TAI-MO-SHAN

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1933 classic teak 54ft Bermudan racing ketch with great history.

The History of Tai-Mo-Shan

by Andrew Rosthorn

IN 1932, five adventurous young naval officers took advantage of the world slump to finance the building of a 54 foot ocean racing ketch in the yard of the Hong Kong & Whampoa Dock Co Ltd. She was to be constructed in teak and named Tai-Mo-Shan [High Hat Hill], after the highest mountain in the colony.
Her designers were Edward Cock, chief manager at the great shipyard, and H.S. Rouse, Vice-Commodore of the Hong Kong Yacht Club, who had raced yachts of his own design in 1928-9 against the pioneering yacht designer John Illingworth, who was then serving as a Lt Cdr with the Royal Navy's submarine flotilla and racing his gaff yawl Queen Bee. In those halcyon years, before the outbreak of the Second World War and the end of empire, "Uncle Rouse", as Illingworth called him, designed a series of fast cruising yachts for men on the China Station.


Designers Edward Cock and H.S. Rouse outside the Hong Kong & Whampoa offices.



But when the smoke of war had cleared and the British Empire was gone, only ten Rouse yachts were still listed in Lloyds 1959 Register of Yachts. Thanks to Chinese craftsmanship, two of them were to become very famous in the post-war era and at least half a dozen have survived into the second millennium, none more magnificently than Tai-Mo-Shan.
The best known of the Rouse yachts has been Tzu Hang, the 46 foot ketch, built by Hop Kee in 1938. She survived fifteen years of world cruising in the hands of Miles and Beryl Smeeton and underwent a terrifying pitchpoling and later capsize off Cape Horn in 1956.
Then there was Rouse's own 47 foot cutter, Golden Dragon, completed in 1938 at Wing On Shing yard, and raced in Europe after the war. Sailing off the Crouch in 1970, she won the Houghton Cup, Britain's oldest offshore race. Golden Dragon was eventually owned by the naval historian Dudley Pope, author of the Lord Ramage novels.


Another astonishing Rouse survivor has been Mairi Bhán, a 26-foot sloop from Hung, Hom Hop-Kee & Co., built in teak with an iroko keel and a 2 tonne cast iron tear drop keel. Mairi Bhán survived some years in the long grass outside No1 Coastguard House on the headland above Penmon Point, on the Isle of Anglesey, before being rescued by Robert "Mac" McNamara. In 2001, her 62nd year, "Mac", 75, was sailing Mairi Bhán in the River Mersey. She is now owned by Dr Yiannis Tridimas, an engineering lecturer at Liverpool John Moores University. Dr Tridimas has re-rigged Mairi Bhán and will be sailing her in 2007.


Mairi Bhán in Liverpool 2006

The most exotic of the preserved Rouse yachts must now be Tai-Mo-Shan, not seen in British waters for many years and recently refitted at Kusadasi in Turkey, after 40 years in the strict and careful ownership of Ian Bowler C.B.E., an 85 year old pioneering engineer in the international oil and gas industry.


Tai-Mo-Shan refitting in Turkey

She retains her original teak hull, her camphor and ipol frames, a one-piece camphor stem, a yacal sternpost, a teak keelson, a 7 tonne lead keel and the steel floors that were installed in 1933, under the supervision of the five young officers and her joint designer, Mr Cock, managing director of Hong Kong & Whampoa.

Ian Bowler and his daughter Moya Bowler have now carried out a third refit of Tai-Mo-Shan. A deck fabricated in Italy in 1971 from 50 years old teak salvaged from a steamer has been relaid. After finishing the job at Kusadasi, shipwright Leo Aston, a graduate of the International Boatbuilding College at Lowestoft, described Tai-Mo-Shan as "Pretty unparalleled".
"She's built to about twice Lloyds specification, very heavily overbuilt in places. I've never seen such tremendous construction. When I was working on her I used to call her, in a friendly way, 'The Incredible Hulk'. The quality of teak used in Hong Kong is far beyond what we can find on the shelf today. Even the Italian salvaged teak used on the deck, which was 50 years old when it was laid, is of a very high quality and density. The Italian deck had not lasted as long as the original pine deck largely because the ends of the teak had been unsupported where hatches had been let into the deck. There had been an inherent fault with plywood under the teak being unsupported by some of the deck beams. I had to take the king plank up, but I never found any fault with the marvellous work of her Chinese builders."
The locations of previous refits, in La Rochelle and at the Cantiere Navale Dell'argentario at Porto Santo Stefano, indicate just how widely Tai has been cruised in the years since Ian Bowler discovered her. Mr Bowler's instructions to Leo Aston were intended to ensure that "Tai" will remain one of the "most original" of the surviving pre-war teak yachts from Hong Kong.


Her most remarkable exploit was her very first voyage - 16,217 miles without a motor, from Hong Kong to Dartmouth. The five young officers had been warned about economising on canvas by their sailmaker Ah Lung, who made them sixteen sails in eight-ounce cotton duck. Every sail was entirely hand-stitched. Ah Lung had rejected the first canvas offered to him, as it was, "All can-do for play-pidgin harbourside, no can-do outside". After deciding to economise by leaving out an engine, the officers had to ask the formidable Admiral Howard Kelly for permission to sail the new yacht to England by an unorthodox route, against the prevailing winds, via Japan, the Kuriles, the Bering Sea, the Aleutians, California, Panama and the West Indies.
"Quite rightly", wrote Lt Martyn Sherwood later, "We were placed on half-pay for the entire voyage". The irascible admiral's approval, that it was "refreshing to note this spirit of adventure and initiative", came with a pay cut, down to seven shillings a day for each man. Their economy, in sailing Tai-Mo-Shan to Britain without a motor, was to leave them stranded for sixteen days on Crooked Island in the Bahamas. Admiralty penny-pinching was somewhat balanced by a splendidly-timed congratulatory telegram, sent to Dartmouth by King George V.



The crew were four submariners and a naval doctor; Lt Martyn Sherwood, 32, Lt George Salt, 24, Lt Philip Francis, 24, Surgeon Lt Bertie Ommaney-Davis, 27, and sailing-master Lt R.E.D. "Red" Ryder, 24.

Research by the British magazine Classic Boat and The Times revealed in 2007 that the voyage was more than a great yachting exploit. The young naval officers were spying on Imperial Japanese Navy anchorages in the Kurile Islands that were later used for the attack on Pearl Harbor. The crew eventually repaid the navy and the nation in the Second World War by winning four DSOs, a Croix de Guerre and a VC between them.



Robert Ryder won the Victoria Cross in 1942, commanding naval forces in the raid on St Nazaire in which the destroyer HMS Campbeltown, disguised as a German gun boat, rammed the gates of the only Atlantic drydock capable of handling the German battleship Tirpitz. HMS Campbeltown was jammed in the lock gates and still carrying 4.3 tonnes of concealed, time-delayed explosives when Ryder went ashore from MGB 314 to rescue survivors from her crew and to pick up some of the very few survivors from the marine commando raiding force. When he ran the gauntlet to escape, with MGB 314 loaded with dead and wounded, the gunboat was under very heavy German fire for over an hour. A German naval report described the raid as "a model example of a cleverly planned operation, superbly prepared down to the last detail, carried out well and boldly, with a daredevil spirit." Churchill said it was "a deed of glory intimately involved in high strategy".

Cdr Martyn Sherwood was awarded two DSOs, in 1940 when his anti-submarine trawler Cape Passaro was bombed and sunk off the Norwegian Coast and in 1941 in the withdrawal from Piraeus harbour. In 1945 he commanded the German end of Operation Homeward, the confiscation of captured "windfall yachts".

Lt Philip Francis earned two DSOs as a determined submarine captain in the Mediterranean in 1941 and 1942. His crew said he had "a brain packed in ice" and on nine patrols, defending Malta, sinking supply ships bound for Rommel's Afrika Korps, Philip Francis scored 20 hits out of 51 torpedoes fired. In 1945, commanding the Northern Ireland submarine base at Lisahally, he took the surrender of 63 German U-boats, complimenting the crews on their discipline and impeccable conduct in a bloody campaign that had ended in total defeat.

George Salt was lost in the Mediterranean in 1940. He was the captain of the submarine Triad, missing for forty years, but now known to have been sunk during a close quarters exchange of gunfire and torpedoes with the Italian submarine Enrico Toti at night in the Gulf of Taranto. His son, Rear Admiral 'Sam' Salt (Captain of HMS Sheffield when she was sunk by a missile in the 1982 Falklands War) also served as a submariner.
George and Philip Francis were close friends and a few years before the war George had married Philip's sister, Bridget Francis [now Mrs Bridget Lamb]. Sam Salt was born in the year of his father was lost. Mrs Lamb, who married again after the war, is still with us and well enough to take a three week trip to Antarctica in 2006 at the age of 94.

Bridget's older brother, Geoffrey, married George Salt's sister, Patience. In 1938, Geoffrey had another yacht built at the Whampoa Yard in Hong Kong, also designed by Rouse and named Ma-On-Shan, after another mountain in Hong Kong. She was a wishbone ketch, larger than Tai-Mo-Shan. Geoffrey Francis planned to sail Ma-On-Shan back to England via Singapore, where he was serving in the Royal Air Force. The westabout voyage would have meant that the two brothers had jointly circumnavigated the world.
The plan was thwarted by a severe typhoon and the Second World War. Geoffrey sailed with Patience, a Chinese cook boy called A Lo and the Number One Boat Boy from the Hong Kong Yacht Club, who was called Tai Sing.



The H.S. Rouse wishbone ketch Ma-On-Shan.

Sam Salt recently recounted their fate: "The wishbone, a heavy beast that could not be lowered, had broken adrift and carried away the upper cross trees and the shrouds and snapped the lower cross tree tubing. For many hours my uncle had to stay lashed at the foot of the damaged main mast with an axe waiting to cut away the rigging when the mast eventually fell.
"Having passed close to the centre of the typhoon - and survived it - they made for Saigon to carry out repairs. But because they had all been reported dead, they were unable to secure a bank draft from the Lloyds Bank agent in Saigon. Eventually they continued to Singapore where with the onset of World War II they had to abandon their plans. Sadly, Ma On Shan was scuttled by the Royal Navy to avoid her falling into Japanese hands."

In 1935, Martyn Sherwood published The Voyage of The Tai-Mo-Shan, his account of the yacht's first three years which was re-published after the war by Arthur Ransome's publisher, Rupert Hart-Davis, in The Mariners' Library series. Sherwood told how Red Ryder had largely supervised construction of Tai-Mo-Shan, while Sherwood and Salt had prepared for the voyage by taking cooking lessons from a Swiss chef in Hong Kong.

In place of the planned heads compartment, they loaded some fairly advanced radio equipment and promised to observe currents and visibility for the Admiralty. They were after all cruising the cold and foggy seas where eight years later, Admiral Yamamoto would hide his aircraft carriers in the days before the attack on Pearl Harbour. They camped ashore in the Aleutian Islands.

Against Tai-Mo-Shan's strong cockpit "breakwater" was lashed a "canvas collapsible boat", which saw much action in the Bahamas, when the ketch was trapped on Crooked Island and heeled over at 45 degrees with a broken tiller. As Red Ryder travelled to Nassau, to try and hire a tug, the other men unloade the yacht and tried to persuade the poverty-stricken isalnders to excavate a breakwater around the stricken ketch. The islanders were Seventh Day Adventists, so poor that they owned only one shovel between them and dared not use it on rough work in sea water, as they needed it for burying their dead. The cash cost of escaping from Crooked Island was eighty pounds in payments to the islanders, a tow by a local schooner, the replacement of two teak planks and some Muntz metal sheathing. All agreed it would have been cheaper to have bought an engine in Hong Kong.

After arriving in England, the men sold Tai-Mo-Shan [29 tons TM] to the Royal Navy, for the exact cost of her building and her delivery voyage, so that she could join Amaryllis [36 tons TM] as a pair of yachts run by the Royal Naval Sailing Association. Amaryllis, launched in 1882, had been inherited by the navy after the death of bachelor George Muhlhauser, a Q-ship commander in the First World War who had died shortly after bringing Amaryllis back from an epic and very bizarre circumnavigation in the 1920s.
Tai-Mo-Shan was raced under the RNSA burgee in British waters, often by Commander Erroll Bruce, and by 1936 she was equipped with a marinised four cylinder Morris petrol / paraffin engine. The RNSA still awards a Tai-Mo-Shan Tankard, which is nowadays presented for the best sailing performance during the yachting season by a lady member.
John Illingworth, in his important book Offshore, told how he converted Tai-Mo-Shan into a yawl for the RNSA, to try to improve her sailing performance. He eventually recognised that with 23.8 tonnes displacement, 9ft 2in draught and 12ft 2in beam, she would sail better as a ketch and he soon reverted to "Uncle" Rouse's original three-quarter rigged ketch design.



Tai-Mo-Shan in Scotland - 1953.

Faster yachts appeared after the war and after a few seasons being demoted to cruising trips, "Tai" was sold off by the RNSA in 1949 or 1950 to E.J. "Jack" Woodman, part-time chairman of a Bradford textile firm, who lived at Rhu House on the shores of West Loch Tarbert, Argyll, cruising the West Coast two months a year with his sons. Based at Alexander Robertson's Yard, at Sandbank on the Holy Loch, Tai-Mo-Shan was re-rigged to her original plan and cruised by the Woodmans in the West of Scotland every year until 1959. By 1956 she had a two cylinder Ailsa Craig diesel engine.

Jack Woodman's son John remembered recently, "We used to take her from the Clyde through the Crinan Canal or round the Mull of Kintyre. She still had beautiful China-fir decks that we could scrub to bring up the red colour. Father was quite good at getting caught out by the weather and there was no pulpit. Hanking a foresail change in a gale in the Minch meant two teenagers hanging on on the stub bowsprit while she picked up green water. There weren't any safety harnesses.

"My father was noted for hitting the odd rock, in spite of having all the charts, and we were all familiar with the techniques for getting her off. The major impact we all remember. In middling visibility, he picked the wrong headland to take a leading line for avoiding Keils rock off Loch Sween. We were on a perfect reach, with full sail in a good force five and you know how fast she can move! It led us straight onto the rock itself. She bounced a few times then heeled over a bit further - churning up the kelp before we could get her off. The only evidence afterwards was that the bottom of the lead keel was corrugated instead of being flat. He did get the keel bolts checked that winter.

"She was a lovely boat, sailed beautifully and was mentioned in books written by West Coast sailors of that time. I still have her old anchor light, no innards, a teak water funnel and a fresh water barrel - in need of repair."




Jack Woodman and sons cruising Tai in Scotland - 1958.

After some years owned by Hugh Davis, Tai was lying at Brightlingsea, Essex, when she was spotted by Ian Bowler, her third private owner. She was given a new 50 hp Parsons four cylinder diesel and her original solid masts were replaced by hollow spruce spars with internal halyards and a masthead rig, designed by David May of Berthon. In La Rochelle she acquired new Goiot winches and stainless steel wire rigging and below decks was transformed into a proper gentleman's yacht.



Tai-Mo-Shan's Goiot winches.

She was given a library of leather-bound books and the sort of elegant saloon you might expect in the cruising home of an owner whose hero is Lord Nelson, who wrote the definitive monograph Predator Birds of Iran and lived in France, England and Iran when he was running an international engineering consultancy. Tai-Mo-Shan cruised in those days with a suit of sixteen sails and 500 charts.

After forty years of protecting Tai from the hazards of the twentieth century, Ian Bowler appealed for information on her history, hoping to make contact with some of the hundreds of yachtsmen who cruised and raced her in the RNAS years, after the five young officers had arrived back in Western Europe with their beautiful Oriental artefact. He and his daughter Moya believed they had found a suitable curator for Tai-Mo-Shan for the first part of the twenty-first century when she was sold to an Anglo-Greek partnership, just a few months before Ian Bowler died in London on May 10, 2009.
CLICK here for The Independent obituary on Ian Bowler.


After a big refit in Turkey in 2005, described by Steffan Meyric-Hughes in Classic Boat for August 2006, Tai-Mo-Shan caught the eye of the producers of the 2008 film of the Abba musical Mamma Mia. She was chartered by Tom Hanks, Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson to cruise Greek waters for the shooting of the film with Meryl Streep, Colin Firth, Julie Walters, Stellan Skarsgård and Hollywood's own Commander James Bond, Pierce Brosnan, on board.




Pierce Brosnan on Tai's foredeck off Skopelos in September 2007



Colin Firth, Pierce Brosnan and Stellan Skarsgård on Tai-Mo-Shan, flying the Swedish flag as the yacht "Fernando".

Pierce Brosnan and the producers were unaware that 74 summers earlier, Tai-Mo-Shan had slipped out of Yokohama on a cunning spy mission that would, in the best tradition of the Royal Navy, stay secret for a very long time. The 1933 intelligence report on the mission was first revealed in The Times on August 25, 2007.

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CLICK here for The Times 2007 story on Tai-Mo-Shan espionage mission against Japan.

CLICK for news on Tai-Mo-Shan in the 2008 Meryl Streep, Piers Brosnan, Colin Firth film MAMMA MIA!.



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