The Story of The Menai Straits One Design Yacht - their Historical, Cultural and Contemporary Significance
Original Plans (Fig 1 & 2)
In the early 1930’s plans were prepared for the building of a 20ft Sloop yacht. The design was for a boat capable of being raced and sailed within the Menai Strait, the famous stream of water separating the Isle of Anglesey from the Welsh mainland.
The area is subjected to significant tidal conditions, with a wide expanse of water at high tide to the narrow channel at low water characterised by hectares of sand banks, rocky coves and the and famous ‘Swellies’, described as the ‘most treacherous waters in the world’ by Nelson.
A tow through the Swellies in 1953
The recently wrecked HMS Conway in the background (Fig 3)
Between 1937 and 1952, seventeen Menai Strait One Design boats were built with racing taking place at weekends. Initially the starts commenced in Beaumaris with the firing of a poacher’s gun from the sinisterly named Gallows Point, but more latterly by the use of cannons using blank cartridges.
The MSOD Logo (Fig 4)
Yacht No’s 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 12, 15, 16, 17 and 18 have remained in the North Wales area throughout their life with 5 MSOD’s being used for many years by HMS Conway as training yachts. Likewise No 4 was owned by Beaumaris Sea Scouts.
The ethos has been reasonably consistent throughout the life of the fleet, set with two basic values.
Firstly, boats must be prepared and sailed with no modifications to how the original boat first came out of the shed in 1937. There have been gradual practical amendments to this but in the main it is adhered to.
Secondly, no boats ought to be sold to owners who show an intention to take the boats out of the area or adapt them for alternative use. Sadly this has been adhered to less rigidly which caused the class to weaken, boats to be adapted and some sold away. By the mid 70’s the demise in the fleet resulted in few still sailing and on occasions only one or two out racing.
In 1948 No1 was sold to be a launch on the Thames where she had an engine installed. Likewise No2 had an engine installed in 1948 (but fortunately removed in 1952), No 5 was believed to have been destroyed following irreparable storm damage, No 11 lost at sea and No 14 had disappeared.
The ‘fight-back’ against this demise probably commenced in the late 70’s when No1 was purchased and returned to Anglesey nearly 30 years after she left. The engine was removed and she was soon racing again. Buoyed by the success of this, owners of the time encouraged others to join the fleet and refurbish the boats that required work. As enthusiasm increased the history of the fleet was duly challenged.
The framework of a sloop was found submerged having cleared herself of the mud that had engulfed her and was identified as Ceris (No 11). She was gathered up and settled into a shed until such time that a local boat-builder was able to afford the time to do what was a complete restoration project.
Around the same time after much sleuthing work it was established that Sudy (No14) had been seen in the early 60’s in a boatyard in mid Wales. Visits to the boatyard identified an elderly boat builder who had worked on her in the 1960’s covering her wooden hull below the waterline with fibre glass.
With this differing image of Sudy in mind the trail continued. Sightings were reported and it was established that (apart from briefly being a hen-house!) a cabin had been fitted in 1964 and twin ‘bilge’ keels fitted in 1977. She was eventually found in west Wales in 1985 and returned to Anglesey where she was completely renovated over a 3 year period and launched in 1989 as per the original specification.
Sudy as found in 1984 and racing in the early 2000’s after a complete restoration
(Figs 5 & 6)
Meanwhile, work began on rebuilding Ceris. Despite her ordeal most of the hull planking had survived as had the stem and transom. She too was rebuilt and eventually re-launched in the late 90’s. By the mid 80’s the whereabouts of all but one original Menai Strait One Design boats were known. So what had happened to Aderyn No 5? A story of so many myths!
‘Ceris’ leading the fleet in 2017 ahead of the previously almost unbeatable ‘Playmate’
The stories of the demise of Aderyn were far ranging. The last ‘robust’ reports were from either the late 50’s or very early 60’s. She had been variously ‘stolen’, ‘gone down and lost in a storm in ‘58’, or ‘smashed to pieces’ against the sea wall and subsequently burnt due to being beyond repair. It was a real shame because as far as we knew we were one boat short of being one of only a few ‘complete classes’ from that era in the world!
In 1985 a seaman travelling through Beaumaris was casually talking to a town resident about the one design boats he’d seen in the bay, when he mentioned that he’d seen a similar boat being used with an outboard motor off Lindisfarne Island in Northumberland. This news came to the attention of fleet members so another bout of sleuthing commenced.
After several calls the owner of the boat was identified and he was contacted. He’d bought the boat as a small fishing vessel about 3 years previously but didn’t know what sort of boat it was. While he had a mast, he’d never had cause to put it up so had never sailed her. After much describing, the excitement increased during the call as the more the dimensions and characteristics of Aderyn were explained to him the more seemed likely that this was indeed our lost yacht.
Remarkably the owner did have a set of sails, so he retrieved the bag. He emptied it to find a mainsail with the MS 5 on it. We had finally completed our search!
Aderyn (left) and Ceris circa 1948 before their ‘journeys’ away from Anglesey (Fig 8)
In the ensuing years all 17 boats have been on the water, and all raced within the last decade. On one occasion we managed 14 boats for a race where magically the first and second boats were accompanied for the final two miles of the race by a family of visiting Blue Nosed Dolphins.
Aderyn 2018 on a very calm day following her restoration with Snowdonia in the background (left). Suzanne enjoying the fresh breeze in 2014
(Figs 9 & 10)
The historical importance of this fleet is clear to see. We believe the fleet is the oldest complete fleet of drop keel sea boats of 12 or more yachts and one of the oldest complete fleets in the world. It is a unique piece of international maritime and nautical history. Culturally its significance is in its versatility and performance, particularly relating to how its build is fundamentally designed for the Menai Strait, allowing use at all states of the tide within the narrow channel.
We have been blessed and fortunate that the builders and apprentices of these yachts have been around until relatively recently – at the time of writing this 2 of the apprentices remain alive and well in their 90’s with one of them actively and daily still refurbishing boats in the same boat yard where they were all built starting 84 years ago.
It is however, for us as the new custodians to learn or facilitate the acquisition of the skills to maintain the ongoing survival of Welsh cultural history.