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VINTAGE BOATS > CAMBRIA

"Cambria", a "23-metre international" J-Class boat

The restorations of the J-Class survivors, the cutters "Astra" and "Candida" of the "23-metre International Class", have been widely applauded; they centred everybody's attention for they were the last survivors of the great classes of the period between the great wars. The "Cambria" joined the America's Cup celebrations at Cowes forming part of one of the greatest collections of classic yachts ever presented, and topped the exhibition. Some thought her beyond this world, in fact she came from the antipodes. Specially refitted for this event, the "Cambria" rightly claimed her place in the competition after years of absence. Launched in May 1928, the "Cambria" was the first of a new generation of the Great Classes cutters. After years of racing in mixed classes under a time compensation system rather unsatisfactory, an attempt to create a new, harmonious "Great Class" was made. The austerity years following the Great War were over, new measuring rules had been established, and Sir Mortimer Singer and Sir William Berry, both outstanding shipowners, ordered new cutters. Singer, the "Astra", designed by Charles E. Nicholson and built by Camper & Nicholsons; Berry , the "Cambria", designed and built by William Fife.
The owners of these two new cutters were far different from each other. Singer was a wellknown racing sailor, member of a well heeled family, much acquainted with the "12-metre International Class", whereas Berry was a novice bound to the experts' advice, the first amongst these being Brooke Heckstall-Smith, the Yacht Racing Association secretary and also editor of Yacht World magazine owned by Berry, by the way. The completion of Cambria's refit was an act of collecting passion rather than based on facts and technical and nautical reasons. Also a tool for achieving his much coveted viscount title. The sporting triumphs as a step towards social recognition were not at all easy given the whirlpool of rules governing the calculation of handicaps and rating.
From the beginning his boat was punished with an out of proportion compensation rate which by chance happened to favour the members of the highly selected royal clique if not King George 5th's very own yacht Britannia. An so did things go for the races sailed between 1928 and 1933. The Cambria was always penalised either because of her mast's length or her Bermudian rig. And if the mast was shortened, and at what cost, there popped up a new ruling allowing for a longer one. This is the sad history of the Cambria during her first three years and 50 races. Berry finally gave up in 1934 and sold his magnificent cutter to Sir Robert McAlpine who changed her name to Lillias. At his death the boat was bought by H.F. Giraud. The new owner humiliated her to the condition of charter boat based in Ilicia near Izmir, Turkey. Her sporting competitive character had to give in and become a mere bill of exchange for political favours and alike. Under her new name Illias she was often seen around the Greek island Kios before the Second World War cast its dark destructive cover urbi et orbe.
The Illias remained in Turkish waters till the beginning of the sixties. Her seafaring soul was reborn after Michael Sears bought her from Georges Plouvier in 1972. Sears set on a circumnavigation tour. Some partial news point at a mast breakdown near the Canary islands. Later on she was rigged as a ketch by Spencer of Cowes about 1975. The next we know is that she was plying the Fremantle waters, by Perth in Australia, during the 1986/87 America's Cup campaign.
Sears had to leave Australia, and the boat was again condemned to inactivity shortly after. Then a Newzelander took charge and sailed her to Townsville by the Coral Sea where she was discovered by Paul Keating, the Australian Premier, who showed her to the famous regatta racers Iain Murray, Denis O'Neil and John David. The boat's beauty enraptured them at once. The deck layout and cabin structure were "pure Fife style", the interior's original mahogany barely needed some polishing and varnishing to become powerfully alive. The enthusiasm of this bunch of friends was enough to make them take the decision of buying the boat and restoring her to the splendour her lines and history made her worth of under the professional direction of Iain Murray.
The restoration took place in Brisbane under an extensive plan always paying heed to the advice of the most renowned experts worldwide. The Australian Norman Wright's shipbuilding company vested all their knowledge and care. They did a good and complete job, and some steel ribs were replaced, a new deck was laid, and 6000 hull stainless steel screws substituted for the old ones. Work was carried out abiding by the highest industrial standards. The result: the Cambria can be said to be the least transformed classic boat in the present fleet afloat. When John David became the sole owner of Cambria in February 2001, she got back her original one-mast rigging under the supervision of Iain Murray and her new skipper Peter Mandin. Once decided her participation in the America's Cup Jubilee she was taken to Southampton where Fairlie Restorations and Spencers of Cowes finished her conversion to Bermudian cutter. Harry Spencer, he who had made her into a ketch was in charge of this final re-conversion to her original rigging. The mizzen mast became the boom to the new 53 m high mast! The sails, cut and sewn by North, put in this restored Cambria the touch that made her recover the original features she had when built in 1928. The "Cambria" is today the most faithful representative of all the "Big Class" surviving cutters. Berry, its first owner would have been able to walk her interior and see no change at all. Perhaps his only surprise would come from seeing the stern radio cabin transformed into an additional bunk. And he might also questioningly point to the 7 discreet winches on deck, but he would not question the purpose of the new and indeed much taller mast. Now the seventy three years old Cambria dons as much sail area as in 1929 when only the J-Class boats could manage to pull out all its potential. Presumably all that Fife considered befitting has now been entirely accomplished.
The restoring work on Cambria finished just in time for her to join the elite of the most wonderful boats worlwide at Cowes. After the Jubilee events, she was moved to the Mediterranean to take part in the vintage and classic boats Circuit. Racing on this boat, as her present skipper Peter Mandin says, affords both a very special pleasure and a unique experience as it befits a "limited edition" to use a colloquial expression. The 2002 season saw Cambria cruising and racing in all the Mediterranean waters. It is worth mentioning her participation in the 18th edition of the "Almirante Conde de Barcelona" regatta, where she could be seen logging between 11 and 12,5 knots. The excellent restoration job done was indeed awarded a proper recognition and a well-deserved prize.

Cambria technical data
Type
: Bermudian cutter. Two propellers, each on its own engine.
Dimensions
Length over all: 135 ft (41,15 m)
Length on the water line: 80 ft (24,30 m)
Draught: 14 ft (4,25 m)
Building Data
Launching in 1928. Extensive restoration in 1994/95 by Norman Wright Shipwrights, AUSTRALIA, under the direction of Iain Murray, America's Cup racer. Total re-rigging in 2001 by Spencer Rigging, Cowes, UK.
Design: William Fife & Son, Scotland.
Hull: Honduran mahogany planked, epoxy-treated steel ribs. Fiberglass coating. Teak decking.