The crew members of Cambria responded most graciously when Lulworth prevailed over their yacht to take second place in the Big Boats category during this summer’s Argentario Sailing Week off Italy’s Port Santo Stefano. The Cambria sailors clapped their hands, saluting their adversary’s performance and the effort that had gone into resurrecting Lulworth, a yacht that last had raced against Cambria 76 years ago.
In 1919, England’s King George V, seeking ways to lift his citizens’ spirits following their sacrifices of the Great War, called for the construction of a worthy competitor to Britannia, his magnificent 121-foot racing yacht. In response, Lulworth was built in just eight months. Over the next 10 years, the yacht, a 152-foot cutter with a mast as tall as a 17-story building, served as one of the Big Five boats that formed the core of the British Big Class racing fleet. (The others were Britannia, Westward, Shamrock IV, and White Heather II.) Ultimately, J Class yachts supplanted Lulworth and her peers, but during the 1920s she enjoyed a glorious career, participating in some 250 races and winning 59 of them.
Eventually the Big Five passed on: Shamrock IV and White Heather II were dismantled, Britannia and Westward scuttled. By the late 1940s, Lulworth sat mud-berthed near Southampton, serving as a houseboat. Five years ago, when Johan van den Bruele found the yacht, she lay roasting in the sun at the back of the Beconcini shipyard in La Spezia, Italy—nothing but steel ribs clad in mahogany, her interior parts stripped away.
“I was dumbfounded,” recalls van den Bruele, a soft-spoken Dutch real estate developer who already had brought the 1939 De Vries yacht Iduna back to life. “Here was this awe-inspiring thing before me. I knew I had to make her sail again.” He grew more excited when he learned that the shipyard had stored about 70 percent of the interior pieces in containers. “So I decided to be a purist, as with a classic car,” he says, “and do a complete restoration.”
For help, van den Bruele turned to Giuseppe Longo, who had managed the Iduna project. Longo assembled a team to restore the boat to its original state, preserving every possible piece of metal, wood, and furniture. He discovered that about half of Lulworth’s steel frames and floor plates were usable, as were most of her deck fixtures. The original equipment included the skylights, boarding ladder, steering gear, capstans, and telegraph. “There’s a table in the salon with a gouge on it,” Longo says. “You can see that gouge in a picture from 1926.” Lulworth was relaunched last Valentine’s Day; the five-year project had cost an estimated $19 million.
Argentario Sailing Week featured the first of this year’s regattas that invited Lulworth. “I wasn’t even sure we’d race,” Longo says. “We were still learning about her, you see. No one had sailed a boat like this in so long.” But the weather was good, so Longo decided to see what the yacht could do. Lulworth ended up garnering not only second place but also the Lalique prize, awarded for the most authentic restoration at the event. And as the yacht passed Cambria, the 1928 cutter that Lulworth last had raced in the autumn of 1930, the crew of that boat stood at her railing and applauded.