Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Fife Mystique

When I was first getting into wooden boats, I rented a room from Alec Brainerd, the owner of Artisan Boatworks. At that time he was just getting his boatbuilding business up and running. That summer, not only was he my landlord, but we also worked together on the schooner Appledore. He taught me to drive a big schooner, and would also chide me about my unwashed dishes.

Living and working with Alec was my first introduction to the world of yachts, and one name that was often on the tip of Alec’s tongue was “Fife.” For Alec, and many, many others, the boats designed by William Fife III are…special somehow. I came to understand that perfectly rational people who loved boats (okay, maybe that’s a contradiction) would lose their heads over a transom that tapered down to almost nothing, or an interior so well-proportioned that to alter one detail was a call to arms for a certain kind of boat nut. And as I began to look at the designs and understand them, I started to appreciate why grown people’s eyes would grow moist of a Fife yacht under sail in the summer time.

In the summer, especially, wooden boat lovers from all over the world stop by to take a look at the projects going on in the yard, and the people working here always have a minute to spend talking about what they’re working on. When ADVENTURESS showed up at Rockport Marine, people started coming to visit, and the visits had the feeling of pilgrimages. ADVENTURESS, originally launched in 1924, was designed and built at the Fairlie Yard in Scotland. ADVENTURESS belongs to a family of fast cruisers including BELLE AVENTURE, SUMURUN, ALTAIR, SHEEVRA and KENTRA. From their lines down to their smallest details, these boats are aesthetically harmonious, the product of a truly artistic mind, and an exceptional group of craftspeople. The boats were not built for racing, but for leisurely outings of short or long durations. 

Adventuress, before her rig conversion in the late 40's.

There is a group of Fife purists who are interested in preserving the Fife interiors in all their exquisite detail. For this group, it is important to maintain perfect accord with the original construction, and is akin to a historic replica. While the craftsmen at Rockport Marine can certainly appreciate the detail of a period, we feel that one of our chief functions is to help a client interpret a period in a meaningful way—in a way that makes sense to them. Sometimes that means changing an original design or using different materials to accommodate modern cruising needs, such as installing very modern systems behind the traditional raised panel interior, or turning a guest stateroom into a navigation station. It’s in this interpretation that our jobs get interesting. 

Traditional Fife detail: vents in all Fifes have this pattern and proportion
 ADVENTURESS is slated to launch in early July, and we hope that her launch will kick of a celebration of all things Fife. On August 1st, Taylor Allen, the owner of this yard, will moderate a talk at the Castine Yacht Club about the Fife designs. Sam Chamberlin, the lead designer on the ADVENTURESS project, will discuss design for restoration as part of the panel. While in Castine, ADVENTURESS will be joined at the town dock by BELLE AVENTURE, SUMURUN, FIFI and ALANA. It will be a treat to see all of these Fifes in one place. We hope to see them continue to sail in company for the Eggemoggin Reach Regatta and other great events around Penobscot Bay this summer.
-Maria Simpson

Altair (
Belle Aventure (
Sumurun (
Kentra (

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Location: Rockport, Maine, United States

Rockport Marine is a group of talented craftspeople who design, build and restore wooden yachts with unparalleled expertise.