Dick Durham discovers the restored Lively Lady is still wowing the crowds 50 years after Sir Alec Rose completed his groundbreaking global circumnavigation
Lively Lady: Sir Alec Rose’s yacht lives again
It is 70 years since an amateur boat builder, Sydney Cambridge, secured teak sleepers from the stock of the Bengal and Assam Railway to help build a 36ft gaff-cutter in Calcutta.
Cambridge adapted the plans of designer Frederick Shepherd, levelling off her keel, heightening her topsides and using thicker teak planking.
The result was a much heavier, hugely strong but slower hull than that originally drawn.
As I climbed over the recently restored Lively Lady’s rail at her Port Solent finger berth and descended down the steep companionway into the depths of her gloomy saloon, the brooding evidence of overbuild came slowly into focus as my eyes got used to the dim light emitted from the small butterfly hatch overhead.
Her padauk timber frames were as wide as the beams of a medieval barn and I was at one with the man who would go on to make her the iconic yacht she is today.
When, in 1963, Sir Alec Rose first clambered below Lively Lady as she lay for sale in Yarmouth, on the Isle of Wight, his immediate reaction was: ‘I was impressed by her solid strength. Below, this was evident in her heavy timbers…’
Rose bought her for the 1964 Observer Single-handed Trans Atlantic Race (OSTAR).
He came fourth in the event, which was won by Frenchman Éric Tabarly.
Ahead of the race, Rose ordered Illingworth & Primrose to design a new rig.
Her mast, originally keel-stepped, was moved aft and deck stepped. Her long bowsprit was shortened to a stub and the mast of an Enterprise sailing dinghy was added as a mizzen.
This was not to set a spanker, as that would interfere with the self-steering gear fitted by Blondie Hasler, but to carry a staysail to give the heavy old hull extra speed downwind.
On deck I looked aloft at the faded aluminium mainmast and sympathised with Rose’s anxiety while he stared at it in a Southern Ocean storm, during his solo circumnavigation in 1967-68: ‘I don’t know of anything so frightening and sickening as to see the mast doing figure of eight bends,’ he said, noting that he couldn’t even risk flying the spitfire staysail.
It’s an odd rig, because technically she’s a yawl with the mizzen mast stepped behind the tiller-steering position.
Yet, she’s described as a Bermudian cutter, ‘because we never set the mizzen,’ said Steve Mason, a trustee of the charity Around and Around, which restored the boat.
Steve fired up the 28hp Beta diesel engine and gingerly reversed Lively Lady out of her berth.
‘There’s no prop walk, she just goes where she wants to,’ he said as she emerged into the dock.
Immediately passers-by started taking selfies, and a yachtsman supping coffee in his cockpit, shouted: ‘Well done, she looks terrific.’
I stood with Steve in the small, seamanlike, self-draining cockpit as he smiled and told me he regularly gets American tourists coming up to the boat waving their copies of Sir Alec Rose’s account of his solo circumnavigation, My Lively Lady, ‘They ask me to sign it!’ he said.
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As I joined another Around and Around trustee, Pete Yeoman and volunteer yachtsman Stuart McGowan in unbending the large fenders, I was surprised to find Lively Lady, for all her 2.5 tons of lead ballast and long iron keel, listing over.
She is surprisingly delicate, but then she is narrow for her design, at just over 9ft beam.
A 70-litre fresh water tank is to be fitted into her forepeak which, Steve said, will put her down 3 inches by the head.
‘She is tender,’ he conceded, ‘but when the rails are awash you know you’ve got too much sail up. She’ll only go over so far.’
We sit in the lock at Port Solent, dropping down the weedy sides to meet the level of Portsmouth Harbour outside, and people gather to admire Lively Lady’s honey-coloured decks.
Her original teak deck had been planed down to take out the water stain, but in doing so had brought the iron fastenings to the surface, which had then corroded.
‘We had to become marine archaeologists to work out how they’d been laid before taking them up,’ said Stuart.
When they did so they found they had been fastened at the edges as well as through the face.
The new decking is iroko planking glued onto a bonded marine ply base and caulked with rubber mastic. It means there are now no fastenings to worry about.
Her agricultural guardrails are original and some of the stanchions were bent during Rose’s circumnavigation.
They are all straight now and many have had new feet welded onto them.
They have been powder-coated, as has the bowsprit saddle clamp (which doubles as a warp cleat), the mast-step, and the steel mainsheet horse, which runs behind the cockpit coaming.
‘We’d like to have had them galvanised and then painted but that was too expensive,’ said Steve, who explained that because all of the work was carried out by volunteers the nine-month restoration cost only £15,000.
‘If we hadn’t done it ourselves it would have cost £150,000,’ he added.
The cockpit was rebuilt, leaving in place two upright grab poles, legacy of Rose’s battered spray-hood.
This looks like a recipe for sustaining a broken rib in a knock down, but the crew all swear by it.
The dog-house was also rebuilt in laminated timbers, all with off-cuts from the iroko decking.
The fore-hatch had to be replaced with a Perspex version as it leaked so badly, but the original is kept as a lid and put on for show while in port.
Once clear of the pile moorings off Porchester, we set sail. Stuart and Pete hauled up the mainsail: a job done on deck at the foot of the mast.
The mainsail is a rust-stained, wind-shredded wing. The headsails, with piston hanks so worn that one broke off in Steve’s fingers, and the rusty sprigs of luff wire bristling through the Terylene have also seen better days.
Lively Lady is desperately in need of a new suit. She sports the original roller-reefing on her wooden boom, but this is now defunct and a three-reef slab system is used in its place.
With a southerly Force 2-3, we tacked slowly down to Portsmouth Harbour entrance then turned and ran her back up harbour.
Lively Lady’s bluff, buoyant bow squashed flat all the wash from passing ferries and busy RIBs.
Her pretty sheer, combined with a touch of tumblehome and a lovely run aft to a snub counter stern, had passengers on the Gosport-Portsmouth ferry aiming their smart phones at her.
Her topsides are still the characteristic pale blue; the same colour Rose painted her.
It suits her carvel hull, which was re-caulked and re-splined up under the counter where tenders have butted her over the years, and on the port side where she lay alongside for many years.
All the paintwork has been lovingly restored by a lone volunteer, Carol Jenkinson.
Even Sir Robin Knox-Johnston told the team: ‘I never thought I’d see Lively Lady looking this good again.’
‘We have a hardcore team of 10 volunteers,’ explained Steve, ‘including an 80-year-old shipwright from the Isle of Wight.’
Around and Around’s leader, Alan Priddy, replaced the keel-bolts himself by knocking them through and cutting them off in sections. He also fitted a new stern gland and the Beta diesel engine.
The whole of the boat’s furniture was stripped out right down to the bilges, refurbished and re-fitted. Six soft spots from fresh water ingress were found amidships on two of the huge padauk frames.
To get at the rot, planking had to be removed on the outside and graving pieces let in.
From her five-step companionway, which sits on the engine box, there is a final step onto the cabin sole before you enter the galley to port.
To starboard is the quarter berth, over which sits a chart table.
Passing through the first bulkhead, you arrive in the saloon, which has grab handles running each side of the butterfly hatch. Lockers on both sides double as settees over which are two pilot berths.
Beautifully hand-crafted glass cabinets have been fitted below the deckhead at each end of the pilot berths, with a balustrade bookshelf running between them.
Forward of the amidships bulkhead is the head – to starboard – which is awaiting the fitting of a composting WC and a hanging locker to port.
Two single berths are found in the forepeak, and the restoration team has fitted a final new bulkhead up in the bows to form a chain locker for the bower anchor.
It was not there in Rose’s time and he wrote that he was always alarmed to hear water pouring through the hawsepipe in heavy weather.
Lively Lady has been fitted with two long-range fuel tanks containing 105 litres apiece.
‘We could get three-quarters of the way across the Atlantic on that if there was no wind,’ noted Steve.
And it is long-distance cruises, with youngsters aboard, that are planned for the old cutter.
‘I’ve witnessed several street kids come on here and after a voyage become responsible mums and dads with jobs and mortgages,’ noted Pete.
‘It’s very satisfying. It’s amazing how people come forward in various ports to show me Rose’s autobiography, with the claim: “This is the book that got me sailing”.’
The Around and Around charity is now hoping to fit Lively Lady with the correct safety equipment to get her coded, before circumnavigating Britain with a crew of youngsters.
There are also hopes of another crack at an around-the-world voyage in the not too distant future.
Lively Lady: Facts and Figures
LOA: 10.97m (36ft)
LWL: 9.45m (31ft)
Beam: 2.8m (9.2ft)
Draught: 2.0m (6.6ft)
Displacement: 13.75 tons
Built: Calcutta, 1948
Designer: Frederick Shepherd
Builder: Sydney Cambridge
Solo circumnavigation under Sir Alec Rose 1967-68, via Melbourne and Bluff, New Zealand.
Second circumnavigation under Alan Priddy, 2006-2007, with 25 stops, 30 young crew members, 17 adult skippers and many volunteers.
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Source: Yachting Monthly