It’s about the boat

The lines plan

Betty Alan is a topsail ketch, designed by Jeremy Lines for Mark Varvill. She is built of inch and a quarter mahogany planking glued and screwed on laminated mahogany frames. Her hull was built at Latham’s yard in Poole, and fitted out and finished in West Wittering by Lines and Varvill with direct labour. The quality of build is high – she was surveyed by Paul Stevens (not normally given to extravagant praise) who concluded “Her construction was clearly undertaken with cost low on the list of priorities”.

She’s 50 foot on the deck, 60 foot over spars. She draws a bit under five foot with her board up, and about ten foot with it down, and displaces somewhere around 18 tons. She’s got a stout Nanni six cylinder diesel rated at 60 hp.

Everyone assumes on first sight that she is from the 1930s, and indeed the original inspiration was a large Mylne ketch: Varvill showed a photo of one to Lines with the brief “I want one of those, but only fifty foot on deck.” Asked “why gaff” he answered “because it’s more entertaining”. It is certainly is good sport getting full sail up – seven sails, eight crew, and nine opinions – but the rig is also surprisingly sensible. The hull is well ballasted, but is only shoal draft, and how else could the designer get sufficient sail area without overpowering her, except by going forward (the long bowsprit), back (the mizzen boom overlaps the stern by several feet) and keeping it low with gaff main and mizzen? It’s also flexible, in that husband and wife can sail very comfortably with main, headsails and mizzen, and the addition of topsails provides work for as many enthusiastic hands as you can find.

She was launched in 1999, as Diligent II.¬†As Diligent she was very traditionally equipped, with no winches, and a minimum of electronics. Her finest day so far was in the America’s Cup Jubilee Regatta in 2001, where she sailed under the Squadron’s burgee, and won the “Spirit of Tradition” class. After Varvill’s very premature death, she was used by his family for a while, before being taken on by the amiable and enthusiastic Peter Muir, builder. He organised a refit on an heroic scale, adding an impressive range of hardware and resplining her topsides (the original dark blue paint job, while most attractive, was disastrous in terms of heat absorption and led some seams on her port side to open up). Most of the work was done by Berthon in Lymington. Muir was sadly unable to make the most of her and she fell into our hands in the autumn of 2011.

We reproduce a few of the drawings (copyright Jeremy Lines) and photos of her build.


No details were spared in the design process, from the serious

To the trivial

Part of the keel being laminated


Frames after laminating - it looks a little Ikea at this stage. Where's the Allen key.

She was built upside down

The lead keel weighs some six and a half tons


Is it a bird? Is it a plane?

Ah, it's supposed to be this way up. I get it now

The bare hull was trucked from Poole to West Wittering

And then magic happened, with the shed door closed, until the Air Force came to pull her out

Lo! A boat, a boy, and a dog

She was launched at Birdham Pool

Floating at last

From the hounds

The designer under the mizzen

5 thoughts on “It’s about the boat

  1. This is lovely to see! My uncle is the Mark Varvill that built her. We heard a rumour that she had been sold again, and my aunt, Elizabeth is in touch with Jerry, who told us of her new name. Very many congratulations; I’m sure you’ll love her and have as much fun as we all did. Best wishes, Anne.

    • Annie, how lovely to hear from you. I’ve been wanting to get in touch with Elizabeth to let her know how much Mark and Jeremy’s work is appreciated. Our long-term goal is to sail the Pacific and though we never meant to buy a boat yet, she seduced us entirely, like a dog pawing through the bars at Battersea, in her case pleading to be released from the arid grip of Berthon’s hard. Using her as our London flat is slightly odd: on one hand it’s a great opportunity to get to know the domestic systems thoroughly, and to learn how to live on her, but on the other hand she feels slightly caged again – she wants to sail! Please give my regards to Elizabeth, and thanks for writing.

    • Dear Anne

      We’ve been planning our summer cruise, and had the idea of paying a visit to Chichester Harbour at the beginning of June on our way west, partly with the idea of meeting Elizabeth, partly as a circular act of revisiting the place of her birth, and partly because as a child I sailed at Hayling, as did my mother.

      Do you think Elizabeth would welcome an invitation for a beverage aboard BA, and see how much we appreciate the love that Mark put in to her, or would it be upsetting to her?

      Oh, and I see I was overfamiliar last time, and changed your name to Annie. Very sorry!

      All best


  2. Its great to see that Dad’s boat is in good hands and that you are making good use of her.
    Dad was more of a boat builder than a sailor and always maintained that the best bit about sailing was arriving in port! Although he and Jerry planned to take her up the Seine to Paris (hence the mast hinges) I dont think their wildest dreams included a trip across the Pacific!
    All the best

    • Richard

      Well, there’s seldom a day that goes by that we don’t thank him for the work. We had our last miniature cruise this last weekend, just round the corner for supper, but it was sublime – she makes the world more beautiful wherever she is, and brings a smile to everyone’s face. We’re very lucky.

      Ed & Fran

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *