Dick Durham July podcast: The used boat market can get sidelined by the marine industry, but a former YM editor discovered its importance
“Bittles was no sailor, but he knew a good idea when he saw one”
Exactly 90 years ago this month, Yachting Monthly conceived an offspring, Yacht Sales & Charters. The first issue of this bi-weekly progeny was born on 1 July 1925 with the intention of introducing novices to sailing and at the same time showing a new readership just how cheaply they could get afloat.
The reason it was felt a separate magazine should be started was that there was enough seaworthy, but small, and therefore overlooked by yacht-brokers, second-hand sailing boats to produce a journal three times a month instead of once.
Despite the yacht brokers’ disdain for the hundreds of humble ‘rise-ons and tore-outs’ – converted ship’s lifeboats – every broker in Britain was sent a circular explaining that Yachting Monthly’s proprietors were ‘sure that the more craft purchased or chartered, the brisker will be yachting as a whole.’
The seeds of Yacht Sales & Charters germinated when George Bittles, who became manager of the magazine, had bought a copy of a book called Yachting On A Small Income at the railway station of his daily commute. Bittles was no sailor, but he knew a good idea when he saw one and was interested to learn that at a time when a brand new racing yacht cost between £100 and £150 a ton to build, here was some chap revealing that you could buy a 20-footer for as little as £30.
The chap was Maurice Griffiths, who Bittles instantly installed as editor of Yacht Sales & Charters. So sure was Griffiths that bargain- basement boating was the answer to introducing youngsters to the sport, that when the brokers boycotted the magazine, he, with the backing of his boss, decided to start his own brokerage.
So Yacht Sales & Charters, based in London’s Covent Garden, employed a team of brokerage staff, with the promise: ‘Readers who apply to us with a view to either buying or selling a boat will receive the most personal and unbiased attention that a well-trained staff can give.’
The first issue had 102 craft for sale, ranging from a 17ft dayboat for £60 to a 49ft yawl for £450. The ads ran down the sides of the pages alongside the articles to give the reader instant access to boats for sale.
By the year’s end, 23,000 copies of Yacht Sales & Charters were published per month and the number of yachts for sale had increased by 25 per cent and had to be listed in the following categories: yawls, cutters, Dutch yachts, sloops, houseboats, steam yachts, motor yachts, and schooners.
The ‘man in the creek’, Maurice Griffiths, now realised it was not just novices who wanted coverage of second-hand boats but old salts, too. This lesson is relearned every so often and when National Boat Show number crunchers carried out a survey of London Boat Show visitors at ExCel a few years back they were embarrassed by their own findings. The overwhelming demand was for expertise about, technical assistance on and examples of… second-hand boats.
Yacht Sales & Charters was a victim of its own success: it had to be merged with the mother magazine as brokers were refusing to advertise in either. The legacy of that merger is today’s Yachting Monthly, and, thanks to a long line of sailors who have owned and cruised their own second-hand boats, including James Jermain, who has tested more than 500 boats, Duncan Kent and Graham Snook to name but three, is now Europe’s leading used-boat journal.
Yacht Sales & Charters also, by the way, published a regular column, Light Airs, by a man with the nom de plume Sarf Ende. Quite what the members of the 10 yacht clubs who sailed second-hand boats either side of Southend Pier would have made of that, is not recorded.
It seems Essex has long been the butt of metropolitan snootiness. But don’t worry, my fellow East Saxons, I’m here to defend you!