Suhaili was famously the yacht first sailed non-stop around the world single-handed in the 1968-69 Golden Globe. Following a recent refit by her owner Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, she’s back on the water. Adrian Morgan went aboard
Today Suhaili is back in fine order after a thorough refit, much of it undertaken by the owner himself, along with friends and family and the assistance of retired shipwright Keith Savill. The hull has been completely refastened, the old interior stripped.
“The whole thing took three years. We spent two years just getting the old bolts out,” recalls Knox-Johnston, “We never thought it would end.
“The timber was all good – hull and deck – apart from a thick coating of green slime. No, the real problem was the iron; it was Indian iron but any iron will give trouble after 50 years. Some of the fastenings were corroded to just 1mm thick.
“We had to remove them all – 1,400 of them – and replace them with bronze. To begin with we were managing eight bolts in a day using just hammers.
“Until we tried a hammer drill, and then two hammer drills, one each side. We were doing 80 a day then – we had to slow down and put in bronze or the old girl would have fallen apart.”
To release one of the original keel bolts during the restoration, Sir Robin Knox-Johnston used Sarson’s vinegar as penetrating oil
Suhaili was not recaulked, although Knox-Johnston says in retrospect it’s something he should have done. “There’s a few seeps here and there. I reckon she needs about 15 strokes a week, so it’s not serious. That’s about 1.5 gallons.
“We stripped the interior out entirely,” he comments. “I sanded the deckhead and hull to bare wood again, and it’s primed, ready for painting.
“We kept the layout simple, just bunks, chart table and galley. Oh, and a loo. With a door this time.”
Thus stripped, she was much closer to her designed waterline at her relaunch, and proved steady and remarkably fast with sheets slightly eased, her best point of sailing.
“We also put in a few more wooden floors, as that was a problem I had on the round the world voyage. That strengthened her a bit.
The restoration of Suhaili took 140 days and well over 3,000 man hours
“So she’s much the same as she was, maybe a little stronger and certainly lighter. At the Classics regatta I reckon she was a little too light. She needs a bit more ballast to get her going.
“She’s best on a reach, not great upwind. You can’t pinch her. She’ll just stop if you do.”
One of Suhaili’s worst traits had always been her habit of hobby-horsing in certain conditions, especially when heavily laden. She showed no signs in the Solent that day.
A jib, single reefed main and full mizzen were sufficient. Her mizzen is far from an afterthought, and provides real drive, even more so with the huge mizzen staysail, for which conditions were too boisterous for us to set.
Three new oak floors were added during the restoration that weren’t in the original – which was why Suhaili leaked at the garboards and had to be patched during the round the world voyage with a copper tingle
Some elements of the refit are still a work in progress, the tiller being the next priority.
“The tiller isn’t the original, it’s from about 1973. It’s oak and as rotten as an apple, bits falling off all the time. It’s the next job on the list.”
As testament to her many sea miles, some items were left untouched: “We found the old penny that had jammed between the cabin top and a deck beam, which got there after we were knocked down in the Southern Ocean. We left it in situ.”
If Sir Robin Knox-Johnston was to enter the re-running of the Golden Globe race in 2018, the recently refitted Suhaili would be as strong as ever and almost certain to knock days off her 1968-69 time. “Nothing will persuade me to do it again,” was the gist of his response to that suggestion.
Suhaili’s rig is the one she was fitted with after being dismasted in 1990, when Knox-Johnston was rolled mid-Atlantic, and sailed to the Azores under jury rig
Sir Robin Knox-Johnston
Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, born 1939, is Britain’s most celebrated yachtsman. His 1968-69 voyage secured his place in the history of yachting, but he also led teams in Admiral’s Cup, Whitbread and Round Britain races, and co-skippered the Jules Verne record-holder Enza in 1994.
He sailed single-handed round the world a second time – in the 2007 Velux 5 Oceans Race, at the age of 68 – was third in class in the 2014 Route du Rhum, and now runs Clipper Ventures, which organises the Clipper Round the World Race.
After retiring from sailing for a while, he was behind the building of Troon, Mayflower, Mercury and St Katharine Dock marinas.
He is patron of the Cruising Association, elected a Younger Brother of Trinity House, president of the Little Ship Club, and honorary member of at least a dozen yacht clubs worldwide.
He has been voted the YJA Yachtsman of the Year four times, he won the Royal Institute of Navigation gold medal in 1992 and was knighted in 1995.
LOA: 13.41m (44ft)
Hull length: 9.88m (32ft 5in)
LWL: 8.53m (28ft)
Beam: 3.37m (11ft 1in)
Draught: 1.67m (5ft 6in)
Displacement: 9,876kg (9.72 tons)
Sail area: 61.8sq m (666sq ft)