Speedwell is one of Drumler’s Cheoy Lee sisters, built in Hong Kong in 1952.

Speedwell of Hong Kong as Peter Hamilton knew her..

Speedwell of Hong Kong as Peter Hamilton knew her..

She qualifies as a famous Vertue for two reasons: first of all, she achieved early fame when Peter Hamilton (author of The Restless Wind), sailed her from Singapore to England in 1953.  He then sold her before buying Salmo and sailing her to Canada and the Pacific through the Panama Canal.

The second reason is for her new lease of life under skipper, Shirley Carter, who has written an excellent blog at www.speedwelladventures.com.

After Peter sold her, Speedwell ended up in South Africa, bought by Justice L de Vivan Winsen, a South African Judge, and kept at Saldanha Bay Yacht Club on the West Coast, a bit the worse for wear and tear.    Shirley Carter bought her in December 1998, and set about restoring her. This included:  Covering the decks and coachroof with fibreglass and epoxy to keep the rain out, as well as “replacing the keelbolts, all standing rigging, new self-tailing sheet winches, installing an anchor windlass, a new forward hatch, cleaning and painting the bilges, removing the heads and doing away with all unnecessary seacocks and holes in the hull.

She replaced all the wiring and installed new batteries. The engine was refurbished and a new prop shaft fitted.  Se hopted to keep the galley very simple with a plastic basin instead of a sink which she empties over the side.  The cooker is a single burner primus stove sunk into the counter on a gimballed ring.  Finally a new coat of paint and varnished cabin sides and she was looking very smart”.

More controversially, she was given a fibreglass coating to her hull:  “During the crossing from Cape Town to Brazil in 2002 I found that she was leaking rather badly and needed recalking and refastening to improve the situation. Not having the necessary skills to do this myself, or the money to pay someone else to do it, I opted to sheath the entire hull in fibreglass and epoxy. This has proved to be completely successful (much to the tradionalists’ disgust)” and also had a new engine fitted,  before being painted bright yellow with a brown sheerstrake which, combined with her Yellow Junk sail, makes her pretty distinctive – in fact, one of only two junk rig Vertues that I am aware of (the other is owned by Vincent Reddish) and probably also the only yellow Vertue too.

Speedwell with her Junk Rig

Speedwell with her Junk Rig

This does, however, put Speedwell in the distinguished company of Blondie Hasler’s Jester, which was a junk rigged folk boat, which he sailed singlehanded across the Atlantic to finish second in the first OSTAR race. Junk rigs are apparently far simpler to sail than sloops, as they can easily be reefed down using the batons sown into the sail, making sail changes unnecessary – which obviously makes life easier if you are sailing single handed. According to David Lewis, it also made Blondie far quicker in the race as he didn’t have to keep slowing down to change or reef sails.

Shirley describes the conversion process to Junk Rig in her excellent blog, here.

She has been sailing Speedwell singlehanded (accompanied by Sinbad the cat) since 2002, mainly in the North and South Atlantic. Speedwell is currently (as of May 2014), in Port Antonio, Jamaica en route to Nova Scotia from Guatamala.

She says in her blog that, before she set off on her 12 year odyssey, she had only ever day sailed off the coast of South Africa! So maybe my pipe dream of sailing the Atlantic within 5 years is achievable after all..