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Extraordinary boats: Andrillot, the original ‘Vertue’ design

Andrillot is the original ‘Vertue’, the design which launched Laurent Giles’s long and illustrious career in 1935. Nic Compton reports

German boatbuilder Uli Killer was looking for a boat to sail while he was working on a big restoration project when he spotted Andrillot, a 25ft wooden cutter for sale in Dartmouth, UK.

The boat had recently undergone a three-year restoration and was said to be in very good condition for her age. The ad claimed the yacht was ‘an important part of our maritime heritage’ and that she and her sisterships had ‘become legends in their own right’. But to Uli, a relative newcomer to the classic world, she was just a pretty boat at the right price.

Andrillot as she was built with a gaff rig.

“She looked pretty and was affordable for us. I knew nothing about her history, and I had to ring a friend to ask him who Laurent Giles was!” Killer recalls. “Then I saw articles in English and American magazines and realised she really was such a famous boat, and hundreds of them were built. Being No 1 makes her more interesting.”

The boat Uli had inadvertently stumbled across was Andrillot, best known as the ‘original Vertue’, the first of a class which, 85 years after she was launched, is still going strong and now numbers around 200 boats. More by chance than intent, Uli had discovered a unique piece of maritime history, which he was able to buy for less than the price of a new VW Golf. He could hardly believe his luck.

It was in 1935 that Guernsey solicitor Dick Kinnersly commissioned British yacht designer Laurent Giles, then at the start of an illustrious career, to design a cruising boat for him.

“I was ignorant of yacht design but I knew what I wanted; a boat that would spin on a sixpence and I could sail single-handed,” he told British journalist (and fellow Vertue owner) Adrian Morgan 60 years later. “I don’t mind a transom, I said, and a good entry. I couldn’t afford an engine, so I needed ‘plenty of air’ aloft, which meant a topsail.”

The result was a modest 25ft 3in cruising yacht with a wide, distinctive sheer strake inspired by her working boat origins, and a manageable gaff rig (described by some as the ‘pinnacle’ of gaff rig design).

The hull shape was moderate in every way, and Giles himself was reticent about his achievement, saying: “There was nothing very special about the first conception, simply a contemporary interpretation of the Pilot Cutter theme with the same sort of displacement and general arrangements whittled down suitably to the very small size.”

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The boat’s capabilities were soon put to the test by Giles’s colleague Humphrey Barton, who borrowed Andrillot soon after she was launched and sailed her from Lymington to Concarneau and back, covering 855 miles in 23 days. The voyage, almost unheard of at the time on such a small boat, earned him the 1937 RCC Founder’s Cup.

More orders for the design soon started trickling in although, strangely, the class didn’t get its name until 10 years after Andrillot was launched. One of the boats built to Laurent Giles Design No.0015 (as it was then known) was Epeneta, which won the Little Ship Club’s annual Vertue Challenge Cup in 1939 for a 745-mile cruise of the English Channel. When Giles came to naming the class after the war, he chose the name Vertue in honour of that achievement.

Andrillot has been converted from gaff to Bermudan rig. Photo: Nic Compton

Other epic Vertue voyages soon followed, including notable transatlantic crossings. One, by David Lewis on Cardinal Vertue, was made while competing in the first OSTAR in 1960. He finished 3rd, behind Francis Chichester and Blondie Hasler.

Over the years, there have been several changes to the boat’s superstructure and rig, but the basic hull shape remained unchanged (indeed Giles believed it couldn’t be improved) until the design was adapted for GRP construction in 1976.

Reconfigured with slightly more beam and a higher freeboard, more than 40 Vertues were built in GRP, mostly by Bossoms in Oxford.

Wooden Vertues continue to be built to this day, both in carvel and strip-plank construction, and the company recently sent out plans for hull No.249 – though not all the plans sent out have been built.

As for Andrillot, the progenitor of this remarkable explosion of small boat sailing, she was owned by Kinnersly until 1947, after which she went through a succession of owners (seven in all) until 1982 when she was spotted by father and son Peter and Tim Stevenson.

By then Andrillot was in a dilapidated state. Peter and Tim had to tow her across the Solent and had her transported to a hay barn on the family farm near Lyndhurst.

The chart table was completely rebuilt for her new owner, including the non-original inlaid compass rose. Photo: Nic Compton

There, over the next two years, they gave her a full restoration, gutting the interior, doubling up several frames, and replacing the old Stuart Turner engine with an 8hp Bukh. By then, the yacht had already been converted to Bermudan rig and her coachroof had been extended, with the mast stepped on top of the coachroof rather than on the keel, as original. Peter and Tim kept the Bermudan rig but reinstated the bowsprit.

Andrillot across the channel

For the next few decades, Peter and Tim sailed extensively from the yacht’s base in Lymington to both sides of the English Channel. When Peter died in 2002, Tim took over the boat and based her on the River Exe in Devon. But eventually, the wear and tear of 35 years of sailing took its toll – particularly on the extended coachroof, which was creaking under the strain of the rig.

Tim entrusted the job of repairing the boat to Dartmouth-based boatbuilder Michel LeMoigne, whose CV includes working on major restoration projects such as the William Fife sloop Rosemary. He duly opened the coachroof up and replaced two deck beams, fitting three hefty posts under the mast step to transfer the load to the keel.

In the process, he had to rebuild the foc’s’le bunks and lockers. Once that was done, it was clear the rest of the interior needed to be updated, soon followed by the cockpit. And so one job led to another…

Andrillot in Darmouth where she was given an extensive refit. Photo: Nic Compton

Finally, near the end of the summer 2019, Andrillot was ready to be relaunched, but any hopes Tim might have had for a late season’s cruise were crushed when the surveyor spotted a crack in the mast – which had been there for years and never caused a problem – and condemned it.

It was the last straw for Tim and soon after Andrillot was put on the market. By the time a new mast was made and a buyer was found, the UK was deep in Coronavirus lockdown, so Andrillot wasn’t launched until August 2020 – three years after she’d been taken out of the water for repairs.

Uli Killer was in some ways a surprising buyer. A former CEO of a finance company, he quit his well-paid job in 2010 after becoming ill with the stress of work. In a dramatic change of life, he decided to pursue his lifelong love of boats and trained as a boatbuilder at the Boat Building Academy in Lyme Regis.

He then set up shop at his home in southern Germany where, alongside building bespoke dinghies, he embarked on a major project restoring an 1884 gaff cutter called Wild Duck. But, as it became clear the restoration would take longer than expected, he decided to buy a smaller boat to sail in the meantime. Which is when he discovered Andrillot.

Close encounters

Uli only had time for one trial sail on his new boat, before he and his son Moritz set off from Dartmouth to Vlissingen, Holland, at the end of August.

They were pushed on their way by strong following winds, with a dramatic wind against tide run past the Needles, a boat crashing into them in the middle of the night in Lymington, and a close encounter with a military firing range near Dungeness.

The RCC Founder’s Cup was awarded to Andrillot after she sailed 855 miles from Lymington to Concarneau and back. Photo: Nic Compton

In the end, it took them two weeks to make the 380-mile trip – including a week’s stopover in Cowes for repairs – averaging 50 to 60 miles a day. Yet, despite the drama of the trip, Uli was euphoric about his new acquisition.

“The boat felt really safe. Several times, we made 7-8 knots. It’s amazing such a small boat goes so fast – more than the theoretical hull speed. With the white cliffs near Eastbourne to one side, it was really beautiful. And when you go into harbour, people are interested in the boat and want to talk to you – we met such nice people all the way. In the evenings, it was so cosy and nice to snuggle in there and have supper.”

If Uli was ignorant of the boat’s importance when he bought her, he is certainly fully appreciative of her now. He is talking about taking her back to her gaff rig one day – perhaps in time for her 90th birthday – and hopes his son will take over ownership once Wild Duck is restored.

Once again, it seems, Andrillot will be handed down from father to son, as it was under the Stevensons’ long tenure. Almost by accident, it seems, the little boat with a big heart has reinvented herself and found a doting owner to take her to the end of her first century. Laurent Giles himself could ask no more.


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