Pelican Of London


The Pelican is a sailing ship for people of all ages. She was originally built in France in 1946. Her conversion from Arctic trawler to tall ship was completed in 2007. She now sails thousands of miles each year and we invite people of all ages to take up the "Pelican Challenge".

Pelican has no equivalent among square riggers. Traditionally rigged with three masts, Pelican's unique Main Mast Barquentine rig and sail plan is derived from the Barbary Coast pirate ships.  Her beautiful clipper hull gives her unique performance to windward and a great turn of speed.

Winner of the 2010 Torbay Cup

During the 2010 Tall Ships Races, a young member of Pelican’s Crew won the prestigious Torbay Cup for outstanding achievement and personal effort. We believe this is a direct reflection on the quality of training and support offered by the permanent and volunteer crew on board the Pelican.

In Search of Speed and Weatherly Performance

in-the-rig-4Square Rig

The ideal rig for sail training should include square sails on at least one mast, particularly if operating worldwide on the Trade Routes when the trainees have time to become conversant with its complexities. The exciting downwind performance is normally offset by an inability to go to windward effectively.  This can frustrate plans to reach upwind locations and, in the worst case, increases the risk of becoming embayed.

A modern solution is to 'motor-sail' using the engine, making excessive noise, wasting fuel and creating an uncomfortable motion, which puts unnatural stress on the rig. Not an ideal solution!

Fore and Aft rig

The desired weatherly performance can, of course, be achieved with Fore and Aft rigs, which are not so crew intensive but can become threatening downwind in severe conditions. Historically, a compromise has been struck in the Topsail Schooner but it remains only a partial solution to the dilemna.

The Polacre/Xebec rig

xebec1Phillip Goode, yacht and sail designer, based in Majorca as the Lloyds agent, had a particular interest in the Barbary coast Xebecs, the most successful corsair vessels of the Mediterranean for two centuries and, arguably, the fastest displacement sailing vessels of all time for their size.

This hybrid sail arrangement of the square Norse sails on the main mast and a massive triangular Lateen on the fore mast in one ship had spawned a cult of swift and weatherly pirate ships whose ability to outrun their pursuers was legendary.

Using the geometry of the Xebec rig, Phillip had designed a number of sail plans for modern yachts which he tested on scale models but - in spite of achieving exceptional results on all points of sailing - they did not appeal to the owners of today's maxi-yachts. Fortuitously he was put in touch with Graham Neilson and a collaborative project was launched for the Pelican.

Pelicanina TrialsThe model Pelicanina

As a test vehicle, Phillip Goode built a 12.5:1 scale model of Pelican, incorporating the new long poop and his three-masted, 12-sail rig. Her centre of gravity (CG) and meta centre (GM) had to be scaled to that of the future ship and she had to run on her predicted draught marks. Pelicanina was 3.5 metres long and weighed nearly 1/4 of a tonne.

Test results

Pelicanina was sailed in the open sea off Palma.  The results, recorded on video, were extraordinary and spectacular. She proved to be perfectly balanced, sailing fast to windward in scale winds of up to 60 knots - unheard of in a square rigger.  Her speed off the wind was exceptional and downwind there was no tendency to yaw. It seemed that the secrets of her Arab forebears were being slowly revealed.

Problems identified

As expected, the model identified several technical problems to be solved before this performance could be replicated at full scale:

Verification of the rig by Lloyds of London

The unconventional sail distribution and rigging plan were bound to raise questions of strength and security, so it was decided to submit all elements to scrutiny under the 'Verification of Rig' procedure now available at Lloyds' Register in London.

Computer Generated Analysis

Here, all sections of the masts, bowsprit and standing rigging were 'modelled' and subjected to the maximum wind speeds acceptable for Full and Plain sail, ultimately reducing to 'bare poles' in hurricane conditions at 122 knots!

From the predicted sail loading and ship movement the mast scantlings were analysed for axial force (vertical thrust), bending and buckling. Rig tensions were then calculated and the standard Safety Factor of 3.5:1 applied to ensure that the chosen wire rigging and terminals would be sufficiently robust. A 16-page report and annexes with colour computer graphics concludes:  "...the minimum acceptance criteria were satisfied in all cases".

The masts

The masts are fully galvanised 20-sided steel in hollow section.  Historically, 'lower' masts were always stepped on the keel, emerging at the weather deck through mast collars with wedges, packing and aprons to prevent leaking. Now, stump masts - which are integral with the hull and deck structures - are Lloyd's preferred option and are fitted in Pelican. These terminate in a flange, half a metre above the wooden deck.  The mast itself, with an identical flange at its base, is then bolted to the stump - ensuring continuity and water tightness.

The man behind the project

On leaving the Royal Navy as a Commander in 1982, Graham Neilson committed his life to the development of youth, through long ocean voyages under sail.

Pelican is Graham's second ship, having previously coverted the hull of the Dutch lugger Astrid into a handsome brig cleared for worldwide operation and dedicated to the service of youth by HRH Princess Anne in 1989.  

Astrid completed 16 eventful and trouble-free annual transatlantic voyages, each lasting three months. She would visit up to 12 countries and islands, providing a unique opportunity for exploration and self-learning as part of a wider educational experience. 

Her summer schedule in European waters was open to all ages. In spite of "never sailing with an empty berth", her earning capacity (with only 25 berths) proved insufficient to sustain a varied and exciting programme and in 1997 she was sold back to Holland by her trustees.

Learning these lessons from the past and through the fortuitous introduction to Phillip Goode, the superb hull of the Pelican was acquired from Norway and the reconstruction began at Portland in Dorset in 1995.


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Telephone: 01305 858274

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Adventure Under Sail Ltd.
Unit 6, Basepoint Business Centre, 15 Jubilee Close,
Weymouth, Dorset, DT4 7BS.

Telephone: +44(0) 1305 858274 / +44(0) 1305 858273
Registered Charity No: 1124276

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