Yachting is very popular in and around Liverpool and the sight of them, particularly off Otterspool where the river is generally quiet, is a constant source of pleasure for me, Stephen Guy. Among the great ships entering and leaving the Mersey can often be seen yachts scurrying before brisk breezes.
Steam yachts were popular 100 or more years ago when wealthy people used them for relaxation and travelling in style. They were status symbols and often had luxurious fittings to reflect the wealth of the owners. Some yachts were used for coastal waters and beyond and others were steamed in the Lake District, for example.
At Merseyside Maritime Museum there are the original engine and paddle wheels from the steam yacht Firefly II (shown). She was built for Lord Newborough, who lived in Anglesey, by W Roberts of Chester in 1900. The compound direct-acting diagonal steam engine gleams with its brass, copper and polished wood fittings. These parts of the vessel were discarded shortly after the First World War when Firefly II was converted to screw propulsion. Builder’s plans on display show that the 42-ton Firefly II was an elegant yacht which cut a dash around Liverpool Bay. She was 72 ft long and the 12 hp engine had a steam pressure of 140 psi.
Another contemporary yachtsman is commemorated in the museum displays. Baden Percival was a member of the West Lancashire Yacht Club and achieved fame among the local yachting fraternity when he won the 1908 Liverpool to Isle of Man Midnight Race in his boat Zulu. Percival was awarded a beautiful silver epergne (table centrepiece) which is now on show with photographs of the Zulu. At the time the Manchester Guardian ironically reported about the Zulu’s crew:
“Lancashire courage is unquestioned and now Lancashire modesty may range alongside it. They said that at 2 am they had had about enough of it and didn’t care whether they won, as all by then had forsworn yachting, intending in future to keep hens instead.”
Built in 1900 at Fleetwood, Zulu is now in the United States and is called Zulu Chief.
There is a model of the 1906 Royal Mersey sailing yacht, Myfanwy, which was built by Samuel Bond of Birkenhead for WS Taylor and NA Hall of Liverpool.
The Royal Mersey Yacht Club, founded in 1844, promotes yacht racing in the River Mersey and adjoining waters. It is one of the many yachting and sailing clubs which thrive in and around Liverpool.
A new Maritime Tale appears every Saturday in the Liverpool Echo.