Summer holiday plans are underway and for many that means a visit to the coast and the joy of boats. British islanders, all within a couple of hours drive of the seashore, enjoy all manner of nautical pleasures, from the simple charm of a picnic on a row boat, to a bracing yacht race across the English Channel or a cruise on an ocean liner. Lulu is particularly fond of elegant old yachts, not least for their incredible craftsmanship. In recent years, enthusiasm for classic yachts has grown and many antique boats have been beautifully restored to their former glory.
Lulu’s favourite yacht is the 1931 Marala, formerly La Gaviota IV, whose fabulously wealthy owner Arturo Lopez Willshaw commissioned the flamboyant Georges Geffroy to decorate it in the 1950s (see a few photographs here). She also greatly admires ‘The Nahlin’, a 300ft steam yacht that has been superbly restored by a brilliant British entrepreneur. Launched in 1930, it has a fascinating history*. Originally built for Lady Yule, English heiress and a founder of the British film industry, it was one of the last three steam yachts made in Britain. In 1936, it (rather than the Royal Yacht), was chartered by King Edward for an Adriatic cruise with Mrs Simpson: a move that made headlines and alerted the press to the impending abdication. In 1937, the yacht was sold to the King of Romania, but after his abdication in 1940 it underwent a number of name changes and uses. When rediscovered by a British yachtsman in 1989, it was languishing as a floating restaurant in the port of Galati on the Danube. Negotiated back to the UK, it was eventually restored to perfection – a project that took 15 years. A delightful part of the restoration story is that the original 25ft ship to shore tender, believed lost for 60 years, was also found in Scotland and reunited with The Nahlin.
Britain’s great seafaring history led to the establishment of many boatbuilding dockyards with workers expert in skills such as lofting, oar making, sail making, rope making and more. Part of the joy of being aboard a traditional boat is to observe at close quarters the beautifully polished woods, gleaming metals, smooth leathers and knotted ropes that united create the instantly recognisable nautical aesthetic. There is something supremely satisfying about the utility and economy of the design and resulting elegant looks – a combination that inspires Soane Britain’s work. Though the industry is drastically reduced since the days when Britain ‘ruled the waves,’ there is still a keen interest in boatbuilding crafts and a number of academies, such as that at Lyme Regis, where students can learn the traditional skills.
Soane Britain has recently had the pleasure to work on a project with an Admiralty Sailmaker who was introduced to his trade as a boy straight out of school in 1961. Embarking on a five year apprenticeship at the Portsmouth Royal Dockyard, Mike spent the first two years learning to work with sail makers’ tools and the basics of hand sewing a square rig sail. Only after this was he able to move onto machine sewing and finally specialise in making covers for Royal Navy ships. Over the years he worked in different fields, but always kept up his cover making skills. Now retired, Mike is in demand for those exactingly taught skills – the ability to accurately measure, cut and sew sails or covers to suit almost any shape of thing. Coming full circle, he now assists at The Historic Portsmouth Dockyard on projects such as making hammocks for the 1765 museum ship HMS Victory. Mike is also a rope enthusiast and was delighted to report that his work with Soane had allowed him to indulge in the purchase of an ‘old, cranky rope making gadget’ for producing three-strand rope. Rope making is quite possibly another Journal post in itself!
Nautical design has inspired a number of Soane Britain pieces, most notably The Yacht Table, originally made for a client’s boat but equally suited to a home or restaurant. The curvaceous wood top, turned base, cast brass pedestal and metal bandings with neat fixings are all made by South Coast specialist workshops and together embody the sleek, engineered, nautical aesthetic we admire. Popular with clients, an Oval Yacht Table and Rectangular Yacht Table were subsequently introduced. The Ocean Wall Light and Ocean Table Light also have a nautical provenance with a design based on an original light salvaged from a 1920s yacht. A clever gimble with beautifully rippled ‘lost wax cast’ brass ball allows the light to rotate and stay upright as a boat heels. And Lulu’s delight at nautical rope is evident in The Rope Mirror and the incredibly glamorous Argo Collection of tables, seating and lighting – the beauty of rope captured in solid brass.
*G.L.Watson & Co is the long established British yacht design company that was commissioned to design The Nahlin in 1929 and supervised the incredible restoration project. Read more at their website here.
For more nautical inspiration, see Soane Britain’s new ‘Nautical Chic’ board on Pinterest.
Top Gallery: The Nahlin yacht; The Oval Yacht Table and Yacht Chairs by Soane Britain; photograph of the deck of La Gaviota yacht in 1950s; The Argo Writing Table and The Eldon Chair by Soane Britain.