Walking along the Esplanade du Bastion St Jaume as some of the Med’s finest examples of classic yachts nestle cheek by jowl at the Antibes Yacht Show, one of those that immediately catches the eye is S/Y Eilean.
Looking at her beautiful restoration - she is now the official flagship for Panerai - it’s hard to believe that just a few years ago, Eilean, which means ‘little Island’ in Gaelic, was languishing in a mangrove swamp in Antigua close to ruin.
Andy Cully, her captain and owner of ClassicYachtinfo.com - a website devoted to classic yachts - takes up the story of the 22 metre Bermudian ketch, which was built in 1936 by William Fife III in Fairlie.
‘Her previous owner chartered her for many years in the Caribbean,’ says Andy. ‘In 1982, Duran Duran chartered the boat and shot the video for their single Rio on board. Simon Le Bon loved the boat. She was chartered a lot between the Med and the Caribbean and was quite successful.
‘After an incident near Malaga where she got hit by a ferry and was damaged, she sailed back to Antigua but her owner couldn’t keep up with the maintenance so she ended up in the mangrove next to a big barge which her owner lived on. Even though she was very much a part of his soul, she was left to rack and ruin.’
Her saviour came in the shape of Angelo Bonati, CEO of Panerai, which has been sponsoring Les Voiles d’Antibes and other classic regattas for the past decade. Although many people had expressed interest in buying Eilean, Mr Bonati managed to seal the deal by promising to carry out an authentic restoration and bring her back to her original splendour.
‘Mr Bonati was in search of a project,’ says Andy. ‘Panerai is not just a watch brand, it’s all about the Italian navy and sub mariners too. The company has been around for years and they have reinvented and gone from strength to strength. They started sponsoring classic yachts and Eilean became part of their commitment.’
The restoration started in 2006 and Eilean was launched in late 2009. To celebrate her return to the sea, Officine Panerai designed a unique collection of stainless steel navigation instruments: a barometer, a hygrometer, a thermometer and a wall clock all customized with the Eilean logo.
She attended her first regattas in a PR and racing capacity the following year as the Panerai representative. ‘People get entertained on board and we will have many different nationalities including Russians and Chinese,’ adds Andy. ‘This year we are doing PR at some regattas and racing at others including Naples, Imperia and Cannes.
‘We do a lot of charity work too and take out groups of children from a local hospital on a jolly - we play pirates and get the water guns out. It’s great fun. These kids are very sick, some have terminal cancer, so being able to have fun as soon as they step on board creates such a wonderful atmosphere. You soon forget about the racing!’
Andy joined Eilean as captain in September 2009 and describes her as ‘awesome,’ adding: ‘She was designed as a cruising boat but I’m a competitive person so we try and push the boat a bit. It takes a number of years with a restoration to get the boat right. There are lots of things you can do differently and I feel we are getting there, five years after her re-launch. We need a slightly expanded sail wardrobe but all the tweaks are coming together.
‘Our job is to nurture this boat and bring her up to her best level. She is a bit of a celebrity in Italy, she appears in all the magazines and has quite a high profile.’
Andy grew up in the Cotswolds, sailing Optimists from the age of five on a gravel pit near his home. ‘It was those dinghy days that sewed the seed,’ he recalls with a smile. ‘I was at Southampton University and did some sailing on the Solent. At the end of my degree, I found the Lady Anne. She’s a William Fife 15 metre, much like Mariska, and her restoration was completed on the River Hamble. I jumped on her as the nipper in 1999.’
He moved to S/Y Mariquita as first mate where he met his wife Jenna, who was the stewardess, and they live near Lucca in Tuscany, close to his home port of Viareggio, with their daughters Kaia, five, and Floriana, two.
When he isn’t on board during the summer season, Andy spends much of his time building up his classic yacht website Classicyachtinfo.com. He had the idea while racing on the Lady Anne in Fife in 2001 and from humble beginnings, the directory now carries comprehensive listings on around 2,000 yachts and last year attracted up to 15,000 visitors a month.
‘It started because I wanted to know more about the other boats we were racing against,’ he explains. ‘There’s a regatta page online but not much more info than that so I started listing boats on an Excel spreadsheet and it just snowballed from there.
‘The site went live in 2005 and we have close to 2000 classic yachts listed. It was geared up to be a database, there was no real advertising, I wrote most of the articles and I had one guy advertising for £10 a month. He was my only advertiser for five years!
‘It was very much a passion, a labour of love, but it got nailed by a virus last autumn so I have spent the winter rebuilding it and during that time I started working on new areas including art, photography and books. It’s offering a lot more and there are more things planned. I’d love people from all over the world to contact me to write for the site. There are 180 articles that I have written myself but I would like a few different voices because I’m bored of hearing my own voice!
‘It’s a big job, especially when you already have a day job,’ he says wryly. ‘It’s a bit of a juggling act with the family too, let’s just say my evenings are very busy!’
For now though, Andy’s mind is firmly on the season in hand. Shortly after our chat, Eilean was heading off to Argentario and Andy was considering whether to take part in the full moon race from La Spezia to Elba. ‘We might be welcoming Simon le Bon on board,’ he adds. ‘He raced with us in Antigua and Cannes. He and two other band members came on board and it was brilliant. His wife Yasmin was there as well and they all had a really good time.
‘Simon is a full on sailor so he raced as part of the crew while the other guys chilled out. He is a very focused, impressive sailor and he was helming. He also invited us to the gig for the Opening Ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics in Hyde Park when Duran Duran was playing. We were in the VIP area and went to the after party. It was great fun.’