Perhaps classic racing yacht Elena should be called Déjà Vu. The 180-foot schooner is not only a replica of Morton Plant’s 1910 commission of the same name, but it’s also got history with Westward. While Plant famously instructed American naval architect and designer Nathanael Herreshoff to, “Build me a schooner that can win,” Captain Steve McLaren, who project managed every aspect of Elena’s 2009 replica build at Factoría Naval de Marín, had similarly ambitious intentions. Both Elenas rose to the challenge, with the original winning the 1928 King’s Cup Trans-Atlantic Race from New York to Santander.
Herreshoff made a name for himself designing several notable America’s Cup contenders. When Westward launched in 1910 she was the largest yacht built under the International Rule of 1908. She carried more canvas than her competitors and displayed a faster speed to windward than any other schooner. Herreshoff designed Elena as a sistership to Westward but fitted her with a fuller keel which lowered her center of ballast and amended the dimension of her rigs to further improve her windward ability. Unsurprisingly, she left the cream of the American schooner fleet in her wake, including Westward.
Fast forward to 2009, McLaren, former captain of Westward’s 2002 replica Eleonora, set out to repeat history and build another Elena that could wipe out all the competition. It took four years of meticulous craftsmanship to execute the original plans he had located at the MIT Museum in Massachusetts (with handwritten annotations), but the hard work paid off. Under her current ownership, Elena has competed in and won a clutch of regattas, including the Voiles de St Tropez, the Royal Regatta Cannes, and the St Barths Bucket. She’s crossed the Atlantic 16 times and covered 150,000 nautical miles.
Robb Report stepped aboard the yacht while docked in Monaco’s Port Hercules to see the fruits of McLaren’s labor. While her towering wooden masts, 39-foot bowsprit, and extensive sail plan are exact replicas, McLaren curated the interior spaces himself, from the original Frank Beken photographs that adorn the solid mahogany, Georgian raised paneled walls to the ruby red leather upholstery and vintage fittings.
“All the fixtures, from the lights to the hinges, were acquired before I even started building the yacht,” he told Robb Report. “They’re a bit wonky and rattly, but they’re all original items that I sourced in London and then gold plated to cut down on maintenance.”
The job of varnishing the exterior woodwork is never ending—“The day you finish is the day you need to start again,” jokes McLaren—but the 15-year-old interior remains as fresh as the day it came out of the yard, despite regular charters and a few rowdy guests.
The main mast descends through the center of the boat in a show of force, but the real design feature is the cantilevered skylight in the main salon and dining area. It was originally conceived to lift off during a racing environment to allow the sails to be fed from the main deck down to the packing crew below. Today, the only elements passing through are a cooling sea breeze and plenty of natural light.
“The sails would have been stored in what is now the main salon to maintain the yacht’s center of gravity,” says McLaren. “There were three rinky-dink day cabins aft, and after a day of sailing the owners would leave for their large motor yacht where they’d spend the night in comfort.”
As yacht ownership has evolved, so has yacht design, and Elena’s five guest cabins—all named after classic sailing yachts—are generous in size, while honoring the 20th-century aesthetic. A clamshell emblem found on the chairs, towels, and letterheads pays tribute to the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage, which takes place where the yacht was built.
For McLaren, who has more than 20 years of experience racing large sailing yachts and has captained Elena throughout the entire Mediterranean and Caribbean, the yacht remains a tour de force. It takes a crew of 50 when racing, compared to a crew of eight on charter. Performance-wise she is virtually unmatched.
“Elena is fared like a race boat to the bottom of the keel, which gives her a slippery hull and means she can easily sail in a five-knot breeze,” he says. “It would be difficult for a modern carbon fiber boat to sail in those conditions, but Elena is 225 tons of steel, with a wooden mast, Dacron sails, and wire rigging, and can do it easily.”
“I sailed her sistership, Eleonora, and knew what to expect, but you don’t know what you have until you go neck and neck,” he adds. “When we beat them in our first regatta in Monaco in 2009 it was an amazing feeling. Sailing on Elena is an almost balletic experience.”
For McLaren, the love affair will never end, but for Elena’s owner, it’s a different story. The yacht, which is listed for charter and sale with Y.CO, now awaits a new sailing enthusiast looking to recreate the rivalry and camaraderie that crisscrossed the oceans in the roaring 1920s.
Click here to see all the photos of Elena.