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Germán Frers and Argentina’s Golden Era of Yachtbuilding

Zelmira Frers captures the boatbuilding history and legend of the Frers' family in her new book The Story Behind Recluta.

Recluta
Recluta under sail off the coast of Argentina. Courtesy The Publisher

This story, framed around the yacht Recluta, captures the 80 years of history that unites three generations of the Frers family. During summer 1942, in the South Atlantic Ocean, Recluta, skippered by owner Charlie Badaracco, was competing in a race between Buenos Aires and Mar del Plata. Hit by violent storms in the middle of the night, the 20-meter yacht ran aground in the shallow waters off Cape San Antonio.

The author’s story began in 2017 when a family friend asked if she knew what her father, legendary yacht designer Germán Frers Jr., was working on. She realized she didn’t have a clear answer.

To lifelong sailors, Germán Frers is a household name, synonymous with beautiful boats, including multiple designs for Nautor’s Swan, Hallberg-Rassy and Queen Long Marine’s Hylas brand. Zelmira, the second daughter of the Argentinian designer, was “raised since birth in a nautical environment,” but as a young architect and photographer, she realized that her father’s boats were just a background to her own busy life. She asked her father if she could go with him to the shipyard. She was aware that her father’s and grandfather’s (Germán Frers Sr.) life work was designing boats, but she was unaware that the project currently underway had any unusual scope or significance.

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The yacht that Zelmira saw under construction when she went to the shipyard was the brainchild of Frers Sr. (1899-1986), who’d started a boat-­design business in Argentina between the world wars. After the first Recluta was lost, Frers Sr. began building a new Recluta at the request of the owner. The yacht was to be the largest yacht ever built in Argentina. Work began, but boatbuilding materials were scarce, with wood going mostly to the war effort, and the project was abandoned. Years later, Frers Jr. discovered his father’s archived plans. He had them digitized, and decided to build the 66-foot ketch out of wood.

boat frame
Framing out the hull during the build. Courtesy The Publisher

“If you sail, you are always thinking about a boat,” Frers told Zelmira.

Zelmira began documenting the making of Recluta, and as the work stretched into years, she became aware on a visceral level of her family’s history bound up in these boats. She carefully recorded and photographed every detail of Recluta’s construction. Frers Jr., who learned at his father’s side, had lost the familiarity of wood building in the years of designing boats made of fiberglass and aluminum. What he did remember was how the work was driven by shared ideas with a team. Zelmira evokes this spirit of both the emerging boat and the workplace of craftsmen. As Frers Jr. says in the book, at some point Recluta was asking for water, and she was launched in March 2021.

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The Story Behind Recluta is not an ordinary book. It’s beautifully designed, with a heavy cover overlaid with canvas. It’s an emotional account of a yacht’s destiny, as much as it is a history of Argentina’s golden era of yachtbuilding.

Zelmira and Germán
Zelmira and her father, Germán, in the workshop. Courtesy The Publisher

“This book allowed me to review the concept of time, the flow of life, that which transcends and is transmitted from generation to generation,” the author says. She read everything her grandfather—whom she never met—wrote about the boats he designed. “I got to know him through stories, and I discovered an adventurous, curious man with a great sense of humor. 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.”

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