Volvo Legends: Great Britain II - Her builder's story

Great Britain II leaving Auckland in the 1977-78 Whitbread, which she was again first around the World

The ketch rigged Great Britain II was the first boat to finish in the first Whitbread Round the World Race which started in September 1973.

Derek Kelsall was the builder of the 78ft maxi designed by Alan Gurney and skippered by Chay Blyth writes to give his perspective of how the foam sandwich ketch was constructed. She went on to compete in five round the world races:

Prior to GB 11, I had designed and built the first foam sandwich yacht of note, trimaran Toria, which won us the 1966 2000 mile Round Britain Race and along with a number of other multihull winners, I built the Robert Clark design mono Sir Thomas Lipton, the winner of OSTAR 68. Chay Blyth chose a near sister ship, British Steel, for his solo around the World.

Chay had found a sponsor for his mount for the first Whitbread yacht and approached me to discuss building the 78 ft Alan Gurney design in foam/fiberglass sandwich. No problem. STL was the biggest sailing yacht in fiberglass at that time and another jump in size to 78ft. was the kind of challenge I enjoyed.

The late Rob James at the helm of Great Britain II at the start of the Auckland leg if the 1977-78 Whitbread Race

I was designing only at the time and I would be happy to be consultant on this prestige project. We would find a suitable established builder. We talked to several, but none came forward or were in a position to launch by May of the next year, which was the date set for Princess Anne to crack the champagne bottle.

The time came, when I said to myself and then to Chay, if this boat is going to get built, someone had better start building.

To cut a long story short, I put my hand up. A week later I had employed a model yacht builder and found an old sail loft in Sandwich, Kent, in which to loft the frames. Lots of hurdles were climbed during the next six months. There were still some jobs to do when GB 11 trundled down the old fashioned slipway in Ramsgate but she got to the water on schedule.

The most remarkable part of this story is not that we achieved in six months what most such projects take 2-3 times as long, but that the crew, which built up to 32,working in three shifts around the clock at launch time, had all learnt their boat building on the job. Half of these men where the sailing crew of Royal Marines. What a fantastic group they were to work with. The motivation was to ensure their place when the boat sailed. There can be no better testament to the dedication of the crew than the boat and its history since. Of course, having helped build the boat, most of the crew then had to learn to sail.

Volvo Ocean Race Legends Regatta: Great Britain II. (Credit must read: IAN ROMAN/Volvo Ocean Race)

One question I do wonder ? Is there a more travelled yacht ever?

About fifteen years ago I was talking to Alan Toone, one of the original crew who has skippered and followed the progress of GB 11 on its various projects since. He counted to 50 Atlantic crossings and 6 or more times around the World. I have met dozens of those crews. There was one common factor; the confidence they all had in GB 11. With 17 tons of lead ballast, she was no light weight racer by today's standards but a great boat for her time and for the event.

At that time GB 11 seemed to have been sailing almost continuously. I would love to get in touch with the present owner or crew and learn her story since.

Today I have an active design company in NZ where we continue to specialize in refining foam sandwich build methods (KSS) and design catamarans of all kinds, with clients in 20 countries around the World. GB 11 is testament to the efficiency and durability of the materials and the Kelsall methods.

Amazingly, we continue to find refinements to our KSS building technique for these exceptionally versatile and effective materials for composite boat building. The materials have changed little. The handling methods are now very much more build time efficient.

Derek Kelsall, FRINA.
www.kelsall.com

For the Volvo Legnds story on Great Britain II http://www.volvooceanrace.com/en/Legends-Great-Britain-II/2979/news.html!click_here

Volvo Ocean Race Legends Regatta Prizegiving: Great Britain II. (Credit must read: IAN ROMAN/Volvo Ocean Race)