History of Fifes #secretregatta

Yachting started in the mid 1880s.  It was the sport of the rich and famous until the large crewed yachts began to be replaced, after World War Tow, by the fibreglass cruising and racing boats which can now be seen so often in the Kyles.

Astor, towards Portavadie, Courtesy of Marc Turner
Fifes Sailing toward Inchmarnock, Courtesy of Marc Turner

From 1888 to 1935 one of the most famous traditional yacht designers was William Fife of Fairlie. His boats, some built at the old Robertson’s yard in Sandbank, still survive and continue to sail in the Kyles of Bute today.  The Fife dynasty spanned three generations, producing some of the most iconic and beautiful yacht designs of their time, of all time.

Marquita past Little Cumbrae, Courtesy of Marc Turner
Moonbeam, Courtesy of Marc Turner

The inaugural Fife Regatta was held in 1998, and thereafter in 2003, 2008 and 2013. A number of owners with a shared passion and enthusiasm for Fife yachts have made this pilgrimage back to their home waters. The Dragon and Wheatsheaf emblem engraved in the bow of Fife’s yachts is symbolic of the level of craftsmanship in each creation. Fife yachts continue to attract attention worldwide with exacting restoration projects and the sheer pleasure of sailing them.

To see and buy more photographs by Marc Turner please click here.

For more information about the Fife Regatta visit their website

As part of the Secret Regatta school project children were asked to research the Fifes. Below are two presentations made by boat enthusiast, Logan aged 9.

Alastair Houston, one of the artists exhibiting work in the Secret Regatta Exhibition has long standing connections with the Fifes having produced limited edition prints for each regatta. Visit his page to see and read more.

Connections to Tighnabruaich: The Currie Family

The men in the Tighnabruaich Currie family had a tradition of marrying very late so their generations have long spans.

The grandfather of the family members that are still in the village of Tighnabruaich was Peter Currie. He was born in 1850 and lived in a small house called Corrachibh on the Ardlamont peninsula not far from Carry Farm. The ruins of this house still exist.

Peter was a professional yachtsman and fisherman. He worked on big yachts of which the most famous was Meteor II owned by the Kaiser.

 Peter had three sons who all sailed on big yachts, as follows:

Peter known as Pat born in 1908

Archie known as Chester born in 1909

Duncan known as Bunks born in 1911

They were all excellent sailors and shinty players. They were tough men working on the yachts in the summer and fishing or working on local farms and estates in the winters.

All three of them worked on some of the most famous yachts of the inter-war period but only Peter and Duncan worked on Fife yachts.  

After the war there were few big yachts left to work on and only Peter carried on with yachting becoming captain on Madrigal II. Fishing became more important and the best remembered family fishing boat is Silver Crest, owned by Peter and Archie.

Altair with Duncan and Peter on board.

Peter with his fellow crew all in their formal crew uniform. One of the main benefits of working on the yachts was, subject to good behaviour, being allowed to keep your uniform at the end of the season. Altair came to the 2008 Regatta.

Altair with Peter and Duncan on board.

Peter with the crew all bunched up forward of the mast where they would be expected to stay when not needed elsewhere when the guests were on board.

Duncan alone on the deck of  Altair.
Lilias, better known as Cambria

One of the big Fifes that has never been to the Fife Regatta.  However, it was due to come this year. Duncan is on board with fellow crew members.

Madrigal II

Madrigal II was an identical replacement of the first Madrigal which was built just before WWII but which rotted during the war. She is typical of the smaller boats which started to take over in the late 1930s and post WWII. Peter Currie was her captain. She came to the 1st Fife Regatta.

Peter Currie on Madrigal II with the owner, J. Campbell Paterson
Duncan on board Dayspring, his own fishing boat.

Suzanne was one of the most famous Fife schooners of all time. She no longer exists but she was the first yacht that Duncan Currie worked on.

Children playing on the beach in front of the Fife boat yard


The iconic design of a dragon’s head was carved into the bows of the yachts and then overlaid with real gold leaf.


The carved logo took the form of a Chinese dragon that continued along the yacht’s hull before usually ending in a wheat sheaf at the stern.


There are several possible reasons why the dragon was selected as the Fife yard’s signature. Some attribute it to the area’s close association with the Vikings, who traditionally used a dragon’s head on their longboats’ prow.


It is more likely, however, that the dragon carving was adopted after the success of another type of yacht  called ‘Dragons'.   The three “Dragons” were successful racing yachts and were built at a time when Fife’s designs and reputation were going from strength to strength. Perhaps it was the dragon’s iconic status as a symbol of power and speed that prompted Fife to select the image as the yard’s trademark

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Ruth's Exhibition opens on 8th September and runs to 7th October. We would be delighted if you could join us from 2pm for the opening.
Gallery opening hours:
Sunday - Friday 11am - 4pm
Saturday 10am - 5pm.

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