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A view on the Clyde of Ayrshire Lass with the Holy Isle in the background.
Article by May Kohn
Author of Fast and Bonnie:
History of William Fife and Sons.
At the beginning of the 19th century William Fyfe, son of John Fyfe a mill and cartwright, began building fishing boats and trading craft on the foreshore at Fairlie.
An excellent craftsman, keen to build more refined sailing boats, he was advised to read Steele’s Naval Architecture by a client, James Smith of Jordanhill. As a result he built his first large yacht, Lamlash in 1812. This was the year when Henry Bell launched his steam paddle ship, the Comet. Two years later William Fyfe had built Industry, a steam paddle ship commissioned by a group of businessmen from Beith. She was so successful that he was asked to build more but he declined, saying that he wanted to build sailing boats, which were “fast and bonnie”.
William’s boats were built in the open on the foreshore, which he rented from the Earl of Glasgow. At first there was only a sawpit and a small blacksmith’s smithy.
At that time there was no demand for pleasure yachts and William handed that side of the business over to his son William when he became eighteen. The first William continued to build fishing and trading vessels but the second William had a hard time until 1849 when he built Stella and from then on the yard began to build mainly yachts. Ayrshire Lass was built in 1887 and is is a fine example of his work still sailing today and owned by the renowned yachtsman Paul Goss.