Schooner than later

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painting of a ship

'Ariadne' by Samuel Walters. Image courtesy of the Liverpool Daily Post and Echo.

To me, a marine painting has to combine at least three key elements for success – skilful portrayal of the ship, a fine setting and great atmosphere.

The sea must be realistic- whether rough, choppy or calm - and the wind or breeze should almost come out of the canvas. I think this depiction of the Ariadne fits all these criteria – but most of all in its setting, the Menai Straits.

This is where I spent many childhood holidays near Beaumaris, a charming historic place I return to regularly.

Schooners are the elegant ladies of the sea, said to have first been built by the Dutch around 1600, and reaching their zenith in the late 19th century when they were most popular in the United States.

Legend says that the first ship to be called a schooner was launched in Massachusetts in 1713. A spectator declared: “How she scoons!” – scoon is a Scots word meaning to skim over water and the name stuck.

Yachting enthusiasts adopted schooner designs and this painting is a prime example, on display in Merseyside Maritime Museum.

The schooner yacht Ariadne (pictured) was painted by top marine artist Samuel Walters (1811 – 1882). She is shown in the eastern end of the Straits with the Nanfrancon Pass and Bangor in the background.

Ariadne flies the blue ensign of the Royal Mersey Yacht Club, one of the oldest yacht clubs in the country founded in 1844.

She was built in 1861 by Harveys of Wivenhoe, Essex – a leading builder of the time. Ariadne was sold to George Petty, a wealthy Preston banker with Liverpool connections, in 1865 and was used in races in the Irish Sea, the Clyde and Cowes, Isle of Wight.

This fine painting shows the beautiful yacht with two masts under full sail with crew members and smartly-dressed gentlemen on the decks with breath-taking scenery behind.

Schooners were operated in the USA more than anywhere else with two-masters being the most common. They carried cargoes in many different stretches of water from oceans to inland waters such as the Great Lakes.

They were most popular in work that required speed and manoeuvrability – privateering, slaving, blockade-running and offshore fishing. Another role was as pilot boats in US ports and northern Europe.

A schooner does not have a set number of masts – they have between two and six. The only seven-masted schooner was the Thomas W Lawson built in 1902.  

A new Maritime Tale by Stephen Guy appears every Saturday in the Liverpool Echo. A paperback – Mersey Maritime Tales (£3.99) – is available from the museum, newsagents, bookshops or from the Mersey Shop website (£1 p&p UK).