- by Carol Standish
Among the great yacht designers of the period between 1890 and World War II—Herreshoff, Watson, Nicholson and William Fife III, Fife stands out for "sheer artistry and balance of his design. Furthermore, those of his designs which took shape in his yard (in Fairlie, Scotland on the firth of Clyde) were of unmatched construction," says William Collier, Fife historian. Collier contributes a brief biography of the Fife family to the lush new book William Fife - Master of the Classic Yacht by Franco Pace (WoodenBoat Books; 166pp; $60.95). With a 10" by 14" format and over 160 pages of dazzling color photographs by the famous yacht photographer, the volume is extravagant but nothing less would appropriately present Fife's meticulously restored classic wooden yachts—still sailing and winning races today.
The Fife family (three generations) boat building business received its first commission in 1807 and didn't close its doors until the mid 1960s. William Fife III was perhaps the most energetic and innovative of the line of visionary Scottish designers. Not long after Fife III began working in his father's yard in the 1890s, he introduced new hull shapes of such promise, that his father quickly delegated the yard's design responsibility to his son. In the 1940s when Fife III was in his late seventies, he created an entirely new generation of ocean racers—yet another lasting contribution to yacht design.
Almost as remarkable as the Fifes' design and building achievements at the end of the last century is the restoration effort being made at the end of this century on behalf of those very same boats. Franco Pace has photographed in color 19 Fife yachts built between 1890 and the end of World War II—all immaculately restored. The yachts range in size between 27 feet LOD to 108 feet LOD. Some of the more famous beauties include Shamrock, Moonbeam, Clio and Halloween, built in 1926, restored in Newport, Rhode Island in the 80's and now a regular winner on the Mediterranean regatta circuit. Pace's action shots are full of sunlight and shadow and lots of spray. Interior shots of glowing wood paneling and period appointments draw the viewer into the warmth of the salons and owners' cabins. The surprise is how simple, even austere, the interiors are. Nothing is fancy but everything is perfect.
Pace adds his own comments to each series of photographs of a specific yacht. He traces provenance, locates the photographs (from the Riviera to the Caribbean) and describes how the each yacht came to be discovered, salvaged and restored. Many were on the brink of being scuttled because of their age and condition. A particularly devoted Swiss businessman established Fairlie Restorations in 1989. This small yard is solely devoted to the accurate restoration of Fife yachts. Restoration has been going on all over the world from Canada to Norway and in between. The 94 foot Sumurun had a major refit in Camden, Maine before she won the classic division of the 1997 transatlantic race.
Probably no other photographer could have done justice to such sweet lines and fine craftsmanship. Pace's eye for both composition and detail is a great complement to these beautiful boats so luckily resurrected not only to sail again but to stand as great cultural artifacts of their time.