G. L. Watson

A book on the art & science of yacht designer George Lennox Watson is due to be released. Martin Black's research is the result of a lifelong endeavour. He had previously contributed a few pages in the Encyclopedia of Yacht Designers, but here he will draw out Watson's story in a full 500 pages: This biography is late in coming after those on William Fife and Herreshoff, but is a much needed one. Watson left school at age 16 when his father died, and quickly found work as a yachting reporter and as a draftsman in the shipyards Robert Napier & Sons and A. & J. Inglis, where he received instruction in wood and iron engineering. At this time, his employer John Inglis was carrying out a lot of research with Peter Denny and William Froude to establish models in fluid mechanics. As a result, when he founded the World's first yacht design firm at age 22, he was arguably the first to consider formalized hydrodynamics in his discipline, and he quickly tapped into the wealth of yachtsmen on the Clyde and made a name for himself in the face of the Fife & Son establishment. His first success over the Fairlie shipbuilder came after only two years with the 5-tonner Clotilde beating the Clyde champion Pearl. He multiplied his successes on the Clyde, the Solent, and soon enough in New Zealand and the United States. Facing the genius of Herreshoff in the 1890s, he merged British design with yankee design, and though he never beat the Wizard of Bristol in American waters, he did prove his designs to be superior over other European designers, especially in First-Class raters such as Valkyrie II (1893), Britannia (1893), Valkyrie III (1895), Meteor II (1896), Rainbow (1898), Kariad (1900) and Shamrock II (1901). His sailing yachts dominated the European scene from the creation of his firm until his premature death in 1904, at which point he was also the reference designer for luxury steamyachts of very large size.

Surviving Watson yachts are extremely rare. A refurbished Peggy Bawn (1894-2005) is a dignified representative of a Dublin Bay 36ft one-design, and a replica of the Britannia is awaiting a final fitout in Norway. But many of the designs survive in the G.L. Watson firm's archive directed by William Collier: an important heritage that can help us follow several trends in the evolution of yacht design, as per the one in my previous post, so the book will certainly bring more tangible light on the Scotsman who designed the most prestigious yachts of Nineteenth century Europe.

Watson wrote an interesting essay on the evolution of racing yachts, dated 1894, which is available here.

-2012 UPDATE-
The book has been reviewed and is available for purchase. It is a stunning production, exhaustively documented with many rare and beautifully enlarged photographs. There are no lines' plans in the book, though there are plans to publish some in a follow-up sequel to be entitled Justice to the Line, and to be edited by the same authors.

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