Painting Fife Yachts
by Alastair Houston – Oct. 2020
In the 1980s Palma Mallorca was the place to be if you wanted to get sailing as a professional yacht crew so I headed out along with the holidaymakers but with a different plan and a one way ticket!
The technique was quite simple, head down to the ‘Club de Mar’ and start walking the docks! Usually after a short time ‘daywork’ was offered which then led on to crew or positions, as luck would have it I landed myself aboard a Scottish owned immaculate Swan 65 and sailed a season or so around the Med, diving into the turquois waters of the Med every morning for wake up routine was rather more appealing than my fathers daily plunge, during our upbringing sailing on the rather cooler waters of the Clyde in Scotland.
Back to the dock at Palma, I came across a large ketch ‘Aile Blanche’ and while chatting aboard with some of the crew I peered over the side and looked down to the most beautiful yacht, I engaged in conversation with 2 American gents aboard ‘where are you from?’ I said ‘Scotland’ ‘Where abouts in Scotland?’ I said ‘the west coast’ ‘Where abouts on the west coast?’ I said ‘a small village called Fairlie you wont have heard of it.’ Then I was astonished when he said that ‘Sheevra’ was actually built in Fairlie. After an invite aboard I got to know Donn Costanzo and Jeff Law and I was enlightened to the incredible history and magic of the Fife generation of yacht designers. They were the catalyst of encouragement for me to begin to paint yachts on paper as opposed to varnishing them!
These kind and skilled sailors encouraged me to paint a series of famous Fife yachts, they persuaded the Captain of Aile Blanche to allow me a berth and produce these works, Aile Blanche was undergoing a major refit at the time and though I had use of the chart table, it became rather interesting when they were dismantling the boat around me. At one point I was painting at the chart table in the doghouse, Aile Blanche was high up on the ways of the Astilleros de Mallorca shipyard, the cabin sole was taken away and I was precariously working away standing on the steel beams with welders and engineers bellow in the engine room.
When the works were ready to exhibit I spoke to Lord Glasgow back home in Fairlie (his grandfather originally gave permission for Fife to build boats on the shore at Fairlie) Donn and Jeff were well connected with fellow Fife enthusiasts and we had a great turnout at the exhibition in the grounds of Kelburn Castle. It was the start of my painting career and thanks to them.
From that beginning my life as an artist included painting Fife yachts and also sailing on board them, with Donn and Jeff on Sheevra (now Clio) I sailed aboard the ‘Solway Maid’ with the great knowledge of Fifes, Iain McAllister and later on during the Med regatta circuits aboard Tuiga, Halloween, Fulmar, Altair, Kentra, and Sunshine the 6m. With all these beautiful boats and great characters ive met along the way its been a wonderful experience looking back ive been very lucky.