The clipper-bowed late Victorian period yacht Avel slips along in a St Tropez breeze with her crew in the lee scuppers and her helmsman looking like a dinghy sailor, perched on her weather rail and steering with a tiller extension.
Avel was built in 1896 by Camper & Nicholsons in Gosport, England, with inch and a quarter (32mm) teak planking above the waterline and pitch pine below. She has oak frames, an elm keel and teak deck – the classic build structure for a top class yacht of her day. The materials are one of the reasons she is still sailing; she was restored over three years by Harry Spencer at Cowes and relaunched in 1994.
She is raced in the Mediterranean by Allegra Gucci, who with her sister Allessandra, inherited Avel, along with her “tender” the super-yacht schooner Creole, 1927, also from C&N, after their father Maurizio was murdered by a hitman in 1995, 18 months after he sold his stock in Gucci for £130m. In 1998 his ex-wife Patrizia, Allegra and Allessandra’s mother, was convicted and imprisoned for 18 years for arranging the killing.
Before Maurizio found Avel she had been used as a houseboat in Mersea. Built as a cruising yacht, she had only raced once (where she came fifth out of five yachts) and had been laid up in the mud since 1927.
In the spirt of their father the Gucci sisters keep and sail Avel authentically, and she does not have an engine. This means that she gets towed behind the 214ft Creole – which can be an impressive sight to see. “We can tow her at nine knots – it works fine,” said Allegra. “We used to cruise Avel but without an engine it’s quite difficult to manoeuvre – she’s a big boat to be without power. There was a time at the regatta in Porto Cervo when we were accused of having our engine running and we replied: ‘We don’t have one!’ But it also makes us cautious; if it gets too windy during a race we retire, because we don’t have an engine and the boat is less safe if we are racing with others like that.” Avel‘s home port is in Mallorca. She is a very distinctive boat to recognise with her gaff cutter rig and her crew in a uniform of white smock, ochre neckerchielf and rolled up trousers… or white T-shirt and shorts.
Camper & Nicholsons, Gosport
LOA 60ft (18.10m)
LOD 56ft 9in (17.3m)
LWL: 40ft (12.2m)
Beam 11ft 6in (3.5m)
Draught 8ft 2in (2.5m)