After five years of intense and not altogether friendly rivalry, Lord Belfast and Mr. Joseph Weld, both colourful personalities in the first decade of British competitive yacht racing, decided to settle the question of who owned the fastest boat by staging a long-distance race in September 1831. The course was a gruelling one, starting from Spithead at 6 o'clock in the morning, but late in the day Weld's cutter Alarm conceded defeat and Belfast's cutter Louisa crossed the finish-line to be hailed as outright winner. Instead of being satisfied, Lord Belfast proudly declared 'I have proved to the world that I possess the fastest cutter afloat, I will now see what I can do with a square-rigger'. Thus were laid the foundations of his flirtation with two square-rigged yachts, the first of which was an outstanding beauty and the second so impressive a sailer that she was coveted by no less an institution than the Royal Navy at the very zenith of its power and prestige.
The first of Lord Belfast's two square-riggers was his little brigantine Emily. In fact, he had acquired her in 1830 and only kept her for two years until his own personal creation Waterwitch was ready for sea. Emily was, however, a beautiful craft and Belfast's experience with her was to have a great influence on her successor Waterwitch. With a hybrid rig more similar to that of a topsail schooner than a true brigantine, these terms, along with the even more enigmatic brig-schooner, were more or less synonymous in the early nineteenth century and Emily was certainly classed as a brigantine in the Royal Yacht Squadron's own records. Since Lord Belfast neither commissioned her nor kept her for long, very little is known about Emily except that she was subsequently sold to Captain Pechell, M.P., another Royal Yacht Squadron member, who kept her until at least 1837.
The Earl of Belfast, later 3rd Marquis of Donegall, was born in London on 10th February 1797, the eldest child of the 2nd Marquis. Educated at Eton and Oxford, he served briefly in the 7th Hussars from 1821 to 1823, although his main occupation until succeeding his father was as a Member of Parliament. M.P. for Carrickfergus (1818-20), for Belfast (1820-30), for Antrim (1830-37), and again for Belfast (1837-38), he was also Vice-Chamberlain to the King's Household from 1830 to 1834 and a Privy Councillor. Lord Lieutenant of County Antrim from 1841 until his death, he was also Colonel of the Antrim Militia (1841-81), Militia A.D.C. to Queen Victoria (1847-83) and Captain of the Queen's Yeomen of the Guard (1848-52). The holder of several other military appointments, the Marquis was created a Knight of St. Patrick in 1857 and died at Brighton in October 1883.
A highly influential early member of the Royal Yacht Squadron, Lord Belfast was appointed its first Vice-Commodore in 1827 and held this position until 1846, by which time he had succeeded his father as Marquis of Donegall. His importance to the R.Y.S. is acknowledged in the Squadron's own history (publ. 1985) in which Ian Dear, its author, writes:
'...the energy with which that gentleman pursued the club's interests soon helped it into its unassaible position as the country's premier yacht club. From having a new club button designed, to being involved in negotiating with the Admiralty for a warrant to fly the White Ensign, Lord Belfast had a finger in every pie, for members were as particular about how they were dressed as they were about the code of signals with which they had wrestled for so many years.'
This deep involvement with practically every aspect of the club's activities, coupled with Lord Belfast's privileged position as Vice-Chamberlain to the King's Household, brought the altogether unexpected reward of the grant of 'Royal' status to the club by King William IV in 1833. There is ample evidence that this recognition was largely thanks to Lord Belfast alone and it is difficult to overestimate his influence on yachting affairs in this period.
Born in Edinburgh in 1788, as a young boy Schetky longed to join the Royal Navy. Instead, however, he studied drawing with his mother, eventually taking up a post as drawing master at the Royal Naval Academy, Portsmouth in 1811. Whilst there, he came to the notice of such august personages as H.R.H. Duke of Clarence and George IV, to whom he became Marine Painter-in-Ordinary in 1820. He was also Marine Painter to William IV and Queen Victoria as well as to the Royal Yacht Squadron at Cowes. He excelled at large works, with plenty of movement and life in the canvas.