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The story behind Recluta

by Marina Kienitz (additions by John Curnow) 1 Sep 05:00 BST

This is an epic tale that begins in 1942, and spans nearly 80 years. It all started when a storm collided with the crew of the yacht Recluta at night, during a race from Buenos Aires to Mar del Plata. The yacht eventually succumbed to the onslaught of the wind and waves.

Legendary naval architect, Germán Frers Sr. (1899-1986), decided to offer Recluta a second chance, intending to rebuild the yacht adapted to his own design, and using parts rescued from the original. At the time, it would have been the largest yacht ever built in South America. Despite the initial enthusiasm, the build was continually delayed as the ravages of World War II, which led to a shortage of the materials needed. Eventually, the project was suspended indefinitely. Recluta had ‘run aground’ once more.

Decades later, Frers Senior’s son, also named Germán, a renowned naval architect in his own right, came across his late father’s drawings and designs for Recluta. He decided to relaunch the project. Zelmira Frers, granddaughter and daughter of the two designers, is also inspired, and resolves to document the construction. Her efforts culminate in a work of great artistic and historical value. More than simply a book, The Story behind Recluta is an aesthetic and emotional account of a yacht’s destiny, just as much as a history of Argentina’s golden era of yacht building.

For three years Zelmira carefully recorded and photographed every detail of Recluta’s construction, immersing herself in the working routine of her father Germán Frers, and his team of craftsmen. “I believe that the history of a community or a culture is built by small individual voices. There are many stories that bear witness to changing times and traditions. In this particular case, Recluta is testimony to a thriving period in Argentina, when the marine industry was at its peak, the time of my grandfather. Today, the reality of this industry is very different. In this book I wanted to immortalize a small part of the beautiful history of Argentina’s nautical development and a few of its silent protagonists”, she states.

From a young age, Zelmira Frers has navigated a universe of multidisciplinary creativity as an architect, creative director, and also photographer. Her career includes working with Zen architect, Paul Discoe, in the USA, the co-creation of the machimbre® studio in Buenos Aires, where she explored the design of furniture and objects, with some of her work exhibited at the Maison & Objet in Paris in 2016, as well as branding and art direction for various fashion brands. Her passion for photography developed through teachers such as Aldo Bressi, Gaby Messina and Hisao Susuki.

The Story behind Recluta is Zelmira Frers’ first book. Comprising 200 pages of photos and testimonial texts, it will delight those with a passion for the nautical world, as well as those who love design, architecture, history and art. Zelmira has conceived a book that will serve to inspire younger generations, opening a door to a remarkable world of wooden yachts, one that is not always visible.

The first edition of The Story behind Recluta will be published in both English and Spanish (A Través del Recluta). 1,200 copies will be printed.

The book launch will take place at the Les Voiles de Saint-Tropez in September 2021.

The book itself.

Conceived as a filmed documentary, The Story behind Recluta was transformed into a book. A true art-piece.

The book is composed of 200 pages of photographs and dialogues of profound beauty capturing, for the first time ever, the intimacy of the creative process of designer Germán Frers, and his team of nautical artisans.

The Story behind Recluta is a piece of immense beauty and sensitivity. A story that spans three generations, and brings together the creative and aesthetic work of the Frers.

The book will be a delight for those passionate about the nautical world, as well as anyone who loves design, architecture, history and art. Zelmira conceived a book that will also inspire younger generations, opening a door to the world of wood and naval crafts, which is not always visible.

So just what happened to make the story?

In the summer of 1942, in the South Atlantic Ocean, the yacht, Recluta, skippered by its owner Charlie Badaracco, was competing in a race between Buenos Aires and Mar del Plata. During the night, in the middle of a violent storm, the 20-metre yacht ran aground in the shallow waters off Cape San Antonio. Initially, the crew was able to free Recluta, but while making the manoeuvre a crewmember fell overboard. Turning back to rescue the sailor, Recluta runs aground again: this time forever.

Charlie Badaracco did what he could to salvage as much as possible from the stricken yacht. Eventually, the remains become a tourist attraction, the ever-diminishing reminder of an adventure. However, Recluta’s story has not run its complete course. Determined to hoist her sails once more, Badaracco turns to German Frers Sr. to recreate Recluta, incorporating fresh thinking and constructing what would be the largest yacht ever built in South America.

"This book allowed me to review the concept of time, the flows of life, that which transcends and is transmitted from generation to generation," says Zelmira Frers. To connect with the world of nautical adventure, she read everything her grandfather wrote about the boats he designed. “I got to know him through stories he wrote, and I discovered an adventurous, curious man with a great sense of humour. From him I learned that life needs to be embraced as it comes. From his ability to adapt on high seas, I learned to accept that we are at the mercy of nature and the unexpected, and we must be smart enough to act accordingly.”

The Story behind Recluta covers the passion, tradition and sense of purpose of a family lineage, which has come together to hoist the sails of a project that unites three generations.

About Zelmira Frers

She grew up immersed in the mystique of her creative grandparents (poet and writer Elvira Orphée and artist Miguel Ocampo), as well as the designer Germán Frers Sr. She has always been fascinated by the concept of time, the legacy of vocation between generations and the sensitivity to maintain a creative heritage in perpetuity.

Zelmira sensed that the building of Recluta had unique meaning. She felt the urge to document it and capture its particular story as well as part of the history of the Argentine marine industry and its artisanal processes. “I believe that the history of a community or a culture is constructed by small individual voices. They are stories that bear witness to changes in times and traditions. In this particular case, I believe that Recluta is testimony to a thriving period in Argentina, when the marine industry was at its maximum development, the time of my grandfather. To a certain extent, I want to immortalize in this book part of this history, and to exhibit the knowledge and techniques that still persist and the enormous work of the silent protagonists.”

Zelmira aimed her lens at the process, the details, the work environment and the hands of the nautical artisans who made it possible. She is also the author.

About German Frers

Germán Frers has been recognized globally for his prolific career in yacht design. He created his first boat at the age of 16, the Mirage, a 10-metre racing yacht, the first built out of fibreglass in Argentina. He was guided by his father, Germán Frers Sr., who was an engineer, self-taught yacht designer, and an enthusiastic sailor with a unique adventurous spirit. Similarly, today the designer shares this legacy with his son Germán ‘Mani’ Frers, and perhaps he will also share it with his grandson in the future.

In 1965, Germán Frers was summoned by his mentor, Olin Stephens, to join the legendary Sparkman & Stephens firm in New York. At the time, the firm was leading the field of innovation in yacht design worldwide. Germán became one of the main architects of the team. In 1970 he returned to Argentina to take over his father's studio, founded in 1925. In 1971, Matrero, his first project with the studio, made a brilliant debut performance in the United Kingdom at the Admiral’s Cup, arousing an international interest in Frers' designs. Since then, the designer has created and supervised more than a thousand yachts of all kinds. His studios are located both in Buenos Aires and Milan, producing about 20 projects per year.

His clients include the Royal family of Spain, Gianni Agnelli and some of the world's greatest yacht builders (Nautor’s Swan, Hallberg-Rassy, Sirena Marine, and Queen Long Marine’s Hylas Yachts).

The craft designed by his studio have won the most important trophies in the world. His work as a nautical designer has been awarded internationally. Some achievements of his designs are:
• William Snaith Memorial Trophy 1974, U.S.A.
• Le Bouchon d’Or Francia 1981, France
• International Superyacht Society Leadership Award 1992, U.S.A.
• Compasso d’ Oro 2004, Italy
• ShowBoats Design Awards - Lifetime Achievement Award 2014, U.S.A.

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