on the berth, in the yard. She had steel frames and teak planking throughout.

In 1931 the Firm built a somewhat similar yacht, the Golden Hind, also designed by Alfred Mylne and Company, for Commander J. H. Kitson, of Arnisdale, Loch Hourn. She is a schooner of 144 tons, and her auxiliary engine gave her a speed of 8.4 knots on trial.


Since the Stephens took up residence on the Firth of Clyde, at least two generations of the family have figured prominently in British yacht-racing circles. In addition to a keen personal enthusiasm for the sport itself, they have naturally a sound practical knowledge of the technicalities of yacht construction which has doubtless contributed largely to the success of their Linthouse-built boats both at home and abroad.

The Firm has built five racing yachts in all, to the designs of Fred J. Stephen.

The first of the series was the Coila, constructed at Linthouse in 1886, for A. E. and F. J. Stephen. She was one of five vessels built that year to the old length and breadth yacht racing rule — two being designed by the late Mr. G. L. Watson, one by Mr. Fife of Fairlie, and one by the late Mr. Paton. As this rule caused a severe tax on beam, it produced a long narrow type of yacht with a deep body and heavy lead keel. These five 3-tonners, which were the most extreme ever built under that rule, were such extraordinary boats that they practically brought the rule to an end. They were generally 29 ft. on the water-line, about 40 ft. overall, with a beam of 4 ft. 8 ins., and 6 ft. draught, with approximately 5 tons of lead on the keel. The Cora, designed by Mr. Paton, had 6 tons, and so full was her body that there was no hollow in her midship section. So long and narrow were these boats that they became known as the "ham knives." However, they provided excellent sport, and were good boats to windward, though very wet.

The Coila was moderately successful in her first two years. In 1888, Fred Stephen, taking advantage of the alteration to the rule of measurement when the length and sail area came into force, made certain changes to the boat — slightly increasing her beam and deepening her keel. That year she was most successful, and gained 23 prizes out of 25 starts.

In 1891 A. E. and F. J. Stephen built a 10 rater (length and sail area rule), the Maida. This measurement rule, which came into force in 1886, produced a much better type of boat — the Maida and two or three others, built about that time, being approximately 35 ft. on the waterline, and 8 to 9 ft. beam. The Maida was fairly successful, coming out top of her class in one of the three years during which she was sailed by Fred Stephen.

COILA II. During 1908 a new International rule of measurement was adopted, to supersede the previous length and sail area rule, which had eventually produced an unsatisfactory type of boat, with a shallow body and light displacement. As a new class of 6-metre boats to this rule was being formed on the Clyde, Fred Stephen was invited to join: upon deciding to do so, he built at Linthouse the little yacht, Coila II.

The second Coila, which was destined to be very successful, was more powerful and had rather deeper draft than the majority of 6-metre boats built at that time. In her first year there were only two in her class on the Clyde, and she beat her opponent on practically every occasion.

At the end of the season, however, the Dormy, having won the race for 6-metre boats in the Olympic Games — the yacht races of which were held in the Solent — challenged Coila II in order that she might call herself the best 6-metre yacht in the world.

The late Mr. George Moir, a most enthusiastic yachtsman, offered a prize of £30, and a match was fixed for the best out of five races. Mr. Moir's own 6-metre boat, Era, also competed, and after a most exciting struggle, in which the Dormy and Coila II both won two races, Coila II secured the fifth race, and so carried off the prize. She continued successful until 1910, when the newer boats were proving somewhat faster. In 1911, after being extensively altered and improved, and her rig changed from the gunter lug to the Bermudian rig, then coming rapidly into favour, she regained the head of her class, and remained near that position for the rest of her racing career.

In 1914 a points cup was presented for competition in the 6-metre class, and Coila II had just carried it off when all racing was stopped by the outbreak of the War.

COILA III. In 1922 Coila II was broken up, and a new 6-metre, Coila III, constructed to the revised International rule that had come into force the previous year.

Coila III differed somewhat from the boats already built to the new rule. Her longitudinal under-water profile was practically a complete triangle, which had not yet been adopted in this type of yacht. She had also a little more beam that the other boats, and slightly hollower section. Her length was 21 ft. 6 ins. on the water-line, 35 ft. overall, her beam being 7 ft. and draught of water 5 ft. 3 ins.; she was rigged as a Bermudian sloop, a rig which had by this time entirely superseded the old style.

Her owner, Fred Stephen, was unfortunately unable to sail Coila III during her first year, owing to serious injuries sustained in an accident that occurred just before her launch. Mr. Stephen missed his footing on the staging round her gunwale, and fell to the ground, breaking four ribs and puncturing his lungs. He was seriously ill for several months, during which, though debarred from racing, he found an excellent deputy in his son, John Stephen, who took his place at the tiller of Coila III and sailed her with great skill.

Coila III proved a successful boat from the very outset of her career. During her first year she was included in the four-yacht team selected to represent Great Britain in the British America Cup races at Oyster Bay, Long Island Sound. Though the British team lost, Coila III scored as great a number of points as any yacht on either side.


At the close of these races, the Seawanhaka Club invited one of the British team to challenge for the Seawanhaka Cup, then held by the Manchester Yacht Club, Marble Head, Massachusetts. This trophy, an International challenge cup put up by the club in 1895, for races between small yachts of not more than 25 ft. sailing length, with amateur crews, is one of the oldest International challenge cups in existence, and ranks in importance, for small yachts, with the America Cup, for large yachts.

At the period in question the cup had already been raced for many times, but had never crossed the Atlantic. A south of England yachtsman had challenged for it, with a boat built specially for the purpose, but without success. Mr. Duggan, the noted Canadian yachtsman, who designed and sailed his own boats with much success, had been more fortunate, having won and held the trophy for eight or nine years. Eventually the cup had been re-captured for America by the Manchester Yacht Club, mentioned above. As the Seawanhaka Club did not wish to challenge another American club, the cup had not been raced for for a considerable number of years, until one of the British team was invited to challenge.

Coila III was selected by the British team, although when she left Britain, John Stephen, who sailed her, had no intention of challenging for the trophy. But, upon being forced into the challenge, "under penalty of being held down in his bath," he complied with the wishes of his assailants and challenged on behalf of the Royal Northern Yacht Club, the senior club of Scotland. Coila III was then towed up to Marble Head, where she defeated the Saki, winning three races in succession, and carrying the cup across the Atlantic for the first time.

The following year, 1923, Coila III was again selected as one of the four 6-metre boats to represent Great Britain in the race against America, held on this occasion in the Solent. In this series, with John Stephen at her tiller, she gained considerably more points than any British or American boat.

The same year Coila III was also chosen by the Royal Northern Yacht Club to defend the Seawanhaka Cup on the Clyde, against the American challenger, Lea, sent over by the Seawanhaka Club. Once again she was successful in carrying off the trophy.

In 1924 the Royal Norwegian Yacht Club challenged the Royal Northern for the Seawanhaka Cup, and again Coila III defended, defeating the Norwegian challenger, Uni, designed and sailed by the famous Norwegian naval architect, Mr. Anker.

During the year that followed the Americans once more challenged, building two special boats for the purpose. Coila III was selected to defend, but she was now getting old and was defeated by the Lanai (designed by Mr. Clinton Crane), which thus regained the cup for America. In these races for the Seawanhaka Cup on the Clyde, Coila III was sailed by her owner, Fred J. Stephen, whose sons, A. M. Stephen and J. G. Stephen, formed two of her amateur crew. The cup was recaptured, in 1928, for the Royal Northern Yacht Club of Scotland, by Mr. W. F. Robertson's 8-metre boat, Cary/, after it had been won and lost by Norway.

The Seawanhaka Club again challenged in 1931, sending over the 8-metre boat, Priscilla, which was defeated by the Scottish boat Saskia, in four consecutive races. On both occasions J. G. Stephen formed one of the Scottish crew.

The cup is to be raced for again during the present year (1932), as America has challenged with a 6-metre boat.

COILA IV. In 1927 Fred J. Stephen built an 8-metre boat, to his own design, and raced her with considerable success for three years. This vessel, which bore the name Coila IV, came top of her class in both 1928 and 1929. During the latter year, when Fred J. Stephen, who had been seriously ill during 1928, was advised to abandon yacht-racing, Coila IV was sailed by his son, John G. Stephen.

It is interesting to note that Fred J. Stephen must have sailed about 670 races with his four Coilas, winning approximately 440 prizes, about 256 of which were firsts; in the great majority of these contests he sailed the boats himself. Although debarred from racing, he is at present Commodore of the Royal Northern Yacht Club, Vice-Admiral of the Mudhook Yacht Club (that unique club which is limited to a membership of forty), and a member of the council of the Yacht Racing Association.

In conclusion it may be mentioned that John G. Stephen is at present (1932) building a new 6-metre boat to his own design, for himself and two friends. She is to be called the Maida, and will race in 1932.

See Also


Sources of Information