A 30" Ailsa

[Much of this material appeared originally in the June 1989 'Curved Air' column in Model Boats and derives almost entirely from correspondence with Douglas Boyd, who as a boy lived in Largs and was a neighbour and satisfied customer of the company.]

The early history of the Ailsa company is obscure, but there is evidence from an advertisement for the Clyde Model Dockyard that something very similar to an Ailsa was being produced for them in 1936. The hull and fin were wood and the lead appeared in two different forms. We can't be sure which came first, but it is likely that the the torpedo form, which became standard for most of the life of the company was a second thought. The sails before 1939 seem all to have been made from striped material. We assume that they were produced by Turner in Largs, but we have no firm evidence of this.



After the 1939 war the company went into a much bigger scale of production. The early post war hulls were wooden and appear to have had metal fins. The photos show a boat that came to light in the US which show the bread and butter construction and a deck logo thast appears to be a rubber stamp and is thought to have preceded the ivorine label that is found on most surviving examples.



The company name refers to the island of Ailsa Craig, a prominent feature of the seascape off Largs.

The boats were marketed predominantly, though not exclusively, through 'MILBRO', a general leisure goods company who sold (among other things) catapults and child size fishing rods. I'm not sure whether they are the same organisation that was active in the model railway field in the 1950's and 60's. [At least one example has been found with a Clyde model Dockyard label on it, but it's definitely an Ailsa.]

Turner designed and developed the boats to a high standard, spending a lot of time sailing prototypes against each other on the yacht pond at Largs. The boats were from the first intended to be sailed without a rudder and to give a good performance in the hands of a complete novice. They came in sizes from 12 inches to 21 inches in hull length. The business was started after the war and continued until well into the 1960's. Turner more or less retired in 1967, and died about 1970. His sons did not choose to continue the business.

At one stage a dozen women were employed on all aspects of the construction except the casting of the lead keels which Turner felt was potentially dangerous. Boats were widely sold in the UK and exported to most Commonwealth countries.

The original boats had wooden hulls carved from yellow pine, but this was expensive both in materials and in time to finish, so Turner developed a metal hull as a one piece pressing. I had, from inspection of the few examples that have come my way, thought this was tinplate, like the Triang boats of the same period, but it was in fact aluminium. Turner succeeded in pressing this, despite professional advice that it wouldn't be sufficiently ductile to form in one strike of the press. The aluminium hull gave a long lasting boat and very light hull construction, with an outward turned deck flange to which was screwed a deck in red cedar. The fin was cut from aluminium plate and bolted to the hull shell. Turner experimented in the late 1950's with GRP hulls moulded directly inside an aluminium pressing, and towards the end of the production run GRP replaced metal. Sails were originally in cotton, either plain Union Silk or Horrock's "sailcloth" with the printed seams. This was replaced towards the end by hot rolled terylene.

Though the standard form of boat seems to have varied very little over the years, Turner experimented with keel forms and with automatic steering gears. Douglas's elder brother had one of these, which was inadvertently thrown out by his mother in the fairly recent past. Turner's experience was that in his market, anything that could go wrong or get bent was a bad idea and he reverted to the plate keel as almost fool proof.

Douglas who, with his brothers, had a fleet of these boats when they were children, writes at some length of their superior performance, both in terms of sheer speed and their ability to beat, reach and run, despite their fixed rudder. He says that they were faster and more effective than any toy boat ever seen on the Largs pond, and I'm prepared to believe him. Both examples that I have seen and sailed have been very impressive performers.

There must have been many thousand of these boats produced over the twenty or so years of the firm's existence. I have seen two in action and another two at auction, together with photos of another two. All these were of the standard form with aluminium hulls and cotton sails. Does anyone out there have a wooden one, or a GRP version with terylene sails?

As will be seen from the paras above, wooden ones have turned up, as has a GRP example. The latter has sails which are not terylene but made of very fine cotton which has treated with some form of plastic. They are frayed beyond repair but are quite clearly a natural fabric.

Sixteen years on
We still know little more about the company than is in the preceding paragraphs. No documentary evidence in the form of catalogues has been found. More boats have come to light, but none that differ from the standard form. Examples turn up fairly regularly on Ebay, mainly in the UK, but also in the US, Canada and Australia. As is normal on Ebay, prices vary widely, not always in step with the apparent condition of the boat.

A '17 inch' Ailsa model sold on Ebay for GBP 42. Notice that the fin shape is non standard. Not clear whether it was originally like this.
A 20 inch model sold for GBP 29. Another essentially similar went for GBP 100
A 21 inch model with a Clyde model Dockyard label. Hull only. GBP 43
A 28 inch model GBP 222