Friday, February 6, 2015


Humphrey Barton's 'Vertue XXXV'

Well shipmates here is a little yacht with a remarkable pedigree and history. To date over 200 of these little boats have been built. The voyages these little yachts have made are the stuff of legend. She was designed by Laurent Giles, one of the great English yacht designers of the 20th century in the 1930s.

The yacht in the above photograph is Vertue XXXV. This design was popularised in 1950 when she burst on the yachting scene in a dramatic crossing of the Atlantic Ocean by her skipper Humphrey Barton and Kevin O'Riordan his affable Irishman crew surviving the battering of a category 4 hurricane along the way. It was thought at the time that such a voyage in such a small boat was very daring stuff indeed; but over the years the Vertue  (Not spelled Virtue) was to repeat these dramatic adventures time and time again.

Basic dimensions - LOA: 25’ 3” (7.69m),  LWL: 21’ 6” (6.61m),  Beam: 7’ 2” (2.19m),  Draft: 4′ 6″ (1.45m),  Displacement: 4.2 tons - So is smaller than my current little ship 'Mariner', but the displacement is the same - she's a real little pocket battleship.

LOA is yachtie talk for Length Overall - LWL is Length on the waterline.

This (above) is the fiberglass Mark 2 version built in the UK with slightly more beam.

A Vertue built in Corten Steel in The Netherlands. This is one of only 3? 5? that have been built in steel. This one named 'Virtue' (Vertue 61) is a lovely recently restored example.

Two Anecdotes:
By today's standards it is old fashioned with its heavy displacement, cutter rig, small cockpit, narrow beam, and such an anachronism as a bumpkin, but it has its virtues. It will run true as a dart, heave-to like an old duck, work its way to windward in relative comfort when the going gets tough, and sail itself beautifully -- characteristics that few modern 25 footers can boast. One of my most vivid memories of a Vertue is of trying to catch a halyard that had come adrift and was just out of reach. "Here - use this!" said the helmsmen, and handed me the tiller as the boat sailed on.
- Yachting and Boating Weekly

On the wall of the Harbourmaster’s office in Durban, according to Vertue myth, is a notice. ‘In winds over Force 7, no yacht may depart without my authority. Unless she’s a Vertue’
It is the kind of story owners of these modest little Laurent Giles designed 25 footers tend to take with a pinch of salt. Vertues have made pioneering voyages, survived savage storms and written themselves into sailing history. There is no need for myth. The reality is enough. Most extraordinary, perhaps, for a yacht whose wake has criss crossed every ocean, is that she was originally designed in 1936 to do no more than potter about the Solent on the south coast of England, perhaps cruise to the West Country and hop down to the Channel Islands.  - Vertue Web Site.
The Vertue class yachts were among the finest cruising boats of their tonnage ever built. In this design Laurent Giles developed all that was best in the traditional English pilot boat. The result was a really seaworthy small yacht with a performance under sail which could never have been approached by her forebears.

Over 130 Vertues have made long ocean voyages: Humphrey Barton's famous 'uphill' crossing of the Atlantic in Vertue XXXV (1950), Dr. Joe Cunningham's round voyage, England - West Indies - Newfoundland - Ireland in Icebird (1952-3), Peter Hamilton's voyage from Singapore to England in Speedwell of Hong Kong, in Salmo to Quebec, Panama, Tahiti and California; Bill Nances circumnavigation of the world including a Cape Horn rounding and of course in 1960 David Lewis sailed Cardinal Vertue in the single-handed race from Plymouth to New York, and returned in her to Shetland. Several of these little yachts have completed circumnavigations .... the list goes on and on.

"The most perfect small ocean going yacht that has ever been built" - Humphrey Barton's conclusion in his book "Vertue XXXV" on his celebrated crossing of the Atlantic in 1950.

'Tui of Opua', Despite its very New Zealand name resides in Australia. This beautiful wooden example of the Vertue is the cruising version showing the lower cabin top without a doghouse. 

'Speedwell of HongKong' is another cruising version of the Vertue.

'Speedwell of Hongkong' with her current Junk Rig and sporting a flash yellow paint job.

The UK Vertue 'Poppy' (Above) is the new improved version of Vertue XXV. The topsides have been raised about 8 inches and the cabin and doghouse redesigned. Another updated version by Laurent Giles in the 1980s for fiberglass construction had a slightly increased beam measurement to improve the accommodation and a few other minor tweaks.

This little delight called 'Poppy' is an example of what a restored and ready for ocean voyaging Vertue might look like.

NOW!! - 'Here's the thing' shipmates. What if there was a Vertue Class yacht lying close by as I type? What if she was for sale?

What if she needed the TLC of someone with boat building experience, preferably someone who has built a yacht. Someone who has a real heart for sailing. Such a yacht would need not so much a restoration as an enablement - she would need a complete refit to make her worthy of a long ocean voyage - now if such a yacht were available, just where would she find such a man?


Ben said...

Are you looking for a Vertue class restoring project?

Alden Smith said...

Yes I am! And Yes, yes, yes, yes, I know I have another restoration project awaiting attention - But considering the fact that I am determined to live to 110 years old (at the very least) there is time enough for a Botter full of restoration projects.

Alastair O'Riordan said...

O'Riordan not ORiodan - I have a picture of Vertue XXXV in the storm which belonged to him if you would like to add to the post

Alden Smith said...

I would absolutely love to see that photograph and any others that you may like to share. It would truly be an honour to add them to this Vertue Post.

Thank you for pointing out the spelling mistake, I have corrected this on the post.

Humphrey Barton paints a very positive picture of Kevin O'Riordan: An experienced and capable sailor, affable, never complaining and never sea sick. With a less capable crew the outcome during this storm may well have been a disaster.

Looking at your surname, am I correct in assuming that you are a son, grandson or other relative of the great man? Have you carried on the sailing legacy?

As you can see from my postings about Vertues I have a bit of a soft spot for these little yachts, so any photographs you have would be very gratefully received. You can send them as attachments to my email address.

Andy Indrans said...

Hi Alden,

Love the bio's and pics of the Vertues. I'm also a Vertue nut and own Corio Vertue V99 which I have been restoring (with some success, but many failures) and sailing over the past 10 years. See my website for Corio Vertue's story

Alden Smith said...

Hi Andy,

Thank you for your comment. You are the very best type of Vertue nut - one that actually owns one - good for you, there is no cure for my jealously except to buy my own one!

I am very sure I have seen your blog before, and know that I have seen Corio Vertue when doing Vertue Google searches - I will check out your website.

Rupert Reed said...

Hi Aiden,

Did you ever hear back from Alastair O'Riordan? I would be interested to see those photos too! I also thought Kevin came across as a much more pleasant sailing companion than Humphrey Barton; they were built of strong stuff back then. I bought V125 Drumler a few years ago, and have inevitably become a Vertue geek.

Alden Smith said...

Hi Rupert,

No, I never heard back from Alastair O'Riordan, mores the pity as I would love to see any photographs he might have. If I had his email address I would follow up his offer but unfortunately I don't, and he's never subsequently commented on my Blog.

I agree that Kevin O'Riordan comes across as a pleasant, unflappable sailing companion. I think both men were made of strong stuff alright but ably assisted by constitutions that never succumbed to mal de Mer.

I am aware of V125 Drumler as I have seen her on your website which I follow. She is a fine example of a Vertue and her excellent condition is a credit to you.

I would dearly love to purchase a Vertue but I am told by my live in bank manageress that I have to fix the motor on my current yacht and sell her first before any new purchases - marital peace has both its charms and its challenges : > )

If you have any ideas on how to track down Alastair O'Riordan please let me know.

Cheers, from one geek to another - Alden