The signature on the design drawings for Eilean is that of William Fife III, one of the most legendary yacht builders in the history of sailing.
The buyers and first owners of Eilean were the brothers James V. and Robert W. Fulton of Greenock, members of the Royal Gourock Yacht Club
Both were involved in the manufacture and processing of the iron used in the construction of wooden boats and they sailed this yacht along the west coast of Scotland.
The name of the Fife and Son Shipyard is still associated with the almost “magical” quality that comes from the ability to combine brilliance and elegance in design with remarkable craftsmanship.
From generation to generation, the Fife boatyards have improved the boats they built, creating over the years some of the finest examples of yachts still sailing today.
It all began in 1785, when William Fife was born: when very young he had already made his first boat for his own use and started the family business. The boatyard grew and acquired an international reputation under his son William Fife II, who not for nothing was known as “The grand old wizard of the North”. But it was William Fife III, the creator of Eilean, who designed and built many legendary yachts, often for Europe's most prominent families, including royal ones: yachts such as Tuiga, The Lady Anne, Mariquita, Cambria, Moonbeam III, Moonbeam IV and Latifa. The Fife dynasty ended with the Second World War, when the site was used as a research base by the Royal Navy. In 1944 William Fife III died, leaving as his only “heirs” his drawings and his immortal creations, which now enliven vintage yacht gatherings all over the world.
After the disappearance of the first owners, the Fulton brothers, various owners and shipbuilders took their turn to play a part in the life of Eilean: the Swede P. H. B. Ulander, the Englishman Jack Salem, and Colonel Louis Franck, who probably also chartered it. Since the early 1960s, Eilean has belonged to Sir Hartley Shawcross, the Attorney General who was Chief Prosecutor for the United Kingdom at the Nuremberg Trials for war crimes. More recently Eilean sailed in the Solent (the strait separating the Isle of Wight from England), the Channel and the Mediterranean Sea.
Eilean sailed across the Atlantic Ocean for the first time when she was owned by the brothers Ernest and Richard Cuckson, who bought the yacht in 1968. It was during these years that the link was forged between Eilean and the island of Antigua, where the boat took part in early meetings for vintage yachts.
In 1974 the architect John Shearer saw Eilean in Malta: it was love at first sight. As a child he had sailed on this boat, skippered by his uncle, and his dream of having what he considered “The most beautiful of the Fifes”nbsp;was realised when he bought her. John Shearer lived on the yacht and chartered her in the Caribbean Sea, choosing as base the little port of English Harbour, a welcoming, sheltered bay on the island of Antigua.
In 1982 the yacht experiences a moment of high media visibility when it was chartered by the British pop group Duran Duran as the setting for the video for the single “Rio”, a sensational international success.
During the many years when John Shearer was at the helm of Eilean, the boat crossed the Atlantic between the Caribbean and Europe 14 times. Unfortunately, in 1984, a damaged ferry from Morocco collided with four boats in the port of Malaga, including Eilean, which was making a stop in the Spanish port during a voyage from Italy to Antigua. The collision caused serious damage, notably the complete destruction of the mizzenmast. Despite the state of the boat, John Shearer decided to continue anyway and made the crossing to Antigua where he had to face the necessity of making major repairs to the boat.
John Shearer wanted to tackle the difficult restoration alone: he decided to dredge up an old tugboat that had sunk near the island of Montserrat and to move it to Antigua, where he moored Eilean to its side. The tug acted as a mechanical workshop, equipped with welding machines, lathes and milling machines, and it was used by the architect while repairing the ketch. Work continued for years and in 1993 it was the subject of a French documentary called “Les derniers pirates de la liberté” (“The last pirates of freedom”).
Unfortunately, Shearer was not repaid for his efforts since an invasion of termites and a further sinking caused by a broken water inlet damaged the boat too much for repairs to continue. The bowsprit, half the main mast and the mizzenmast were all in terrible condition but fortunately the teak planking survived as a result of its excellent characteristics of strength and water resistance.
Eilean lay floating against the tug, the mooring ropes being secured to mangrove bushes; the masts had been removed, the gunwales were broken, the deck was unusable and the interior has been taken away by the owner.
Then in 2006, during the Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta, the first leg of the Panerai Classic Yachts Challenge, Officine Panerai’s CEO, Angelo Bonati, glimpsed the yacht among the mangroves: here before him was a great opportunity to return a beautiful Fife yacht from a state of decay to its former glory.
Officine Panerai acquired Eilean from John Shearer and a few months later the long adventure of restoration which would lead to the yacht’s rebirth began. The choice of Eilean was no accident. Panerai has in its DNA a commitment to promoting the culture of the era of sail of which this yacht was clearly an example, but it was also a coincidence relating to the year 1936 that helped to trigger the spark in favour pf Eilean.
The yacht was launched in 1936, the same year as the appearance of the first prototype of the Radiomir, the watch created by Panerai for the specialist divers of the Royal Italian Navy.
In December 2006, a few months after it was acquired, Eilean was towed across the sea from Antigua to the island Martinique. In view of the hull’s state of deterioration, during this transfer the boat was packed with air-filled balloons to prevent the infiltration of water causing it to sink. Once it had arrived in the port in Martinique, Eilean was loaded onto a cargo ship on which she made a journey of 4,000 miles, eventually arriving at Genoa in Italy in February 2007. Here Eilean was returned to the water and transported to Viareggio, where the restoration began.
It took over three years of work and a whole team of craftsmen of the Cantiere Francesco Del Carlo di Viareggio, under the direction of Henry Zaccagni, to return Eilean to the sea and to her original beauty. The Tuscan shipyard was chosen because of its expertise and experience in restoring classic yachts, its scholarly approach and the great craftsmanship of its work.
The craftsmanship handed down from generation to generation was recognised and rewarded in 2010 with the award by the Associazione Italiana Vele d’Epoca (“Italian vintage yacht association”) of the “Premio Italia per la Vela” (“Italian Award for Yachts”) in the “Best Restoration” category, at the regatta known as the Trofeo Accademia Navale e la città di Livorno.
The restoration of Eilean took more than 40,000 hours of work.
The Burma teak deckhouse was dismantled and restored in every detail, without altering the shape and curvature of the 1936 original; 60 percent of the original hull planking was recovered and many of the operations were carried out using techniques typical of the era, respecting not only the design but also its original spirit. The Cantiere Francesco Del Carlo has restored the ketch to life while preserving as many of the original parts as possible and respecting William Fife III’s design.
At the launch ceremony at the Sailing Section of the Italian Navy at La Spezia on 22 October 2009, Eilean was officially handed over to Officine Panerai. Among the guests at the event were descendants of some of the designers and owners: May Fife Kohn, grandson of the famous architect and designer William Fife; William Shawcross, son of Lord (Hartley) Shawcross who was owner of Eilean in the 1960s; Eilean Mary Waterston Gilmour, daughter of James Fulton who, with his brother Robert, had commissioned Eilean; and John Shearer.
Amidst the overall emotion and admiration for the success of the restoration, Eilean returned to her beloved sea.
The fascinating story of its restoration been followed by classic yacht enthusiasts throughout the world, and Eilean can now be seen at the most distinguished gatherings.
Panerai has decided to put this vessel at the disposal of certain non-profit organisations so Eilean regularly plays a key part in social initiatives where the sea can exercise its valuable therapeutic role for those sailing on the ketch.