Sheila II: the boat and the book



The Albert Strange yawl Sheila II is famous for her title role in Adrian Hayter’s book Sheila in the Wind (Hodder and Stoughton, 1959), but while the book has recently enjoyed a major refit courtesy of Lodestar Books, the boat remains in dire need of repair.

Sheila II was built by Dickie of Tarbert, Scotland in 1911 and is for sale in New Zealand. Richard Wynne of Lodestar Books says the Albert Strange Association is watching closely, hoping the book’s revival will inspire a buyer to restore Sheila II.

“Her design was commissioned from Albert Strange by artist Robert Groves around 1908 following his original Sheila launched in 1905,” he says. “Groves has left some very evocative sketches of both boats under sail. Given a free rein by the client, Strange would always favour performance over accommodation, believing it to be an important safety feature; this resulted in some of his most beautifully proportioned designs, of which Sheila II, some would argue, is the finest.”

Sheila II is 31ft 6in on the waterline, 8ft 6in beam and 5ft 10in draft. She displaces 6.2 tons. She originally set a roller furling jib, a gaff mainsail with a yard topsail over and a gaff mizzen sheeted to a bumkin. The hull was built of full-length pitch pine planking on oak frames on the rigid base of a long cast-iron ballast keel.

Adrian Hayter, a New Zealander, had virtually no sailing experience when he purchased Sheila II in 1949. In the previous decade, he had fought as a British officer with a Gurkha regiment in the Second World War, earning the Military Cross; witnessed the Partition of India and been actively involved in the Malayan Emergency.

But the war left him conflicted. To make sense of it all, he sought solitude on the open sea. He left from Lymington, UK on 12 August 1950 and sailed via India against prevailing winds. Sheila in the Wind recounts his foray into celestial navigation – at one point, due to a basic error, he was lost mid-ocean until he realised he could smell sulphur. He remembered reading that Mt Etna was in eruption, so he took a bearing on the wind and transferred that bearing on the chart through Mt Etna. A sun sight later allowed him to plot his position.

He nearly succumbed to infection following a back-street appendix operation in India and his army training came in useful during armed escort by Indonesian authorities at sea.

He developed from novice to instinctive sailor, but barely made Australia. Sheila II was leaking badly and encrusted with barnacles. With progress slow, Hayter ran out of food and water; he ate the barnacles and distilled sea water in a homemade condenser.

Even his arrival at Westport, New Zealand in 1956 was a do-or-die surge through breaking seas as he became the first person to sail solo from UK to New Zealand.

In 1961-2, Hayter sailed from England to New Zealand via the Panama Canal in Valkyr, a Folkboat, 19ft on the waterline. Royal Akarana Yacht Club, NZ recognised the solo circumnavigation with its Blue Water Medal.

Hayter sold Sheila II in the 1950s and was briefly reunited with her in 1970 for a television documentary about his voyage, “Isn’t it Terribly Lonely?”. Around 1973, Peter Nelson of Auckland bought Sheila II and sailed her in the 1977 inaugural Two-Handed Round North Island Race. In 1983, Sheila broke her moorings off Devonport Yacht Club and suffered extensive damage. Two owners later and still in disrepair, she was bought by Russ Rimmington who kept Sheila II from further deterioration but other projects intervened and he is looking for a buyer to undertake her restoration.

The major work includes removing the keel, treating its rust and refitting it. Most frames and some planks in the hull and deck need replacement. The cockpit is not original and needs replacement. The interior has been gutted and would need a total replacement; some photos of Sheila II’s original interior exist. She would need a new engine, recaulking of hull and decks, and a repaint.

Most of the original main and mizzen masts, gaffs, booms and wooden blocks survive but she would need new rigging.

In Sheila in the Wind, Hayter’s writing straddles the physical voyage and the spiritual adventure; some descriptions of the ocean forces are so compelling the reader clings to their armchair. Those elements have made Sheila in the Wind a classic, worthy of being republished more than 60 years after it was written, in the 30th anniversary year of Hayter’s death from cancer.

Wynne says the Albert Strange Association has always valued Sheila II and feels a sense of frustration at her long years out of the water. “Reissuing Sheila in the Wind brings a remarkable sailing adventure, a deeply human story, and a beautiful classic yacht design back to the world's attention,” he says.

If interested in purchasing Sheila II, please contact Russ Rimmington in New Zealand, email huntingdonfarm@xtra.co.nz


Rebecca Hayter is Adrian Hayter’s youngest daughter.


Caption

Sheila II in her current state in Russ Rimmington’s shed. Photo by Mike Hughes.


This story was first published in Classic Boat magazine, UK, February 2021











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