Replica of a Lost Fife – From Classic Boat Magazine


In July of 2015, Wooden Boatworks, Inc., of Greenport, New York, launched a new plane-on-frame William Fife III 8-M. The yacht is named Invader, commissioned by Brian Hunt Lawrence of New York City and Oyster Bay, New York. Invader is 48 ft. 2 in. on deck. She carries a 30 ft. 8 in. waterline, an 8 ft. 6 in. beam, and a 6 ft. 6 in. draft, well representing a class with great international appeal in the first part of the last century. 8-Meters were, and still are, a competitive racing class and they formed an Olympic class from 1908 to 1936.

This contemporary Invader was constructed as a historical new-build of a 1930s era 8-Meter calledInvader II, which match-raced for the Canadian team in the 1932 Canada’s Cup. This competition was the freshwater equivalent of the America’s Cup, a decades-long rivalry between the Royal Canadian Yacht Club and the Rochester Yacht Club on Lake Ontario. Although the Canadians fought valiantly for over 50 years, the Rochester Yacht Club stubbornly retained the Canada’s Cup from 1903 to 1954.

After again losing the 1930 Canada’s Cup to the American defender, a Fife-designed 8-Meter namedQuest, RCYC Commodore George Gooderham commissioned the Scottish designer to create Invader II. Determined to win back the Cup from the Americans with a dose of their own Fife medicine, this Canadian 8-Meter yacht was christened Invader II in honor of the first Invader, Gooderham’s yacht that led the Royal Canadian Yacht Club to their former victory in 1901.

By 1930, 8-Meters designed by William Fife III dominated the class. He designed over fifty of them under three evolving racing rules. Invader II was the last 8-Meter Fife designed under the second rule. As an interesting side note to the 1932 competition, Invader II sailed against—and lost to— the American boat Conewago, designed by a young American making a big splash on the racing circuit, Olin Stevens. The American public loved the Eights as well; according to local newspaper clippings of the era, over twenty thousand spectators assembled to watch the battle for the 1932 Canada’s Cup.

Brian Hunt Lawrence, of the New York Yacht Club, has dedicated himself to preserving important classics. One of his favorites is William Fife III’s personal yacht Clio, built in 1921. Clio is 46 ft. with a waterline length of 30 ft., and is one of his very early Bermuda-rigged sloops. Known then asSheevra, Donn Costanzo, now co-owner of Wooden Boatworks, rebuilt the boat entirely with Jeff Law and Olive Adzhead in 1983, in concert with Cantieri Navale dell’Argentario in Italy.


When Lawrence’s love of match racing united with his love of Fife classics, he began a search for an original 8-Meter for restoration. Naturally, he turned to Donn Costanzo and Bruce Wahl of Wooden Boatworks. Besides Clio, Donn Costanzo has restored and raced several other Fifes in Europe, so he is well-versed in Fife design and construction.

Wooden Boatworks specializes in restorations as well as recreating newly built replicas of older yachts. In this way, the original may remain an artifact, while a robust, new boat is created for sailing. Their new and restored work can be viewed by visiting the shop’s website at In some cases, depending on the planned use of a yacht, Wooden Boatworks feels that a historical replica makes more sense than a full restoration.

This was the case with the search for an 8-Meter for Brian Hunt Lawrence. After trying to locate the right boat on several continents, it turned out that 8-Meters enjoyed such an astounding resurgence in popularity, there remained no more viable original candidates left to restore. So what began as a quest for a historical restoration morphed into a historical reconstruction. This was perhaps an even greater undertaking than the restoration of an existing boat would have been.

Invader II made a perfect candidate for a reconstruction because she no longer existed, having run into a tug and tow line at night on the Hudson River and sunk in two hundred twenty-five feet of water. She enjoyed an unparalleled provenance, a well-documented history, and a vibrant racing career. Most importantly, Invader II was a Fife with excellent racing characteristics—one worthy of recreating.

Building a modern wooden boat to historical standards is challenging enough. Meeting the 8-Meter racing class specifications requires even further demands. Building as close to the original plank-on-frame construction plans in the Fife method, yet creating a boat fully compliant to the rule, meant extreme devotion to historical plans and drawings, construction details and materials, distribution of weight throughout the vessel, and of rig dimensions. Duncan Walker at Fairlie Yachts in Hamble assembled her construction plans and drawings. Using the Invader II plans, naval architect Theo Rye prepared a table of offsets. The Wooden Boatworks team lofted the lines, which were then used to create full-sized AutoCAD construction drawings for cutting materials on the shop floor.

In this case, the shop floor is in a cavernous potato barn in eastern Long Island, an agricultural area known more for growing wine grapes than for building beautiful yachts. Wooden Boatworks has two facilities. One is on the water in Greenport, with several sheds and shops, plus two marine railways for classic yacht maintenance and repairs. The other is the expansive barn complex for new builds. The barn also houses Wooden Boatworks’ extensive collection of vintage Merriman Brothers, Wilcox Crittenden, and Perko marine hardware—much of it never-used old stock—and over 60,000 board feet of seasoned, sustainably harvested lumber suitable for yacht building and repair.

Still, assembling materials for an accurate historical reconstruction is challenging. In today’s world, construction timber comparable to a 1930s era Fife simply does not exist. Although materials for the new Invader were collected for years, Costanzo and Wahl had to reach out to the best sources in America. New England Naval Timbers in Cornwall, Connecticut, located an extraordinary 46-foot white oak at the Thomas Cole Museum in Catskill, New York. The 30-inch diameter tree was milled for the 25 ft. by 2 ft. keel stock. The original Invader II had 88 pairs of grown timber frames.

A modern boat builder could save materials for a lifetime and still not have enough grown frames to build a 48-footer, so Wooden Boatworks’ construction team substituted the best modern equivalent—laminated cherry—for the grown timber primary frames. Then, as in the Fife method, they steam-bent two white oak frames between each laminated cherry frame.

Another divergence from the original design is the floor plates. William Fife used galvanized floor plates, whereas Wooden Boatworks chose silicon bronze plates and strap floors, which were fabricated by Kristian Iglesias of of Kai Design in Greenport. The lead keel itself was molded by Mars Metals of Burlington, Ontario, and trucked to Long Island. Invader is planked with Alaskan yellow cedar and she is copper riveted.

Invader‘s decks are Alaskan yellow cedar, for a subtle, golden blond tone that pairs beautifully with her varnished, dovetailed cherry cabin, covering boards, and toe rails. Setting off her decks and cherry rails is a tasteful marriage of traditional bronze and stainless steel deck hardware. Wooden Boatworks’ large vintage hardware collection, plus customized details, made Invader‘s authenticity possible. Carrying the combination stainless and bronze theme elsewhere throughout the deck, stainless rails—instead of wood as Fife would have done—were positioned on the fore and after decks with bronze eyes.

The tiller is a work of art and can be described as no less than deck jewelry. Fife’s original tillers were usually iron pipes covered in canvas, then painted. Wooden Boatworks chose to have the tiller made of highly polished 316 stainless steel, and mounted it uncovered. Simon Grillet, who worked with Costanzo on Kentra and other Fife rebuilds, fashioned Invader‘s tiller in the Fife shape, adding an ebony wood handle grip, finished with a turned polished bronze end cap. The end result completes a harmonious and elegant mixture of bronze and stainless fittings.

The rig and sail plan were designed by Theo Rye (Classic Boat magazine’s Technical Editor), very closely to yacht designer George Cuthbertson’s mid-1950s modifications. Rockport Marine in Maine built the Sitka spruce 66 ft. mast and boom. Maloney Marine Rigging of Southport, Maine, fabricated the standing rod rigging.

Invader’s sails are Dacron cross-cut sails to conform to the Neptune Trophy specifications in the 8-Meter Class. They were built by North Sails. The headsails are hanked on to a Bartels Roller Furling system which keeps the furling mechanism below decks to preserve the classic look. At the owner’s request, related to enjoying the yacht in often light-air conditions of her home port, Oyster Bay, New York, the boat flies a masthead asymmetrical spinnaker, and also has a Code Zero on a furler. A fractional symmetrical spinnaker, which will meet the Neptune Trophy specifications, will be added for this upcoming summer.

Invader didn’t compete against other 8-Meters in her first season. She does perform beautifully, however. Her helm is very sensitive, light to the touch, and balances extremely well. She accelerates quickly out of tacks and is very sea kindly in following seas. In all, Invader exceeds expectations, moving along beautifully in very light air and, of course, points well; all expected of a 1930s racing machine.

Above L-R: Rudder bearing; deep green leather cushions and lots of Fife trademarks; launch party late last year

Invader‘s interior is completely varnished. Spartan but elegant, Costanzo describes it as “a combination of a lot of Fife trademark signatures from many of his boats.” These include Fife style fiddles, raised panelled doors, and open straightforward simple styling. Costanzo compiled years of experience on many Fifes to incorporate them into Invader‘s interior. Deep green leather seat cushions with a shallow, leather button tuck, “for a sporting look,” explains Costanzo, were made by Perry’s Upholstery, a Long Island company specializing in antique and classic yachts.

Wooden Boatworks placed a 16 horsepower Beta diesel in Invader, with a Danish two-bladed folding propeller, offset to port. The weight of the engine, fuel tank, exhaust, and associated controls and piping was calculated ahead of time so lead could be subtracted from the ballast keel to compensate. Invader came to rest beautifully on her lines when launched.

Building this type of yacht requires intense dedication to yachting history and depth of research. Brian Hunt Lawrence and Wooden Boatworks share the common belief that restoring yachts and building historic new-builds perpetuate skills and dedication to fine craftsmanship.

Whether restoring an original yacht or building a historic replica, they keep history alive and promote an important art form. That said, it seems natural that another 8-Meter would follow.

Defender, an exact sister to Invader, was also commissioned by Brian Hunt Lawrence. Defender is on the construction floor at Wooden Boatworks at this writing, due to launch in the spring of 2017. When completed next year, the two sisters will be sailed against each other in Oyster Bay, New York, in the true match racing tradition.

The only difference between Invader and Defender will be their tillers. Grillet made the handle grip on the tiller for Invader in ebony; black. The handle on Defender will be holly; white. Pleased with this notion, Costanzo adds, “That should be the only way to tell them apart.”

Deciphering Fife’s Calculations From His Original Notebook

Text and Drawings by THEO RYE, Technical Editor

My involvement with what became the Invader project started when Donn Costanzo of Wooden Boatworks spoke to me at the 2013 Fife Regatta; a week which saw, among other highlights, two of Fife’s prettiest Bermudan-rigged yachts from the 1930s, Latifa and Saskia, racing together. Donn had a client looking for an untouched, original, late 2nd or 3rd International Rule 8-Meter to restore; a well-trodden quest. In the end, we concluded there was nothing suitable on (or off) the market; they had all already been restored, heavily modified, or lost; it seems that the days of “barn finds” of original classics are fast receding.

When attention turned to possible replicas though, there was a stand-out candidate in Invader II. Once Donn had negotiated for copies of the plans, we had a bit of homework to do, which involved corresponding with the ever-helpful John Lammerts van Bueren of the International Eight-Meter Association, followed by a trip to the Royal Canadian Yacht Club in Toronto. This was Invader‘s home for most of her life, and despite having been sunk in the mid-1960s, she was remembered well; not least by David Howard, an ex-Commodore of the RCYC and Invader‘s skipper from 1945 until 1953, and his friend George Cuthbertson (of C&C Yachts fame), who made changes to her rig.

We were also very kindly shown the impressive fleet of 8s at the RCYC; the owners of the 1929 FifeQuest copied her specification for us, and the archivist Beverly Darville was very helpful. A fine, fully detailed period model in the clubhouse was the finishing touch.

The hull and keel calculations were an exercise in detective work; there was a small note on the lines plan that said, “Yacht reduced in loft by scale 0.9941”; a typical Fife tweak which resulted in some head scratching, especially deciphering which of the long-hand calculations of Fife from his original notebook applied to the pre- or post-tweak hull. Eventually it was straightened out; and armed with all that, and knowledge of Saskia and several other Fife 8s, we finally felt equipped to build an accurate replica.

One area that was always going to be different was the rig. Here the owner’s wish was to respect the 8-M rules, but accommodate the possibility of short-handed day sailing, and also handicap racing in a mixed fleet on the notoriously light-winded Oyster Bay. We also had to parse that she had a reputation for firm weather helm in period, which made her the subject of several re-rigs (including one drawn in 1933 by the Starling Burgess & Boyd Donaldson partnership), and really came into her own after Cuthbertson’s mods in the 1950s. The result is a rule-optimized Sitka spruce mast with rod-rigging, maximum hoist and foretriangle height, but set with aft-swept spreaders. That means the runners can be ignored much of the time except for adding a bit more headstay tension, or to stabilize the mast in a chop or higher winds.

Above: Invader‘s refined rig accomodates the 8-Meter rule and allows the owner to go short-handed day sailing

With the furling headsail, cut deliberately higher at the clew than a typical 8-M full overlap genoa for visibility, she is proving easy (by 8-M standards). North Sails did their usual high-quality work, especially Hugh Beaton of the Toronto loft, who has a lot of experience with the class; and Rockport Marine executed a superb mast & rig package, including all the custom stainless hardware.

The masthead option for a Code Zero or asymmetric helps her out on the ultra-light days, and can be removed if she has to race under the 8-M rules. She hasn’t been measured yet, but she was pretty well on her lines and we are optimistic that she would do so. The mast is positioned as originally, rather than shifting it aft (as many have done), so “J” is modest compared to some of the tweaked 8s out there, but we did push the forestay forwards as far as we could, allowing for the Bartel’s furler under deck. In other words, reverting to a totally authentic rig as Fife drew it is perfectly possible, but in the meantime, we have a nicely balanced rig which meets the design criteria.

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