William Fife II,  1821-1902
Fairlie, Scotland, NB. UK

 
Na, I canna do it. I hae kept her a long time, but I’ll keep her a while yet raither than make a common cairt of her at the finish.
-- William Fife II
 

W
illiam Fife II refused to compromise either his craft or his sense of beauty. A prospective buyer sought greater safety from a higher bulwark on Fife’s spec boat. The potential buyer was no fool. He knew his Firth of Clyde, where tides run hard, winds summarily reverse and the Scottish mists drop quickly. In that moment, Fife hadn't the man’s money; he refused to change the boat. He got the man's money anyway.

Fife II’s instinct for the fine racing yacht was his own. Yet he was born into it. Apprenticed to his father at 13 and bequeathed his vision at birth, William Fife II became head of the struggling yacht-building division in his father’s yard five years later, in 1839. He created and designed not only many of the finest yachts of his day, but, in his way, also the sport that celebrated them.

Fife began a life of exploring astonishing relationships between unmeasured sweeps of sail and the slim, deep hulls beneath them. He often finished his yachts with the rich interiors and solid virtues of 19th century men’s clubs. His clients, coal barons, merchant princes and members of the aristocracy, wanted nothing for speed or comfort even as they trophy-hunted with the rail awash and soaked to the skin by wind and spray.

Fife II’s gifts for innovation -- hollow spars to lighten the load, long underwater lines (more fin than a fish), deep external ballast (e.g. keel), the addition of a jack-yard topsail and sail everywhere billowing like the skirts of a dozen hoydens -- set the yachting standard for glory and speed for a generation.

I
t took almost ten years for Fife II's work to pay. His first success in every way was Stella, a 40-ton cruising schooner, built with a loan from a friend in 1848 and launched in 1851. When revamped for racing in 1852, she took off. In 1851 Acquilla, at 43-tons, performed with the same éclat. Over the next fifteen years, Fife built constantly and with unending success.

He designed and built one of his masterpieces, Fiona, in 1865. A cutter with sturdy plumb stem, counter stern and 3,750 sq' of sail, she was 75' in length overall, 15' 8" in beam and 11' 10" draft. Her art was not merely her speed, though she was the fastest yacht of her size for almost a decade. It was also the strength and genius of her actual build. She sailed and raced for almost forty years. She was, in truth, the flagship for the Fife yard. The very ship he deserved.

The great days of the famed America’s Cup competition were on the horizon. The first challenge to America was made in 1870 and would soon test the mettle of Great Britain’s finest designers: William Fife III and his fellow Scotsman, George Lennox Watson.

As William Fife II slowed in his 60’s, his son, Fife III, picked up the Fife banner and the greatest era of yacht racing would truly begin.

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