Yacht: Ilex

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A sequence of photos from 1909-1912 courtesy of Christopher Barton.

Research by Jim Lockhart

I was recently having a chat with a retired senior officer who is still high up in the RE Yacht club and the subject of Ilex was raised.  He noted that she was still around; when the club had looked to register their latest yacht with the name, they had to settle for Ilex of Upnor, because Ilex was still in use in Spain.  This got me wandering what had happened to our most famous boat, so I hit the internet and RE Corps library to come up with the following information.

Ilex was originally built in 1899 by Camper and Nicholson at Gosport  for a Mr T Adkins of Portsmouth.  She was designed by Charles E Nicholson and in her original configuration was rigged as a gaff cutter.  This iteration of her sail plan was short lived though, as she was converted to a gaff yawl in 1903.

I am unable to trace her ownership beyond that of Mr Adkins until she is bought by the RE Yacht Club for £850, who take possession of her in the spring of 1926 in Bangor.  The REYC, enthusiastic participants in RORC events, immediately enter her into the Fastnet Race of that year, only the second running of this event.  Ilex proves to be highly competitive under her skipper General Duke, beating Jolie Brise (the winner in 1925), Primrose IV (the first American entry) and Halloween (a 70 foot bermudan cutter, designed by William Fife III to the 15 metre rule specifically for the race).  Ilex was actually the second boat home behind Halloween, but was the winner on handicap.  Halloween’s time of 3 days, 19 hours and 5 minutes was a course record that stood until 1967.  Ilex subsequently raced in the Fastnet race in all the intervening years, except 1932,  between 1927 and 1939 (inclusive), after which she was laid up for the war in Mashford’s Yard in Portsmouth.

Between 1926 and 1939, Ilex was entered into a total of 30 RORC races by the REYC, winning 4 firsts and 14 other prizes.  A brief synopsis of her most significant achievements is:

Fastnet Race: 1926 (1st)

The Channel Race: 1932 (3rd); 1934 (1st)

Santander: 1929 (2nd Class II); 1930 (1st and the Queen of Spain’s Cup)

Transatlantic Race: 1931 (7th out of 10) famously won by Dorade

North Sea Race: 1932 (2nd); 1933 (3rd); 1934 (4th); 1936 (3rd); 1938 (3rd A Div)

Belle Isle Race: 1935 (3rd Big Class)

La Rochelle Race: (1st Cruiser Class)

General Duke also mentions winning the Sr Carengo cup in 1929, beating Jolie Brise in a race from Santander to Bilbao, but I suspect this was a “gentlemen’s race” as I can find no other reference to it outside of his history of the REYC.

During her time with the RE, the REYC commissioned a number of modifications to Ilex in order to improve her performance, as the prevalence of purpose built racing yachts such as Halloween and Dorade increased in the competitions.  The first was to re-rig her back into a gaff cutter prior to the Transatlantic race in 1931.  Roller reefing was also fitted to her main boom at this time. In the winter of 1934/35 her rig was changed again to that of a bermudan cutter, in a last ditch attempt to squeeze a few more competitive years out of her.  This work was completed by Camper and Nicholson.

After the war, the RE needed a more competitive boat, so the decision was made to sell Ilex and she was eventually bought by a Mr James Patterson, who used her as his base in Gibraltar.

The next change of ownership I can find recorded, is her sale to Mr John Peter Moore in 1971, who was at that time personal secretary to Salvador Dali.  It is presumably under his ownership that she is run aground at Empuriabrava in 1989, where she is abandoned until Sr Germain Ruiz purchases her in 1991.  Her restoration is completed at Vatasa Shipyard, (Santa Pola, Alicante) and in 1994 she returns to the historic sailing circuit, having her base in Palma de Mallorca.  There is a suggestion that she was converted to a ketch under the ownership of John Moore, but I can find no corroboration for this fact outside of the Nauticareport website.






History of the Royal Engineer Yacht Club, General Duke, 1982, Geoffrey Tulet & Associates: ISBN 978-0946403004

It might also be worth noting that the RE and RN yacht clubs still compete annually for the Ilex trophy.  This became a “thing” after the war when a silver model of Ilex that was presented to the RN to commemorate a destroyer being named HMS Ilex, had to be found a new home when the ship was decommissioned.  The model ended up back at Chatham in the dockyard HQ called HMS Pembroke.  The RE HQ Mess is right next to Pembroke, so they decided to compete for it every year for the honour of having the model in the mess; it is a particularly fine silver model and looks great on the table at dinner nights.

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Designer: Charles Ernest Nicholson
Type of Boat:
Rig: Gaff Cutter
Year Built: 1899
Built By: Camper & Nicholson, Gosport, UK
LOA m / ft: 15.40m / 51'
LOD m / ft:
LWL m / ft: 12.90m / 42'3"
Beam m / ft: 3.40m / 11'1"
Draft m / ft: 2.60m / 8'5"
Yard No:
Sail Stats Sail Area: 165 sq.m
Displacement:19 tons.

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