Gleniffer Wheelhouse Configuration Notes
Tom Burnett, June 2020
Foredeck. photo Tom Burnett.
The period around 1897 to 1928 saw the decline of the steam launch and the popularisation of the internal combustion engine. When these new engines became reliable at the beginning of the 20th century, large numbers of owners turned from sail to motor. Once gasoline marine engines had evolved to become safe and reliable around 1904, the majority of yachtsmen turned from steam and sail to motor boating. Early “oil launches” opened vast opportunities with regard to tide, draught restrictions in rivers and estuaries, and the dependence on wind. The first launches reflect their yacht ancestry in their fine lines, dipping shears, low cabin tops and shapely sterns. Picture the clipper bow and schooner rig of the finely proportioned steam yachts.
Yachting had been a sport exclusively for men. Women and children would only have been aboard for “picnic days” and often been in segregated cabins designed for “the ladies to do their private things in private. “The motor launch created a revolution in participation in maritime recreation for men, women and children, much to the consternation of some furious gentlemen yachtsmen of the time. As the internal combustion engines grew in size and power, cabins also grew. Reflecting the convenience and comfort of headroom down below and cuddies, doghouses, cockpit dodgers and the like began to provide shelter for helmsmen and crew. Then a “tram top”, clerestory and ultimately a bridgedeck grew out of this development. By 1905 designs around the Empire and the United States were experiencing breakthroughs in generational development allowing form to follow function.
Gleniffer is a forty foot displacement cruiser representing the latest refinements of the motor launches of her day. She was built in Bailey’s Shipyard, Kowloon Bay, British Hong Kong. She was delivered new to Vancouver, British Columbia where she was registered in 1912. In terms of styling, raised deck motor launches pre-1914 were making older designs with clipper sailing lines, small “doghouse” deck cabins and no standing room look dated. Gleniffer was built with a proper canoe stern, lean double-enders being the real style of the time. Transom stern launches still suggested a little of the workboat.
On her bows are two dragons that reflect the 1910-style elaborate foliate carving, the mark then of a proper launch. This was usually painted or carved, picked out in a darker colour or gold leaf.
Gleniffer was launched as a classically pure “Flush Decker“ of the period before 1914, when motor boat launches had finally broken away from their attempts to look as much as possible like previous steam and sailing yachts. The earlier round-fronted separate cabin top produced less volume below and the look became somewhat dated. Around 1912, steering positions began to be moved right forward, almost to amidships. Gleniffer was built prior to 1912, made entirely of Burma Teak and delivered new to Vancouver aboard a cargo steamer. She cruised extensively with an open decked aft cockpit with railings for a removable canvas awning shelter.
She has a cockpit steering wheel, but also a hand tiller aft. In time she grew an enclosed aft wheelhouse, a later addition common throughout this design, an evolution in the process that produced the later “Tram-top” and “Bridgedecker”. Such later stylings began to grow first a shelter or “dodger” over the cockpit with a windscreen forward, at the time called “an overhead covering over the wheel”. Often with roll-down canvas curtains to provide shelter, greatly improving the level of comfort and utility. For the first time there were styling cues in launches taken from the American car and the contemporary coupe. These canvas side curtains could now be unrolled down in the manner of the latest touring car. Like the motor car, the power launch had now come of age as a safe, reliable, purposeful and easily handled conveyance.
The open cockpit of the heroic flush decker evolved in a process that would eventually lead to filled in permanent enclosures at the end of the veteran period of launch design. Some have grown a ”block of apartments” on their hulls. It is a very rare pleasure to find an intact, unbutchered flush decker in its original configuration. In 1911 the costs of the machinery and the hull were about equal, so the engine importer had a far greater input into the trade than nowadays. At the outbreak of World War One there began a great quest for power and speed in the sport of motorboating. New developments were followed with great interest. There were hundreds of makes of marine engines on the market worldwide in 1907. A wide range of engines could be imported. Because of the high initial cost of the engine, often instead of the boatbuilders receiving the initial commission, the engine manufacturers and importers took the orders, based on the reputation or price of their engine, and then contracted out the hull. Most of these new engines were from the US, ruggedly and simply built and suiting “colonial conditions”. The custom of launch builders was often to build a launch powered by their engine, name it after the engine, and get as much publicity for it as possible. Pre-World War One there were well known yacht building firms by the name of Bailey in both New Zealand and in British Hong Kong. W.S. Bailey & Co of 1897 in Hong Kong and C&W Bailey of Auckland in 1895. Separate families of marine builders. Pre-World War One yacht innovations in such yards had much in common.
It is interesting to note that the 60 foot flush decked teak yacht Walrondo was Imported to Seattle from Baileys shipyard, Hong Kong in 1912. She was Powered by two Gleniffer petrol marine engines. Gleniffer Marine engines were Manufactured in Glasgow, Scotland and found in many craft.
Although the first marine engine in Gleniffer is recorded as a Lycombing. Given the history of the era, perhaps there was some business promotion to be found here as well.
With thanks to Harold Kidd and Robin Elliott
“Vintage New Zealand Launches”