With the first decade of the 21st Century run its course, a few thoughts on the reasons why the designs of a third generation Ayrshire born yacht designer remain so important 150 years after his birth.
William Fife III (or junior) was born to William Fife and his wife Mary in 1857. He was apprenticed to his father and soon afterwards worked to further his education with J. Fullerton of Paisley. Fife became the manager of the Culzean ship and boatbuilding company in 1883 to further his experience.
With great scientific advances and experimentation with various rules the RYA was formed in 1875 to standardise rules. Fife and his contempory and rival G.L. Watson, also from the Glasgow area were at the forefront of all these frequent rule changes.
Fife had started designing yachts before he was twenty and by the time he returned to take over the yard from his father in 1886 his reputation as a designer was firmly established. The yard was modernised in the early nineties, with the introduction of a dry dock, new loft and office accommodation. Wm Fife was asked to design Shamrock I for Thomas Lipton for his challenge for the America’s Cup in 1899 and although unsuccessful again in 1903 with Shamrock III.
By the end of the nineteenth Century William Fife had designed around 220 yachts from ½ Rater to contenders for the America’s cup. His reputation for skill in design and the beauty of his yachts was firmly established. The emblem which distinguishes a Fife yacht from all others- the dragon and wheat sheaf appears to date from the 1890’s
With an ever increasing interest in yachting all over the world a conference was held with delegates from 11 countries to standardise the measurement of yachts. This ‘First International Rule’ gave us the metre measurement of racing yachts, the first being build in 1907 rule.
These new rules gave an impetus to the building of yachts and by the beginning of the Great War another 200 yachts had been designed and mostly built by the yard in Fairlie.
By now the quality of build by the Fife yard had become apparent, Fairlie built yachts were so well built that they survived the ravages of time far better than yachts built in other yards.
It is often assumed that designers in the late nineteenth century didn’t design light fast yachts, Fife designs for a 5 Rater in 1895 show a canoe body with a steel fin keel and lead bulb together with a separate semi balanced rudder, sound familiar ? Of course the idea of ‘lift’ and aerofoil/hydrofoil hadn’t yet been developed, but examining the designs of this period shows great insight into designing yachts to go faster all the time. A great limitation was the strength of materials available and the lack of the techniques of glued timber lamination we have today.
Fife’s yard survived the great depression and Fife’s last great design, in 1931, when he was into his seventies was Altair. Output slowly dropped off through the thirties and the last designs were built in 1938, Solway Maid.
In his time as a designer Fife designed over 600 yachts: including two for the America’s Cup, 4 for the 23M class 2 for the 19M, 8 for 15M, 17 for 12M over 40 for the 8M and over 50 for 6M. This output, together with all his cruising yachts is unsurpassed by an individual designer.
The quality of build has ensured that a third of his yachts still exist.
The roots of the Company started in 1985. Mr. Albert Obrist, a Swiss industrialist and owner of a large collection of Ferraris, restored under his supervision to original condition, bought the Fife designed schooner Altair. For a number of years Mr. Obrist had felt that a restoration of a classic yacht to the depth and
From 1987, and starting with the Altair project, Fairlie have been restoring traditional sailing yachts of all sizes
With the first decade of the 21st Century run its course, a few thoughts on the reasons why the designs of a third generation Ayrshire born yacht designer remain so important 150 years after his birth