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Book Review, NRJ 63.1

February 15, 2018 12:00 PM | David Eddy (Administrator)

A New History of Yachting

Mike Bender

Being neither a yachtsman or historian, it was with some apprehension that this amateur modeler and consumer of nautical lore took up this volume. As it covers the subject of “leisure sailing” as it evolved in the early United Kingdom and Ireland, it cannot but touch upon the many elements of historical significance such as economics, politics, social systems, technology and the usual wars. Most outstanding in this context is the persistence of the class system and “hierarchies of prestige” that follow yachting right up to our own era. It is, as Bender early on notes, the original sport of kings.

As a true history supported by some thirty-five pages of bibliography, the text is rich with extended quotations, enhanced by voluminous footnotes, some running to an enjoyable half page of additional facts and observations. Those of us not part of the Commonwealth would do well to have a good map or road atlas of Britain in hand. Those not familiar with yachting may also need to employ something like Royce’s Sailing Illustrated to fully understand references to the various classes and types of modern competitive racing boats. Discussions of power boats or yachts are not included. Also, this is history from the British point of view with only limited discussions of “goings on” from the American side of the pond.

For the modeler there appears to be little here. There are no plans, lines or diagrams. There are only two dozen photographs and of these, only three have to do with vessels for which models or kits are commercially available, those being America , Gypsy Moth IV and Spray. A survey of the bibliography reveals a name match for about each foot of shelf space in my personal nautical collection. The additional information on Phineas Pett should be of interest to more serious modelers and plans are certainly available for the numerous boats that comprise the “home built” dingy explosion that followed World War II.

Not unlike other histories Bender divides his text into sections divided by time and major events that effected them. He ends up with three “golden ages of yachting”. The industrial revolution creates new wealth and new yacht owners. The mass production of sheet plywood after World War II would create thousands of new yacht builders and owners. Oddly it was the development of railroads and the automobile on land bringing people to the shore that creates a demand for anchorages, marinas and yacht clubs.

Most glaring and lasting in this account is the existence of the yacht and the yacht club as both vehicle and emblem of social class. Charles II and his many “royal” yachts begins the process that marks the yacht and yacht club membership as emblematic of elite to this day. Bender pulls no punches here. He gives full accounting to blackballing and the exclusion of working sailors, and watermen of all types and anyone of a certain gender. No women were allowed to even row in the Henley regatta until 1981. With his concluding chapters. the author offers little for the future of yachting. Too little money and too little time for sailing in the future it seems. A New History of Yachting may be the final history of yachting, thus worth reading for even more than what it says about boats.

  •  Woodbridge, Sussex: The Boydell Press, 2017
  • 6-1/2” x 9-1/2”, hardcover, xix + 441 pages
  • Illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. $115.00
  • ISBN: 9781783271337

Reviewed by Dan Brummer, Stayton, Oregon

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