Boleh History

Artist and Naval War Hero / Skilled Joiner and Entepreneur

Robin Kilroy & Roger Angel

The Junk Yacht Boleh is the story of two men: artist and naval war hero Commander Robin Kilroy, DSC, who designed and built her 60 years ago in Singapore before sailing her back to the UK; and Roger Angel, skilled joiner and entrepreneur, who found her an insurance write-off in 1978 and painstakingly brought her back to life in a Rye harbour mud berth.

Boleh’s unusual design was influenced by the dhows, junks and other sailing craft Commander Kilroy saw during his service with the Fleet Air Arm between the wars.

He created a sea-kindly, broad beamed vessel of just over 40ft, heavily constructed of Malayan ‘chengai’ (a hardwood one and a half times as heavy as oak) and designed to be at her best in ocean trade winds.

The sliding gunter rig, with wishbone booms based on those used in Chinese Junks, and unstayed quadraped mast allow for easy reefing and short handed sailing, while providing excellent accommodation space below decks. Amongst other novel features Robin’s original design included an early version of inboard/outboard propulsion.

Watch the film about Boleh’s history made in 2018 by Bob Aylott of My Classic Boat.

Boleh Through the Times

Check out our timeline below to see the events that took place.

Boleh Construction

Boleh – the name means ‘can-do’ in Malay – was constructed in 1949 by Malay shipwrights from Trengganu led by Embong Bin Saleh, taking about 12 months to build and costing £3000.

Before committing to the design of his dream vessel, Robin Kilroy made a scale model. “Without the model, I should not have been able to try out and satisfy myself that the peculiar hull form adopted was seaworthy; and lacking this assurance, I should have been obliged to be far less daring in the final design of Boleh.” – Extract from Boleh by Robin Kilroy.

Boleh was launched at the Boom Defence Depot Loyang on 23rd October 1949.

“Mutt smashed the bottle with a mighty swing against the bows, singing out “I name you Boleh – and may you live up to it!” Boleh pitched gently as she slid off the trolley and was afloat” – Extract taken from Boleh by Robin Kilroy.

Boleh Christmas Trial Cruises 1949

Boleh undertook Christmas Trial Cruises later that year.

“The object was to find all kinds of weather and see what went wrong. In fact , we had a fair variety of weather, though mostly light or very light winds, and a highly enjoyable short holiday.

Christmas lunch was the high spot of the cruise. The stove worked perfectly, and Chang, with John Rusher in an advisory capacity, produced a meal much more than adequate to the occasion.” – Extract taken from Robin Kilory’s book Boleh.

Boleh sailed for the UK on 18th January 1950. Robin’s Crew for the voyage to Salcombe, Devon was made up of 2 fellow naval officers, John Rusher and Peter Aplin, a naval shipwright, George Jarvis and Robin’s Chinese cook Chang.

Described fully in Robin’s book “Boleh” they called at Sabang, Colombo, Minikoi, the Seychelles, Mauritius, Port Elizabeth, Simonstown, St Helena, Ascension and the Cape Verde Islands, finally arriving in Salcombe on 1st September.

Sailing Cruises 1950’s

Boleh sailing on the Devon coast circa late 1950’s.

See more of Boleh’s history in pictures in our archive.

After her voyage to England Boleh was registered in Salcombe and began to provide sailing experience for young people including Sea Cadets, Island Cruising Club trainees, and young soldiers from the Junior Leaders Regiment, Royal Engineers at Dover.

When Robin died Boleh initially remained in his family but was later sold and had a succession of owners. Based in Rye, she was not sailed to any great extent for several years.

Fire Damaged 1978

In the early hours of 22nd January 1978, as Boleh was completing a refit in Rye, West Sussex, prior to sailing for Germany and the USA, a milkman spotted a fire on board her. As a result of the arson attack, she was destroyed as far down as the waterline, with the damage so severe, that Boleh was declared an insurance write off.

Roger Angel then came to Boleh’s rescue!

Roger Angel, a skilled carpenter and joiner from the area and keen sailor, had often seen Boleh and was mesmerised by her unique lines. He saw the wreck and was determined to restore the vessel to her former glory. Roger bid successfully for the hulk, sold his business, moved with his family into a caravan, and set about the gigantic task of returning Boleh to her previous condition.

Roger worked from photographs and plans in Robin Kilroy’s book and talked to some of those who had known Boleh. He was able to keep very close to the original design, altering only the interior layout. In place of ‘chengai’ he laminated the frames from plywood, and other hardwoods were used for the planking and deck.

In July 1981 the enormous task was complete and Roger and his family set off to pursue their dream, calling first at Dover to renew Boleh’s link with the Royal Engineers. A history of Roger’s restoration and his subsequent life with Boleh has been compiled by David Sully in the book ‘Rising from the Ashes’ (see the page about Roger Angel).

Boleh and her owner finally came to rest in Mallorca where her lines and rig became a familiar sight; her berth at the Real Club Nautico gave the name Shanghai Quay to one of the jetties in Palma.

In 2007 increasing ill health led Roger to look to sell Boleh and, by a happy chance, this coincided with Robin Kilroy’s family seeking to safeguard the vessel’s future.

Boleh Arrives in Portsmouth 2008

Boleh arriving to Henderson Road, Portsmouth in 2008, following the purchase of Boleh from Roger Angel in Majorca. This is where Boleh was to remain until she completed her restoration in 2015.

A few weeks before his death in August 2008 Roger was able to witness Boleh’s arrival at The Meridian Sailing & Training Trust Limited workshops in Portsmouth where a full restoration is being undertaken. The Boleh Trust was established to manage the restoration and ensure Boleh was returned to the water, where she is helping people with challenge in their lives.

Boleh Restoration 2013

Boleh mid restoration, 12 months into Boleh’s restoration after receiving the HLF grant. Restoration was completed in 2015.

Back in the water in 2015

Boleh returned to the water in July 2015 after a 7-year restoration. The major programme of work saw her stripped almost bare before being fitted out to the highest standards. Here she is in Chichester Marina.

Motoring along the South Coast January 2016

Boleh motoring out of Chichester Harbour and along the South Coast in January 2016 after completing her sea trials.

Back to her full glory in 2017

A busy season in 2017 saw Boleh sail local school children, disadvantaged groups, naval cadets, old friends and a number of corporate clients.

Boleh by Robin Kilroy

See what Robin wrote about his brainchild and the 16000 mile voyage to Salcombe, Devon from Singapore.

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Technical Drawings

View Robin’s original technical drawings from Boleh’s design. It will give you a feel for what life on board Boleh would have been like when she set sail for Devon in 1950.

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Robin’s Lecture Portfolio

When Robin Kilroy had completed his journey he gave a series of lectures around the country about building Boleh, the voyage and the wildlife he encountered.

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Roger Angel

Dave Sully has compiled a booklet of Roger Angel’s ownership of Boleh, This will give you a clear insight of Roger’s Journey with Boleh.

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