Colin Archer and the Blue Nile
Classic Boat|December 2020
Clare McComb on the failed first descent that produced Archer’s most unusual design
Clare McComb

Despite our take on these things today, expeditions of Victorian and Edwardian times were in their day celebrated as brave missions to thrust forward the frontiers of mighty Empires across the globe. Two fascinating examples are Northrop Mcmillan’s Blue Nile explorations of 1903 and 1905, where the very best of British marine engineering failed spectacularly, resulting in probably Colin Archer’s strangest commissions ever!

At 6ft 3 and 20 stone, American explorer William Northrup McMillan was a giant of his era, who apparently thought nothing of polishing off two whole shoulders of mutton, washed down with bottles of champagne and vodka. He inherited his wealth aged just 29 and moved, with his wife Lucy, to London in 1898.

After a hunting trip to Ethiopia in 1902, Northrup was soon was planning his first expedition, nominally a first descent of the Blue Nile from its source in Lake Tsana, 300 miles north of Addis Adaba, to its junction with the White Nile at Khartoum. It was a hugely costly venture, publicised in America as much as Britain. He employed a Norwegian engineer, BH Jesson to design boats to tackle the ferocious rapids that had so far prevented a first descent.

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM CLASSIC BOATView All

The joys of coarse racing

A record year for Loch Broom SC and its Flying Fifteens

3 mins read
Classic Boat
January 2021

MOSQUITO FIRST RULE 6 (ANKER, 1913): FROM TRIUMPH TO DISASTER AND BACK

She was designed to race hard in 1913, but 101 years later, almost sank after a calamitous collision. Today, Mosquito is back and racing again

9 mins read
Classic Boat
January 2021

SYDNEY HARBOUR 18 FOOTERS

The Sydney 18s were among the most radical racing dinghies in the world in their heyday. These days, they still are

9 mins read
Classic Boat
January 2021

SWEDISH ROSE

At her launch in 1894, Bel’Rose changed Swedish sailing forever. Now, her owner of 44 years has had her rebuilt, in strictly traditional style

10 mins read
Classic Boat
January 2021

FROM STRENGTH TO STRENGTH

Cox’s Boatyard on the Broads was revitalised a quarter of a century ago and it hasn’t looked back

3 mins read
Classic Boat
January 2021

PETER NICHOLSON Got the T-shirt

From navy pilot to yacht designer to Squadron commodore to company boss... it’s all in a life’s work to Peter Nicholson

5 mins read
Classic Boat
January 2021

It's Howard's Way... not Martin's way

Martin Black recalls a rare win, uncelebrated; and a chance at fame, unrequited

4 mins read
Classic Boat
January 2021

F0R WHOM THE BOAT CALLS

A replica of Hemingway’s fishing boat Pilar has put to sea and will soon enter line production, bringing a legend back to life

8 mins read
Classic Boat
January 2021

Winston Megoran THE MAN BEHIND THE BOOK COVER

For more than 30 years, illustrator Winston Megoran produced countless paintings and etchings of the sea and boats. This brilliant and diverse self-taught artist also created a wealth of book jackets that have made his work, if not his name, famous

10+ mins read
Classic Boat
December 2020

YARD VISIT: SPIRIT YACHTS GREEN SPIRIT

James Bond, the electric age, and a new dayboat model

5 mins read
Classic Boat
December 2020