Prepare to fall in love with Eilean. Moored in the Venetian waters off San Giorgio Maggiore island, this beautiful Bermudan ketch will seduce all who see her. Come on board and discover the big history of this ‘little island’ (the Gaelic meaning of Eilean). Learn about her birth in Scotland in 1936 at the hands of legendary boatbuilders, her heyday as a charter yacht in the Caribbean and her fall into disrepair, before she was rescued and restored to her former glory. Witness the beauty of her original design, see the quality of her materials and discover the meticulous craftsmanship of the Italian master artisans who brought her back to life.
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Eilean’s incredible story mirrors the peaks and troughs of the Atlantic waves upon which she has sailed. She was designed in 1936 by William Fife III of the Fife boatyard in Fairlie, Scotland. Though not intended for racing, her waterlines were inspired by the J-Class yachts that competed in the America’s Cup in the 1930s. Eilean sailed into legend in the 1970s as a popular charter yacht in the Caribbean. British pop group Duran Duran even chartered her for the video shoot of their hit song Rio in 1982. But disaster struck when Eilean was badly damaged on an Atlantic crossing, and over the next few years she slipped into disrepair. The yacht was in a sorry state when she was spotted in Antigua in 2006 by Angelo Bonati, former CEO of high-end luxury watchmaker Officine Panerai. He brought her to Italy and set out to have her restored.
Panerai commissioned master artisans at the Francesco Del Carlo boatyard in Viareggio, who spent two and a half years restoring Eilean. They salvaged as many of the yacht’s original materials as they could, and used 1930s techniques where possible to preserve Eilean’s defining characteristics. Sixty percent of the hull’s Burmese teak planking was saved, the wooden steering wheel was restored and refitted and the bronze portholes reconditioned and remounted. Parts that couldn’t be reused were authentically remade: two new masts built from a single Alaskan spruce tree, a new windlass made to a traditional design. Lastly, in homage to the boat’s origins, the Fife boatyard’s dragon motif was re-carved onto Eilean’s hull. A mark of the respect, care and attention to detail these master restorers poured into their work.
Eilean’s interior is as splendid as her outer shell. Step inside the original deck house to find seating space for four. Then venture down into the hull to see her glorious living space made in exquisite African mahogany. Two cabins in the stern and one in the bow, all with en suite bathrooms. Two further cabins for skipper and crew. A spacious seating area. Customised furnishings that reflect Eilean’s original character: plush red banquette seating, signature bed linens, sailing-themed accessories in the bathrooms. The finishing touch? New bespoke navigation instruments made just for Eilean by Panerai. But no autopilot, because after so many years on the oceans without one, clearly a boat of this quality needs nothing more than experienced yachtsmen to sail her.
Panerai relaunched Eilean on the waves at the end of 2009. Descendants of the boat’s designer and her many owners were there to see her grace the seas once again. Since then Eilean has been a welcome presence at many international yacht gatherings. She also takes part in social initiatives, helping to introduce people to the therapeutic benefits of sailing on the sea. A fitting new lease of life for a much-loved lady.
“Seeing Eilean restored to her former glory is very moving and I am sure that all lovers of vintage sailing boats share my emotion... With her elegance and perfect proportions, Eilean is not just an extraordinary example of craftsmanship and authenticity but also a symbol of a love for the sea that only sailing manages to convey."
Panerai’s involvement in Eilean was no accident. Given the watchmaker’s long association with the Italian navy, its restoration of this yacht was an expression of the seafaring values and commitment to craftsmanship at the heart of its brand identity.