Paula Farquharson

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Partridge: From Rags to Riches

How a letter from 'Uncle Peter' led to a Victorian cutter being found and restored

It is an awesome trip back in time to see the Mediterranean Sea transformed into a veritable history book on water when the classic yachts make their not-so-shy appearance on the Côte d’Azur waters. Summer and autumn are peak times for a string of classic regattas on the French and Italian Rivieras, as the billowing straight-line sails of these historical beauties strut their stuff and thrill onlookers in the port.

One of these classic yachts is Partridge, which proudly spread her sails last season at all the top racing events on the Mediterranean. These included the prestigious Saint-Tropez regatta held last October, as well the Vele d’Epoca in Imperia (Italy), and the Voiles du Vieux Port at Marseille (France) in June, and finished a respectable second place at the latter two events. Not bad at all after an absence of four years from the prestigious classic circuit – as she recently underwent a refit. Not surprising either since at the time of her launch onto the circuit back in 1998, she stunned everyone by winning every cup and trophy going. It was obvious she was fast for an old Victorian lady – 122 years old to be exact.

Who’s That Girl?
Partridge 1885 is a beautiful gaff-rig 22-meter cutter and the oldest, classic racing yacht on the Mediterranean circuit, making her most worthy of her esteemed pedigree. Built in 1885, as you might guess, her origins are traced back to the land where her Majesty the Queen reigns, in the United Kingdom. At the time it was Queen Victoria who ruled the empire. However, all these pertinent details were lost in the mud for years as she lay nameless at the side of a river bed, waiting to be saved from her terrible fate. It was quite fitting that one of her fellow countrymen discovered and rescued her.
She was found by British sailor and architect, Alexander Laird, in August 1980, stuck in the mud on the bed of the River Blackwater off the east coast of England. Her watery grave bore an apt name for the grim home she rested in for some unknown years, rendering her into a wretched state; although, as Alex explained to YV&C, she was thankfully over the high-water mark and thus relatively dry, considering.
Finding Partridge was not just an historical triumph for the classic yacht circuit, but also something that was to completely change Laird’s life and take him from his home in England to the south of France where he now runs Classic Works boatyard, restoring classic yachts, re-fitting yachts and building replicas.

How Did You Find Partridge?
“At the time I was 19 and working, earning my apprenticeship in Fairey Marine shipyard in Cowes in England. I was beginning to realize that I wanted to switch from fiberglass and steel to wood. My boss, Alan Realey was fantastic and asked the company to pay for me to study wooden boat building for a year. Then a letter arrived from Uncle Peter.... It began simply, “I wonder, would you be interested in my proposition to buy an old boat and restore her...” Alex jumped at the chance and headed straight to the east coast of England because “the rivers are known to be graveyards for old boats.” It was obvious from her splendid hull and line that this shell had regal origins.
After Alex found her in August 1980 in the River Blackwater, he transported her to his parents’ garden on the Isle of Wight. The trip required a giant truck and a 25-ton crane. “I told them she would be refit within two years and out of their backyard. She was there 8 years!” Alex was able to “dabble” with her restoration, but time and money delayed his ambitious plans. However, finally, a naval architecture degree later and much time researching both financial funding and the intricate details of Partridge’s design meant that Alex was ready to return her to her former glory. The original owner who had dumped her in the Blackwater was found and paid a few hundred pounds for Partridge in her sorry state. He also gave Alex a few hints as to her origins. “He told me that the yacht had carried the name Tanagra and that an old oak deck beam had ‘Harry 1885’ carved on it. Studying the Lloyd’s Register at the Greenwich National Maritime Museum, he traced her back through the years to Camper and Nicholsons’ shipyard and through several name changes including Rupee, Polly, and Tanagra and finally to her original name Partridge. Alex finally had the proof that the old hull he and Uncle Peter (Peter Saxby) now owned was indeed the former Victorian cutter designed by British civil engineer and marine architect, John Beavor-Webb (1849-1927). He promptly and proudly re-registered her under her original name, Partridge. 

More Stories By Paula Farquharson

Paula Farquharson is an editor of The Riviera Times newspaper. Originally
from Ireland, she worked in New York and is now based in Nice, France,
where she learned to sail.

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