The Firth of Clyde has long been associated with high quality boat building and tenacious sailors. The Fife classic yachts are a shining example of the amazing skill and determination of the local people here in Ayrshire. In 2020 we will see the Fife Regatta return to Largs as part of the celebration of The Year of Coasts and Waters. This gives anyone lucky enough to be in the area from the 4th-11th June the chance to see these world-class iconic yachts in action.
Being from Fairlie myself, I’ve always been fascinated by the history of these beautiful wooden yachts. As a child, I used to peek into the derelict sheds which still stood on the beach and imagine the draughtsmen, carpenters and other skilled workers beavering away, crafting these amazing vessels right there on the beach in my small village.
When William Fife I started his boatbuilding enterprise, there was only a sawpit and a blacksmith’s smithy on the shore and the boats were constructed in the open, on the beach. From these humble beginnings, grew a great yacht building business using cutting edge design and the techniques of master craftsmen. William Fife II joined the business when he was 18 and built yacht Stella in 1849 followed by many other notable yachts. By 1902 when William Fife II died, the yard took up a large part of the foreshore and was fully under cover. There was acetylene lighting, woodworking machinery, lead founding, brass founding and iron founding. William Fife III began designing yachts in 1890 and went on to become one of the most renowned yacht designers of the period. He designed Pen Duick in 1898, famously owned by Eric Tabarly in more recent times and the America’s Cup boats Shamrock in 1899 and Shamrock III in 1903 for Sir Thomas Lipton, the tea magnate. No small feat for a yard with such humble beginnings! The last true Fife yacht built in Fairlie was Solway Maid in 1938 and William Fife III died in 1944 at the age of 87 with the yard closing not long after.
These clyde-built beauties have travelled far and wide; many are now berthed in sunnier climes and have been lovingly restored and cared for by wealthy owners with a passion for classic yachts.The yachts are truly beautiful, and nothing beats the site of their classic lines charging along under full sail with their golden dragon motif cutting through the waves at the bow. I would urge both new and experienced sailors to get out onto the water and grab the chance to see these amazing, awe-inspiring yachts whilst their presence graces our Scottish waters during the 2020 Fife Regatta. Where better to see them than in their original homeland against the amazing backdrops of the Kyles of Bute, the Mountains of Arran and Argyll and the rolling hills of the Ayrshire Coast!
If you fancy spotting a Fife Yacht and want to know more about them, my top tips would be:
Article by Hazel Pearson, Flamingo Yacht Charters (Photo: Copyright PFM Pictures)
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