In June 2008 the classic yachts designed by William Fife will be returned to their birth place to participate in the third Fife Regatta. The boats were designed and built in Fairlie, by Largs. Ten years before there was a gathering of 11 Fife yachts to celebrate the centenary of Eric Taberley’s Pen Duick, and Five years before there was a gathering of 22 Fife yachts to celebrate the centenary of Moonbeam III, and following the success of these, 20 yachts gathered in 2008 to celebrate the centenary of Viola.
Saturday 21 June 2008 – The Cumbraes Race
The 3rd Fife regatta of the modern era got underway on Sat 21st, in the Firth of Clyde with a 20 strong fleet of spectacular traditional wooden sailing yachts, all built a mile from the start line by Ayrshire’s most famous boat builder William Fife.
The yachts resplendent in gleaming varnish work and polished brass gathered from many parts of Europe, to celebrate the 100th birthday of Viola bringing to 7 the number of them which were now over 100 years old.
Their longevity and elegance have created almost a cult of the Fife brand in many parts of Europe. As the size of the yachts ranges from 107ft to 19ft they competed on a handicap system with 2 Classes .
On Saturday in class 1 96 year old The Lady Anne (70ft) prevailed over the mighty Moonbeam III (105 years old).
In class 2 saw a victory for the 104yr old Mikado with sprightly young Solway Maid (a mere 68 yr old) in second place and the venerable 98yr old The Truant just eased into third place by only 2 minutes.
With the benign conditions in the Firth of Clyde this was the day for the small boats to shine though the forecast for the coming week suggested that the big boats would dominate the passage race to Helensburgh.
Sunday 22 June 2008 – The Clyde Race
Race 2 of the 2008 Fife regatta must have been something of a relief for owners and insurers alike as the anticipated strong winds and rain did not materialize. In front of a reduced spectator fleet, the 20 strong armada of antique elegance made a stately procession up the Firth of Clyde under full sail. With a running start from Largs the small boats leading the procession were soon mingling with the largest. Altair, Mariette, Maraquita and Moonbeam, with a collective age of almost 400 years old, setting great clouds of sail as they glided through the fleet, creating a an unforgettable sight and depriving their little sisters ahead of what wind there was. There was just sufficient wind to get the fleet safely to their destination of Rhu Marina. Some of the world’s top marine photographers snapped busily for the whole journey.
On the 96ft and 97year old Mariquita the topmast crewman in the absence of a crow’s nest was observed having a relaxing day in these conditions reclining horizontal on the top spreader.
Welcome Home to the Ayrshire Lass
With a lay day on Monday, the Fife fleet enjoyed a chance to dry out in the sun at Rhu Marina. Following Ayrshire Lass’s first place in Sunday’s race, instead of a well earned rest with the fleet, she was out sailing again, this time with her former owner, Clynder’s only lady boat builder, 94-year-old Lizzie Todrick, she was reunited with the boat that she owned and sailed for 40 years. Liz bought the boat in 1939, shortly after she became the only female shipwright at the McGruers yard at the mouth of Loch Long and she employed the skills she learned at the shipyard to repair and maintain the craft over many years. From 1937 until 1977, Liz was a regular sight sailing the 1887, William Fife II-built Ayrshire Lass on the Clyde and to the Western Isles, and locals still talk of seeing her with the tiller wedged under her arm, knitting as she sailed.
The reason for the reunion, which occurred at Rhu Marina, opposite the old McGruer’s yard was that the boat had recently undergone an extensive restoration by her new owner, super yacht skipper, Paul Goss. Mr Goss saw the boat 25 years ago, laid up ashore, and harboured a wish to buy her ever since. When the boat came up for sail, Mr Goss, who travelled the world at the helm of the enormous three-masted schooner, Adix, owned by chairman of the Bank of Santander, Jaime Botin, bought her and shipped her to Ireland where she was totally restored over two years. The boat was returned to the waters of the Clyde for her first sail just two weeks before in time to compete in the Fife reunion yacht regatta.
Though just six years away from her letter from the queen, Liz hopped straight aboard Ayrshire Lass to sail the small open boat, giving a hand with lines and taking the helm once more on the Clyde.
Tuesday 24 June – The Rothesay Race
The Clyde Race took place today with the race starting just off Ballochmartin Bay and headed south through the Dunoon Cardinals. The larger boats then continued around the Mountstuart bouy and back up to Rothesay Bay merging with the smaller boats and a photo finish between Moonbeam III, Hallowe’en and Mariette in class 1.
On handicap Altair was first , then Moonbeam III second and Hallowe’en third. The smaller boats raced round Toward point into Rothesay with Mikado winning another first place followed by The Truant and Rosemary III.
Thursday 26 June – The Kyles of Bute Race
The penultimate race in the 2008 Fife regatta was preceded by a sumptuous party in Mount Stewart House, the home of the Marquis of Bute on Wednesday night. The fleet cruised in company, from Rothesay Bay up the east Kyle to Tighnabruaich. For those who had not seen the Kyles of Bute before, this was itself is a visual feast. But the scene of the start amidst the spectacular scenery with these magnificent boats would have done credit to any Hollywood studio.
As the fleet headed south past Ardlamont Point and Inchmarnock the majestic backdrop of the mountains on Arran had the snappers scurrying for their cameras again. A short sharp rain squall hustled the fleet past Garroch Head but here the disparity of size really took its toll. While the big boats reveled in the fresh conditions, the three smallest, Ayrshire Lass, Lucky Girl and Ierne all retired. Once the rain squall passed the sun returned, the fleet arrived back into the Clyde and headed for Largs Yacht Haven, the sun resumed its proper place and all ‘lived to fight another day’.
With only one race now remaining class 1 was close with Altair on seven points and Moonbeam in second place just 2 points behind. In class 2 Mikado looked strong on 6 and The Truant skippered by Oyster Marine chairman Richard Matthews probably the only other boat in this class with a chance of winning, had a lot to do to recover a 4 point deficit in the last race.
Friday 25 June – The Kings Course (as sailed in 1891)
The last race of the 2008 Fife Regatta was something of an anticlimax in terms of the results, as the finishing order was identical to the order of both classes before the race. With a steady south easterly breeze and an occasional glimmer of sunshine on the historic King’s course, there were no obvious upsets in the order of events. A running start off Largs Yacht Haven gave the big boats positions at the first mark generally in line with their place in the fleet. Altair won class 1 with a convincing four firsts and discarding a fourth. Second was Moonbeam just 2 points behind with four seconds and Halloween took the last spot on the podium with 12 points after discard.
The weather was a little kinder to the small boats today with no one retiring. Mikado was the clear winner in class 2 counting 3 firsts and a second with a third as her discard. The second place in class 2 was hard fought with The Truant and Rosemary III both on 10 points. The Truant took it because she had a better discard. Viola, the star of the regatta (at one hundred years old this year), came in a creditable fourth in class 2. No doubt many insurers will be greatly relieved that these wonderful boats, recently described (rather inadequately) as the vintage Bentley’s of the sea, had no severe weather or collisions.
To view additional photos taken during the 2008 Fife Regatta, please visit the 2008 Gallery.
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