Boleh’s Story

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 recommissioned for Charitable Service by HRH the Princess Royal on 1st November 2022

In recognition of Boleh’s contribution to the work of Service charities, the Boleh Trust was honoured to receive a visit from HRH to meet many of those involved in the Boleh Project.  At the end of her visit HRH recommissioned Boleh with a libation of Westcountry cider!

Click Here to read more on Boleh’s recommissioning by HRH.

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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Boleh By Robin Kilroy

“Boleh” by Robin Kilroy

First published by Hodder & Stoughton, 1951

BOLEH’s designer and skipper, Commander Robin Kilroy DSC, RN, was originally commissioned to write about his brainchild and the planned 16,000 mile voyage to Salcombe, Devon while preparing to set sail from Singapore in 1949.

He was surprised to learn from his publishers along the route that the manuscript had to be delivered on his arrival in England. Nothing daunted, and employing the spirit captured in his vessel’s name – Boleh meaning ‘can do’ in Malay – he met the deadline.

Robin’s book records the story, which is the inspiration for the Boleh Project. It is a classic sailing odyssey, illustrated with many of Robin’s own sketches, describing the realisation of a man’s dream and the ‘can do’ approach to the obstacles along the way.

Thanks to a generous grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund to restore BOLEH, the Trust has been able to create an electronic version of the book. A new generation can now benefit from the Boleh story and bring the ‘can do’ spirit in to their lives.

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Technical Drawings

Technical Drawings

Robin’s original technical drawings from Boleh’s design are shown below. The swing table and stove arrangement, complete with “motor cycle seat”, give you a feel for what life on board Boleh would have been like when she set sail for Devon in 1950.


Robin’s Lecture Portfolio

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. He took with him a series of boards with photos, technical drawings and his own illustrations. Many of these are reproduced below.


Roger Angel

Roger Angel

Dave Sully has compiled a booklet of Roger Angel’s ownership of Boleh.

About Dave Sully:

“Dave Sully was born in Hastings in 1936. By coincidence he was living in Singapore at the time ‘Boleh’ was built. His father was serving at the Royal Air Force Base in Changi, not far from where Robin Kilroy was engaged in the task of designing and building ‘Boleh’.

He left school at the age of 15 years and became an apprentice engineer, completing his training in the Royal Air Force, which he joined two years later.

During service abroad he took up dinghy sailing, and in the UK, qualified as an RYA Senior Dayboat Instructor. This allowed him time off from duties as an Engineer Instructor for the RAF to assist on RYA/Sports Council Sailing Courses for schoolchildren.

A selection of Roger Angel’s photographs showing Boleh’s restoration following the fire in 1978, a press cutting from 1981 on completion of this work and a photo of Dave Sully enjoying himself on Boleh can be found here.

Since retiring from the Royal Air Force he has found employment in varied areas, ranging from sports club manager to ‘The Little Man’ who sorts out old ladies’ gardens.

For his sins, he now lives in Bexhill-on Sea.”

In the Introduction to the booklet I mentioned that it was mainly based on memory, most documents having been lost.

The majority no longer keep a diary; we are too busy living our lives!

On reflection I now see what a large part of my life `Boleh` became when Roger assumed stewardship of the yacht.



After Boleh’s arrival back in the UK in 2008, the Boleh Trust was formed to safeguard the future of Boleh and return her to what she does best: inspiring people through sail training. First, however, she was in need of extensive restoration.

The objective was to return Boleh as near as possible to her original condition and layout. It was recognised, however, that her future training role required some modifications to reflect today’s standards of safety for the young people on board.

Under the tutorship of our shipwrights, local apprentices painstakingly stripped Boleh down to her frames and rebuilt her. By taking part in Boleh’s restoration young people have access to the conservation skills needed to preserve Britain’s maritime heritage.

Much of Boleh’s restoration was carried out by experienced shipwrights using both traditional skills and materials, this work was supported by 4 apprentices, you can see their blogs here.

Apprentice blogs

With the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund, the restoration programme was completed in the summer of 2015. The major work was undertaken in seven steps and each are available to view below.

Boleh arriving for restoration
Apprentice first day



The Boleh Trust is committed to working with young people, by providing opportunities to invest in them both now, and in the future.

The Boleh Project had the fantastic opportunity to work in partnership with Charter Academy, Highbury College and the University of Southampton during Boleh’s restoration.

Our Apprentices

During our project we were able to offer four apprenticeship opportunities to local young people. We saw the wonderful development of Sam, Henry, Reuben and Will throughout their 2 years with us and were delighted when all four apprentices completed and passed their Level 2 Apprenticeship with Highbury college. You can read all about their progress with us in the pages below.

Sam’s Blog

My name is Samantha Perks and the reason I am at Boleh Project is because I have grown up around boats and have always been interested in how they are built so this gives me that opportunity. Also I enjoy working with my hands so this job is perfect for me.

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Henry’s Blog

My name is Henry Durman and I am on my first year of my apprenticeship here at Boleh.
I wanted to join this apprenticeship and get into this industry because I have been brought up around boats and that is where my interests lie.

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Reuben’s blog

Hi my name is Reuben, I’ve been here at Boleh since November 2012 and am really enjoying it. The reason I wanted to join Boleh is because my whole life I have been around sailing, and also always had a natural ability for hands on work. My interests are sports and cars; which I have a passion for.

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Will’s blog

My name is Will and I started at Boleh in November 2012, I applied for the apprenticeship because I wanted a career not just a job; I wanted a job that not just anyone can walk into. I enjoy all aspects of woodworking, including making furniture out of wood.

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Highbury College

Highbury College provided our 4 apprentices who were with us from November 2012 until June 2014. All 4 apprentices were studying for their level 2 City & Guilds at Highbury College one day a week and carrying out their practical skills on Boleh for the remaining 4 days. We are delighted that they all left the Boleh project as qualified level 2 Boat Builders.

Charter Academy

The Boleh team were delighted to work with students from Charter Academy on a digital learning experience. This rolling 10 week learning experience saw ten students learn about Boleh, her history and her restoration through the use of media technology. The students wrote, undertook interviews, filmed and edited material to enable them to create a short movie on their interpretation of the project.

Dame Sharon Hollows, Principal of the Charter Academy, said, “I’m delighted that Heritage Lottery Funding has been awarded to the Boleh Trust. The Trust, with its emphasis on helping young people through skills training and in offering sailing opportunities, together with its inspirational “Can Do” – anything is possible – approach to life, is just the sort of unique and inspirational activity that can enhance learning and life skills at Charter.”

Group 1 (January 2013 - March 2013)

The first group of Charter Academy students interviewed our apprentices to produce a short video on Boleh’s restoration. Throughout the programme, students learnt how to set up scenes, create interview scripts and try simple editing techniques.

You can view their progress through the photos below.

Group 2 (October 2013 - January 2014)

The second group of Charter Academy students worked on creating a timeline of Boleh’s life. This activity allowed 5 students to jump into Boleh’s history and bring it to life. We proudly displayed their work in our workshop during the restoration.

The students also produced a video to show others about the day in the life of an apprentice.

The project gave students the opportunity to learn new skills, try new activities and meet new people.

University of Southampton

We were delighted to have worked with two ship science students from the University of Southampton, under the tutorship of Professor Phillip Wilson, Professor of Ship Dynamics.

Both students completed their 3rd year Ship Science in 2013 and carried out their individual research projects on Boleh.

Jonathan Happs carried out his research on Boleh’s Sail and Rig.

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Matthew Slater completed research on Resistance, Propulsion and Stability of Sail Training Vessel, Boleh.

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Their completed research papers are available to read on the students pages.

Professor Philip Wilson said “The University of Southampton is delighted to be involved with the Boleh Project. It has allowed part 3 Ship Science students to contribute substantial work on their own part that is directly useful for the restoration and future operation of Boleh. I look forward to continued involvement in the ultimate goal of sailing Boleh.”