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Wednesday 11th April 2012

The beautiful classic yacht Tuiga, proud flagship of Yacht Club de Monaco, has returned to Antigua for the Classic Yacht Regatta.  She was shipped to St. Thomas, USVI and then sailed to Antigua by Chairman of Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta, Kenny Coombs.  The sole purpose of her journey to Antigua is to participate in the 2012 version of the Regatta.  When the Regatta wraps up on the 24th of April, Tuiga will begin her journey home to Monaco.  Rumour has it that there may be a member of the Royal Family on board during Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta.

Here we provide you with a brief history of Tuiga.

1909. Don Luis Salabert was one of Spain’s great nobles - the seventeenth duke of Medinaceli, sixteenth duke of Feria… I’ll spare you his other forty-five titles! He was a person of rank in the Spanish court and was a loyal follower of his king. When the king wanted to create a fleet of yachts, the duke of Medinaceli took on the task, even though he didn’t share the royal passion for sailing. Medinaceli preferred big game hunting, so he gave his new racer the name of one of his African prey, the giraffe, which in Swahili is Tuiga.

Her twin was called Hispania, like all the Spanish king’s yachts. Alfonso XIII was a true yachting enthusiast. He was small, had hooded eyes, sported a moustache and his nose was about as unnoticeable as a gherkin in a bowl of cream. He was modernist. He wanted to bring progress to Spain, but the country didn’t follow his lead - in fact, there was an attempt on his life in 1906. He loved modern machines and had commissioned a mechanical sofa whose shaking accompanied the royal couplings, while a valet stood by to wind up the mechanism. The king, though, was not bound by the same moral scruples as ordinary folk, and Alfonso XIII’s royal seed ennobled the Vilmorin family bloodline. Vilmorin, the famous geneticist, found nothing strange in the fact that he was also brought in to captain a yacht and so expand the royal flotilla. Another courtier, the marquis de Cubas, joined them, and the group gained another member with the super-rich marquis de Comillas, a banker, industrialist and much more besides - he was beatified by pope Pius XIII in 1948.

So the king and his cronies created a racing stable of five yachts, all large class. Exceptional, for a country as behind the times as Spain. Of course, the five craft never raced all together - Incarnita, de Cubas’ yacht, was, above all, a cruising yacht, Slec, bought second-hand by Comillas, had lost her racing edge and Vimorin’s racer Anemone II was a flop. Hispania and Tuiga, though, the two sister ships designed by Fife III, soon drew attention. The king had chosen the most competitive of the large class yachts, the 15-metre. The international rating had come into force in 1907. However, the British establishment had imposed a heavy, expensive type of craft, going for a Rolls Royce when a Punto would have been more suitable, and the unification of European classes fell through. There were ten classes, from five to twenty-three metres, What’s more, the international rating racers of the time were rather lighter than yachts of this class were to become - with an overall length of 23.15 metres and waterline length of 14.90, the 15 Metre IR Tuiga of 1909 was only slightly longer than the 12 metre IRs racing seventy years later. As a result, competition concentrated on the 15-metre IRs because they were the first racers with dimensions that allowed decent living space.

Tuiga was launched on 20th May 1909 at Fairlie in Scotland, at the yard owned by her architect, William Fife III, one of the most famous yacht designers of all time (Hispania, her twin, was built in Spain for nationalistic reasons). The two yachts met for the first time at San Sebastian on 17th July 1909. Hispania, of course, won - protocol prevented the king from losing. They went on to compete at Cowes Week, where Tuiga won one leg, Hispania drew the race and the king risked losing his crown. During the race, Barcelona and Madrid rose up in revolt. The king decided not to take part in the Bilbao Week, which was won by Tuiga. Nothing happened in 1910. 1911 was more eventful - Tuiga achieved good results, helmed by the great English skipper Robert Wringle. On 24th June 1912 Tuiga won the Kiel International Week, but the next day its gaff broke. It was an omen. A new 15 metre IR, Istria, arrived at the start with a Bermuda rig. She dominated the trials and the other 15 metre models of the two preceding generations immediately found themselves out of fashion - Tuiga’s first life was over.

War broke out in 1914 and the Spanish yachts were sold in Norway. Picture the convoy in winter, surrounded by submarines and naval escorts with no running lights. Tuiga was bought by Jac Lundvig, who renamed her Betty IV. In 1922 she was bought by H. Johansen, who soon resold her to an English owner, J.S. Highfield. The yacht was now called Dorina and was based at Cowes. She had a Bermuda rig, and Highfield, who had invented the Highfield tensioning lever, used her as a testbed. In 1934 Dorina became Kismet III and took part in the RORC races with Bermuda rig. The next year she won the Fastnet in real time - she was the only IR yacht to do so until American Eagle equalled her achievement in 1971. It’s worth pointing out that Dorade and some other early designs by Olin Stephens drew inspiration from the IR yachts’ deep keel. Kismet III then passed into the hands of a tobacco heiress who kept her for 32 years. She used the yacht during the summer, and moored her near her Scottish castle. The yacht changed hands in 1970, inherited the mast from the 12 metre IR Sceptre and was given a new name - Nevada. So the old Spanish craft became Greek...and by now, she was a little dilapidated. Her second life came to an end, and it seemed that this would be the final curtain.

However, Tuiga, now old and infirm (she almost sank during her voyage to England in 1990) became the seafaring equivalent of Faust. She was purchased by a benevolent demon who took an interest in her soul. Albert Obrist didn’t like sailing, but admired yachts, especially those designed by Fife. He had just finished the exemplary restoration of Altair. With a historian’s loyalty and perseverance, he decided to bring Tuiga back to her original 1909 condition. The Monaco Yacht Club, encouraged by its President Prince Alberto, bought her and immediately set about breaking all the conventional rules. The complexity of classic yachts should be the sole domain of the professionals? They took on an amateur crew. Only Anglo-Saxon skippers know how to sail these yachts? The captain, Olivier Campana, is from Monaco. Some of the champions invited on board the Tuiga were gripped by panic - the normal rules for the America’s Cup, and on the Stars and Tornados, just didn’t apply here. And the waves could make the flexible hull twist by thirty centimetres.

After returning to competition fourteen years ago on the classic yacht circuit, Tuiga began her third life as flagship for the Monaco Yacht Club, and a fourth existence as the latest model for heritage conservation. The 15 metre IR that, apart from her Fastnet victory, had enjoyed only a modest career, has become, a hundred years after her launch, one the world’s most famous sail yachts, showing everyone involved in restorations just how it should be done.

Written by Daniel Charles.


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