Please see our gallery: Going to the Prom, the Cruise of the Schooner Yacht “Blizzard”. Note: Only a few of the images appear within the text – click here for the full gallery at large high resolution in new tab window.
My current experiences leave me with the inescapable truth that this must be for me, the era of the schooner, as I am now about to sail one, having also recently written up Dad’s log of his cruise in the schooner yacht “Wakaya”. I am about to embark on a voyage of my own in a schooner, and while on this voyage will become acquainted with the excellent log by Sir Peter Blake of his last, and tragic voyage. Not only did Sir Peter have a schooner, the “Seamaster” for his explorations, but his personal yacht “Archangel” was also a schooner. Am I destined to undergo a transformation to become a schooner-man of yore condemned to sail the wild oceans unable to escape the vagrant gypsy life? Well, please read on. My account of a voyage on the schooner yacht “Blizzard” thus begins.
Make no mistake about it, the “Blizzard”, originally launched as the “Nina Q”, is no ordinary yacht. She was purpose-designed by Australian Naval Architect, Graham Radford for high latitude exploration, and was built in 1993 at the capable yard of Harwood Marine, near Yamba on the far north coast of New South Wales. I took the opportunity to chat with Mr. Radford prior to this trip. He told me that the first owner, who commissioned the yacht, had clear ideas about what we required in an expedition yacht, namely strength, shallow draft capability, and a manageable rig, together with accommodation and space for provisions for 8 or more souls. In essence, that has been well executed–she is some 60 ft LOA, with long waterline, centre-board giving draft board up of 1.4 m, and a somewhat unconventional schooner rig with masts of equal height. Usually schooners have the main mast higher than the foremast but I think that too large a mainsail in this setting can overpower the balance of the rig. Schooners have been popular for over a century, they are known to sail well on a reach. Perhaps the most popular series of schooners were the Malabars designed by John Alden as well as the great Bluenose Schooners of Nova Scotia.
“Blizzard” is owned and captained by Capt. Jon, who himself has a useful background as professional captain, and currently works as a navigator on gas rigs in the Mediterranean. Operating from Melbourne’s Central Docklands, “Blizzard” is available for charter, and specialises in high altitude sailing. Under her previous owner she undertook voyages to Antarctica, and Capt. Jon is hoping to do the same. As I happened to have free dates that fit the schedule of the yacht, we organized a charter over four days; for me the objective was to sail this unique yacht, as well as exploring new territory, in the famous Bass Strait along the south-east coast of the Australian state of Victoria, out towards the eastern most tip, an area studded with isolated rocky islands, known as Wilson’s Promontory, or just called “The Prom”. The Prom is to Victoria cruising as the Whitsundays are to Queensland. Realizing we did not have much time to spare on our four-day excursion, Capt. Jon packed as much as possible into our itinerary, including two overnight passages, one there and one return, a scuba dive, and some general exploration. Our night trips were a great experience, especially when it came to sailing the yacht short-handed, and gave me very useful insights into the potential of a big schooner.
I think it was the previous owner who renamed the yacht “Blizzard” so we will just get that titbit out-of-the-way early in the story…one would hope that in the process of changing a yacht’s name he observed all due ceremony, obeyed many nautical traditions mostly arcane to the land lubber, and called for blessings from not only the supreme Deity, but also from the good King Neptune, and as many assorted and perhaps nefarious pagan gods of the sea as possible to exorcise the inevitable bad luck that may follow a name change.
Since her purchase about two years ago, Capt. Jon has been busy with significant upgrades. I liked what I saw, there is a new Yanmar 160 hp diesel engine, which in calm seas gave us 7.5 kts at 2000 revs, new auto pilot, new flexible coupling on the main shaft, and recently new propeller bearings, all which have been necessary to get the boat back up to “scratch”. I had a close look over the alloy work of the boat, and baring a few dings on the outside of the hull, and the need for a bit of paint here and there, would think she is in excellent structural shape. It is possible to get into the bilges, and they are dry, and wherever I could get to it the metal appeared to be in good condition. Onboard there is a device which monitors current flow around the hull, which is protective of the metal, and helps to safeguard against electrolysis which readers will realize can be dangerous for the integrity of an alloy yacht. When an alloy yacht is surveyed, the surveyors use a device to measure density of the metal. Further upgrades including a water maker and a dive tank compressor are planned, with some upgrades and touch up to the interior.
With the Captain’s consent, I have uploaded the layout of the ship. The mid-portion of the SmugMug gallery contains images from my worm’s-eye view of the vessel. I have taken these for my own records in anticipation of building a similar yacht. Starting from the bow there is a direct feed from the windlass of the 1/2 inch chain into the chain locker which is isolated by a water-tight bulkhead. There is a hatch into this area, which also serves as storage for fenders and warps. The forward accommodation has two main bunks and pipe berths. At the forward end of this space is a storage area, for sails, vegetables, and tools. I think there must be nearly every tool known to man in there. Then, walking aft, the galley is on the starboard side, and fridge/freezer to port. Aft again, on starboard the nav station, and to port a comfortable settee with out-board pilot berth. Captain’s cabin (rank does have its privileges) is next on the port side, with head and shower to starboard. Via a low passageway (watch you don’t hit your head) is a spacious aft cabin with two fixed double bunks, and two upper pilot berths–this was to be my home away from home on the cruise. Tucked in just forward on the port side is access to the engine room. The boat is partitioned by waterproof bulkheads, and locking crash doors. Abaft my cabin, is a storage area accessible by hatch from the back deck. Most of the nooks and crannies around the boat are accessible to make every cubic inch available for storage.
The masts, running and standing rigging, and general deck gear are top notch. Good, robust gear set up well for safe handling. Sails are in good shape, and it was pleasing to see sturdy construction of the heavier sails, particularly the jib staysail, which hanked on with good solid bronze hanks. The yankee sail, next forward, and the genoa, right forward were on quality Profurl roller furlers. I don’t think contemporary yachties really use roller furlers properly as once about 30% of the sail it furled it loses its shape, and becomes a bit useless for going to windward. Better to get rid of the thing, and and set a sail that is sized and cut for the conditions. In this sense for general cruising, the twin-headsail sloop rig is efficient on a small yacht. A “blade”, or jib staysail can be set when the wind increases, as at that point you will be handing the outer headsail. The three headsails here gave us a selection of workable combinations, and we usually sailed as a cutter with the genoa and jib staysail. I was interested to learn that the Anderson sheet winches are considered the best value for money; they have been trouble-free and were easy and safe to use. The sheets and halyards are all of decent diameter so you have something to hold onto that is not going to cut your hands when hauling in, or letting out. I see contemporary production yachts with a maze of strings as reefing lines; these can be hard on the hands. Apart from the windlass and centre-board winch, there are no power winches on the boat, and the manual winches were plenty powerful for the job at hand. Electric winches are just one more thing that can go wrong. The centre-board has an electric winch, though with manual over-ride. There are two locking pins which can be used to lock the board in up and fully down positions. I would confess though that in re-designing the ship, I think I would put in electric winches for the two main winches, principally for furling the genoa in a hurry if needed. Mains are always the hardest sail to furl on a yacht unless you have in mast or in boom furling systems which are great as long as they work, but failure can lead to catastrophic rig failure at sea in a big sudden blow. I prefer external hank down systems on the boom; there is one that uses a continuous line through both the tack and clew of the main; this can be combined with tie down points to improve sail shape and to control loose sail. On this boat, the boom height with the main up is higher than standing height so there is less danger to crew in the event of a jibe. Reefing the main is more difficult. I would opt for boom gallows, and an extended track on the mast, even if it means making the main mast higher, so the boom can be dropped into the gallows so the sail can be got at safely, then once reefed, the sail and boom can be hauled back up with the main halyard to the desired height; this also leaves the option to set the boom low if required for performance say on an extended windward leg where jybing is not an issue. As you go along in a yacht you always wonder how it could have been designed differently (especially if you are a yacht enthusiast, and we had several on board). Thinking about it, in designing a Mark II version, I would make the ship longer to accommodate a RIB dive tender on the back deck, and therefore would opt for a more conventional central cockpit with a semi enclosed pilot house at its forward end; then there is also the option of building a “dog house” around the steering station for a high latitude trip. I am talking with Mr. Radford about this. One of the beauties of bare alloy, is that things can be modified, just with a supply of alloy, and a welder. Can’t do that with fibreglass, carbon fibre, or composite! There is welding gear on board; if in a remote area you do hit something, you have a chance of fixing it, and continuing happily on your way.
Readers will notice that apart from the decks and superstructure the yacht is un painted. This effect obviously does not win prizes for looks at Whitsunday Race Week. “Going bare” works well for alloy yachts as it can be difficult to get paint to adhere for any length of time to alloy; admittedly the look is rather austere. This approach is also favoured, surprisingly, by the French with their passion for alloy, and other things “au naturel”. Deck and cabin top surfaces are treated in a khaki coloured non skid material, which looks as though it comes from the military, but very safe to walk on, although a bit tough on bare feet as it is so coarse.
I had seen the yacht on a previous visit to Melbourne when prowling around the marinas, and after chatting with the Captain’s brother, decided to enquire. Capt. Jon is a pleasure to deal with, and straight down the line. He runs a good ship, and is a safety first skipper. We had discussed the matter of a cook (as my on-board cooking would inevitably lead to a mutiny!) as well as a mate; Captain’s selections both were excellent and complemented the trip with not only proficiency but also good humour. All practical sorts that were at home on a yacht. Our cook, I will call her “Chef” , is a lovely lass in her early thirties who is a qualified Captain in her own right, and does several jobs to earn a living in between university studies, driving boats on Melbourne waterways, and running RIBs for tourist vessels in Antarctica. She will soon return to Antarctica to work with the Australian Antarctic Program. Our mate, who shall be known as “the Schoonerman”, is an affable English chap, a trained woodworker, who has a background in square riggers, has probably sailed every boat in the world, and is a walking encyclopedia of yachts. His passion is wooden boats, and he lives in a remote corner of Tasmania where his wooden yacht collection is best preserved and enjoyed. It is amazing who you meet afloat, and the quality of the Captain and crew was top echelon. What’s more, the Chef’s Mum contributed to our fare with hearty beef stew, bacon and egg pie, and Chef herself had made pineapple muffins and Anzac biscuits. Always good to have a Mum in the wings when you go sailing. Just to digress on food, our first breakfast after an overnight passage was sausages, mushrooms, scrambled eggs, toast, and coffee…what more could a man want? We also enjoyed a delicious avocado, prawn, mango and chilli salad, completed with pan fried Snapper, and steamed rice.
So, in anticipation of the voyage, the classic lines of the great poet are recalled, from “Sea Fever” by John Masefield:
I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking
And a grey mist on the sea’s face and a grey dawn breaking.
I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the seagulls crying.
I must go down to the seas again to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And a quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.
With an optimistic weather forecast we cast off lines at 0700; Cap’n, Chef and I had been there since 0600 stowing gear and generally getting the ship ready for sea. Forecast was light winds initially from the sou’east then going sou’west, which we thought was great, but we soon worked out that when we wanted to go sailing, there was no wind; and, if we wanted wind, it was generally available between the hours of midnight and 4 am. It is said of Melbourne weather that four seasons can be experienced in one day. Until you sail on Port Phillip Bay, you do not appreciate just how huge it really is. Melbourne is the busiest port in Australia, with massive container ships anchored like lumbering behemoths waiting for docking. We motored past the super-efficient wharf handling facilities, with their new cranes. To the uninitiated, the Upper Bay is a web of channels, and markers, but we picked our course down the West Channel, in water so clear the bottom could be seen, amazing as it was only some ten miles from downtown Melbourne. It is about a 20 mile run to the entrance, where the mariner must negotiate the Rip which can cut up extremely rough as the tide may run at 7 knots. In the days of sailing ships, many were claimed and the chart is studded with locations of historic wrecks. We had the ebb, and were soon out to sea with Nepean Point to port. Course was set parallel with the coastline, and the City of Melbourne receded into the distance.
Winds were light and variable to startand we had to motor as we had a passage to make. At times the surface of Bass Strait was almost glassy calm, and we observed large flocks of mutton birds gathered up together, after feeding on the teeming baitfish. As night fell, the watches were set. I had the dog watch and came on at midnight; there were fishing boats to avoid so a sharp watch was kept; the sky cleared to reveal the Constellation of Orion in its magnificence, Sirius the Dog Star, and a tilted Southern Cross low in the sky. The waxing moon was a jaundiced yellow colour. Saturn was brilliant in the north. Cape Liptrap was rounded at the beginning of my watch. Thereafter, as the wind piped up I held course of 124 on a tight lead which the ship enjoyed. With genoa, jib staysail, forestaysail, and full main the good schooner really lifted her skirts clocking up to 9.2 kts as we literally flew along with phosphorescence streaming off the quarters. At times it was necessary to ease the main to counteract the weather helm. It was a great feeling to command some 23 tons of yacht, at night, under full press of sail. Citadel Island of the Glennie Group was our waypoint; it flashes twice every 15 seconds, is 117 m high and visible 17 miles, according to the chart, but sometimes I wondered. By 0315 we were off the Citadel, and could just make out the sepulchral shadow of the ‘The Skull”, a small island, hard to see in the dark, not far ahead just off the port bow. Not being sure of our course from there I woke the Captain and the Mate, and turned in for an hour and a half kip, ah sweet sleep after coming off watch. Once South East Point was rounded, the next landmark was the light on Waterloo Point. I got up just before dawn and by this time the boys had us well on our way, running up to Wellington Head, and not far beyond to our anchorage, Refuge Cove. I thought of my old friend Eric Wellington, a Maori Elder in New Zealand, and the fine and steady seamanship he had shown when we boated on his (now) traditional launch “Sou’east”, and went diving off Tutukaka, in Northland. As the dawn lightened up the sky, we were greeted by a fiery orange ball of the rising sun, and I took some photos as we ghosted along in the semi darkness. As the sun rose, the sky cleared, and the enticing clear waters of our anchorage sparkled in the morning sunlight. We had ventured into another world.
It was decided at the beginning of the trip that our chef does not stand watch, a very fair trade in my estimation and a desirable strategy on cruising yachts. It means the food side of things is taken care of and there are, weather permitting, three solid meals a day; and one individual is up to date on sleep, so can be called in as reserve if necessary. I think probably the ideal complement for a voyage is four, although in terms of boat handling in heavy weather the Captain reckoned six. The ultimate ideal with your crew is compatibility, and in this regard a great deal of tolerance is required to get along on a small yacht. Better to have four compatible souls as an odd man out can create disharmony. Ideally the yacht should be set up for short handed cruising, and the three do watches of 3-4 hours on/off, perhaps three at night and four during the day. On the “Wakaya”, Dad and his mates worked a progressive watch system, that time-wise moved forward every day, with the coming-off-watch man responsible for breakfast. I think that if one man cannot single-handedly raise, reef, and lower sails (with aid of auto pilot, steering) then you had better re-evaluate the set up of your rig for extended cruising. It is necessary to keep a watch at all times; the oceans are a lot busier than they used to be. You still hear of single-handed yachtsmen going to sleep and ending up on the rocks, or simply disappearing as they have been run down by shipping. The newer AIS system is a great safety feature for cruising yachts; this allows the identification of shipping, and can be overlaid onto a chart plotter to determine if there is a collision course imminent–recall normally the horizon is only six miles away. The ship can be radioed so one, most importantly, they know you are there, and two, you can get out of their way. Electronics are rapidly evolving, and mobile phone apps are replacing fixed mounted screens.This has an added advantage that where the main unit may be down below, practical navigation requires the information in the helmsman’s hand.
Our chef (notice how I speak of her in hushed, revered tones?) turned on a welcome-to-the-Prom breakfast of scrambled eggs, chilli baked beans, and mushrooms, with toast. After enjoying a good “chew”, without much encouragement, all hands crashed out, hitting their bunks for a well-earned sleep after the rigors of the previous night.
We enjoyed brilliant sunny weather, and as the day unfolded Cap’n and I prepared for a scuba dive. There had been rumours of crayfish in these parts, and we thought we might like to enjoy an Abalone or two as entrée later. With the Chef in charge of our 3.8 m RIB, we headed up towards Brown Head. As we simultaneously dropped in backwards off the RIB, I am sure we both exclaimed, “golly the water was cold” (or words to that effect). Next trip it will be a 7 mm semi dry for me. The water was clear with 30 ft plus viz; fish life abounded, especially what I call Blue MaoMao which is good eating, but we don’t spear on tanks, as well as Parrotfish and Sweep, a cold water fish we also see at the North Solitary Islands. Despite going down to 50 ft or so to explore nooks and crannies, no crayfish were to be seen, which surprised me. The invertebrate life was exquisite with colourful sponges, soft corals, and miniature sea fans. I am not sure if much UW photography has been done in this part of the world, but plan a return trip with this in mind. Stories are told of the Great White sharks that inhabit these waters, so we kept a weather eye out for these bities. Chef on the surface told us later she had seen seals playing around, so I guess that if they are there, the sharks are not. I hope I am right.
Later during the afternoon I had a snorkel along the rocks in the bay, admiring the prolific kelp and seaweed growth. I took some photographs of the yacht at anchor. We hob-nobbed with visiting yachts, a French-built Amel, and a Canadian Ted Brewer design of 43 feet, each owner being enthused about their yacht. The next morning a young bloke from a Ferro Hartley design came over; I invited him aboard our vessel, and he was in awe. I noticed his yacht was flying my house flag, the Jolly Roger. We elected for early cocktails that afternoon and enjoyed the warming sun of the late afternoon, and a stroll on the golden sand beach. The Schoonerman prepared at taste of abalone in garlic butter which was delicious, and later Chef conjured up a selection of gourmet Aussie cheeses, which we washed down with Boag’s beer from Tasmania, a delicious Herbert Pinot Noir, 2009, from Mt. Gambier of South Australia, and a rather challenging Cab-Merlot from Queensland assembled on Mt. Tamborine from grapes grown in the Burnett, quite tannic with (as one person said) kerosene flavours, not a good ambassador for its state of origin. So, as an aside, I still remain unfulfilled in my quest for a top quality Queensland wine. The Schoonerman is a Bluegrass enthusiast, and brought with him music new to me; we enjoyed the violin/mandolin combination of his friends, Patrick and Jesse Brock and the very original music of David Grey. This area is all national park, but there is a campsite at the back, up the stream, at the head of the bay; for anchoring, there is water of reasonable depth fairly close in; we even considered hanging off a stern line to the trees.
After a restful night with sweet restorative sleep enjoyed by all hands, I was the last to rise at 7, and made a beeline for the galley to assist Chef in the morning ritual, the preparation of the coffee. This was enjoyed on deck, with the pleasant additional company of the morning bird life in the forest. Chef turned on a corker breakfast of omelette with red and green peppers with bacon, and once everything was tidied up, it was off for a walk in the forest and exploration of the local area.
I clambered up rounded smooth-surfaced boulders covered with lichen and moss, a reminder that despite today being sunny, it often rains in this latitude. I have included some photos of the ship at anchor seen from the vantage point of the cliffs. Note the clarity of the water. After some bushwhacking, I found a trail and set off for an hour or so of uphill, along the crests of the hills…this being the walk-in trail used by trampers. Along the way on this lovelybut overcast morning, I discovered some unknown flowers, a new white flower that looks like a “Leptospermum sp.” which is very interesting because it has long filaments (one for the Botanist), so en-masse it looks like “Acacia”, which our Botanist Barry Kemp has identified as a “Kunzea sp.” and please see the notes on the image for more detail. There were two types of the vivid-yellow “Hibbertia“, the Prickly Guinea Flower “Hibbertia acicularis” and the Rough Guinea Flower, “Hibbertia aspera”. Nestled close to the ground was an upside-down flower something like a Black Eye’d Susan; and, by the track, a beautiful orchid-like flower, the White Iris, “Diplarrena morae” as well as masses of bush peas with a distinctive leaf. The bush pea has been identified as “Pultenaea daphnoides”. The unfaltering Botanist Barry Kemp has helped me with these flowers. It is uncanny that my friend and botanical mentor was here in 1970, having back-packed in. Refuge Cove had no water, nor did he, and they had to haul on to Seal Cove for water. I was back in time for our noon departure, in overcast weather with light winds.
The Captain most graciously allowed me to inspect and photograph the gear and set up of the boat. I thought it might interest readers to share my impressions. The centre-board design means the bilges are not deep. I have located a collection of boat photos in the middle of the gallery, each has a relevant caption, but here I would make a few general points. The masts, running, and standing rigging are all top-notch. Running backs on both masts are well set up and easy to place and tension. There is a handy billy set-up which goes on the end of the main staysail boom that serves to tension this sail downwards. The stainless steel stays are all swaged (although now-a-days Stay Lock may be a better system, particularly if repairs are required). Fuel capacity is about 350 gal, and she burns less than 2 gallons an hour at cruising speed; water about 250 gal. There is storage for scuba tanks and gear in the after lazarette locker. There are three thru hull fittings. The salt water intake, located in the central bilge has a cylinder that comes up above the water line level; this feeds a manifold which then has the salt water off takes–heads, galley pump, and fire hose. There needs to be an anchor hose which should run off this system. The single shower drains into a sump in the central bilge,and there is a float activated pump that drains the shower sump. The diesel fuel lines pass through this area also; there are two pumps in line (Captain suggested to have them in parallel, so they could still run if one is off line for cleaning). There is separate pump to run diesel to the central cabin heater. As far as I could see, there is no provision for heater in the aft cabin, and it could get mighty frosty back there. I think I would opt for ducted AC and heat, with also a heating duct conveying hot air into a drying area. The boat does not have a washing machine, but there is plenty of room for one forward. Electrics, the boat runs on 24 V, and for the refrigerator, 120-240. It is reckoned that an hour a day of main engine keeps the fridge cold; freezer – uncertain. There is a gen set which drives power points, but for some reason these are not live when the main engine alone is on. For mysterious reasons we blew an inverter, with an audible pop and smoke, while running the computer to write this story (my voyages are never complete without some mischievous Poltergeist). Tucked under the nav station desk are several important features: a single fail-safe battery set up to drive comm systems in an emergency; this battery is always on charge. There is an emergency abandon ship kit complete with hand spear. I have photographed a German brand of waterproof torch, with intense light good to 400 m, necessary in the dark, perhaps when looking for a man overboard. Aft on a tower at the stern was a powerful windmill generator, and also a bank of solar cells so the ship is quite energy efficient.
You can tell a lot about a man from the library he keeps. And, from the Captain’s personal library I started to read the last log of a personal hero, the late Sir Peter Blake. I once shook hands with this towering personage at a marine show in Auckland some years before with Dad, though I am still waiting for even a small measure of his personal greatness to wear off on me! In between duties of the ship, I savoured “The Last Great Adventure of Sir Peter Blake”, edited by Allan Sefton, and published by Penguin. It is available from the Chart and Map Shop, 14 Collie St. Freemantle, WA, 6160: www.chartandmapshop.com.au. His schooner was built for the French explorer, Dr. Jean-Louis Etienne and designed by Luc Bouvet and Olivier Petit. It features a rounded section hull design, which was calculated to pop the vessel up if it became frozen in the ice. It was sturdily built of alloy with plate thickness of 16 mm and 25 mm, and reinforced and heavier in the bows so that it would actually function as an ice breaker. On board was one of my teachers and colleagues, Dr. Trevor Agnew, a Cardiologist from Auckland (I did the Cardiology run as a fourth year at Auckland’s Green Lane Hospital). Sir Peter got many things right. I believe he is correct in warning about the changes in our planet’s ecology and ecosystems. We must get CO2 emissions under control, destruction of rainforest must stop, and wholesale contamination of the marine environment, and over fishing, let alone the eradication of Albatross by long line hooks, all must stop. Without these measures the once prolific oceans are doomed, and ultimately the planet will not support humans in their way of life. No biological system will last if it is continually depleted. I try to spread the message, and hopefully readers of this humble blog may take away a greater understanding of the need to support and protect the natural environment. I would like, in a way, to follow in Sir Peter’s footsteps, although I realize I will be treading in the footsteps of a giant. I am planning my own “Seamaster”; mine will be named “Here Nui” (which is Tahitian for an expansive love of the sea) and will voyage to remote places. I am a keen wildflower, wildlife, and underwater photographer, and aspire through my work to raise awareness and bring about change for a better environment. I hope to be joined by other pilgrims in my quest. There is much to be done.
I came to develop further my ideas about a “Roger Boat” for this mission. “Blizzard” is a brilliant boat; I would however go a bit bigger, so a decent-sized RIB can be carried up on the back deck where it can be kept fully operational, and launched via rollers over the stern, or better still with a crane. It would be nice to get away from gasoline as a fuel, and the range of Williams RIBs looks interesting, though rather much of their interior space is taken up with steering console and engine. I think some research into diesel outboards is necessary. My cronies on this trip are convinced of the need, as was Sir Peter, for shallow draft, which requires a centreboard. You read about centreboard slap, the noise it makes in the trunk; we had none of that on our ship. Even off the wind, board half down added to stability, and made the steering easier. Twin centreboard designs like Irving Johnson’s “Yankee” or the MacLear and Harris’, “Agantyr” offer the best ability to fully balance the rig, as off the wind schooners tend to develop weather helm, but as everything with yachts is a compromise, dual boards require more design and construction work. I would like to keep the prop shaft as short as possible so as to minimize perturbations along the shaft which tends to stress joints and bearings. On “Seamaster” the props, times two, are sheltered in a cage-like arrangement for their protection. With a midship cockpit, a cuddy cabin/low profile deckhouse can be incorporated, for shelter from the elements, as well has having a mid ship table for meals and socializing when in more gentle climes. I need more time to sail the “Blizzard” on different points of sail, and in different conditions before settling on my design concept.
On the return trip, we motored through the passage between the Prom and the Anser Group, then left Gt. Glennie Island of the Glennie Group to port, Norman Island to port, stayed well clear of Tongue Point, and set course up the coast. At night it was so dark the islands would have been barely visible. On the return we were to the north of our old friend, the Skull–would have liked a photograph. After dark, we lost our Schoonerman on the way, as he had a pre-arranged rendezvous with a mate in a 30 foot Couda boat, and he literally jumped ship in Bass Strait, and headed south…so strong is the pull back to their homeland for Tasmanians, I suppose. There is a picture taken in the dark of the happy pair pulling away from the mother ship; and, they took half our dinner with them! What was left, carrots, mashed potatoes, and stew, we downed heartily.
There was a lingering and spectacular sunset, over Bass Strait, a unique sight, that should have forewarned these mere mortals of a unique night that unbeknownst to us lay ahead. Since we had a following wind, and as the schooner is not great at direct downwind sailing because the main blankets the other sails, we tacked downwind, and on my watch did a long tack south west into the Strait. In the very small hours of the morning, I woke the skipper, and we gybed the boat around, to set a direct course for the Port of Melbourne. The pace was slow, about 5 knots, and at one point he had the engine running to keep up the speed; we had calculated that we wanted to arrive off the heads at about dawn and this we did. I went off watch noting lightning ahead. I came back on deck at 0500 to relieve the Captain, and by this time he had sheeted everything in, and was motoring dead into the wind, a 180 degree wind shift associated with a new front was coming down upon us from the north. Soon there was rain and lightening all around us, which caused me some concern. Although I had rubber boots on, it probably would have been safer to stand in the cabin on the rubber floor mat as well in case of a lightning strike. With the autopilot (newly named as “Roger”) holding our course, we huddled under the cuddy and stayed out of the rain, which continued until we were inside the Heads. Once inside, after passing across the seething Rip, it was Captain’s turn for a sleep, and Chef came on deck with me. A considerate person, our Chef, she brewed up a hot coffee, which tasted like the nectar of the Gods’, and was a bit of a perk up. Thus re energized, we unrolled the genoa and made sail as the wind had picked up. As the dawn passed into day, the behemoths of container ships could be seen anchored in the roads, and were given a wide berth. It never pays to tempt fate and get near shipping. Chef turned on a real rip snorter of a breakfast– bacon and egg pie with thick really crispy pastry, baked beans, all drowned in sweet chilli sauce. That’s livin’ . I stayed on the helm, as wet as a shag.
It was another seven hours before we were securely tied up at the Docklands Marina, and we disembarked in rain but with clearing clouds. After much anticipation and careful planning our voyage concluded. It was terrific–though we were cold and wet, we had enjoyed good friendship and adventure along the way to, and back from, the Prom. All hands would happily do it again. We are looking forward to a further adventure in the summer-time, early March, when we plan to dive some isolated places. Who knows, perhaps we could film a documentary about the unique marine environment of Bass Strait?