Partridge: From Rags to Riches

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. 
It took several years just to dry her out completely. Over the next 18 years she was painstakingly and exquisitely restored by Laird, whose passion combined with, by this stage, experienced craftsmanship restored her to her original glory including her mast, rigging, and bronze details as well as her straight stem, which always distinguishes her from the rest of the old fleet on the classic yachting circuit.

How Did You and Partridge End Up in the South of France?
“By the time she was restored, Uncle Peter had moved to Monaco and we realized that all the major classic races take place on the Riviera. At about the same time, Butch Dalrymple-Smith, whom I met racing on Partridge, asked me to join him in the south of France on a restoration project. We now co-own Classic Works in La Ciotat where Partridge is moored. We restore classic yachts with authenticity and employ the best craftsmen. It’s a dream come true and all thanks to Partridge.” Classic Work’s excellent reputation has meant that the company has grown – they now employ 50 people – and curiously, according to Laird, a new trend is emerging.
“The world is fast running out of the original classics to restore and so clients are now searching the museums or the archives for old yacht designs and asking us to replicate them with all the authentic details. However, one possible advantage of starting from scratch is that you can incorporate all the modern technologies and comfortable luxuries that a client desires. Personally, I am a bit of a purist and prefer to stick to the original designs throughout, although nowadays an engine is pretty much essential. That was the beauty of Partridge – renovating her was mine and Peter’s passion and I was able to indulge in all the authentic details without outside interference from a less sensitive captain or owner”
Is Partridge Available for Charter?
“Partridge is only chartered for racing as she is not a cruising vessel. She accommodates six people but needs a crew of 15 to race her.”

Not So High Maintenance Lady
Partridge is now for sale. Her asking price: 800,000 euro. A refit was completed last May, at a cost of 50,000 euro, so she is looking extremely good for her years. Her performance at the classic yacht regattas defy her age. The cost to create an authentic-looking interior would cost approximately 100,000 euro.
You can see Partridge racing this summer on the Mediterranean. Perhaps you may even be tempted to acquire her and become the owner of one of the most famous classic yachts. Or maybe you prefer a beautiful replica. Either way, Laird is your man. Thanks to Uncle Peter!

There is no interior, which is very convenient for racing as the crew can lay the foresails on the cabin sole in stops and hoist them through the fore hatch when needed. The hull planking, the keelson, and the bilge stringer are all original, but the deck and the rig were renewed when the restoration was undertaken. On the hull planking the original adze marks of the shipwrights who built her in 1884 are visible. Winches were only invented a few years after she was built, so she has none and manpower is required. To sail her, a minimum crew of 7 is needed and for racing she needs 15. Her racing success is thanks to her architect John Beavor-Webb, who built the double challenger yachts, Genesta and Galatea, for the America’s Cup at the same time as Partridge, who inherited many of their design features including their speed. Her CIM rating AMP is 178.

Classic Works
Classic Works specializes in classic yacht restoration. It is situated in the Chantier Naval in La Ciotat between Toulon and Marseille in the south of France. The immense shipyard complex was closed down just over 15 years ago and is being slowly reborn as a center of classic yacht restoration, super yacht maintenance, and other yachting activities. With a sophisticated infrastructure already in place, including cranes with a lifting capacity of 1000 tons, its plentiful space and excellent facilities, the Chantier Naval of La Ciotat is an ideal location for yacht restoration and construction.

Yachts also visit the Chantier for refits and repairs. Well-known names like Adix, Velsheda, Ranger and Mirabella V are just a few examples.
Classic Works Chantier Naval
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