Friday, 3 January 2014

Fife Regattas

2013 was an interesting year for visitors to the West coast with a number of spectacular events. The best known of these was the skiff world championship week at Ullapool, which you can visit here: skiffieworlds

Not so well known was the fourth Fife Regatta. One way or another I've managed to visit all of these five yearly events for at least a little of the action. The official website is here:

The first regatta in 1998 was a very emotional affair overshadowed by the loss of Eric Tabarly on his way to the event aboard Pen Duick. There's a detailed article about this disaster that I just discovered when writing this piece, accessible here:  Until now I hadn't realised that there was such accurate information about what had happened, as at the time everyone was pretty much shocked and in the dark. Here is Pen Duick after the survivors arrived at the Largs Marina.

There were only about a dozen Fifes there, resulting in a total complement of not much more than a hundred at the event. The result was in the nature of a private party, many already acquainted at the start and everyone friendly by the end. The opening reception in Kelburne Castle was at the same time intimate and imposing. The ancient Scottish fortified houses were built for practical reasons rather than for show and benefit from that, the romance and history shining through in ways that later displays of ostentation can't replicate. There was a taste of the latter a few days later at Mount Stuart. 

I was privileged to give a little help at the first event, which led to my being signed on in the French merchant marine for a couple of days aboard the old Moonbeam from 1903. On adding my signature I was issued with regulation white boiler suit and two pairs of socks, for light and heavy weather, with Fife dragon thereon. This was a surreal and unforgettable experience which resulted in a lot of respect for the skipper and crew. These big classic racing yachts are quite akin to industrial machines with very little in the way of health and safety. There were some interesting moments, such as the time a dirty squall caught Moonbeam, just she turned into a gybe. As we were closing the Kilcreggan shore at about twelve knots, Skipper Philippe had no choice but to put her round, topsail and all, and it was a relief when it all stayed up. 

In this photograph the hills of Arran provide a dark and romantic backdrop.

Here we are in mid-channel, self trying to remember some French words from school days.

We had the obligatory stunning blonde aboard.

The weather was a bit mixed that week, but we did enjoy at least one day that our visitors found familiar.

Here are some pictures of the Swedish Magda IV, which had sailed up with Pen Duick.

My introduction to the Fife yachts came in 1992 courtesy of Kentra, whose image at the top of this post was taken at Helensburgh this year. It was my professional duty to arrest her and good that she was eventually rehabilitated. Here she is sailing past Gourock on a typical Clyde day in 1998.

Here she is anchored off the Melfort Pier after the event. She was in the same spot again last summer.

And here she is, being lifted out of her legal troubles. The lone figure on deck is the late Harry Spencer, and I recall that it was his seventieth birthday,which places us in September 1995. The crane belonging to Mr Baldwin was believed to be the biggest mobile crane in Scotland at that time. She's being lifted onto a barge at the start of her voyage South and Harry's private tug is visible, standing off.

Pen Duick joined Kentra for a short cruise after the event. Here she is also anchored off the Melfort Pier

Another visitor from France was the beautiful Viola, here seen in 1998

In 2003 I was lucky to sign on as foredeck hand and general dogsbody aboard the Sara Moraea, not of course a Fife but lovely enough to be respectable in such company. This was a much bigger event which threatened to overload the facilities at some of the places we visited. The scene in Rothesay Bay could have been from eighty years earlier, in fact Kentra celebrated her birthday there.

One delight was seeing The Lady Anne reincarnated.

In 1992 I had visited the Hamble and got a picture of her, then ownerless and rather sad.

It was great to see her looking a lot better.

An interesting visitor to the second event was the Sheevra, alias Clio, the personal yacht of William Fife III, brought over from the States by ship for the regatta. Here she is.

Here she is in 1921 enroute to the same port of Rothesay. Aboard are William Fife, William Balderston (standing), Robert Balderston on helm, Archie McMillan Senior and John McMillan also there somewhere.

In 2008 and again in 2013 I managed to visit on one day only and don't have pictures. Last year we went across by ferry to the fantastic marina at Portavadie and it was great to see so many old friends back, also new visitors such as Latifa. Making up for any photographs I could have taken is the film made by Shirley Robertson and her crew from CNN, which can be seen here: CNN Mainsail Programme

I hope the fleet return to our waters in 2018 and that we're all around to watch.

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The Wherrymen

The Wherrymen
Two old friends on the water