Friday, August 8, 2008


The Yacht Tai - Mo - Shan in the English Channel approaching Dartmouth - 1934

This is a photograph of the Tai Mo Shan taken in the English Channel at the end of her voyage from Hong Kong.

This is the yacht that played the part of the yacht ‘Fernando’ in the vastly popular film “Mamma Mia” which featured the music of ABBA.

In many ways the history of this yacht and the exploits of its crew both during this voyage and during World War Two are the equal of any applause for the film “Mamma Mia”

Two yachts designed by H.S.Rouse were to become very famous in the post-war era. The Tai Mo Shan and more famously the Tzu Hang, the 46 foot ketch, built by Hop Kee in 1938. The Tzu Hang survived fifteen years of world cruising in the hands of Miles and Beryl Smeeton and underwent a terrifying pitchpoling in 1954 and later a capsize off Cape Horn in 1956. These exploits are featured in Smeetons book “Once is Enough”.

In 1932, five adventurous young naval officers financed the building of a 54 foot ocean racing ketch in the yard of the Hong Kong & Whampoa Dock Co Ltd. She was designed by H.S. Rouse and constructed in teak and named Tai-Mo-Shan [High Hat Hill], after the highest mountain in the colony.

The Voyage of 16,217 miles without a motor, from Hong Kong to Dartmouth is told in Martyn Sherwoods book “The Voyage of the Tai – Mo – Shan.

After deciding to economise by not installing an engine, the officers had to ask the formidable Admiral Howard Kelly for permission to sail the new yacht to England by an unorthodox route, that is against the prevailing winds, via Japan, the Kuriles, the Bering Sea, the Aleutians, California, Panama and the West Indies. "Quite rightly", wrote Lt Martyn Sherwood later in his book, "We were placed on half-pay for the entire voyage". The admiral's approval, came with the comment that it was "refreshing to note this spirit of adventure and initiative", and also with a pay cut, down to seven shillings a day for each man. This lack of money, in sailing Tai-Mo-Shan to Britain without a motor, was to leave them stranded for sixteen days on Crooked Island in the Bahamas. Admiralty penny-pinching was somewhat balanced by a splendidly-timed congratulatory telegram, sent to Dartmouth by King George V.

The crew were four submariners and a naval doctor; Lt Martyn Sherwood, 32, Lt George Salt, 24, Lt Philip Francis, 24, Surgeon Lt Bertie Ommaney-Davis, 27, and sailing-master Lt R.E.D. "Red" Ryder, 24. All these crew distinguised themselves during World War Two by winning four DSOs, a Croix de Guerre and a VC between them.

It has been revealed recently that the voyage was in fact fully supported (except for full financial support) by British Naval Intelligence with the brief to see and record as much as they could about Japanese naval movements.


Katherine said...

Fascinating story. Lovely ketch.

Evan J said...

Great story, it seems like a sailboat would have a hard time pulling of the covert spying.

Tillerman said...

I think the sort of spying they did was to just look out for any build up of Japanese naval craft in a particular area - no real James Bond sort of stuff. What they saw I guess was simply remembered and relayed when they arrived back in the UK.

Michael McCann said...

Carew Ommanney Davis (Bertie) was my 1st cousin 2x removed. I was so intrigued by this post that I managed to find the 1st edition print of the book on Amazon, a fascinating read. And of course I shall have to watch Mama Mia again with special interest. Carew died in August 1974 in Harlow, Warwickshire after what must have been an amazing life of adventure.

Alden Smith said...

Hi Michael. I am glad my post prompted you to read the voyage of the Tai-Mo-Shan, it is a fascinating story of a wonderful voyage of adventure by young men in their prime (spiced no doubt by their clandestine spying mission pre WW2). The fact that the boat still survives is a testament not only to the builders, her subsequent owners but also to the durability of good Burmese teak. A yacht built to Tai-Mo-Shans specifications today would cost a fortune.

The reason I went to see the film Mamma Mia was to specifically see the Tai-Mo-Shan as I had read about her involvement in the film from yachting magazine articles. Some of the on board scenes down in the cabin area give a good idea of her accommodation and general internal arrangement. I only wish there had been more sailing scenes in the film!

Thanks for your comments and kind regards - Alden Smith