HERE is the beautiful Wanderer III lying peacefully in Ocean Harbour, South Georgia.
We are delighted to be able to bring you some more treats to enliven these dull, northern autumnal days. Firstly we are concluding the amazing story of Bill Nance’s single-handed doubling of The Horn with Cardinal Vertue. It is this kind of inspiration that fires the imaginations of all Vertue owners, especially those in the midst of restoration projects. So it is fitting to be able to report on three of these, currently under way in the south of England this summer, aboard Kandy, Ice Bird and Grace. We have another report from the redoubtable Matteo with his own tale of single-handed racing with Mea, to the Fastnet Rock and back, and I continue the story of the Vertue Design Dynasty with some notes about one of the Vertues’ most celebrated sisters, Wanderer III . Finally we are also delighted to be able to start to fill in the history of one of the very early grp Vertues, Faire Vertue, that was shipped all the way to Australia to be fitted out.
Cardinal Vertue and Bill Nance
Part II DOUBLING THE HORN
Cardinal Vertue in calmer waters off Australia
Crossing the Indian Ocean, running before a strong storm for a couple of days, not long after dawn on the 28th of April, the extinct volcano of St Paul was sighted ahead of Cardinal Vertue. Sailing with just a storm jib due to the wind and sea conditions, Nance kept to the northern side, and when almost past it, Cardinal Vertue was seriously pooped while Nance was in the cockpit and hand steering as conditions were too rough for the self-steering to function reliably. The breaking wave came aboard, over the stern, washing Nance overboard along with the top washboard of the companionway, the self-steering gear plus the entire mast above the lower spreaders, but still attached by the forestay and backstays. The storm jib was ripped to shreds. Luckily, the coachroof stepped mast wasn’t lost entirely and provided the basis of his jury rig.
Fortunately, Nance was tethered to the vessel’s cockpit by a short life-line and was able to pull himself back on board, catch his breath and assess the situation he found himself in. He had sustained a leg injury, but luckily nothing really serious. Being unable to go anywhere and just drifting westwards, Nance set about stripping the upper rigging away, repurposed a sail for the jib and used an old lifeboat sail on the boat when he bought her, as the new mainsail. The missing washboard had let a considerable amount of water into the boat and with this sloshing about as Cardinal Vertue rolled and pitched without the steadying effect of the mast, the interior was an absolute mess.
Amsterdam Island, about 60 miles N of St Paul, home to a manned French Meteorological Station, was fleetingly considered as a possibility to seek assistance, but was dismissed as it was unreachable with the remaining boat’s rig and with no chance of reaching St Paul either Nance was only going to get out of this by his own efforts. Once clear of the island and pumping the boat more or less dry, thought was given to erecting a jury rig from what remained. Eventually, in clearing weather and over the next three days, a new forestay and back stay were made to provide support to what was left of the mast as all that survived were the lower shrouds. What-ever remained was salvaged where possible and the rest cut free.
The short wave radio was water damaged and unusable, so his ability to accurately calculate his longitude was also lost, but a course was set, now amended toward Fremantle as the nearest achievable landfall, given no ability to go to windward at all. Fremantle was some 3,500 nautical miles away!
This put Nance to the north west of Cape Leeuwin, which, in itself is notorious for heavy weather as it forms the juncture of Indian Ocean and the beginning of the Pacific. Fremantle and Rottnest Island lie to the north west of the Cape.
76 days out from Cape Town, landfall was made on the southern tip of Rottnest Island, before dawn on June 5th, 1963, well-marked by Wadjemup lighthouse. Rounding Rottnest in daylight, Nance altered course for Fremantle Harbour, about 15 miles downwind. He had no charts of Fremantle Harbour (he had not planned to go there!) it being a busy commercial harbour without provision for pleasure boats. Nevertheless, he managed to sail in and go alongside a commercial dock wall, an unsuitable situation for such a small boat, due to the wind’s strength and direction.
Happily, Jack Prince, owner of a private boat launch company, noticed the arrival of Cardinal Vertue limping in to the harbour under jury rig and dispatched one of his employees to tow Nance to a more sheltered, and safer, place to tie up. The young fellow, Murray Shaw, running the Princes’ launch, was about the same age as Nance and after ensuring that Nance and Cardinal Vertue were secure at the more sheltered location, asked Bill if he could do anything else for him. “I’d really like a bath” was Nance’s response, so Murray took Nance to his home for a much welcome bath. Murray’s mother, brother and sister were delighted to have Bill share a decent meal with them and get some rest ashore for the night.
Next morning, when he returned to the harbour, Murray had already gone to work; Nance had no more contact with him until June 2015! Members of the Freshwater Bay Yacht Club, on hearing of Bill’s arrival, had come down the River Swan and towed Cardinal Vertue upstream to the club and haul-out facilities, where, with much help from club members, Nance undertook all the repairs necessary to return the yacht to a seaworthy state. He had a lot to accomplish in way of repairs and with the hospitality of the Commodore of the Yacht Club, Merv Finn, Club Officer, Bill Jacobs and local resident Tom Robinson, this was soon underway.
A new mast of Sitka spruce was made locally to beefed up scantlings recommended by Laurent Giles, (in other words: a heavier and stronger mast), with permanent standing backstays, and the runners were retained just as a precaution. New sails and other improvements were undertaken over a period of several months, with gratefully received help from the very hospitable West Australian community around Freshwater.
The Customs authorities welcomed him with a demand for duty on an imported boat, at 83% of her assessed value, and in lieu of this, allowed him six months with a bond to either pay up or leave!
Following intervention by the Member of Parliament for Nance’s home constituency in Victoria and a bond posted by a Perth bank, Nance was permitted to stay in Australia for 6 months, with the option to either to pay up or depart Australia by the end of the year.
The germ of an idea of a circumnavigation via Cape Horn had been planted by a chance conversation with Vito Dumas in Buenos Aires the year before, but circumstances now strengthened this possibility.
With time sliding by, Nance left with his new mast being re-stepped once downstream and clear of the low bridge, and departed toward Melbourne, his next intended port of call and home town.
Well past Cape Leeuwin and south east of Albany, again in very heavy weather, Cardinal Vertue was seriously pooped and rolled. The boom, with most of the mainsail roller furled tore free of the mast at the gooseneck with the small amount of the mainsail still hoisted tearing free of its track, sending the whole lot flailing about, still attached by the halyard at the masthead.
In the wild conditions there was no hope of retrieving the sail and boom so reluctantly this was freed from its halyard and cast adrift, a very short life for a new sail! Additionally, daylight could now be seen through the forward planking and further inspection revealed the frames and deck beams in the bow had sustained considerable damage with several broken, and the seams were starting to open, to the extent that the caulking was gone and, once again, a lot of water had to be pumped out.
Albany, Southwestern Australia, is at the start of The Great Australian Bight, the last major port, and over 1000 nautical miles from Port Augusta and Port Pirie near Adelaide in South Australia, on the eastern side of the continent. Although past Albany, Nance headed back with just a headsail and for the second time, on September 12th, 1963, Cardinal Vertue limped into Princess Royal Harbour, Albany, under jury rig finding shelter, haul-out facilities and much help from the ever-generous West Australians. She was hauled-out, the bow damage repaired, and the mast at the lower spreader level was further strengthened, as well as taking care of other minor damage.
Once again, on Sunday, October 13th. 1963, Cardinal Vertue set sail, this time from Albany, to restart the remainder of the interrupted passage toward Melbourne, which was somewhat anti-climactic and incident free except for running into heavy coastal fog off Cape Otway in Victoria. This is considered the boundary between the Southern Ocean and Bass strait and only sound warnings from the lighthouse kept him out of the surf! Over the years eight ships had been wrecked off the cape despite a lighthouse being there since 1848. This was the first uneventful passage in several thousand miles, but his experience of heavy weather conditions was rapidly being attained!
Continuing difficulties with the authorities in regard to a returning Australian with a foreign built vessel forced a change of plan and the decision was made to continue eastward and complete a full circumnavigation at Buenos Aries. The nebulous idea of a circumnavigation had formed in the back of Bill’s mind since the departure from the UK, but this crystalized into a certainty after the inflexible attitude of the authorities and the approaching end of the 6 month bond period.
After a reunion with family and friends and an eye on the time of year for the now anticipated passage to Cape Horn, a short stop was made in Hobart, capital of the island state of Tasmania 200 miles south of Melbourne. So at the end of the year clearance was secured on January 5th for Auckland, New Zealand, 1500 miles NE of Hobart
This passage in part on the edge of the roaring 40’s can be lively at almost anytime of the year as there is nothing to the south except Antarctica. Rounding the tip of New Zealand’s North Island in very calm weather after a passage of 14 days Customs was cleared in the quiet settlement of Whangaroa on the east coast. Bill made his leisurely way down the coast to New Zealand’s largest city of Auckland in pleasant summer weather, where a convenient berth was found alongside a derelict harbour ferry at the commercial end of the large Westhaven marina close to Auckland city center.
Nance sought short term employment in Auckland, working first in the Wool Sheds, then, when work slowed down, at Baileys Shipyard and the Auckland Gas Company to bolster the cruising kitty.
Time off between jobs enabled Bill to crew on ‘Cotton Blossom’ a well known and fast racing boat, owned by Peter Spencer and he was invited to crew in the inaugural Auckland ~ Noumea ocean race and other harbour races locally.
Amongst other improvements, a new Blondie Hasler wind vane was installed on Cardinal Vertue, as well as making the final preparations and provisioning for the long haul down to the Horn before the southern hemisphere winter set in. All these distractions occupied most of 1964 but departure was made toward Cape Horn just as the southern hemisphere summer settled in.
Cardinal Vertue being prepared for the Southern Ocean and doubling the Horn.
After obtaining clearance from the New Zealand authorities, Nance quietly sailed out of Auckland on the 1st of December 1964, bound for Cape Horn and toward Buenos Aires in the south Atlantic, to complete his circumnavigation.
The weather remained light and variable until north of the Chatham Islands, a dependency of New Zealand, about 500 miles east of the South Island, NZ. Then he picked up the Westerlies that would hopefully persist for the long haul down to Cape Horn, some 5,000 miles south east.
Weather conditions remained favourable, predominantly downwind, and Cardinal Vertue reeled off the miles averaging about 120 miles per day, a remarkable speed for a 25 footer with a 21’ 6” waterline.
Conditions remained good until December 30th, at 51 degrees S, Cardinal Vertue was running before a full gale. Nance recalled, “Under a bare poles with 30 fathoms of warp and a tyre streamed out astern, a huge wave crashed aboard, breaking off the tiller at the rudder–head and forcing the vessel to lie a-hull.” He continued, “I have no great faith in lying a-hull and probably only survived because the weather eased and by the following day I was able to fit a spare tiller.” The breaking wave over the stern also badly bent the self-steering vane shaft above the upper bearing, leaving it barely functional.
He had to wait several hours for the seas to calm, so the replacement tiller could be retrieved from under the cockpit before repairs could be made. With the tiller replaced, it was back to hand steering until some kind of repair could be made to the self-steering vane, very difficult under the conditions and with the limited resources aboard.
Landfall was made upon sighting Diego Ramirez, a group of islands in Drake Passage, south and 60 miles west of Cape Horn itself. At about 56 degrees south, a weather station had been established on the largest southern island, although it is only resupplied once or twice a year
Having a confirmed position, Cape Horn itself was rounded in daylight on January 7th.1965 in relatively good conditions, with a course change toward the straits of Le Maire. As there is a strong tidal set through the narrow straits, passage has to be made with the tide, but there is an anchorage of sorts on the mainland side that can be used if conditions are unfavourable.
Cape Horn bearing North, about 1 mile. I took this photo from aboard a 45′ Canadian yacht in 2002 when we scuttled down to the Islas Hermite from the Beagle Channel for a day or two, before quickly retreating to Puerto Toro! An utterly different experience to the one endured, single-handed, by Bill aboard the Cardinal Vertue. RR.
Near the Barneveldt islands, SW of the mainland and the straits, the main halyard jammed and Nance had to climb the mast, unassisted, in an effort to free it; this was accomplished hand over hand, without the benefit of a bosuns chair. For those who have ever been up a mast they would know how difficult this would be, not to say without an element of danger!
Not long before Nance thought he’d not make it before the tide turned, but the wind increased enough to ensure safe transit and he made it safely through the narrow channel, thus saving having to find the anchorage or stand off until conditions allowed. The remaining 1400 miles to Buenos Aires remained uneventful and entry to the busy harbour was again made on January 26th 1965, after a very creditable 56 day passage from Auckland thus completing Nance’s and Cardinal Vertue’s successful circumnavigation, believed to be one of the first in such a small vessel, and remaining relatively unacknowledged until recently.
Cardinal Vertue again moved upstream in the River Plate to the yacht club much to the surprise of many who had said farewell to him only 3 years before in 1962. After further minor repairs to Cardinal Vertue, including replacing the bent wind vane shaft, Nance made ready to continue his adventure.
Leaving Buenos Aires once again in May, and making for the Caribbean, Nance worked his way up the island chain through the Bahamas and across to the USA entering in Miami, Florida, in June, with the enticement of a crew position again on Ondine for the Miami to Acapulco race later in the year.
However, romance intervened and the crew position was abandoned, while Cardinal Vertue was prepared for sale. She was sold to a fellow with little interest in her, apart from making a quick profit, so an engine was installed along with other minor improvements before she was sold again. The next owner gradually lost interest and allowed her to slowly deteriorate in the unforgiving Florida climate, and so, sadly, ended the life of a very capable little boat. But at least her memory is perpetuated by all the boats that came after her, having been built to the same basic design.
Bill Nance’s long involvement with sailing has continued throughout his life, right into his retirement in the Pacific Northwest. Now in his mid ‘80s he lives a less adventurous life, close to the water in a very active boatbuilding community, on the shores of Puget Sound.
Here is Bill Nance, second from the right, proudly accepting Australia’s highest award in recognition of his solo circumnavigation. The ceremony, in Seattle, was the result of a 30 year campaign by a small group of sailing enthusiasts to overcome the Australian bureaucratic machine, which had completely failed to understand the significance of his voyage.
THE VERTUE DESIGN DYNASTY PART IV
By the time Eric and Susan Hiscock had returned from their ‘Azores and Back’ cruise in 1950, aboard Wanderer II, their minds were made up. They would sell the boat and build a larger, new one, let out the house, and go ocean cruising, ‘before they got too old’! Returning to Jack Laurent Giles for advice, Eric wrote in his journal that “a design for an enlarged and modified Kalliste had recently been prepared, but not built.” This became the basis for Wanderer III. “We increased her beam by 2″ …… reduced the sheer & increased the freeboard.”
Since their little Wanderer II had been designed alongside Andrillot in the winter of 1934-35, Jack Giles’ design practice had developed and refined this particular type of design solution for serious, heavy displacement cruising yachts. They had also advanced the development and refinement of other wooden yacht features, such as doghouses, and the continuous, stepped, coachroofs of Maid of Malham and Fairlight. Then came the War!
After the War this illustrative drawing of the new ‘Vertue’ design, with doghouse and extended coachroof was used for magazine articles, such as the October 1946 Journal of the Little Ship Club, entitled ‘The Vertue Class Sloops’. This was the club that had awarded Epeneta their Vertue Cup in 1939 for the best cruise of the year. Humphrey Barton tells how he and Jack Giles were trying to think of a name for the class. “I said to Jack “Why not call them the ‘Vertue Class’? He agreed and so it came about”
Barton seems to have been the perfect foil to Jack Giles’ focused attention to the central aspect of the partnership, which was to design yachts. He frequently came up with ideas for raising the profile of the practice, and it will not have escaped their attention that their rivals were not averse to a bit of publicity either. After the end of the War, numerous sailing magazines and books promoted the idea of standard designs for the economic, series production of small craft, such as the Robert Clark designed Yachting World 5 Tonner. Even by 1939 there had already been 48 Zyklon ‘Z’ 4 tonners afloat, 17 Deben Cherubs and a staggering 70 Dan Webb built 2 1/2 ton Blackwater Sloops! Clearly ‘The Partners’ could see the commercial potential for the series production of one of their smallest ‘stock’ designs, and she needed to have a name.
New drawings were produced for Vertue number 12, Kishti in 1946, and by 1948 twenty-eight had been built, most of which had short doghouses. In 1949 the next five Vertues all had short doghouses, as did the new Brittany Class boats and some of the new ‘development’ class of RNSA boats such as Blue Disa, Minx of Malham and Samuel Pepys. By then the design development of ocean racing yachts by the Partnership included the outrageously extreme, light displacement, Myth of Malham and one of her equally controversial successors, Gulvain, with her revolutionary reverse sheerline and ‘Birmabright’ aluminium hull.
So this was the wider context within which the design of Wanderer III was developed by Jack Giles for Eric Hiscock. Whilst there had been enormous advances in both the design and construction of sailing yachts, these had mostly been amongst ocean racing craft, encouraged by men like John Illingworth and Adlard Coles, as well as the Stephens brothers, for instance, on the east coast of the USA. But the ‘Dyarchy influence’ was still great, as was the lingering affection for gaff rig and rationalised ‘pilot cutter’ type; indeed the Commodore of the RCC commissioned an American-designed gaff cutter as the ideal vessel for his retirement, albeit with a hefty ‘auxilliary’ motor to get him to windward in a sloppy sea and light winds.
As we have seen in earlier editions of these short articles about the development of this particular Giles design series, the type could be said to have reached some kind of conclusion with the creation of the magnificent Dyarchy. Here, surely, the refined development of the pilot cutter type reached its climax. Well, to some extent, perhaps it had. But amidst the sense of enthusiastic re-awakening of creative thought that saw so much design progress in these immediately post-war years, old ideas were revisited and new questions were being asked, and answered.
In the autumn of 1949 Humphrey Barton, ever the adventurer, took a deep breath and committed himself to crossing the Atlantic aboard a new Vertue, in order to join Gulvain as sailing master for the 1950 Bermuda Race, to be followed by an ocean race back across the Atlantic. The story is too well known to repeat here, but on his return he wrote about the passage of Vertue xxxv (35), and described a new ‘Round the World Cruiser’ that Jack Giles had recently designed “for an enthusiast”. This design is reproduced in some detail in the book and was subsequently used for the first ‘Ocean Vertue’, Speedwell of Hong Kong, also built in 1952 by the Wing on Shing shipyard in Kowloon. She turned out to be the first of around a dozen similar sister-ships which were all built with this characteristic, ‘stepped’ coachroof. They were also given a little more freeboard to allow for the extra weight of stores, water and fuel that would need to be carried for longer offshore passages.
The ‘enthusiast’s’ proposed Vertue ‘for extended ocean cruising’
While Vertue XXXV, (and several other British boats) were battling severe gales to reach Bermuda on their way to the start of the race in Newport, Eric and Susan Hiscock were completing their cruise to the Azores and had discovered that they did indeed like ‘blue water’ cruising.
Eric Hiscock’s annotated copy of the Yachting World ‘Design Supplement’ feature of their new boat Wanderer III
Whilst Wanderer III’s design was clearly developed from that of the 1937 Kalliste, or more correctly, her successor on paper, a number of other design features had been introduced by the Practice. For example, Kalliste’s interrupted coachroof, like the early Vertues, was replaced by this carefully proportioned ‘stepped’ structure, akin to those of Fairlight and Maid of Malham. This carefully proportioned breaking up of the visually prominent line of a continuous coachroof was typical of Jack Giles’ outstanding design ability.
Another iconic design feature, which was becoming a Giles trademark, was the thickened sheerstrake which wonderfully accentuated the sheerline, and was terminated for’d and aft by carefully proported ‘knightheads’ and quarter badges. The visual importance of these small but telling details can be judged, when they are omitted, simply by looking at the Cheoy Lee built Vertues. Those chinese boat builders ‘rationalised’ the forward termination of this sheerstrake band by simply running it out, presumably unaware of the historical aesthetic link back to the working boat lineage of the type: perhaps, being Chinese, they also saw a cheaper way of finishing the job! The visual sense of robustness is quite diminished by this ommission. It is interesting to ponder on the distinctly different visual impression made by the two Vertues built without this feature, Sally II and Karesta Ferida. To my eye they are beautiful, Giles 5 ton cruising yachts, built to the same lines as Andrillot, but perhaps more akin to the daintiness of the earlier yachts Etain and Isabella than perhaps that of Roger Pinkney’s, old transom-sterned, converted pilot cutter working boat. Indeed Sally II’s first owner’s previous boat, Sally, had been a Lymington L class, like Isabella, so it is hardly surprising that he might have preferred his new boat to be more yacht-like, rather than overtly referencing her working boat origins. It is therefore unsurprising that his unhappy ownership of Sally II was fittingly followed by that of one of the daintiest of all small yachts, one of Knud Reimers masterpieces, a Tumlare called Jilly the Queen, aboard which he enjoyed sailing for a further 45 years!
There can be no doubt that Eric Hiscock will have had some pretty firm ideas about what he wanted in the new design. She was to be easy to handle by only Susan his wife, and himself, and be steady in a seaway. She must be strong enough to withstand any weather, and weatherly enough to sail herself off a lee shore in a gale of wind. It will be noticed that her stern post rake, at 22.5 degrees, is more upright than most other members of this particular design development family. It is the same as Peter Duck, actually, whilst that of Kalliste, at only 20 degrees is even more like a Falmouth Quay punt in profile, but without the keel drag. Wanderer II had 30 degrees rake, Andrillot 27 degrees, but Eric asked for it to be more upright in an effort to make her more likely to self-steer more readily. He later thought that it hadn’t made much difference to her directional stability.
Douglas Phillips-Birt remarked on the amazing improvement in the efficiency of the post-war rigging arrangement of boats like this compared with those of the 1930’s. This well stayed, masthead sloop rig with it’s Giles, signature inner forestay and runners, in addition to her ‘preventer’ backstay and two pairs of spreaders, resulted in a stiff mast and a sail plan that was shared with the Vertues and several other designs. Giles had been using this system since Isabella in the early 1930’s. Unfortunately there have been those who, misunderstanding it’s operation, crudely and eroneously calling it a ‘slutter’ rig, which rather demonstated their own ignorance, as the two heads’ls were never meant to be set at once, as in a cutter. They are simply too close together to be able to draw properly. It is an unfortunate term in my view, and I avoid using it.
Eric Hiscock wrote in “Cruising Under Sail” that “The best position for the dinghy is capsized amidships” and this is where it is to this day. Before the age of the ubiquitous ‘inflateable’, an English yacht’s tender was usually a 7-8 foot, clinker-built pram, but Wanderer III’s first dinghy was actually an aluminium version of the type, supplied by Viking Marine. This emminently sensible approach solved the perenial problem of timber dinghies drying out in tropical sunshine when carried in such a position. It also showed that her owners were far from slavishly traditional in their thinking. This solution to the dinghy stowage problem was also successfully achieved aboard the Ocean Vertues, but those with doghouses had to revert to the less satisfactory alternative of stowing the dinghy on the foredeck. The early, mainly pre-war boats with their short, low coachroofs, never had this problem.
Following her first circumnavigation, Eric wrote “In most respects she is an orthodox British yacht; we would however have preferred greater beam and a short, sawn-off counter, but could afford neither.” Elsewhere, though, he was fond of extolling the virtues of transom-sterned boats which included the ability to easily access the very simple mechanics involved, and the ease with which such a rudder and its hangings can be maintained and repaired.
I was eight when I first saw Wanderer III sitting in the pool at Olympia as the prize exhibit in the London Boat Show in January 1956. She had just completed her first circumnavigation and when we returned home to Yorkshire afterwards I set about carving a small model of her hull out of an old piece of close grained yellow pine. She has been my favourite boat ever since, and when she appeared again at the London Boat show after her second circumnavigation I had an even greater interest in her. For not far away my father’s beautiful new, Cheoy Lee built Vertue, Hoitak, was on display, her varnished teak topsides gleaming in the bright lights. Eric came aboard and kindly admired the beautiful timber with which she was built, and he and my father discussed the attractions of the West Country rivers, where she was to be kept.
It wasn’t until 2004 that I was priviledged to actually spend a night aboard Wanderer III, anchored in Stewart Island off New Zealand, having met up with Thies and Kicki Matzen. They have owned her now for longer than the Hiscocks and have achieved high latitude adventures with her that would have made Eric’s white hair stand on end! I would like to say how very grateful I am to Thies for allowing me to use some of his stupendous photographs of the boat here. You can easily tell which are his. Unlike mine, they are all in focus, beautifully lit and perfectly exposed!
Wanderer III has the cosiest saloon imaginable.
Wanderer III anchored near the Ocean Vertue Marian Grace in Stewart Island in the 1990’s. This picture was kindly sent to me by Ray King-Turner who had spent years building his lovely boat.
Kicki Matzen standing between the spacious galley and chart table area aboard Wanderer III.
After her first circumnavigation with Eric and Susan Hiscock, Eric wrote a critical but dispassionate article about Wanderer III. He admitted that although he had insisted on a minimum overall length of 30 feet, he couldn’t afford the extra money to provide her with sufficient beam to alleviate her tendency to roll tiringly when running downwind in the Trades. He also explained that he would have preferred a Giles, ‘sawn-off’ counter stern if funds had permitted. But, rather surprisingly, he also stated that at that time neither he nor Susan were fully committed to the ‘modern’ bermudan rig, and that their ‘dream’ ship would be rigged as a gaff cutter. Perhaps the article was more a piece of controversial journalism than a statement of intent, for within two years they had set of again with Wanderer III on her second circumnavigation! In later years, despite having two more boats built, neither of them were gaff-rigged, but they often, afterwards, described Wanderer III as the favourite of all their boats!
Eric and Susan Hiscock sold Wanderer III in 1967 and within a few years she had completed a third, undramatic, circumnavigation under the expert ownership of Gisheler Ahlers and his partner Chantel.
Wanderer III on a breezy day in New Zealand.
Wanderer sailing fast down the east coast of South Georgia with Kicki keeping warm in the main hatch.
Although this little story is supposed to be about the design of Wanderer III, that could be seen to be a rather dry subject, so my little personal asides are included for some light relief.
So the next time I went aboard my favourite boat was in Ocean Harbour, on the east coast of South Georgia, not far from the island’s ‘capital’, Grytviken, and more recently I have been able to meet up with Thies & Kicki aboard her in Port Stanley, in the Falklands. From all these locations it can be seen that Wanderer III’s second, ‘high latitude’ life has been something of a contrast to her first life with Eric and Susan Hiscock. I am sorry not to have the space to write more about the multiplicity of outstanding passages and voyages that Wanderer has made and continues to make with her main three inspiring sets of owners so far.
Wanderer III lying to at least two anchors in Ocean Harbour, South Georgia. Beyond her is the romantic looking wreck of the barque Bayard.
Thies and Kicki at home aboard their ‘magic carpet’.
Thies Matzen has written eloquently about his devotion to Wanderer III over his past forty years of ownership. He explains how the boat may not be ‘perfect’ but she is small and beautiful and has provided him and Kicki with a kind of magic carpet to explore and experience some very special places in this wonderful world. She has character and ‘small imperfections’ but her size and simplicity, and her wonderful ability as a seaboat are legendary. She has been ‘stranded’ twice in her life, dismasted once, but that isn’t bad in a total of five circumnavigations, and over 300,000 offshore miles! Meanwhile Thies has completed two major, deep, refits to keep her strong; she can work her way offshore in 40 knots of wind; is small enough to wriggle her way into all manner of havens the world over; and she is their home.
This is the reality of high latitude cruising in sub-Antarctic regions: plenty of fenders! Here is Wanderer III alongside one of the neglected wooden wharves in Grytviken, South Georgia in 2012 on a warm, calm, sunny day.
………and here is Wanderer heeling to an 80 knot gust!
Despite the age of Wanderer III there have been very few changes in her appearance or equipment. She started with a 4 hp petrol Stuart Turner ‘auxilliary’ engine which was little more than a generator. For her second circumnavigation this was replaced by a twin cylinder, 8 hp version of the same engine. Later on she had a 10 hp diesel fitted and she now has a 16 hp Volvo diesel. Perhaps the Hiscock’s greatest modification, after two circumnavigations, was to ask Blondie Hasler to design and fit one of his earliest wind-vane, trim-tab, self-steering ‘contraptions’ for her. They were ecstatic with it’s magical performance. Another modification, of which they heartily approved, was Thies’ installation of a wood-burning stove, which, together with the insulated deckhead, makes life aboard in high latitudes less spartan. Another minor, more recent addition on deck is the wind generator aft. But one idiosyncratic feature that makes Wanderer III stand out in any anchorage, and which makes her instantly recognizeable, is the unique stowage of her permanently topped-up running stays’l booms, firmly secured to the lower spreaders.
Wanderer III in her ‘high latitude’ cruising trim, a decade ago. But only when ‘day sailing’ will she be seen with her dinghy stowed thus on the coachroof, providing a convenient stowage place for sails, warps and fenders.
Mea‘s SLOWNET Challenge
Matteo Richiardi, August 2023
2023 marked the 50th edition of the legendary Fastnet race.
At 25’, my little Laurent Giles Vertue Mea was too small to enter the official race, and the RORC made clear that they would not consider an exception, differently from what the RWYC did in 2022 with the Round Britain and Ireland race.
From their point of view, I see why they wouldn’t want slower boats, and from my point of view … well… that left me with one option only: doing it anyway, unofficially, Vertue style.
I have called this the “Slownet” – my personal challenge to no one else than myself. I have therefore sailed it single-handed.
I meant this as a tribute to small boat sailing and to the Vertue tradition of long passages, with the hope to establish a new challenge for other Vertues to follow in the years to come.
The course I chose was the same as in the original (pre-2021) Fastnet race – about 600 miles long – but sailed in reverse order, to mark its unofficial nature: Plymouth, Isles of Scilly to starboard, Fastnet rock to starboard, Isles of Scilly to starboard, Cowes.
The start was set for Thursday 20 July 2023 between the Break Water Fort and Redding Point, Plymouth Sound. This was a couple of days before the start of the official 2023 Fastnet race (22 July) on the new course Cowes-Fastnet-Cherbourg, in order to sail in roughly the same conditions and hopefully cross paths with part of the fleet (in the end, we saw only three Fastnet competitors).
I set sail from Mea’s home port on the Orwell, Suffolk, on Thursday 13 July. My first port of call was Portsmouth, when I arrived two days later, just a few hours before a westerly gale. The second leg was a warm-up challenge. I had a mate on board, Mick, and we agreed not to use the engine between Cowes and Plymouth. We arrived in Plymouth on the evening of Wednesday 19 July, after three days of battling against the spring tides and westerly winds.
The next day, Thursday 20 July at 12:00 noon, I started the Slownet challenge, single-handed.
Friday 21 July, 00:40am. We have finally passed the Lizard and ventured into the Atlantic. A gentle force 3 wind from the NW has been blowing benignly since 5pm, pushing us on a WSW course “in comfort and speed”. What a treat, after all those headwinds! The wind is forecasted to last a few more hours, before slowly turn to the SW and increasing. On Saturday, the day of the official start of the Fastnet race, it will blow half a gale.
Saturday 22 July. The half-gale came at night, a steady Force 7 sometimes venturing into Force 8, I reckon. I spent the whole of yesterday on a SSW tack with the “old” NW wind, in order to position myself better for this SW blow. With a course to the Fastnet of 320°, I had the wind on a beam reach to port, and with 2 reefs in the mainsail and the staysail #1 on the inner forestay (Mea is a so-called slutter-rigged, a cross-bread between a sloop and a cutter), Mea was finally making good, although wet, progress. Indeed, it rained all night (I should say all might). Plus, waves kept growing as the gale progressed, often crashing on deck and in the cockpit. Then, in the afternoon, two things happened: the wind dropped, well ahead of what my last forecasts predicted, and veered to the right, meaning that I am not able to maintain a steady course towards the rock anymore. I am pointing somewhere on the Irish coast about 30 miles to the north-west of the Fastnet, and also going very slow, with little wind and by comparison huge sea… I ask loud, “Can I please have my other half of the gale?”
Sunday 23 July. At 09:30 in the morning, with the wind starting to peter out, I spotted the first boat of the official Fastnet, sailing back after having rounded the rock. Unbelievable! They left Saturday morning with a SW near-gale on the nose, and on Sunday morning they were already rounding: what sort of monster is this, capable of doing 350 miles on one day, against strong headwinds? I’ll never know. I called them on the VHF using both my radios, but they were not listening.
At 09:50 I spotted the Irish coastline, low on the horizon. Finally, at 11:10 I saw the Fastnet rock, with its iconic white lighthouse.
At 13:30 I started rounding it, in very light conditions. Two things stroke me. First, the thunderous sound of the waves crashing on the rock, even in fair weather, which can be heard for miles around. And second, the strong smell of rotten fish, which hit me as I was passing downwind. This is what the photos won’t tell you: the Fastnet stinks!
The new weather forecasts – the advantage of landfalls! – point to a weak south-westerly for the rest of the afternoon, almost unsailable with the strong swell left from the gale. In the evening a north-westerly should set and quickly reach Force 5. What a treat: all downhill, at least to the Scillies! So the current calm doesn’t bother me at all. Indeed, the sun and lack of wind provide a perfect opportunity for some housekeeping chores: drying oilskins, cleaning the cabin of all the saltwater, washing pillow covers and rags, showering and changing to dry, fresh clothes.
Monday 24 July. What an exciting, fast ride downwind from the Fastnet to the Scillies, with a Force 5 north-westerly, gradually building up some sea. I proceeded with two reefs in the mainsail and partially furled genoa, gradually putting more sail up as conditions got milder. We ended up becalmed between the Scillies and Land’s End.
Tuesday 25 July. Gentle winds from the west allowed me to fly the spinnaker for hours on end. For the night I changed the spinnaker with the genoa for my own peace of mind. It was a starred, bright and mild night, and dolphins were swarming around the boat. I could hear them breathing before guessing their shapes in the dark: it was a continuous “swuusssh” coming from all over the places. I hoped to be able to hear their voice from inside the hull, as it happened last year at the Round Britain and Ireland race, but this time was not to be the case.
Wednesday 26 July. The spi was up first thing in the morning (after breakfast), but this time in very light wind, and with some south in it. In the afternoon, I was finally approaching the entrance of the Solent. The sky wasn’t welcoming: a thick layer of grey, uniform clouds had been building on the horizon, and was now overcoming us. A depression from the south-west was approaching. I wasn’t sure though whether it would hit us before we entered the Solent, or later, possibly after we crossed the finish line off Cowes. I also wasn’t sure how to handle the boat in those circumstances. With the Needles channel and its strong currents, overfalls, sandbanks, rocks and wrecks dead downwind against a lee shore, I wanted to retain some ability to escape to windward if anything went wrong. This ruled out the “easy” option of sailing the jib only. On the other hand, Mea quite likes to be sailed downwind under mainsail only, duly squared. This way, the sail never flaps, there is no chafing, and the sail area exposed to the wind remains constant, being the mainsail fully stretched out by the boom. Going to windward is then a simple matter of lashing the tiller to leeward. From there, I could unfurl a bit of jib and be fully ready to sail away to safety no matter where the danger came from. That seemed to me a better option. On the downside, the heavy weight of the wooden boom accentuates rolling. I didn’t fully anticipate how big this problem was going to be on a near-gale against tide in a notorious overfall area.
By the time I made up my plan, the wind was still very moderate, but in anticipation I took one reef. And to be safe, I took a second reef as well. With hindsight, I should have taken three reefs, or lowered the mainsail altogether and go for the Caribbean option instead, forgetting about escape routes.
From there, conditions deteriorated quite rapidly. With a lot of pressure on the reefed mainsail, the last thing that I wanted was to have to repeatedly gybe, or even worse to gybe inadvertently, preventer notwithstanding, so sailing a straight line was essential. Easier said than done with breakers coming from astern. I managed, but I felt very relieved when it was all over. Once in the Solent, under the lee of the Isle of White, things got much simpler.
Thursday 27 July 2023, 00:05am. I cross the finish line between the Price Consort buoy and the Royal Yacht Squadron flagpole, therefore taking 6 days, 12 hours and 5 minutes to complete the challenge.
To put things in perspective, the winner of the first edition of the Fastnet in 1925, the pilot cutter Jolie Brise, took an elapsed time of 6 days, 14 hours and 45 minutes.
Little Mea therefore stopped the clock a couple of hours before than the 56 feet, fully crewed Jolie Brise, although of course sailing in reverse order might have helped.
Jolie Brise was 12 years old at the time, Mea is 64 this year.
In the meantime, news started to arrive from the official race. Out of 430 entrants, more than 100 decided either not to start, or to retire, some suffering significant damage and requiring rescue. One boat sank. The press reported our half-gale as “brutal conditions”. Maybe we did in fact experienced different conditions (looking back at the weather maps, this seems not to be the case). Or maybe not having wind instruments allows my optimistic nature to prevail. In any case, I think we coped pretty well.
I had no time to celebrate. The half-gale from the south-west was quickly gaining momentum, and I still had to get myself out of the Solent and sail back to the Orwell.
A long and uncomfortable night – some might have called it “brutal”- was awaiting me…
(Read more at https://measailing.wordpress.com/slownet-2023).
THREE VERTUE REFITS
Earlier in the summer I made a flying visit to catch up with three Vertues and their owners who are in the midst of what might be called ‘deep refits’. I’m sorry the notes that follow are very brief and I hope to be able to report on the boats’ continuing progress in greater detail in the future. My first port of call was especially poignant to me as it was to find Kandy, because I had owned her in Salcombe for several years in the 1990’s.
Here is the full picture of Kandy, taken sailing off Bolt Head, south Devon, when I owned her. She is usually only seen in part, as the header on our front page.
Her present owner, Nick Waite, has been updating me from time to time about his carefull restoration of the boat which used to be owned by his parents, and aboard which he proudly claims to have been concieved! He is making a wonderful job of her refit.
Nick Waite climbing aboard his beloved Kandy in her deep refit barn.
The huge shed in which Kandy now resides is hidden behind Forde Abbey, deep in the Somerset countryside, and Nick is painstakingly restoring her to her former glory.
New bronze floors being fitted to keep Kandy strong for another half-century. These are just like the new floors that Thies Matzen had made and fitted to Wanderer III in one of her deep refits.
Driving further east from Somerset into an equally ’empty quarter’ of rural Dorset, I eventually found my next ‘restoration project’, deep in the countryside, somewhere near Blandford Forum. Ice Bird was the first Ocean Vertue to be built in Great Britain, and was launched later in 1952 shortly after Wanderer III. Her latest owner is Tony Holt, who is as tall as I am short, and I found him to be in the middle of an amazing piece of technical shipwrighting. Ice Bird is clearly one of the most important Ocean Vertues in existence, being still cutter rigged and with her hull and deck structures intact. She is so closely related to Wanderer III in concept and it is a pleasure to be able to report on her wonderful new lease of life.
Tony Holt in front of some of the exquisite new work he is doing to restore Ice Bird’s after deadwood and stern-post structure: most of which will remain hidden from view when he is finished!
Tony has stripped out Ice Bird’s after structure for renewal, without disturbing the planking, which looks to me like a remarkable piece of workmanship.
Icebird being refitted in Northern Ireland before her celebrated cruise to Iceland in 1967. She seems to have been built with slightly more tumblehome in her after topsides than many of her sister ships.
We look forward to reporting on Tony’s progress with Icebird in future Newsletters.
Grace was found yet further east again, in another huge barn near Lymington, which at the time of my visit she was sharing with an immaculate-looking Lymington L. She is one of that series of long-cockpit Vertues built by Newmans in Poole. Launched in 1947 she has had a rather checquered recent history but is now very lucky to have fallen into Juan-Pablo’s expert hands.
Juan-Pablo Olaberria is working with a friend to fully restore Grace in a very sympathetic way.
This new joinery work shows the orginality and care that is being taken to rebuild the interior.
I am hoping to report further on all these wonderful restorations, for they will ensure the future of three fine Vertues. Please see all their dedicated ‘pages’, which can be found under the ‘Boats’ tab, for further details and old photographs of them taken when they were all in commission.
One final bit of Vertual News is that I have recently been kindly sent an email from Melbourne about the third grp Vertue hull that was shipped out there to be completed locally in 1980. Geoff Klestadt tells me that his father had the boat from new and that she has remained in the family every since. He’s just sprucing up the brightwork for the coming summer, so I’m hoping to be able to share some photos of her in a future Newsletter!
I hope you have both enjoyed another Newsletter about our staunch little boats, and their famous cousin. I’m very grateful to Paul Zeusche, Bill and Marie Nance for their words about Bill’s incredible circumnavigation: to Matteo Richiardi for the report about his latest adventure with Mea: and to the three brave restorers, Nick, Tony and Juan-Pablo for showing me their boats, Kandy, Ice Bird and Grace undergoing surgery. Autumn is here now and I hope to prepare some more words and pictures in time for Christmas……but I can’t do this unless you keep me posted with more Vertual News……..so, please keep it coming!
Good sailing/dreaming and fair winds.