Certificate no 2281
Status Registered


Function Leisure Craft
Subfunction Yacht
Location Portsmouth
Current use Commercial Activity
Available to hire No
Available for excursions No
Info required No
Web address www.projectboleh.com


Builder Kilroy, Commander, R A, Singapore
Built in 1948
Hull material Wood
Rig Sloop
Number of decks 1
Number of masts 1
Propulsion Sail
Number of engines 1
Primary engine type Inboard diesel
Boiler type None
Boilermaker None


Breadth: Beam
12.30 feet (3.75 m)
7.10 feet (2.17 m)
Length: Overall
41.25 feet (12.58 m)
Tonnage: Gross
Air Draft
To be confirmed



What is the vessel’s ability to demonstrate history in her physical fabric?

BOLEH’s hull form and rig were influenced by the lines of dhows, junks and other sailing craft which were observed by Commander Kilroy during his service between the wars and, as a result, the vessel’s physical fabric uniquely demonstrates the UK’s association with the Far East in the years leading up to the dismantling of the British Empire after World War Two. BOLEH was originally built from chengai wood which is significant as local timber, demonstrating her international origins and build by Malay shipwrights. Some frames were rebuilt in1978 using plywood and, where necessary, damaged frames are now being replaced with greenheart. These changes in timber illustrate the different phases of ownership in BOLEH’s history. In terms of technical innovations, Commander Kilroy also introduced an early version of inboard/outboard propulsion.

What are the vessel’s associational links for which there is no physical evidence?

The story of BOLEH’s build, the original design concept and subsequent journey back to the UK has been wonderfully told by Commander Kilroy himself in his published book ‘Boleh’. The Boleh Trust has also collected a wide range of sources from off-ship research which includes technical drawings of the vessel’s build, early photographs and Commander Kilroy’s original lecture material. The vessel’s connection with Commander Kilroy as builder and designer links her to an interesting period in post-war international history when Britain was having to re-define its political and cultural relationships in a new world context. The public fascination which Commander Kilroy’s adventure generated is in part a reflection of this period of intense change. The years spent in Salcombe after her return to the UK and operation as a training vessel also give her a significance which is local to that area.

How does the vessel’s shape or form combine and contribute to her function?

BOLEH was designed for ocean passage making being strongly constructed of chengai – a hardwood one and a half times as heavy as oak. The sliding gunter rig, incorporating battened sails developed from the sail form used in Chinese junks, and unstayed quadruped mast was designed with short-handed sailing and easy reefing in mind. Aesthetically, BOLEH is a noteworthy vessel, particularly in UK waters, with clear links to her Far Eastern origins. As a one-off design, her unusual characteristics and build story attract considerable interest.

Source; Hannah Cunliffe, Policy & Project Manager, October 2010.

BOLEH was designed and built in Singapore by Commander R A Kilroy DSC RN in 1949 and then sailed back to the UK where she was registered and based at Salcombe. Later she was used by the Junior Leaders Regiment Royal Engineers for sail training at Dover.

After a succession of owners she suffered a fire in 1978 and was rescued as an insurance write off by Roger Angel who restored her in the 1980s and subsequently cruised her in UK and Mediterranean waters.

She was sold to her current owners in 2008 and is based in Portsmouth undergoing restoration after which she will once again be used for sail training. BOLEH's design was a unique mixture of oriental and western small ocean sailing vessels. Her construction in the British Admiralty Dockyard at Singapore was masterminded by Commander Kilroy with the help of Malay shipwrights using traditional skills. She displays technical innovation in a number of areas and her hull is of Chengai, a Malayan hardwood, one and a half times as heavy as oak.

In 2011, BOLEH is undergoing a next phase of restoration work concentrating on building her internal structure.


Commander R A Kilroy, Boleh (1951) pub: Hodder & Stoughton
Daily Telegraph (2 September, 1950) Five sail 12000 miles in 'Junk'
Adam Kula, The News (Portsmouth) (7 October, 2008) Junk restoration just will not be rubbished


  • 2011/12

    The Heritage Lottery Fund awarded £557,200 for developing the main application for restoration, conservation and development

  • June 2009

    A Project Award of £2000 for apprentices was made from the Strategic Development Fund of National Historic Ships

Own this vessel?

If you are the owner of this vessel and would like to provide more details or updated information, please contact info@nationalhistoricships.org.uk