The Fife Yachts – From the Clyde to the America’s Cup and back again

Local Fairlie resident Hazel Pearson of Flamingo Yacht Charters recently wrote a short article on her experience of Wm. Fife Yachts for Sail Scotland, and included in the international 2020 brochure.

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 the Tabarly family and created 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.

Fife Yachts return to the Firth of Clyde in 2020

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 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!

How to spot a Fife Classic Yacht

If you fancy spotting a Fife Yacht and want to know more about them, my top tips would be:

  • Get out on the water during the Fife Regatta and appreciate these boats under sail, but not too close!
  • Look out for the golden dragon carved motif on the bow of these beautiful yachts whenever you visit a marina or anchorage no matter where you are in the world.
  • Read “Fast & Bonnie” by May Fife McCallum – a great book packed with history and details about all of the Fife yachts and the family who created them.
  • Google them and see just how many fabulous classic yachts one small yard on the Firth of Clyde managed to produce.
  • Keep your eyes peeled if you are on holiday in the Med, the Caribbean or the United States, or in fact any glamorous post as these lovely ladies do get around!