A total of twenty-three 8-Meters had just completed their World Championship in Germany before the Cowes event, but unfortunately only three of them made it over to Cowes. All were remarkable. Two were drawn by the legendary Swedish designer Tore Holm; the third was by William Fife. Built in 1914, the Fife–designed Ierne has been painstakingly restored by her owner, Huw Morris Jones. While a yacht built in that period might be expected to have a gaff-rigged mainsail, Ierne has always sailed with the Fife–created Bermuda rig.
The two 12-Meters racing at Cowes both have a long history. Wings was designed by Charles Nicholson in 1937 for a Belgian industrialist. Sceptre was the Royal Yacht Club’s challenger in the first postwar Cup challenge in 1958. Even though Sceptre has been slightly modified and now has a doghouse and lifelines, she was competitive in the windy conditions that greeted her off Cowes.
Three Fife designs, the 15-Meter yachts The Lady Anne and Tuiga and the beautifully restored 19-Meter yacht Mariquita, produced what was arguably the most exciting competition. The gaff rigs, block-and-tackles, and scarcity of winches or lifelines makes one appreciate why these yachts always sailed with very large racing crews. When they reached the windward mark and set their topsails, staysails, and spinnakers to power down to the finish line directly in front of the venerable Royal Yacht Squadron’s clubhouse at the entrance to Cowes harbor, they were a magnificent sight. The long overhangs, polished teak decks, and glistening varnish were unforgettable. And their appearance in this historic event reminds us how much we owe to the designers and the sailors who have passed along to us the systems and traditions of the sport we enjoy today.
Craig Davis is a long-time sailor, photographer, and writer who travels the world to capture the joys and excitement of yachts and yachting.