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.