This summer a fleet of spectacular wooden yachts will be sailing into Argyll’s Secret Coast, a little-known corner of the west coast of Scotland that’s steeped in nautical history. The Fifes, considered the world’s most prestigious classic yachts, are coming from across the globe to compete in the Fife Regatta 2013. Resplendent in gleaming varnish-work and polished brass, the boats, ranging from 20 to 100ft in length, will be a striking sight as they race through glistening sea lochs and past islands and hills.
The inaugural Fife Regatta was held in 1998 and this unique seven-day event now happens every five years in and around the Firth of Clyde. It’s as much a homecoming and a celebration of great Scottish sailing as it is a competition. The Fifes were designed and built by one of Scotland’s most famous boat builders, William Fife III, in Fairlie, the Clyde Estuary, during the 19th and early 20th century. Fife was a master of his craft whose customers include royalty and the tea magnate Sir Thomas Lipton. The Dragon and Wheatsheaf emblem engraved in the bow of Fife yachts is symbolic of the level of craftsmanship in each creation. Many of his magnificent boats still sail today, and this dazzling event is a chance to celebrate their great beauty in the waters of their birth.
The 2013 regatta will take place from 28th June to 5th July. The yachts will begin in Largs and will have passage races to Rothesay, Tighnabruaich and Portavadie before returning to Largs. Fifes, as you might imagine, inspire great passion, and boats will be travelling from as far afield as the Caribbean to take part in the event. Two fabulous boats, Kentra and Astor, celebrate their 90th birthdays this year. Kentra, a 100ft Gaff-Ketch has been in storage for nearly seven years, is being re-launched for the regatta. Astor, an 86ft Schooner, will be coming all the way from California for the occasion.
Hatasoo, the 19ft Gaff sloop build in 1894 will be the oldest yacht. She will be the local Clyde entrant from McGruers yard, Clynder on the Gareloch. The larger yachts will include Moonbeam III (105ft), Aventuress (100ft) along with Kentra. Seabird and Oblio are more recent builds from William Fife drawings and confirm just how these yachts have a place in modern times.
The boats will spend three days of the regatta – Monday 1st, Tuesday 2nd and Wednesday 3rd July – on Argyll’s Secret Coast. Bordered by two beautiful and narrow stretches of water, the Kyles of Bute and Loch Fyne, this stunning corner of Scotland is the perfect place from which to admire the Fifes as they sail by. What’s more, local people are organising viewpoints and onshore festivities, sponsored by Event Scotland as part of the Year of Natural Scotland, to encourage visitors to come and enjoy the spectacle in this area of natural beauty. There will be a host of celebrations on Monday to welcome the boats, including a local producers’ market, a Loch Fyne Ales bar, Winston Churchill’s venison barbecue, a pipe band and a Scottish skiff rowing race.
On Monday afternoon the boats will sail into Tighnabruaich where the crews and all their supporters will spend the afternoon and evening ashore. On Tuesday morning the boats will set sail en-masse for Loch Fyne. This will be a truly breath-taking sight against the backdrop of the Isle of Bute. They’ll be heading to Portavadie Marina where they’ll spend the night. Visitors will be able to follow their progress from a number of viewpoints along the coast, stopping off for refreshments at the cafés and hotels on the way. For something more strenuous, walk the Lower Stillaig Loop from Portavadie which takes you up over the headland to Stillaig Bay. From this vantage point you can watch the boats speed up the loch with views of Ayrshire, Arran and Inchmarnock Island as a backdrop. Alternatively, why not grab a bite to eat at Portavadie Marina and watch the boats sail in? It’s a glorious spot and a great place to sample a ‘taste of Argyll’ amid contemporary surroundings.
Wednesday is a layday/challenge day, where some of the yachts may challenge each other and others will stay berthed at Portavadie Marina. Once the challenges are made to the Regatta organisers, they will publish this information on their website www.fiferegatta.com. To complement the history and glamour, the Waverley, the last sea-going paddle steamer in the world, will be in town on Wednesday. It has been magnificently restored with towering funnels, timber decks and gleaming brass and will be offering cruises from Tighnabruaich.
Photography enthusiasts should put the dates firmly in their diaries, as this is a unique opportunity to capture images of the beautiful boats amid magnificent Scottish scenery. The Tighnabruaich Art Gallery will be running a photography competition this summer with the theme ‘sailing on Argyll’s Secret Coast’ and there will be a special category for photos of Fifes. The gallery will also be showing an exhibition of seascape art.
Whether you decide to come for the day or make the Fife Regatta part of a longer trip, make sure you find the time to explore Argyll’s Secret Coast. There’s great walking, the quiet country roads are ideal for cycling and the sheltered waters are excellent for kayaking. And if the Fife Regatta inspires you to set sail, the Tighnabruaich Sailing School is a great place to learn the ropes.
The Fifes are coming to Argyll’s Secret Coast. Are you?