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Talula: the Vivacity 20 that stars in ‘It’s a pity I didn’t bring any swords’

Posted on Tue July 6, 2021.

About Talula - the Vivacity 20 sailing yacht at the heart of Martin Hatchuel’s children’s novel, ‘It’s a pity I didn’t bring any swords’

The lovely little Talula that stars in the children’s novel, ‘It’s a pity I didn’t bring any swords’ is known as a Vivacity 20. These four-berthed yachts were built under license in South Africa by E.I. Marine in Deneysville, on the Free State shores of the Vaal Dam. (See ‘Russel Marine and the Vivacity 20’ below)

Talula was delivered to her first owner in 1971. 

By design, the Vivacity 20 is rigged as a masthead sloop - that is, a yacht with a single mast supported by stays (cables) that run from the masthead (top of the mast) to the front and back of the vessel, and with two sails: a larger headsail in front of the mast, and a slightly smaller mainsail behind it. 

With two stubby keels, a total length of 6.1 metres (20 foot - hence the name), a beam of 2.13 metres, displacement of 816 kg, and a draft of only 71 cm, this is the ideal yacht for the (often) shallow waters of the Knysna Lagoon.

Plus: it’s a very forgiving little vessel that’s ideally suited to a family with almost no sailing experience - as Talula's was when the author bought her sight-unseen from a friend of a friend in Durban, and had her delivered by road to Knysna early in 2013 (see video).

The Talula story: It’s a pity I didn’t bring any swords

It’s a pity I didn’t bring any swords’ is a novel about a boy, his dogs, and his ghostly friend who set out to find the ghost’s lost grandfather, who hasn’t been seen for 150 years. 

The ghost is fascinated by the sleek and modern (by his standards) lines of the little yacht, and convinces the boy that Talula is the proper pirate ship they need for their adventure. 

Along the way, our heroes meet up with the ghosts of a number of actual ships that went down in and around the Knysna Heads, and end up battling the most famous ghost ship of all: the Flying Dutchman. 

But her cruel and ghoulish master, Hendrick van der Decken, doesn’t like dogs...

Subscribe and help publish It’s a pity I didn’t bring any swords

‘t’s a pity I didn’t bring any swords will be published in softcover by the Watermark Press during the second half of 2021, and will be available via this website, as well as from bookshops, gift shops, and community markets in the Garden Route.

A limited edition of 30 signed and numbered, hardcover copies will also be available, and can be pre-ordered via the book’s Back-A-Buddy funding campaign. To encourage reading, each subscriber will also receive an additional softcover copy free of charge as a gift for their favourite child. 

Click here for details

Editor and book designer

It’s a pity I didn’t bring any swords' is edited by Mike Kantey of Watercourse, Plettenberg Bay, with cover design and book design by Christian Jaggers of OneDesign, Cape Town. 

Russel Marine and the evolution of the Vivacity 20

First built in England in 1963, the Vivacity 20 was designed by Peter Stevenson and Des Pollard - Pollard being the founder of Russel Marine Ltd. (UK), which opened its doors in 1959.

The Vivacity 20’s hull design was based on the (very similar) Alacrity 19, which had been built by another yard - Hurley Marine - before Pollard took over production in 1960.

Russel Marine built their Alacritys (Alacrities?) from moulded plywood in the first year, but switched over to GRP (fibreglass) after that, and it seems the Vivacity 20 was only ever sold in fibreglass. 

The Vivacity 20 - actually an extended version of the Alacrity 19 - became a successful and very popular class of small sailing yacht in many parts of the world. 

Besides the craft that Russel Marine supplied to the British market, the company also exported at least 600 Vivacitys and Alacritys to the USA, and licensed various other yards to build them, too - including Catalina Yachts in the USA, and E.I. Marine here in South Africa. 

As an aside: apparently Catalina Yachts built some of Russel Marine’s products under license in Europe, where they marketed them as Jaguars (models 22, 25, 27, and 30) - an idea the Jaguar motor car company didn’t like.

Seems Jag took Catalina to court for unauthorised use of its name. And lost... 

A number of versions of the Vivacity 20 were built: you could order them with one or two keels (twin keels or fin keels), and the class was so successful that Russel Marine began producing a 21 ft (6.5m) version (the Vivacity 21/650) in 1963, while the largest of them all - the Vivacity 24 - was launched in ‘73 or ‘74.

According to SailBoatData.com, “Russel Marine built its last boat in 1980.”

Vivacity20 Alacrity19 on Facebook

  • Meet a worldwide community of people who love these versatile little yachts on Facebook: Vivacity20 Alacrity19

Vivacity 20: specifications

Video: Talula arrives in Knysna