J-K7 the 'Immortal' J-class Velsheda   Email to discuss the J-class Velsheda please email 'deckhand @ jk-7 . com' (to try and avoid spam this is a graphic only) All contents except where indicated otherwise is © Barry Selwyn, 2011 - 2021 

Photograph by Schlump - 'Velsheda / Voiles08-Vel-0036.jpg'

Velsheda 1984, making way under full sail. (Photo by Beken of Cowes, click link to visit their website for more details)
Velsheda in Antigua 1999, photo by Anne T Converse, please click to visit her website...

This is only a summary of my personal Velsheda story; I’ve never published the full account so if you edit a yachting magazine, or are writing a book about the history of the Js, or any other vaguely related topic such as safety at sea - bearing in mind there were several unrelated and sometimes rather comical (but still very serious) accidents and incidents, mostly within just a couple of days on board at the height of the storm, which each nearly killed me! - then please do get in touch and let's discuss the possibilities....

Not many people know that the prototype for William Lawrence Stephenson's fabulous yacht Velsheda was his earlier K-class called White Heather II (sail number K7), designed by William Fife and built in 1907. To this day, more than a hundred years later, Velsheda (sail number J-K7) still has the lead from White Heather II in her keel.

In her heyday in the 1930s Velsheda only sailed for just 3 seasons. She then spent almost 50 years stuck in the mud quietly rotting, until her astonishing rescue in the early 1980s by Terry Brabant (a scrap dealer with extraordinary vision). At the time not a single J-class yacht remained in seaworthy order and the class faced extinction.

Terry rebuilt Velsheda virtually from a bare hull, plus a pile of salvage from other vessels. Of course he also had to have a few things custom made such as her gigantic sails and unique mast. Eventually he had a yacht in a class of her own and was free to do with her as he pleased. In this, her second incarnation, Velsheda led a surprisingly adventurous and often chaotic existence.

I've written a more detailed article about the early history of Velsheda and how she came to be built, together with some biographical insights into her first owner – the English millionaire director of Woolworths. It appeared in the March 2011 issue of my mother’s magazine “St. Andrews in focus” and you can read it here.

By the 1990s Velsheda was once again nothing but a neglected metal hull together with a few miss-fitting odds and ends. It was in this state (after changing hands at least once) she was finally purchased by Ronald De Waal who proceeded to spend literally millions turning her into what she is today; an amazing third incarnation of the original yacht, but now in all her 21st century glory.

Her first incarnation (during the 1930s) is of course the stuff of legend and folk-lore, but it's as she now is in her dramatically different 3rd incarnation that she's best known and loved. [I nickname her The Immortal Velsheda partly because of all these various incarnations].

My personal Velsheda story relates to her enigmatic 2nd incarnation; a virtually undocumented and unknown period of her history; a time when almost anything could (and sometimes nearly did) happen…..

Due to an odd series of circumstances I came to be casually hired as a deckhand, joining a very short-handed delivery crew to sail Velsheda the relatively short crossing from Porto Cervo in Sardinia to Saint-Tropez, France. Although I’d quite often been sailing at various times since my school days I most certainly wasn’t a yachtsman, and wasn’t even especially tough or fit, so it was all the more surprising that I found myself on board.

Things soon took a turn for the worse; we became trapped at sea for several days in unexpectedly heavy weather; a mistral storm. It was an exhilarating but appallingly dangerous place to be; there were near misses all the time and literally every hour or two some dreadful accident or other nearly (but very luckily never quite) happened.

Under an emergency regime of "four-on, four-off watches" (something I'd never experienced before or - thankfully - since) we, or at least I, soon became completely exhausted as well as fairly disorientated, losing a proper sense of day and night as our body clocks and rhythms got completely messed up.

Sometimes after what seemed like only a few minutes of sleep I'd be "shaken" (woken up by a crew member just ending his own watch) and assume it was still the afternoon (or was that the watch before last?), then climb up the steps and out of the doghouse only to find it was actually the middle of a bitterly cold night, with an utterly clear, cloudless sky, dazzlingly bright stars and that awful wind still howling furiously as we ploughed on, almost surfing (despite only having a storm rig and full reefing), and with Bill - our wonderful, stoic Bosun - all alone and gripping the wheel grimly. It looked like a scene from the "Flying Dutchman" with him there in his seemingly ancient replica oilskins that we apparently only had on board for publicity photoshoots as we'd never been expected to ride-out storms on the Velsheda so weren't properly equipped for them!

It was all quite an adventure, but there were a number of extremely dangerous moments for me - a particularly dramatic one was being washed off the starboard side of the foredeck and ending up being dragged through icy waves, hanging on with my bare hands to the corner ("clew") of the wildly flapping jib. For a while I was about a meter and a half away from the hull making a bow wave and wake of my own!

At first I held on just with my left hand while for a moment desperately trying - but failing – to clip the harness’s lanyard cleat onto anything at all, even if only the jib sheet. Although I didn't have time to think about it, I could quickly and easily have found myself bobbing around helplessly in open water while seeing the Velsheda, and with her all my hopes, rapidly sail away and disappear into the distance behind wave crests...

I immediately let go of the lanyard and urgently grabbed onto the sail with my right hand (so now held it with both hands)... I had no idea what else I could or should do, or how long I could hang on like that – though realised it would probably only be a few more moments at best.

Now, as a completely unprotected “man overboard”, I could have been quickly and easily swept out to sea and, given the situation, almost certainly lost. If I hadn’t managed to hold on with an unexpected tenacity and mysterious, almost supernatural strength - summoned from goodness knows where - that would have been how it ended.

I remember time seeming to slow down for me, and having the feeling everything was happening quite quietly and in slow motion - even though in reality things were chaotic, action packed and happening very fast in a noisey environment of clanking, flapping, howling wind, spray and crashing water. I also suddenly felt surprisingly detached and simply didn't notice or care how cold it was, or how my hands, fingers and arms ached, but later I most certainly did!

My whole ordeal probably only lasted about 15 - 20 seconds but it seemed considerably longer and for years after I retained a very clear image of almost every immediately relevant detail, such as the way my clothes quickly filled with water, really pulling me down and making me feel incredibly heavy but realising I couldn't let go of the jib in order to undo or remove any of it, and how I somehow knew when to breath (but only once) even though my face was almost always either under water or else being blasted by spray.

This had all started innocently but incompetantly enough, with me “walking” the jib round the front of the mast foot during a tack when, unluckily, a wave crashed over me after I'd unclipped my very basic harness lanyard from the safety cable running along what had been the "high-side" of the deck, but before completing the task then clipping in on the new high-side so I could get back to the cockpit relatively safely.

I’d walked the jib round successfully many times before and it never occurred to silly-me how badly wrong things could go if I wasn't paying proper attention while even only briefly uncliped on that unforgiving foredeck in a storm... obviously my set-up and method was all wrong – maybe I should have had a double lanyard with two snap-hooks (or cleats or shackles or whatever they're called), but that's a bit complicated for something like this so perhaps i should just have quickly clipped into the cringle (which is the corner ring for tying ropes/sheets to) of the sail while walking it round - either way, the wave didn’t kindly warn me first, or give me a second chance to try a different method! With highsight I also realise - given the situation with us pitching and crashing through waves - I should have looked around first to see what was going on, and waited till it was safe, before unclipping!

After that quarter of a minute or so in the water I managed – semi-miraculously - to scramble back on board. If you look carefully at the photographs you'll see there are no side or guard rails round the deck of the Velsheda so not only was there nothing to stop you from going overboard but also nothing to grab or help you climb back on if you did!

I’d been saved mainly by the Velsheda herself, generously scooping me up as her bow dived into the trough of the next huge wave then once again rose majestically with gallons of water pouring over her gunwales and with me emerging from under it, on my hands and knees, more battered and bruised than I realised yet, now clinging gratefully to one of the shrouds instead of the cringle on the clew of the jib.

As we completed the tack someone down near the steering post would have started cranking in the sheet to adjust the rigging, and I have a feeling that by random good timing this helped me too (in addition to all my frantic kicking and thrashing about in the water) by pulling me nearer to the edge of the deck just as we lifted out of that wave-trough.

Shockingly, nobody even seemed to notice my curious impromptu feat of slapstick, a stunt possibly worthy of Buster Keaton himself - there weren't many of us on board, remember, and we were all busy fighting own personal battles; between us desperately holding our course and simply trying to stay afloat and in one piece until the wind dropped, which it eventually did almost four days later.

Things could easily have turned out very differently, and if they had it’s quite possible I’d have been dead within 48 hours - if not long before. It might have taken a while for anyone to notice I was missing, then grudgingly search below deck for me in case I'd slipped past them while they were busy... then with growing incredulity realise I was gone... I very much doubt they could have sailed around looking for me, and even if they’d tried and by some crazy fluke found me, I can’t imagine how they’d have been able to manoeuvre the Velsheda (under sail power alone and in a storm) in order to rescue me.

I think it inconceivable that any of this could happen aboard Velsheda today, and if it did it would make international headlines. It’s the contrast between “then and now” and a glimpse into the relatively unknown history of Velsheda that I believes makes this such an intriguing and compelling story.

People have always been interested in (OK, fascinated by) the J’s – they're such an endless source of inspiration, wonder and aspiration to many - which makes the fact a “nobody” like me could actually sail and experience her, and in her rawest and wildest state too, all the more remarkable.

As an important footnote I’d like to once again point out our extraordinary debt to Terry Brabant. Without his adventurous and daring spirit, leading the way, I doubt that anyone would have thought of reviving J-class yachting.

© Barry Selwyn, 2011 - 2021 email me for further information about my experiences aboard the J-Class Velsheda in the mid 1980s please email 'deckhand @ jk-7 . com' (to try and avoid spam this is a graphic only)

Velsheda - 1984 - closeup of whole boat length. (Photo by Beken of Cowes, click link to visit their website for more details).

Velsheda 1999 - closeup of foredeck. (Photo by Anne T Converse, click link to visit her website for more details).
Velsheda in the Solent in 1987 - more or less anyone could sail her back in 1987 - a far more casual affair in those days....
contact me via the IMMORTAL VELSHEDA - JK-7email to deckhand @ jk-7

The 'Immortal' J-class Velsheda; sail number J-K7

PLEASE NOTE: I had originally hopped to develop these pages further to include some additional historical, technical & anecdotal notes and information about the J-class Velsheda, sail number J-K7... on and off over the years since I registered this domain name (gloriously, Velsheda's sail number) and posted this simple "holding page", several people have kindly sent me extremely interesting additional material including photographs, facts and anecdotes of their own. Sadly, due to chronic poor health, coupled with the pressures & the vagaries of life in general, I've been unable to expand this website or use any of that material as I'd hoped.

If anyone is willing and able to help me edit, manage and grow this website please do get in touch by email while I'm still alive - and I'm not joking but serious - as I'd love to share development and control of this website with the right person or people and see it can finally take on a life of its own without depending on mine!