October 2017: Steam Yacht Gondola, or is it?

Gondola steaming across Coniston Water

During a cruise we are asked all sorts of questions by our passengers, and every now and again, someone will ask a simple question that we may not have given much thought to before, like 'why is it called Steam Yacht Gondola?'.


Let’s start with an easy one. There’s no denying that this boat is a steam boat. Sat in the engine room is a big, shiny, red boiler that creates the steam to power the engine. 


The engineer keeps an eye on pressure levels
Engine room


Many people think of a yacht as a boat with a sail, but powered boats can also be called yachts.

The term 'yacht' applies to all vessels used primarily for recreational purposes. According to boats.com, size is also important – anything over 40 feet long would certainly be considered to be a yacht, but yachtsmen themselves would argue with each other over where the cut-off point lies. Some would argue that 'looks' should also be taken into account.

So, the definition of a yacht is not an exact science, but based on the above guidance, we can safely claim that Steam Yacht Gondola, as a recreational boat of 84 feet in length and undoubted good looks, is definitely a yacht.


Steam Yacht Gondola on Coniston
Steam Yacht Gondola on Coniston


The case gets a little bit more difficult to argue on this one.

Gondola was launched by the Furness Railway Company back in 1860 in the days when the wealthy did their Grand Tours of Europe stopping off in Venice along the way. The assumption is that one or more of the boat’s backers (who included the 7th Duke of Devonshire, the 5th Duke of Buccleuch and designer Sir James Ramsden) saw similar vessels in Venice on their travels. 

It is thought that the boat's design is based on the Venetian Burchiello, a wooden river boat that carried passengers in elegant cabins, richly decorated with Corinthian columns (sound familiar?).

So it could be argued that the boat should be called Steam Yacht Burchiello, but maybe back in the 19th century the Furness Railway 'PR team' felt that their fare paying passengers were more likely to have heard of a Gondola and at least know that it was a boat.

Gondola ✔ 1/2

Two and a half out of three isn't bad!