The exploits of Portsmouth greengrocer Alec Rose captured the imagination and curiosity of the world when he attempted to circumnavigate the globe single-handed. It's 40 years today since he sailed into Melbourne, the halfway point, after 14,500 miles and 155 days at sea.

Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt drove with his family to Port Phillip Bay, south of the city, to watch Rose complete the first leg of his voyage. He then went for a swim and was never seen again.

Rose spent a whole month in Victoria - he'd a son there - then headed home. More than 250,000 people watched as Rose sailed into Portsmouth on July 4, 1968, escorted by two naval warships and a flotilla of small craft. He was knighted the next day by Queen Elizabeth, just as Sir Walter Raleigh had received a knighthood from Elizabeth I on his return from the Carolinas in 1585.

Rose was born in Canterbury and had served during World War II as a diesel mechanic on an Atlantic convoy escort ship, HMS Leith. He'd had nothing to do with the sea until then, but though he suffered ill-health as a result of his experiences, they did nothing to quench his love of the ocean.

He cruised in a converted ship's lifeboat, and became an enthusiastic amateur yachtsman. He then bought a second-hand 36-foot cutter, Lively Lady, and after doing some modifications, he managed to finish fourth in the single-handed transatlantic race.

When adventurer Francis Chichester announced his intention of attempting to sail round the world, Rose determined to make a race of it. He modified the boat again, but he'd barely started when he had to put into Cremyll, near Plymouth, with mechanical, electrical and rigging problems.

Then he had to return after being struck by a freighter off Ushant. While Lively Lady was back in the yard she toppled in her berth. Rose had no sponsor, and by the time repairs were effected it was too late to follow Chichester. His rival proceeded to complete the voyage in Gypsy Moth IV, first to conquer the clipper route single-handed, and in a quicker time than these huge craft. He was also honoured. The Queen used the same sword with which her namesake had knighted Sir Francis Drake.

Rose's progress was tracked by his wife, Dorothy, who kept family finances afloat, running their Plymouth fruit and veg stall. At the back of the stall was a map of the world on which Alec's journey was charted.

When he arrived home, nine days before his 60th birthday and after an absence of 354 days, Dorothy was on the quayside for an emotional homecoming.

Sir Alec died aged 82, in 1991. He bequeathed the boat to his native city. She is still sailing, and today is back in Melbourne, halfway round the world once again, just as she was 40 years ago.

She looks much the same, but on board, much has changed. Current electronic navigation and communication technology was not even dreamt of then.

A Portsmouth firm, Ray-marine, is title sponsor of The Lively Lady Project and has completely refitted the vessel. The latest high-tech navigation and communication equipment provides information on boat speed and water depth. There is a chart-plotter, radar and a global positioning system, with electronic maps of the sea and coast to show the vessel's position at all times, plus an autopilot, which Rose never had.

When Rose raced in the 1964 Single-handed Transatlantic race, he could not communicate with other vessels. Only when he finished did he discover he was fourth. Now the yacht not only has VHF radio, but a high speed data connection that allows internet access.

Lively Lady's durability is is due to the strength of her original build, from paduak, steadier and more robust than teak, though that made drilling for the electrics very difficult.

Sir Alec's son, also Alex, said when Lively Lady left Portsmouth for Melbourne that the project was "the ultimate expression of my father's wish that the boat should be used in youth development through training."

The project aims to help disadvantaged young adults to change their lives for the better. A total of 54 are completing various stages of the sail with ocean adventurer Alan Priddy.