Take a look at this boat… she’s one of the most beautiful boats ever built…
She’s Mariquita launched in 1911 and she’s a piece of maritime history – an antique – but very much afloat and being raced like she was new.
I once joined her for a week in Italy sailing aboard as regatta crew, and it’s one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.
She’s sailed as she would have been in 1911 – no winches , everything is done with pulleys on the deck and she’s gaff rig so there’s lots of cordage.
She has 18 crew – six are permanent, six sign on for a season and then they take on six for each regatta.
She was restored to be sailed at these big classic regattas – especially in the Mediterranean.
She’s a big class yacht – with a length on deck or overall being 95ft – taken out to 125ft over her bowsprit and boom. She draws 12ft… so she’s no creek crawler!
She was rebuilt and relaunched in 2004, by Fairlie restorations, now sadly no more. The craftsmanship of her restoration was superlative, I saw her at the time and every feature about her was excellent. They’d recreated a dream-boat from another time and now instead of being in black and white here was the honey colour of her varnished hatches, the polished brass of her fittings and the lovely warm grey of her teak decks – which feel so good under bare feet.
She’s composite construction so she has a steel rib cage – or frame, over which wooden planks are fastened, and this was how she was built originally. It makes her very strong and she has been and she can… be raced hard.
Her first owner was Arthur Stothert, who was 49 when he had her built in 1911. Her designer was William Fife. She’s built to the 19 M rule – only four boats were built – all in 1911 and Fife built two of them, the other two were by Nicholson and Mylne…
They raced briefly before the first world war and then Mariquita was sold to Norway… she raced again in Britain between the wars – but there was no 19-M class by then, and then she ended up dismasted and de-rigged in a mud berth in WW2 first at the Deben and later on the Orwell at Pin Mill. There she lay as a houseboat, and that was where she was discovered in 1987 by William Collier who was scouting out such classics for the famous Ferrari collector Albert Obrist.
Obrist, who had sold most of his cars, had moved on to boats and had restored and just relaunched the 107ft (33m) 1931 Fife schooner Altair – often cited as the restoration that set the standards for all to follow.
In 1991 Obrist set up Fairlie Restorations, the high quality classic yacht specialist on the Hamble. Mariquita was acquired awaiting an owner and Ernst Klaus and Peter Livanos came to her rescue having a superb restoration completed at Fairlies between 2001 and 2004.
They kept and race Mariquita until her centenerary year – with Jim Thom as her captain… and then ten years later… with her new owners and skipper I got a chance to sail aboard.
This was at Porto Santo Stefano for the Argentario sailing week every June since 1998 in lovely Southern Tuscany.
I was to be one of the six regatta crew they take on for a week… First things first – you get assigned your personal water bottle – no single use plastic here… I met some old friends – Cornelius and Dickie.
The pros are up early, Billy the bosun coils ropes along with Robyn and Pippa, who are sailors as well as chief stewardess and cook
I meet George the captain, who was Jim Thom’s mate – talking to Matty the mate and then the helmsman – also the owner – Johnny Caulcutt came aboard…
Soon it was time to meet a sailing legend – Harold Cudmore who is our tactician for the week. The days start with warm up exercises which include a few stretches and we all get a bit hands on as well – this is a good idea and gets you ready for when you are going to do some pulley hauling… And it’s time to raise the sails.
Cudmore’s already counting down to the start and I’m up here on the foredeck, with Richard Sawle and the bowman Jérôme Collet – Jerome’s a relaxed kind of cat – until he needs to leap into the rigging. Matty the mate and Millie are also on the foredeck, and from my position at the end of the mainsheet I can see right back down the deck.
The sheet is called by Peter or Tubsy Brook. I help in hanking on the jib topsail… It’s good to be out on the bowsprit when you’re office bound… of course in my head I still think I’m the schoonerman of my youth!
Fully rigged she looks fully dressed – with a lot of sail area high up to catch the wind; note the jib topsl which is flaked and tied up in wool ready to be broken out by tugging it sheet when needed…
With an upwind sail area of more than 6,000 sq feet she’s capable of kicking up some sea dust – even in these light airs.
If people in Santo Stefano look out of their window they get a nice view today – we’re here with some other big boats –Shamrock and Cambria
Shamrock V was the first J Class to be built – in 1930 – for Thomas Lipton’s fifth attempt to win back the America’s Cup for Britain. She’s uncompetitive in the modern J Class but she just leaves us in her wake… she’s built of wood on steel frames as well.
Eleonora the replica Herreshoff schooner is the biggest vessel here…
Between tacks the crew lies on the weather deck, with Milly, forward, calling the trim on the jib with hand signals.
The folk of another Fife – Halloween, from 1926 and a Bermudan design are slowly overtaking us… The next boat to overtake us is Cambria and she takes about four minutes to haul ahead – hand over hand she’s the faster boat and although our gaff handicap will help she’s the one to beat – she won in our class the year before.
And has Cudmore got a plan? I like his look of concentration – and it turns out, the next day he does… But we’re sailing well and the pros have taken us newbies in hand – hauling on ropes can be hard work – but my hands aren’t sore…
A few hours later we get to the end of the race and realise Cambria has missed a mark – she’s stopped and her sails are coming down. They get radioed and put them back up to carry on racing. Later Cudmore notes that it gave us 23 minutes on them, we have won… Day One. We have a beer with our debrief and there are tacit congratulations… Cudmore mentions the light airs are suiting us with Shamrock V as well – plus they left their big genoa behind.
Saturday’s a magic day – not just to be sailing in these waters, but we’re going to see a master tactician at work
The race is about 26 miles in a flat diamond course north of Porto Santo Stefano out into deeper water and then round a second mark in the bay of Talamoné – the third mark is an inshore-ish mark
The wind forecast had the wind backing SW to SE – mainly light airs – which would suit us.
The race starts well and shortly after midday we’ve rounded the second mark – Cambria is ahead of us, and we can see her slowed right down with yachts around her pointing in different directions –
Away off to port on the shoreside the NY40 Chinook is hugging the shoreline and she has wind… Cudmore alters us to steer between Chinook and Cambria. And unbelievably there is enough air to carry us past them. We are literally 200 yards to Cambria‘s port… we hit the convergence ourselves about a couple of minutes later and Cudmore has everyone lying on deck with the sails sheeted amidships… we don’t dare breathe as we feel the 36 tons of lead carrying us forward with sheer silent momentum through the pellucid green waters below.
It was extraordinary thing to call and even better to witness, especially sailing that close to the convergence zone which was caused by the meeting of an offshore and offshore breeze…
Later Harold told me: “There were two breezes today and we had three occasions – crossing back and forwards between them – to benefit from that. Picking where and how to do that was the race decider.
“Cambria was clearly ahead of us but when she lost her wind we saw a smaller boat over on the shore side (Chinook) which had wind, so we could steer between the two and just keep our wind (and stay out of the convergence). Today was a day you would call a heads-out-of-the-boat day. We were all looking at what was happening around us – but there was also a lot of luck involved.
“I think it’s great that we are beginning to race these boats as they were raced 100 years ago and we have more and more respect for our forebears who raced them then. We have better materials now – better rope and so on – but otherwise the conditions are similar.”
It gave us another decisive win and Harold was rightly congratulated; when he comes into the Marco Polo restaurant later that evening he gets a round of applause.
After that a win the next day seems assured. We are on a high. Captain George says this is the first time since she was launched that Mariquita won three races in a row… It’s an auspicious season start – that year she wins the Panerai Trophy in the Big Class overall…
It was a shame to hear she was laid up in Lymington – under covers in 2015 and has been ever since – but there are a few of us who can’t afford to run boats at the moment… She remains a boat of dreams, a vessel that others flock to see. And I treasure that week, the fantastic sailing… and seeing Mr Cudmore’s genius at work.
Mariquita 1911, Designed by Wm Fife III
LOS 125ft (38m)
LOA 95ft 6in (29m)
LWL 66ft (19m)
beam 17ft 4in (5.3m)
Draught 12ft (3.7m)
Sail area Upwind 6,171 sqft (573m2)