Fife III’s career began, in 1875, at the age of 19, with Clio, a 28’ 5-ton cutter. With the 5-ton rule, she offered the world a new idea: a smaller boat, to be sailed by the owner himself, rather than by the professional captains who governed the great yachts of the millionaires.
Fife III apprenticed himself to the thronging shipmakers of Great Britain’s great industrial workshops of the Clyde. He learned the new disciplines of steel and wood composite construction as he managed the new Culzean shipyard forty odd miles down the coast -- before returning to the Fairlie yard in 1886.
His international reputation began with the 63’ cutter Clara in 1884 which, with G. L. Watson’s Madge, startled American yachtsmen accustomed to success in their light and beamy ‘skimmers’. Suddenly, the Americans were presented with the virtues of a narrow hull --‘the plank on edge’ -- a deep keel, and billowing sails seemingly collected from the clouds.
Fife III stood with the giants in the fevered contests for the America’s Cup which dominated the sporting worlds of both the United States and Great Britain for the next twenty years. Of seven contests in that time, Fife designed two challengers, Shamrock and Shamrock III for Sir Thomas Lipton, in 1899 and 1903. His friend and senior rival George L. Watson had the other five.
Yet these extraordinary years, the peak of the great Transatlantic rivalry, and the golden age of sail, were in some sense only a prologue. The creation of the Universal Rule, fostered by Fife III, Charles Nicholson and others in 1906, inaugurated the 23, 19, 15, 12, 8 and 6 Meter classes which went on to serve the expanding passion for yacht racing in harbors and bays all across Europe. Fife excelled in building all these yachts and had a particularly deft touch with the 6-Meter.
William Fife III died in August of 1944, at the age of 87 with a nephew as heir. He died the legendary artist of a beautiful yacht and the last of the great Fife dynasty. He built yachts unsurpassed in their quality and so his incomparable gifts remain. Some fifty Fife yachts still dance through the waves of the world's waters.