William Fife jr (1857 – 1944) Fairlie-born boat builder. His yacht designs were renowned for their quality and beauty throughout the world.
William Fife Jr was born in Fairlie, North Ayrshire on the 15th of June 1857 to a family of boat builders and designers. His father was William Fife Sr (1821-1902) and his grandfather was also William Fyfe (1785-1865), both of whom had operated the family business from a shipyard in the village itself.
Despite being born into such a notable boat building family, William established his own legacy, surpassing his predecessors and becoming one of the best yacht designers of his day. He began building yachts in 1890 and became such a master that he received commissions from European Royalty, noblemen, business magnates and from clients around the world. His growing success saw him adopt a stylised Chinese dragon as his trademark insignia which would adorn all of his yachts.
His yachts were built with racing in mind and were in various sizes. His designs were often the fastest and most modern of his day while remaining stunningly beautiful: his day-cutter Mikado, constructed in 1904, was thought to be the most advanced of its time.
Demand for his Yachts grew and grew, to the point where they were not all constructed at his shipyard as they didn’t have the capacity in Fairlie, with some of his designs being constructed elsewhere (such as Greenock) at the shipyards of other companies.
Here are some facts about his yachts:
Two of his yachts competed for the America’s Cup (the oldest still-active international competition in any sport), they were Shamrock I and Shamrock III.
Even to this day, every 5 years a collection of his boats return to the Clyde to race and celebrate the genius of their designer.
The yacht Eilean, designed and built in 1936 by Fife would eventually be featured in the music video for 1982 song ‘Rio’ by Duran Duran.
“If a boat can be called a work of art then surely the designs of William Fife III, qualify him as a grand master,” Classic Boat in a June 2008 issue devoted to William Fife.
William died in 1944, having never married or had children and was buried in Largs. Of the 600 ships he created, over a third have survived to this day due to the quality of the designs and workmanship.