The Circumnavigators - by Don Holm


- 27 -

The Over-the-Hill Sailor

       I stood and stared at that great hump of land.
       This was it. This was the moment I had
       dreamed about and planned for. I thought of
       all the others who had passed this way. Lone
       sailors as well as those in the great square-rig-
       gers. I was just another one, looking with awed
       respect at this most feared of all capes.(l)
Harbor under mainsail and light genoa, drew near the "starting line"
designated by the Royal Albert Yacht Club at their signal station on
Southsea Front. The boom of the starting gun came across the way
precisely at noon. Lively Ladyu gradually left behind her escort of
yachts. The date was July 16, 1967.
  The man at the helm waved a last farewell to his wife, Dorothy,
who was with friends on an escort vessel. Then he was alone, heading
for the English Channel, with 150 days of solo sailing to the next
landfall on a two-stop circumnavigation of the world via the old
clipper route.
  The man was Alec Rose, a florist by trade, a few days past his fifty-
ninth birthday, tall, lean, and hard, with a prominent high-bridged
nose and soft eyes partly lidded when relaxed, but at an age when
most men are reviewing their financial affairs, preparing for retire-
ment, and looking at condominium advertisements. This one was at

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last completing a boyhood dream of sailing alone around the world in
the manner of old Joshua Slocum.
  By chance, his round-the-world plans were shared by another over-
the-hill yachtsman, Francis Chichester, the flamboyant ex-airplane
driver, real estate promoter, author, map publisher, and public figure.
Neither knew of the other's plans, however, until Chichester, anxious
to attract financial sponsors (and to enhance his own publishing
business) announced his intentions in the usual flamboyant style.
Publicity earned Chichester not only a brand-new yacht, designed
especially for his adventure, but thousands of pounds in cash and
material assistance. For Rose, it only sharpened his anticipation and
caused him to abandon his usual methodical, stolid, and deliberate
preparations in favor of the excitement of a round-the-world race.
  Now, perhaps, because of his haste and carelessness, he was making
his second start, almost a year behind Chichester. All it was now was
a race against the clock to beat Chichester's time.(2) Worse yet, he was
now merely following the sea track of his over-the-hill rival.
  What kind of a man would contemplate a solo circumnavigation 
to say nothing of a race around at fifty-nine?
  Rose was not by nature a competitive or combatant man, unlike
Chichester. He was basically a loner who did not like to be beholden
to anyone, and he had already become deeply committed to his goal
before he became the object of nationwide television and press
attention. He had not sought, and did not want, financial assistance
or commercial sponsorship. He had viewed the voyage first as the
culmination of a lifelong dream, and second as a holiday away from
the pressures of his business. The last thing he had anticipated was,
upon the completion of his trip around, to be heaped with honors,
celebrated internationally, and Knighted by the Queen.
  Born July 13, 1908, at Canterbury, he was the third child of a
family that included one brother and three sisters. His father was an
engineer and trucking contractor, engaged mainly in hauling hops to
brewers and produce to Covent Garden. Traditionally, the Rose
family had been for generations associated with farming and growing
things, with no ties at all to the sea.
  A delicate child, he was so weak when he started school that he
had to be wheeled to class, not able to stand by himself. He gradually
overcame this, however, and his handicap as is often the case 
served to harden his inner determination and teach him how to
handle adversity. Educated at St. Paul's primary school and the

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Simon Langton Grammar School at Canterbury, he took to sports as
he outgrew his childhood disabilities, joining the athletic club, taking
part in long-distance running and rowing on the Avon. He also liked
to read, and spent long hours curled up with adventure and sea
  At sixteen, he left school for an insurance broker's office. By now,
he had acquired a deep interest in the sea and had worked long
months on a three-foot model of a windjammer. He soon learned
that a desk job was not for him. He then tried to ship out on a vessel
at Gravesend. Unsuccessful, he returned home to join his father in
the trucking business, where he learned to overhaul and service
engines and equipment. He took up pigeon racing as a hobby, along
with his father, who was an enthusiast. But racing pigeons to France
and Spain only increased his desire to travel. His brother, Dennis, was
in India with the army on the Northwest Frontier. So, at twenty, he
bought a one-way ticket to Canada, where he worked on a wilderness
farm near Edmonton. It was a hard life, working as a cowhand,
logger, road-builder, and the pay was low; but at age twenty it builds
muscles and helps release pent-up energies.
  Later he returned to England and again worked as a mechanic and
truck driver. At twenty-three, he married, and for six years worked
with his father in the business. His first two children were born in 1932
and 1934. By 1939, the family had a small farm at Littlebourne near
Canterbury, but soon the war broke out and he volunteered for the
Royal Navy. Called up in 1940, he served with the minesweepers out
of the Thames, and later in a convoy escort on the brutal North
Atlantic run. In 1944, he was commissioned and placed in charge of a
fleet of landing craft. He suffered a collapse and was invalided out of
the service in 1945 with the rank of reserve lieutenant. The long,
grueling convoy duty had broken him down.
  By now, his family had grown to four children two boys and two
girls. His nursery business began to prosper, and when he was able to
devote full time to it, he bought a larger one, raising flowers for the
wholesale market. It proved to be a financial failure, however, and he
was forced to sell and try to recoup with a retail fruit business on the
coast at Herne Bay.
  It was during this period that his interest in ships and voyaging
reawakened. He subscribed to all the yachting magazines, bought
books on small craft voyages, joined a yacht club, and purchased a
war surplus German lifeboat and rebuilt it. Rigged as a wishbone
ketch, he named it Neptune's Daughter. It had taken five years to

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complete this project, meanwhile studying celestial navigation with
the help of one of his sons who was a merchant marine officer.
  His marriage of twenty-eight years broke up, and for a while he
lived alone on the yacht, sailing occasionally on the Channel and
North Sea, using Ramsgate as a base. These voyages gradually
lengthened until he was sailing regularly to the Continent. After he
met and married his second wife, Dorothy, she joined him on these
  Together they found a business they wanted, a fruit and flower
shop at Southsea on the coast. For two years, the business kept them 
busy, but in the spring of 1963 Rose got the urge to enter the second
annual Observer Singlehanded Transatlantic Race, which had been
originated by Colonel H. G. (Blondie) Hasler, inventor of the famed
self-steering vane. Rose sold Neptune's Daughter and looked around
for a more suitable boat. He found what he wanted in a sturdy teak
and padouk cutter called Lively Ladyu, which was then lying at
Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight.(3)
  He engaged Captain John Illingworth of Illingworth and Primrose
to draw a new sail plan, shorten the bowsprit, and add a doghouse to
the flush deck. Colonel Hasler himself installed the vane.
  The second transatlantic race started from Plymouth on May 23,
1964, with fourteen boats entered, commanded by some of the most
famous bluewater sailors Eric Tabarly, Val Howells, Chichester,
and Hasler. The race gave Rose the confidence he needed to attempt
greater things and he did not do badly in his first race, either,
coming in fourth. The race had also opened up a new career, that of
writing articles for the yachting magazines and lecturing. In the
winter of 1965-1966, he and Dorothy began to plan his circumnavi-
gation. While they were engaged in this, Francis Chichester an-
nounced his plans to sail around via the old clipper route. Rose 
thought then that they could make a match of it. His son had
married an Australian girl and was living there. It would give him a
chance to visit them and see his two grandchildren for the first time.
  Rose kept his plans to himself, unlike Chichester, but word got
around as it always does, and the yachtsmen and town officials of
Portsmouth heard of it. Their civic pride aroused, they wanted to
sponsor Rose against Chichester in the faster yacht. But Rose did not
want to be sponsored. In the end, he accepted some financial assis-
tance and all of the rousing support of the Portsmouth people.
Before getting out of the harbor, Lively Ladyu was damaged by a series
of accidents, including falling over at the quay on an ebbing tide.

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 Bitterly he postponed his departure until the following year,
hauled out Lively Ladyu for repairs, and returned to his business at
Southsea, commuting back and forth on weekends. The work done,
the yacht launched again, the masts stepped, and the stores back
aboard, finally, after months of delay, Rose cast off the moorings for
the second time.
 Accompanying Rose on his long, arduous voyage around was Algy,
a large stuffed white rabbit which his grandchildren had given him
for the singlehanded race. By now, Algy had become to him what the
pilot of the Pinta was to Slocum.
 His track took him past Ushant, then across the Bay of Biscay to
Cape Finisterre, down between the Azores and Canary Islands, to the
Cape Verdes and almost to Tristan da Cunha before turning east
around the Cape of Good Hope. He was off the Cape on September
14, off St. Paul on November 12, rounded Cape Leeuwin on Decem-
ber 3, and reached Melbourne on January 19, 1968.
 Lively Ladyu proved to be a good seaboat on this passage in the
southern latitudes, but the violent seas at times made life almost
unbearable, especially with his chronic lumbago which gave him great
pain. On shore, lumbago is something to joke about, but on a small
vessel with its constant motion, it is a crippling disability. Rose,
unlike most bluewater sailors, kept his engine in good repair and ran
it at regular intervals to charge batteries. Thus he was able to main-
tain radio contact almost all the way. There were the usual minor
mishaps a small electrical fire, a flaying halyard that struck him in
the eye but he ate well and enjoyed good health.        
 In the southern latitudes, he encountered monstrous seas and at
one point was nearly dismasted. In between storms, he endured the
maddening calms with heavy rolling.
 His welcome at Melbourne was just short of tumultuous. He was
met by his son and daughter-in-law on a yacht from the Royal Yacht
Club, and stepped ashore to be met by a representative of the Gover-
nor General of Australia and the state governor. Messages of con-
gratulation were read to him during the ceremonies. There were
receptions, parades; then, finally, he retreated to his son's home in
Williamstown for a hot meal, a hot bath, and blessed sleep in a real
 While he enjoyed Australia's famous hospitality, repairs were made
to Lively Lady. When it came time to leave again, a large crowd
gathered, along with television cameras, and an escort of vessels. On

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was estimated at more than 250,000. From shoreward came the
roaring of cheers, the sound of sirens and factory horns; in the air
rockets burst.
 Algy came up on deck with Rose to wave a response. On shore,
they were driven to the Guildhall where a civic reception was held,
followed by a press conference. Another crowd was waiting at home.
Meanwhile, the Royal Navy took Lively Lady in charge for safe-
 Later, Alec Rose was dubbed Sir Alec by the Queen, after a
recommendation by Harold Wilson, and the truck driver, cowboy,
logger, ranch hand, florist, mechanic, and sometime yachtsman at-
tained knighthood. He and Lady Rose would dine with the Queen
and Prince Phillip and the family in the Royal Palace. Lively Lady
would go on display as a symbol of the achievement of one low-born,
over-the-hill sailor.
 For one Rose, it was a fairy story come true. 

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 - end Chapter 27 -

To Chapter 28.


AUTHOR's NOTES Chapter Twenty-seven 1. On passing Cape Horn, from My Lively Lady by Sir Alec Rose. See Bibliography. 2. In this turn of the card lay the seed that led to the interest in a round-the-world race and the Sunday Times Golden Globe competition. 3. Lively Lady's vital statistics were: 36 feet loa; 31 feet lwl; 9.2 feet beam, 6.6 feet draft; displacement 13.75 tons. The boat was designed by the first owner, S. J. P. Cambridge, O.B.E., and F. Shepherd, and built by the owner in Calcutta in 1948. It was originally a cutter rig, changed to a yawl by Rose, al- though mizzen was only used normally for a staysail. The engine was a Morris paraffin (kerosene) model originally. See the Appendix of Rose's book for a dis- cussion of Cape Horn, and a comparison of the vessels of Slocum, Gerbault, Rose, and Pidgeon. 4. The personal interest and paternal attitude of the Royal Navy toward its yachting nationals never fails to astound and awe American yachts- men who are too frequently regarded as damn fools at best, if not completely ignored, by the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard. Certainly the Navy Department would not be likely to station a ship off the Horn to watch out for lonely American yachts, as England did for Chichester and Rose. Unofficially, to be fair, however, Navy and Coast Guard personnel are individually hospitable and helpful when the occasion arises.

To Chapter 28.

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