Lulworth (1920)

Frank William Beken's photograph of Lulworth in 1930

There is always something going on in yachting. Myself largely an armchair yachtie today, I have a computer that's hooked up to the latest news concerning regattas and ocean races, mainly following large sailing yachts, but not just. I also have a great interest in the history of sailing as a sport, something that was sparked off with a single event in the spring of 2006:

I was invited aboard the Fife cutter Tuiga for a day's sail. She was a very pleasant sight to behold, I had never seen a wooden classic racer before, and Tuiga is probably the epitome of elegance in her size. The permanent deckhand aboard, an Italian, kindly showed me through operations, mainly how to handle the sheets on a boat with 370sqm of sail and no winches: simple enough when you are many working crew, but physical nevertheless. As more crew arrived, I eventually realised how special she really was. Photographers, aquarellists, journalists, as well as French, Monegasque and Italian ranking officials were all part of the crew. Who was I to them? So I asked them questions and mingled in. That evening we would have dinner in the Yacht Club de Monaco and I was given a dinner jacket to take part.

Very well. I was appointed to handle the starboard running backstay and Tuiga sailed out. We were undersail in a light topsail breeze when the giant cutter Lulworth eased out of the harbour. Pacing, then overtaking us at good speed from our lee to our weather, with full canvas, she was showing her money. Launched in 1920 and decommissioned in 1930, the year she had topped the rankings in the British Big Class, Lulworth had just hoisted her topsail for the first time in over seventy years. Fresh out of a large-budget renovation in Viareggio which had taken four years, the historical racing yacht was back from too long a slumber to take part in regattas again. Later I was invited onboard the Lulworth to witness the quality of her appointments. With 70% of her original interiors and the rest remade like-for-like, Lulworth has been refurbished to her 1926 racing trim (which features the World's longest wooden spar with a total height of 52m). As I entered the last representative of a bygone era, I learned about her contemporaries in the heyday of yachting: In the 1920s she was a member of the illustrious "Big Five" yachts, which counted the King's Britannia (G. L. Watson design, 1893), T.B. Davis' schooner Westward (Herreshoff design, 1910), Lord Waring's White Heather II (Fife 23mR design, 1907) and Sir Thomas Lipton's Shamrock (Fife 23mR design, 1908)

I had the privilege to sail on the Lulworth in the same year that she relived, and I remember a multicultural crew, fixing a hundred sandwiches for them in the galley, handling some 200m of her mainsheet, and especially feeling very tiny when her 188 tons started to heel over as the races started. Since that day I have followed the boat and her rivals in the classic yachting circuit, as well as taken time to research the origins of such pastime.

I'll talk about them in this blog.

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