The Poetry of sailing

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Janillian in full flight

Sea Fever

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 sea-gulls 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 quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over

John Masefield

Vessel my father crewed onPavana

My boyhood recollections of the sea and sailing are scant. When I was in primary school during WWII, I remember my father used to go off regularly to crew for Ron Angus on Ron’s 51 foot, 39 tonne classic wooden schooner Pavana  (pictured above), built for him by Clausen and Sons of Port Adelaide in 1933. It was a beautiful craft with classic lines and he would regularly race it in the Adelaide to Port Lincoln classic with my father as one of his crew. Ron Angus later sold the boat to George Mayne of Port Lincoln, who raced her in the Sydney Hobart on a regular basis and, in 1951, she led the fleet for the first day.

On one occasion, my father arranged for me to sleep on board the vessel on a Friday night. Ron Angus employed a full time caretaker, Clarrie, who slept on the boat and maintained it between voyages, and then acted as cook at sea. The craft was moored in the Royal Yacht Squadron at Outer Harbour and Clarrie picked us up in the boat’s dinghy at the wharf and rowed us out to the boat. Below decks was spacious and comfortable with a panelled timber finish. At the age of eight or nine, I found the experience of sleeping on board exciting. Next morning after breakfast, Clarrie rowed us back to the wharf. 

My only other recollection of childhood sailing was when my father and mother took me on a holiday to Port Vincent on Yorke Peninsula. There he hired a small sailing dinghy and took me sailing, although I played no part in managing the rudder or sheets.

Sport has played a big part in my life – sports such as football, cricket, tennis, golf and squash – never sailing. At least, not until after I had married and returned to Adelaide after four years in England and found myself with three daughters and, subsequently, a son.

My first interest in sailing was initiated by my regular golfing partner, Des McDonnell, in 1973. At that stage, Des and I were aged 40 and playing golf together every Thursday afternoon. At the end of one round, Des announced that we should extend our interests and explore sailing. He told me the World 420 Sailing Championships were about to start at Brighton and Seacliff Yacht Club and that we should go down and have a look the following Thursday instead of playing golf. I was initially reluctant but Des was insistent and so we carried out his suggestion.

Well, I was quite captivated by the experience, especially as I worked at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital with the winner, Anders Wangel, who, at 33, was the youngest Professor of Medicine ever appointed in Adelaide. Anders’ son, Christian, crewed for his mother, Denise, and they finished ninth.

Anders and Denise had an interesting romance. Denise had been competing in the 1952 Australian Olympic swimming team in Helsinki, Finland, where their romance blossomed. Anders was a tough competitor. I well remember him badly cutting his foot on coral whilst competing over on the west coast of South Australia. Instead of retiring from the competition and having the laceration sutured he insisted on a tight bandage and finishing the competition. For many years he would maintain his physical fitness by cycling his racing bike from the eastern suburbs to The Queen Elizabeth Hospital every day – an activity fraught with dangers. Sure enough, he was involved in a severe accident when he turned a corner at very high speed, only to find his path blocked by a parked tray-top utility. In the resulting accident all his professorial papers were scattered on the road and it was only on retrieving these papers that his rescuers would believe that he was the Professor of Medicine. He sustained concussion and facial fractures and a subsequent cerebrovascular accident impaired his communication skills. He attempted to resume his professorship but was eventually forced to relinquish his chair. 

Anders’ grandfather was Christian Sibelius, a neurologist, psychiatrist, amateur cellist and brother of the celebrated composer, Jean Sibelius. The haunting melody of Jean Sibelius’s Finlandia would have to rank amongst the most spine-tingling compositions ever written; the embodiment of bare birch trees in the snow of Finland. As a cellist during his youth, Anders played chamber music with the composer’s daughter, Margareta, and her daughter Salu. Later, in Adelaide, Anders was invited to be reserve cellist with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra. What an extraordinarily gifted person. 

Maybe watching those titles planted a small seed in my psyche, as I could see the enormous challenges that sailing and pitting oneself against the elements presented.

Several weeks later, Des announced that, instead of golf the following Thursday, we would be travelling to Goolwa and borrowing John May’s beautiful sixteen- foot Corsair sailing dinghy which was housed in his holiday house on the river frontage. I presumed that Des had obtained John’s permission but recent conversations with John call this into doubt. (John, Des and I had all been medical students in the same year.) Be that as it may, the next Thursday we were on our way to Goolwa.

On arrival, we attached the trailer and boat to our vehicle and towed it to the water’s edge. I should hasten to add that Des and I knew nothing about sailing. Nevertheless, by trial and error we managed to step the mast and attach the side stays and haul up the mainsail and jib. We had trouble launching the vessel as the wind was determined to blow it off the trailer. We put on the life jackets we found in the boat and launched. Fortunately, the wind (a southeasterly) was moderate and allowed us to struggle into the centre of the river. Des took the helm and mainsheet and I took the jib. In fact, we managed tolerably well, even managing to go about after a short while. However on the return leg the wind picked up a notch and we lost control as we headed for the shore. The inevitable occurred and this beautiful pristine boat ran aground on some rocks. Des tried to clamber out but slipped on the gunwale and came down astride the side of the boat with some force crushing his private parts! He was temporarily immobilised in agony and I was unable by myself to prevent further damage. It was only when we managed to lower the sails that some sort of order was restored. We surveyed the damage to the hull which had large scratches to the gelcoat and underlying fibreglass. It was not a good experience. We derigged the boat and hauled it back on its trailer and returned it, worse for wear, to John’s shed. I left the apologies and offers of restitution to Des but I am not sure they were ever made. It was certainly a major setback to our sailing aspirations. 

Des was nothing if not determined and he next approached me announcing that he had arranged with a mutual friend of ours, Bill Hobbs, for Bill to come down to Grange Beach with his family and, of course, his Heron sailing dinghy which Bill had built himself – and for Bill to give our two families a sailing lesson. Bill was too nice a man to decline Des’s request and so, on the appointed day, all three families congregated on the beach at Grange for instruction – six adults and twelve children. The day would be described as being only moderately  successful as the breeze was a little brisk and, with so many children who did not know each other, confusion reigned. I well remember Des holding up one of his children’s undergarments to see in which direction the wind was blowing.

Bill was patience personified but, in the end, we all went our ways, none the wiser regarding the intricacies of sailing. The day was not an entire failure as I was attracted to Bill’s little boat and our two families seemed to meld together very well, so I pursued the idea of purchasing my own Heron. Bill and I joined the Brighton and Seacliff Sailing Club, home to that doyen of Australian sailing, Jim Hardy. The Hobbs family brought Poppy (Marg’s childhood nickname) and we launched Koleh, Malay for ‘little ship’, in the knowledge that we could race every Saturday in a strong Heron sailing fleet.

What of Des? After successfully introducing me to sailing, Des seemed to fall away. It seemed that Des was not temperamentally suited to the vagaries of sailing: its unpredictability and the constant danger of the boat capsizing. In any case, his enthusiasm dwindled and we returned to our Thursday golf with no further mention of sailing.

Meanwhile Bill and I raced regularly every Saturday afternoon with the strong Heron fleet at Brighton and Seacliff. It meant an early lunch, hitching up the boat trailer, loading up the family, driving to Brighton, rigging the boat and launching to be on the start line by 1.00pm. Anne, aged eight, was my jib hand and Chris Hobbs,  eleven, was Bill’s crew. Both these kids confessed in later years that they approached every Saturday with fear and trepidation, and often some diarrhoea. My recall is that I too felt some apprehension but it was balanced by the thrill of the competition.

The Heron was a reasonably stable dinghy for beginners but Bill and I still found innumerable ways to capsize and fall into the ocean. This necessitated standing on the centreboard to right the boat, clamber back on board, bail out, and rejoin the fleet with the venturi emptying the last of the water from the boat.

Sailing in the open sea could be a very chilly business, even though we wore wet suits.  Certainly the best part of the afternoon was the long hot shower at the end of each race.

Sailing achieved an end. It allowed the whole family to enjoy themselves. Sadie and Marg Hobbs became close friends, as did Bill and I. Those of our combined families who remained on dry land were roughly the same ages and entertained themselves around the club and in the water and both families remain close After our hot showers, we rejoined everyone, had a drink and stayed on for the announcement of the results and a barbeque tea. Everyone went home happy.

Gradually, our sailing skills improved and we became aware that the Heron class was made up of beginners like ourselves or old diehard stick-in-the mud sailors who were sticklers for sailing rules.

I remember on one occasion we were sailing on a run from the western buoy to the northern mark near Brighton jetty. Doug Short, who had been a Heron sailor for probably twenty years, was ahead of me and I tried to take his wind and pass him on the windward side, which I managed successfully. He yelled something at me as I passed and the next thing I saw was Doug flying a red protest flag on his side stays and heading back to the clubhouse. Yes, it was a formal protest and I was asked to attend the protest committee meeting when I came ashore. Doug gave his evidence – ‘sailing on a course above the mark’. Well, at that stage of my career I was no expert on the rules and the committee duly upheld the protest and I was ignominiously disqualified from the race. 

On another occasion, we were sailing in a normal Saturday afternoon race, very much focussed on the boats around us and laying the best course to the next mark – in fact, so intent were we on the job in hand that we did not notice a huge front approaching us from the west. Suddenly, a wall of wind struck the fleet, resulting in multiple capsizes and very rough seas. Our poor tiny Heron was overpowered and I remember we were caught with our bow into the westerly and some distance out to sea with the shore a long way to leeward. I was fearful that any attempt to go about and run with the wind would be sure to result in a capsize, with the rescue boats already overwhelmed. I managed to keep the dinghy stable for the moment pointing into the wind. I saw Bruce Higgins hurtling towards me in his 470 and called out, ‘How can I get this boat to go about safely Bruce!’ It was a futile call, as his reply was lost on the wind and he surfed past us doing probably 20 knots and right out of control. I clearly remember thinking how selfish I had been expecting my poor little girl – a mere child – to manage the sails in this impossible predicament. And here I was risking her young life.

Eventually, there was a slight lull in the wind and with my heart in my mouth, I gently eased the main sheet out to let the boat run with the wind, trying at the same time to avoid running by the lee with the wind coming on the same side as the mainsail. I knew that would certainly cause us to capsize. Through more luck than good management we eventually reached the shore and I was never more thankful to step onto dry land.  

Bill and I sailed our Herons for probably two seasons – 1972-73 – and then decided it was time to move on to a bigger boat. In about 1974, we decided that a natural progression for us would be to enter the 420 class. This was an international yacht equipped with a trapeze and spinnaker, which appealed to us. At that time, the best manufacturer was a French company called Lanaverre –  and so we imported two Lanaverre dinghys from France and off-loaded our Herons. We did not consult our crews but we fully expected them embrace our new toys!  

Our craft – Bill’s red Kahlua and our bright yellow Scorpio – duly arrived and it was with some trepidation that skippers and crews faced their new challenge as none of us had any experience with trapezes and spinnakers and so we were in for a steep and wet learning curve.

The 420 fleet we found to be far more professional than our stodgy old heroners. They were younger and we made many good friends, among them Don Pratt and Don Woolman, the government printer at the time. The outstanding sailor in the 420s was Clive Arnold, who was a Pommie immigrant. He was rarely beaten and Saturday after Saturday he would be the winner, usually by a clear leg of the course. He would have his boat unrigged, on its trailer, and be enjoying a quiet ale before the next boat crossed the finish line. He was unbeatable in the Australian 420 championships for a number of years after we joined the class. Anders Wangel had moved into the 470 class at this stage and so their paths never really crossed, by my recollection.

Our first season sailing 420s was a wet and miserable one. It took me a whole year to master the spinnaker as I kept trying to correct the heeling to leeward by directing the boat to windard, instead to leeward. My poor crew came to expect a regular afternoon drenching in the sea and resorted to pleading, ‘Are you sure you want us to put up the spinnaker, Dad?’  In the end, we did improve but the learning curve for me was very flat and the experience for my long-suffering crew was painful. Anne, at that stage, was probably eleven or twelve.

Trying to right the boat and disentangle spinnaker sheets and sails was quite an exercise and took some time especially if there was a sea running.

‘How’d you go Ross?’

‘Oh, we capsized again running to the northerly mark and finished last!’

Sailing a 420 – at times frightening but exhilarating

Other hazards we faced. On one occasion, Anne was out on the trapeze when she maintained that a shark had passed beneath the boat. I did not see it myself as my eyes were focussed on the next buoy but I did find it somewhat disconcerting.

On one particular Saturday, Anne had a commitment at school or somewhere and I asked, nay commanded, my second daughter, Catherine, to fill the breech as crew. She was aged about ten or eleven and unenthusiastically obeyed, being mindful of my poor sailing reputation.

All was going well, although we were well back in the fleet. I am not sure what happened as we were not running with the spinnaker at the time but suddenly we did the usual: capsized. We were well out to sea, heading towards the northerly mark near Brighton jetty at the time. Our problems suddenly amplified when the mast, which was initially lying on top of the water, suddenly submerged to 180 degrees from the vertical with the centre board pointing to the sky. Normally, the rescue boat would have been notified from the club lookout on the first floor of the clubhouse but on this occasion we were not visible to them, as the sun was in their line of sight. As a result, we spent the next twenty minutes in the water with my poor crew very frightened of sharks. I placed her between my body and the upturned sail to protect her from any marauding sharks and this allayed her fear somewhat but it was looking as though we would have to rely on the incoming tide to drift us in when a fellow 420 sailor came to our aid. What a godsend it was when Colin Black took Catherine on board, retired from the race, and took her back to shore. Meanwhile, I stayed with the upturned hull and waited until the tide drifted it into shallow water and I was able to right it and sail back to the clubhouse. Regrettably, that experience doused any love that Catherine may have developed for the sea, although her siblings all became excellent sailors. 

In 1977, the Australian 420 Championships were scheduled to be held at Brighton and Seacliff in January and our skills had improved to the stage we thought it would be a bit of fun to enter. Perhaps it would be fair to say that Anne, my crew for the series, did not quite share my enthusiasm.

Nevertheless we participated, not in every race as the week brought with it strong southwesterlies and, on some days, there were accompanying big seas. We gave those days a miss and watched from the comfort of the clubhouse. The title was won by the intrepid Anders Wangel with his wife Denise as crew. I cannot remember if Clive Arnold participated but I suspect not.

After the last race, the Australian 420 single-handed championship was held, with about twenty boats participating in a single race around an Olympic course. I had never sailed our boat with the mast stepped forward and without the jib, so I quietly consulted the young son of one of the competitors, Malcolm Higgins. He put me right on where to step the mast and where to attach the side stays. His father, Bruce, was a kidney physician with whom I worked at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital and he also was a very keen sailor. In fact, he continued to sail at Brighton long after we left and well into his retirement. His final sailing boat was a Sabre – a sleek, single handed vessel, in which he raced against a group of senior retirees. In his final race, he suffered a heart attack and fell overboard. He was quickly retrieved by his fellow competitors but alas, was not able to be resuscitated. 

Returning to our final championship race, the day turned out be sunny and calm, with a gentle 7-8 knot zephyr from the southwest. We all assembled to jostle at the start line where I managed a good start over the line. The breeze dropped even further, although we were never becalmed. Those conditions suited me admirably and I was able to maintain my position around the whole Olympic course. Approaching the finish line, I thought I could be in with a chance but Don Woolman was too far ahead. He crossed the line well ahead but, strangely, did not receive the gun. He had been disqualified as he’d broken the start line. Imagine my surprise to hear the gun as I crossed the finish line. It was the only 420 race I had ever won but it was a good one, being an Australian Championship. Upon returning to shore, I was duly overpowered by Anders Wangel and Don Woolman and given a traditional dumping in the sea. The most satisfying feeling was that I had beaten the World 420 Single-handed Champion, Anders Wangel.

The National Single-handed Trophy for 1977

Bill Hobbs and I were becoming restless with our sailing and decided to seek greener pastures in the form of 16-foot Hobie catamarans. I approached the Commodore of Brighton and Seacliff, George Doughty, regarding our sailing catamarans at Brighton.

‘Yes’, said George, ‘You can bring catamarans to Brighton and we’ll gladly give you the gun: One barrel through each hull!’ 

Well, that settled that, and so Bill and I ceased being members at Brighton and turned our eyes to sailing at Goolwa, joining the oldest yacht club in Australia, the Goolwa Regatta Yacht Club. Very convenient it was for us, as we each had holiday houses behind the yacht club. We had some previous experience racing there, as Brighton and Seacliff traditionally ran an Easter regatta out of the Goolwa clubhouse. 

It was a new era in our sailing. Catamarans were really fun boats requiring new skills to balance the boat with the crew out on the trapeze. It was about this time that my son David replaced his sisters as crew and then displaced me as skipper and took the helm. 

We sailed that boat in many Milang to Goolwa races, although not with any success as there were much faster catamarans on the water, Tornados and such like.

We had many exciting moments with our Hobie cat. On one occasion, with David out on the trapeze in a Milang to Goolwa race, we were just entering the river from Lake Alexandrina and flying. David was quite young, maybe fifteen, when, suddenly, the jib sheet slipped from his grasp and the boat capsized over to windward on top of us. Momentarily we found ourselves being dragged through the water at high speed. It is interesting that in these situations time seems to stand still and it seemed an eternity before the boat inevitably came over on top of us and things came to a halt. Cats are reasonably easy to right by standing on the lower hull riding in the water and pulling on the top hull so we were able to continue in the race, albeit eating wet sandwiches.

It may have been in that same race that we again capsized, this time cartwheeling so that both hulls nosedived into the water throwing us into the air and spearing the top of the mast into the mud. It happened not far from the finish line opposite Veenstra’s Marina. That is a situation that requires outside help and a kind spectator launch threw us a rope and pulled the top of the mast out of the mud. We went ashore on Hindmarsh Island, sorted out our sheets and sails and eventually crossed the finish line opposite the Club House but well behind the leaders. 

Another race in the Hobie has left its imprint firmly in my mind. That race was the annual Goolwa to Milang, sailing via Port McLeay at the eastern end of Lake Alexandrina. David and I entered but when the day of the race dawned it was distinctly unfriendly for sailing. A strong westerly was blowing, gusting to 30 knots. I was all for staying in the comfort of our house but David, then aged about sixteen, was all for getting on the water. Not wishing to spoil his day and appearing as a wimp to my son, I reluctantly agreed. My youngest daughter, Celia, was also entered in the race on Bill Hobbs’ Hobie as crew to Simon Hobbs, an excellent sailor. We climbed aboard with our packed lunch and were about the middle of the fleet at the start. Sailing from Goolwa to Clayton and entering Lake Alexandrina we had the wind predominantly astern. We were having a very hairy ride and both of us were forced to sit on the stern of the craft to prevent the strong wind getting under the hull and cartwheeling the whole rig. As we entered the Lake and left our last bit of land behind I said to David, ‘This is our last bit of land to go ashore and pull out of this nightmare.’ With the bravado of youth he replied, ‘No way, Dad, this is great!’

Well, as anticipated, the westerly was even stronger across the lake and I gripped the jib sheet firmly with one hand and the side stay with the other. At this stage the fleet was widely scattered and, with no rescue boats visible, my apprehension increased. But we were committed once on the lake and, like childbirth, one had to hang on for the inevitable. There was no escape.                                         

At one stage, we raced past our friend Bruce Tunstill who had cartwheeled his speedy Tornado cat and was hanging on to the hull with his crew. The hull was suspended out of the water by the mast which was firmly embedded in the floor of the lake. No question of us stopping to help as we too were in survival mode. Bruce’s boat was later retrieved but the mast was so firmly embedded in the lake that it had to be left with a marker attached to warn other craft. 

Excitement and terror in a Hobie 16 capsize

Eventually, we reached the easterly buoy opposite Point McLeay and turned into the wind, which was now on our port side. David, who did not seem to share my fear, positioned himself out on his trapeze and expected me to do the same. No way. Instead, I wrapped myself around the side stay, hanging on for dear life with both arms, holding the jib sheet with one hand.

Half way across the lake, we roared past another upturned cat with the crew struggling in the water some 50 yards behind their boat. Even if we had wished to help we knew it would have ended up with two capsized boats instead of one. Life jackets, of course, were mandatory, so there was no danger to life, we hoped, but it is always a worry when crew get separated from their boat. What about our lunch?  I certainly had no appetite and the sandwiches, in a box tied to the mast, remained uneaten.

One could not see Milang from the middle of the lake, so we guessed our course until land came into sight and we were able to pick out Milang and make landfall. I had similar feelings to that day in the Heron – never felt so pleased to put my feet on dry land. 

Gentler times with Hobbs and Johnsons

In 1988, the opportunity arose to join the First Fleet Re-enactment to celebrate Australia’s bicentenary. The invitation was for crew to sign on at Portland in Victoria and sail a square-rigger to Port Adelaide, calling at Kangaroo Island en route. Bill and Chris Hobbs and our youngest daughter, Celia, and I decided it would be a great experience and so we signed on and travelled to Portland to join the Amorina, a square-rigger. The fleet comprised some six or seven square-riggers which had sailed from England to Australia via Rio de Janeiro using the trade winds, as had the First Fleet. Square-riggers are only able to sail with the wind, not against it, as can modern sailing vessels.

The Amorina had been constructed in 1934 in Gothenburg, originally designed as a Swedish lightship for the Baltic Sea, but had been refitted as a square-rigged barquentine in Portugal in 1983, with three steel masts, the tallest at 34 metres (112 ft) and increased accommodation belowdecks. She also had an icebreaker bow and riveted hull plates six inches thick so was a solid craft. 

Amorina in full sail

We travelled by car from Adelaide to Portland where we boarded the ship and received our sailing instructions from the first mate. The thing that stuck in my mind from these instructions was the statement, ‘Man overboard stays overboard!’ The rationale was that a square-rigger is a cumbersome beast and takes at least two kilometres to slow down and at least half an hour to reset the sails on a return course, far too long to find anyone lost overboard, let alone rescue them. One of the fleet, the Anna Kristina, had already lost their first mate in the middle of the night in the South Atlantic when a loose jib sheet flicked him overboard. Despite the whole fleet searching for a number of hours, he was never found.

We were shown our quarters on board – small cabins in the fo’c’sle of the ship with three to a cabin, cramped but comfortable. We were taken on a tour around the ship – the wheelhouse, the mess room, the rig and sails – and given instructions regarding our duties, which included the cleaning of the toilets. The regular crew were all Swedes but without exception spoke perfect English. I was apprehensive about climbing the rigging to set the sails as ascending heights was not my favourite thing. We were told that setting the sails was optional and was done under the direction of the regular crew. There was no such hesitation on the part of Celia, who embraced climbing the rigging with zest. She had no hesitation in setting the top gallant sail over 100 feet above deck level, even with the boat pitching and rolling – movements much accentuated at the top of the mast. I feared for her safety, especially as I noted how warmly she was received and encouraged by her Swedish fellow sailors aloft as they went about their duties, bronzed and shirtless! It was with great trepidation and driven by pride that I forced myself to climb to the first cross tree to help unfurl the foresail. The most frightening manoeuvre I found was having to climb onto the wooden platform between the spars. This necessitated having to unhook one’s safety harness, climb over the edge of the platform unharnessed and rehook again after one was on the platform. I was relieved when it was my turn to clean the heads (toilets).

The hesitant sailor Celia aloft unfurling the top gallant

One of our duties was to take the helm for part of our watch. This made one acutely aware of what a cumbersome craft the Amorina was – she responded very slowly and poorly to adjustments of the helm, causing over-steer to such a degree that the helmsman would find the ship was heading 15 to 20 degrees beyond the compass course and a further adjustment in the opposite direction would become necessary. With practice, however, the helmsman could even-out the ship’s poor response. 

The weather for our passage to Kangaroo Island was good, with moderate winds and relatively calm seas. We all wore scopolamine patches behind our ears to minimise seasickness and they seemed to be very effective as seasickness in our group was minimal. 

We were, of course, issued with safety harnesses but all the Swedish sailors despised such safety measures as a matter of pride.

Celia on helm duty. Celia going aloft. Celia unfurling the sails at night!!

The roughest passage we had was coming across the bottom of St Vincent’s Gulf after leaving Kangaroo Island. We left at dusk with the wind nearing 50 knots. The poor crew had to go aloft to unfurl the sails in darkness. I suggested to Celia that she give it a miss but to no avail and I had a nervous hour or so pacing the deck, worried that I would return with one less daughter. She seemed unconcerned about the danger involved. At one stage, I crossed to the leeward side of the boat and was surprised to find four of my fellow volunteer crew anchored to the lee rail by their safety harnesses, vomiting over the side. 

I spoke to the first mate who was relishing the sail and he informed me that the cumbersome Amorina needed a 50 knot breeze to get moving.

Amorina approaching Port Adelaide with welcoming craft

The next morning we found ourselves approaching Port Adelaide with a huge armada of spectator vessels coming to meet us. As is customary on these ships, the crew positioned themselves on the ends of each spar. I was horrified to see Celia standing on the top spar with no safety harness. Somehow she survived but my nerves were shattered and I was very relieved to disembark.For my part it had been a worrying trip, not the crewing and sailing which was most enjoyable but it was a harrowing experience as the sole parent on board to get my daughter home safely. She took a fancy to one of the young Swedish crew who reciprocated and I found myself trying to chaperone her as well as crewing full time. On one occasion, I lost her altogether and searched the ship high and low. I became desperate and approached the captain and first mate and told them my daughter was missing – perhaps overboard. They took no notice of my concern and did nothing. I spent half a day trying to find her, even searching the crew’s quarters. Eventually, to my relief, she turned up.

‘Where have you been?’ I questioned.

‘Oh, I fell asleep in the wheelhouse behind the helm,’ she claimed, to which I could find no reply. 

That was not the end of our Swedish sailor, who kept in touch after we returned home, and arranged for Celia to be offered a position as permanent crew. The Amorina at that stage was preparing to go to the Antarctic with paying passengers and I was offered the appointment of ship’s surgeon, which I declined. A surgeon friend of mine, Peter Riddle, had been the ship’s surgeon on the voyage from England and confided to me that the ship was not seaworthy as the steering mechanism was faulty and constantly giving trouble. He doubted it would survive a voyage into the rough seas of the Southern Ocean. That trip did not take place and I was very pleased when the Amorina disappeared over the horizon, together with all its crew, and life returned to normal.  

      Amorina in the Port River in full dress with Celia standing on top spar on right!

In 1996, we were invited to a 60th birthday celebration where we sat next to long-time friends Ian and Margaret Leonard. As the celebrations proceeded and the champagne flowed, Ian came up with the brainwave that we should hire a bare boat in Turkey and sail around the Turkish coast. Sadie and I agreed and Ian there and then rang Bill Hobbs and his wife Margaret and invited him to join the expedition, making six of us in all. Ian took it on himself to do the arranging and he organised for us to hire a beautiful 45-foot Beneteau Oceanis yacht. In the sobre light of the next day we had a few doubts but we were commited and so the trip took place in the northern summer of 1996*. 

* The bulk of this section relies upon Sadie’s meticulously-kept journals

Layout and interior of Beneteau Oceanis 45

The three males were all competent sailors and so, armed with two GPS systems, we flew to Athens and then on to Santorini, where we had a couple of memorable days. Next, we flew to Rhodes, where we had another two enjoyable days visiting the sights and the old city and, finally, we embarked on the regular hydrofoil, crossing to Marmaris on the Turkish coast.

We had some confusion with our booked hotel in Marmaris but this was duly sorted out and we had a tour of the city. The most memorable part of the tour was a stopover for a meal in a Turkish village. At the conclusion of the meal, the beautiful daughter of the proprietor put on a very professional belly dancing performance, dressed in a scanty turquoise costume. Part of the performance included an invitation for Ian, Bill and myself to join her in a conga line with hands on hips. She removed each of our shirts and invited us to join her girations. It was sensational.

Left: Dinner on Santorini – and Right: No caption required!

Finally, we were taken to where our yacht was awaiting us in the huge marina. Our first problem was getting on board. It was via a narrow plank which was placed between the wharf and the boat’s deck and it took some courage from one or two of the ladies to ‘walk the plank’. We were given a briefing on the layout and functioning of the vessel by the Sunsail representative, told them of our intended sailing route, and were then left to our own devices.

As it was by then dusk, we slept on board, getting accustomedto the smell of diesel, and were woken at dawn by the call to prayer from the the close-by minaret. We found the showers very welcome, had a hearty breakfast, and then our supplies and ice for the two weeks arrived and we were ready to set off at about 11.00am on Saturday, September 15, 1996.

Under motor, we picked our way through the hundreds of yachts and gulets (traditional wooden sailing vessels) moored in the huge, attractive harbour. Once out of the Marmaris Harbour, we hoisted our sails, switched off the motor, and moved gently along under a light breeze. How nice it was to have a self-furling jib and automatic uphaul and downhaul of the mains’l. As we were to experience on a regular basis, around the Turkish coast there is very little wind in the mornings but around 2.00pm a strong breeze comes up. This is most noticable off the coast of France where it is known as the Mistral and is due to the cold air coming down off the Alps – but we found it also to be a regular feature sailing in the Aegean Sea, although perhaps not as strong as further west.

Around lunchtime, we found a pleasant little bay where we downed sails, anchored and prepared lunch. We had thought we were solitary but, as we finished lunch, a small boat appeared with one person on board selling icecreams and these made a surprising but pleasant end to our lunch.

After lunch, we hoisted the sails and, with the wind picking up, had a lively run to Kumlubϋk, a small settlement where the owner of the adjacent restaurant helped us choose an anchorage. He made us very welcome and, of course, we dined at his restaurant as there was not much else in the vicinity. Shortly after we anchored, the wind really came up, making us grateful that we had moored early.    

Our boat was registered in Guernsey, so we’d thought it reasonable to sail under an Australian Red Ensign flag, although we were aware that, strictly speaking, that flag is only allowed to be flown on Australian-registered merchant ships. No-one objected during our two weeks at sea but on our return we were severely chastened by the Sunsail authorities. We countered by saying that we thought the flag suited the boat’s name of Wayward Bishop

We had decided that we would initially sail westward around the coast towards Bodrum, return to Marmaris and then sail eastward towards Gocek. Following that route, we felt we wouldn’t be too far from Marmaris if bad weather blew up. 

The ‘Wayward Bishop’ off Southern Turkey

Our impression was that the coast of southern Turkey was sparsely populated and primitive, with the inhabitants living on a pittance and eking out a living by providing meals to itinerant sailors like ourselves.

On one occasion, we anchored at a small settlement at Bozukkale. Our method of anchoring was to drop the anchor and then row the rubber ducky towards the shore and throw a stern line around a tree, and then shorten the anchor line. It worked very well. We were just settling into a G & T when a young girl rowed out to us to enquire how many wanted to come to her parent’s restaurant for dinner. We all accepted her offer and she returned after darkness fell. We clambered into her tiny row boat and she took us to a rickety landing below the ‘restaurant’ which was a dilapidated shed covered with branches. The cooking was done in a small adjacent shed using gas cylinders. All very basic with dirt floors. Mother cooked on a primitive grill whilst, alongside, father prepared the kebabs – cold chips, salad and calamari accompanied by delicious bread and local wine. 

We were somewhat apprehensive being rowed back in the darkness to Wayward Bishop by the young daughter in the tiny dinghy containing seven of us, particularly as the wind had sprung up. However, we need not have worried as she proved to be very competent at her task. Coffee and bed.

Securing the sternline on typical rocky shoreline

Selimiye we found to be a picturesque and thriving fishing village with restaurants and even a supermarket for us to replenish our supplies. There were cows, goats, poultry and plots of corn, tomatoes and capsicum. We moored to the Falcon Restaurant jetty and so felt obliged to have dinner there. It was a good choice and we had the best meal yet in Turkey for the reasonable price of $A85.00, including wines, for all six of us. Dusan, the restaurateur, insisted on taking us on a tour of the district the following day, which was very kind of him and typical of the hospitality we were enjoying in Turkey.

We returned for a very nice breakfast at Dusan’s restaurant the following morning – orange juice, omelettes, bread, jams and coffee – and then piled into his station wagon, together with his son (nicknamed Rambo because he had been born during Ramadan). Five of us had seats and the other three lay in the back, seat belts not supplied. Our first stop was at the local primary school, built next to the water, where the children were just gathering. 

We were amused to see several of them fishing with success before school was called; they had already landed two squid. They were all immaculately dressed and, when the assembly was called by two male teachers, they all fell into line and recited a homage to Attaturk, the father of Turkey, in front of his statue –one boy stood in front chanting and the rest enthusiastically repeated his lines. Attaturk has always been an adored and towering figure in Turkey. He decreed that a secular democracy be the method of government and he made the armed forces formidible and independent of government. Over the years since his death in 1938 there have been multiple attempts to create an Islamic administration, all crushed until recently by the army. Sadly, Erdogan has now gained power, having imprisoned the responsible army chiefs and leaving Attaturk’s fears realised. Turkey is now an Islamic theocracy but at the time of our visit was still a secular democracy.

We had a brief meeting with the teachers inside the school and were impressed by their friendliness and courtesy – and then it was time to move on.

Above: the squid catch on the way to school before assembly

– complete with salute to Attaturk (below)

Our next stop on Dusan’s tour was a small village with the inevitable carpet shop, where Bill and Ian both purchased lovely carpets. Nearby, we found a girl weaving her own carpet on a small loom. Dusan told us it was the custom for betrothed girls to do this before their marriage.

After several other stops, Dusan returned us to our boat and we made preparations to set sail once more.

Leaving Selimiye as the furthest point in our journey west, we now headed eastward back towards Marmaris. On this part of the voyage, we were very grateful to have a GPS. Searching for Serce Limoni, which was described on the map to be a safe anchorage, we found only cliffs along the coastline, with nothing resembling the entrance to a safe stopover. However, the GPS guided us and it was only when we were within 100m or so of the entrance that it came into view. The entrance was lined by cliffs and turned back on itself, making it almost invisible. It was getting late in the day and we had been starting to think we were in for some night sailing. The map also informed us to take care to avoid the wreck of a Byzantine ship which had foundered in 1035AD. We downed sails and motored through the entrance, which opened up into a pleasant sheltered bay.

Sternline secured and time for a swim!

One of the two restaurateurs ashore guided us to a safe anchorage and gained our custom by arranging to row us ashore at 7.30pm. Osmun, the owner, was a gentle young man who ran the restaurant with his mother and sister. He told us he had been there in his restaurant for 15 years with no electricity, no telephone and no road out. The nearest village was ten kilometres away over a rough track which they traversed when necessary by donkey or on foot. Fishing boats used the bay but the fishermen came from the village. He told us he would like to marry but in such a remote area there were no prospects. The restaurant was simple and right on the waterfront. After scattering the ever-present cats, we seated ourselves and were served mixed hors d’oeuvres followed by calamari – all very tasty. At this juncture, a wandering cow found its way through the door and Osmun had to persuade it to reverse! For the main course, some of us had fish followed by Turkish delight and apple tea or Turkish coffee to finish. 

After dinner, Osmun returned us to Wayward Bishop with the prediction he thought we were in for rough weather as there was phosphorus visible in the water. Once back on board, we wound down the evening with a game of bridge before turning in.

Sure enough, we awoke to a strong wind the next day but the Bishop was a beautiful boat to sail and we were pushed along at 11 knots. Around midday, the wind dropped and, as it was coming astern, I tried goose-winging the genoa with limited success. 

As we cruised along the coast, we noted how barren and stony the Turkish coastline was, littered with crumbling stone walls and numerous structures that looked like shepherd huts. 

About 3.00pm we sailed into Ekincek Bay; a beautiful spot with expensive craft dotted about. We moored a little way from the main town.                                              

Ekincek Bay – typical barren rugged coastline

The ‘must see’ from Ekincek was a visit to Dalyan in the next bay. Dalyan is only accessible by motor launch and so we had an interesting time negotiating with the numerous launch companies to join one of their day trips. After an agreed price was settled, we boarded their launch and set off.

En route, we stopped off at Caunus, which is mentioned in records of the Persian Wars of 546 BC. The Roman baths, beautiful amphitheatre and temple to Apollo were well worth our visit. Further on, we entered the delta of the Dalyan Cayi River, from which we had a good view of the Lycian rock tombs carved high up in the cliff face, making them inaccessible. These mausoleums dated back to the fourth century BC. The channels of the delta were packed with tourist boats coming and going.

The setting of Dalyan on the river delta

Lycian rock tombs from the 4th century BC seen from the river delta

Dalyan itself was much like Venice, with boats plying back and forth and restaurants lining the water’s edge. It was a beautiful setting, surrounded by high hills and bustling with holiday-makers enjoying the tourist shops. We had an ordinary lunch but the beer was good. We purchased some supplies, reembarked on our launch and were taken back to the Bishop in Ekincek Bay where we found four recently arrived gulets were anchored almost on top of us.

Turkey’s Turquoise Coast – the ‘Turkish Riviera’

The following morning, we continued east along a very rugged coastline to Fethiye but had to motor the whole way as there was no wind and the atmosphere was hot and sticky. We arrived at Fethiye in the late afternoon. It was situated in a beautiful bay but had little else to commend it. We found it rather scruffy and dirty, although the local markets were well-stocked with good produce which suited our needs. In the middle of the town were the ruins of a Roman colosseum which did add a measure of charm to the place.

Next morning, we were woken at dawn by the call to the faithful for prayer coming from the numerous mosques around the bay. This was accompanied by thunder and a heavy downpour of rain, so we had to close all the hatches. We went ashore for a tasty breakfast of omelettes and coffee and then visited the market where one store bore a sign: ‘Hamish McTurk!’ as an attraction to all the foreign visiting yachts. 

We set sail later in the morning and found a heavy swell had developed but the wind had dropped. It was hot and humid, so we all went for a swim. The amazing feature of the Aegean sea, we found, was its high salt content, which allowed us to float without any effort, much like swimming in the Dead Sea.

No wind so time for a swim. Unsinkable, like the Dead Sea

Our next stop was Yassica Bay and then we continued on to Cleopatra’s Baths in Hamman Bay, about 50km east of Fethiye. At least, we saw the ruins of them as they are crumbling and partly submerged, possibly brought about by an earthquake. According to local legend, Marc Anthony built the Roman Baths for Cleopatra as a wedding present and even had golden sand transported there from Egypt. The place was chosen because of a hot water spring supplied by the thermal waters of a crater lake found behind one of the nearby mountains. They were said to have come to the area for their honeymoon.

We found the place to be a popular tourist destination, crowded with a flotilla of boats, including about ten gulets. We tied up to a very rickety home-made jetty and went ashore to see the ruins of the baths. There was the expected restaurant on the shore which we did not patronise but purchased takeaways and continued on our voyage to Turquoise Bay which was our most eastward destination, after which we turned the nose of our boat westward to return to Marmaris, which we reached in two days of pleasant sailing.

Before entering the marina we filled the tanks with diesel which set us back the equivalent of $A5,000!

The day after mooring in Marmaris and returning our beautiful boat to its agents, our driver arrived to take us on the two-week land segment of our Turkey adventure. Imagine our surprise when he turned up in a 28-seater bus just for the six of us – and we found he spoke not a word of English.

However, that second segment of our trip was breathtaking and our driver, Remzi, we found to be very pleasant – even though we had no ability to converse. The highlights included a visit to Gallipoli, where we were still able to find shell cases in the trenches and then into Attaturk’s bunker overlooking Anzac Cove, followed by a visit to the Lone Pine Cemetery and War Memorial. We appreciated Attaturk’s inscription at Anzac Cove. 

Our vist to Ephesus, with its excavations of the original city including the magnificent library, was very educational, as was our visit to Istanbul, where we stayed in a Pasha’s house (the abode of a high-ranking official) and visited the Topkapi Palace. We toured the Aya Sophia, built by Emperor Justinian and opened as a Christian church in 537 AD. When we visited, it was a museum but has now been converted by Erdogan to a mosque. We visited the Blue Mosque, enjoyed a trip up the Bosphorus to the Black Sea and had numerous other adventures before boarding our plane via Singapore to Adelaide. 

  Happy crew at the end of a great voyage

Walking one day along the foreshore at Goolwa, I noticed a wooden boat with stunning lines swinging at its mooring out in the river. I pointed it out to Sadie who agreed.

Imagine my surprise when it came on the market a month or two later for $25,000, which included a tender. I negotiated with the owner, Mark Stock, a local builder, and became the owner of Janillian, a 25-foot six-and-a-half-ton gaff-rigged mast sloop with bow sprit. She had a three-foot draft with the centre plate up and seven-foot draft with the plate down. She had been designed by ‘Poppa’ Searle at the request of Teddy Bradwell, Town Clerk of Port Adelaide, the design based on 21-footers with narrow chine and large sail area. Teddy wanted a shallow draft for the vessel so that he could get in and out of the creeks of the Port River to fish with his mates. The boat was built by R.T. Searles & Sons of Birkenhead, SA, in 1938 for £370 – completed one year prior to the onset of WWII. Searles were close neighbours of Clausens on the Port River, the builders of Pavana in 1933, on which my father had sailed.

Janillian was carvel built, jarrah below the waterline and oregon above, with frames of NZ Kauri. She was later fitted with an inbuilt Volvo MD2 two-cylinder diesel engine.

Early sea trials found her rather tender to handle, perhaps because ‘Poppa’ Searle had forgotten that 21-footers were accustomed to having six men seated on the weather rail. To correct this fault, some half a ton of lead ballast was laid alongside the keel inside the hull – lead which I removed shortly after purchase in order to get more speed out of her.

Mark Stock had bought the boat in 1987 and did a refit, in the process of which he changed the rig to more of a gunter than gaff*.  Partly as a result of this refit, but mainly due to the hiring of an Australian top sailor to take the helm, Mark won the Bill Appleby Perpetual Trophy as winner of the Milang-Goolwa Classic in 1990.*If the angle between the mast and the gaff is less than 15 degrees, it’s referred to as a gunter rig (see above).

Over the ten years or so that I was the owner of Janillian in the 90s, I made a number of improvements, the most notable of which was the addition of a teak deck to replace the ugly vinyl which previously covered it. The history of this is interesting. In about 1993/4 it was brought to my attention that The Queen Elizabeth Hospital had not been paying me an allowance which was my due. When I approached the authorities and questioned them about short-changing me, they promptly paid $10,000 into my account. An unanticipated wind fall! The quote of the cost of a complete teak deck put on by Allan Edwards at Goolwa with his father-in-law’s help (Chippy Barclay, a master craftsman) came to – yes, you guessed it – exactly $10,000! It is said with some truth that a boat is a hole in the water into which one pours money!

Above: Janillian with new teak deck and cockpit (below left)

Managing Janillian at Goolwa was a learning curve. The first lesson was that she was a labour intensive craft – it was all block and tackle. The centre board was solid steel and operated by a 1:4 block and tackle system dropping some five feet beneath the hull so we quickly learned where the channel lay and to keep within the markers. Fortunately, there was an electronic depth sounder so we were able to anticipate when we were running out of water. The main sheet was similarly block and tackle and so we needed a crew of at least three adults to manage the boat. 

Janillian was by and large well- balanced, with not much pull on the helm to windward – but with the wind astern, the helm became very heavy, requiring two people to keep her on course, especially when the wind freshened. We snapped at least one tiller in a Milang-Goolwa. Fortunately, we always carried a couple of spares in the locker.

The sails selection was a little sparse and worn when I purchased Janillian and so I had another set of tan sails made which I felt suited the era of the boat. The spinnaker was an old sharpie spinnaker and so I had the bright idea of getting a beautiful gennaker made (a design somewhere between a jib and spinnaker) and this worked quite well.

Other problems arose and one of these was in regard to our free-swinging mooring out from the shoreline which I inherited from Mark Stock. It had to be checked from time to time and the brother of local boatie Ross Ballard was always quite willing to doff his shirt and descend down the mooring chain, hand-over-hand, to ensure it was secure on the heavy engine to which it was attached on the floor of  the river.

On another occasion, following the Wooden Boat Show which we always entered, I was rung by the shipright who ran Armfield’s Slip to be informed that a marauding paddle steamer had snapped off our very solid teak jarrah bowsprit, leaving the mast in a perilous situation, supported only by sidestays and likely to crash to the deck at any time. Allan Edwards happily fashioned me a new bowsprit but I never found out which steamer was the culprit, even though he left his paint on my boat.

For some years in the 1990s, we raced Janillian with the Goolwa Wooden Boats on a weekend, with only fair to moderate success. We entered the Milang-Goolwa Classic every year, sailing in the Riverboats, Division 1. On two occasions, I had a crack crew and we managed to win the Bill Appleby Perpetual Trophy in that 40km race across Lake Alexandrina and down the Murray River to Goolwa. The first was in 1994 and the second in 1996 or ’97. The tradition was to sail up to Milang from Goolwa the day before, find a mooring or, preferrably, nose into the reeds on the island off Milang. It was always a noisy night before the race with much alcohol consumed. In one boat or another I raced in twenty consecutive Milang-Goolwa races from 1978 to 1998. In the early years, it was a major event, billed as the longest inshore race in the southern hemisphere. More than 500 boats of all sorts and sizes competed in its heyday, including Sydney skiffs, which inevitably capsized in the confined conditions. There were catamarans of all makes and sizes, trimarans, open boats (including a number of sharpies) but mostly cabin boats. It was a big news story and was held on the Sunday of the Australia Day weekend. In the early days, the progress of the fleet was filmed from a helicopter. Sometimes the first boats, usually catamarans with a favourable wind, would sail the 40kms in two and a half hours. Our best winning time was three hours, 30 minutes. 

Our second victory stands in my memory for the extraordinary fact that we sailed the first twenty kilometres or so from Milang to Point Sturt as close to the gentle breeze as we could without having to tack once, before rounding the marker buoy at point Sturt, having covered that distance in one long tack. We thought we would have to tack once or twice but held our nerve and resisted the temptation.

Perhaps the happiests moments we had with Janillian were the family sails around the peaceful Goolwa waterways. We had a couple of great trips up the Finniss River to the Currency Creek Winery for lunch, followed by the leisurely return trip. On one occasion, we encountered the paddle steamer Oscar W going in the opposite direction up the Finniss, making it a very tight squeeze.

We had several trips down the Coorong in Janillian, negotiating the channel behind the Murray Mouth without undue difficulty, sleeping on board and enjoying the abundance and variety of birdlife that appears from nowhere at dawn to feast on the small surface fish. Daytrippers would never enjoy such a spectacle.

And what was my sailing partner in crime Bill Hobbs doing in the years I was sailing Janillian? During his lifetime, Bill owned and built more watercraft than he had hot dinners! Around this time, he decided to build a large catamaran in his backyard at Goolwa. This beautiful craft gradually took shape but, as it neared completion, Bill realised that it was too big to manoeuvre down the driveway to the road in front of his house. Undeterred, Bill arranged for Valencia to be lifted over the house and on to a low loader, which carried her to the river for the launching ceremony.

Apart from sailing in the Goolwa lakes, Bill decided to sail his home-made cat around the southeastern tip of Australia and up to the Whitsundays. He obtained his master’s certificate, which included navigation, as did his daughter Lisa and, together with Bruce Tunstill and Bill’s brave wife Marg, they sailed through the treacherous Murray Mouth and around to the Cruising Yacht Club in Adelaide before setting off on their marathon journey. Bill was relieved to find his boat held together in rough seas around the southeast coast of Australia and they arrived safely at their destination. Sadie and I were beneficiaries of their voyage when we spent a magic week sailing with them in the area. 

Bill left Valencia for sale in Queensland and ironically the purchaser was from Goolwa and so Valencia returned to Goolwa, where she remained.

We had many family and extended family sails down the Coorong over the years, with some camping on the shore and others on the boats and they always turned out to be great expeditions.

After enjoying the custodianship of Janillian for some ten years, I was finding the maintenance rather onerous. She needed to be slipped once a year to proof the hull and oil the teak deck whilst, on the sailing side, the additional three crew hands for racing were often hard to find. 

In the late 1990s, Janillian was advertised for sale nationally. I was quickly contacted by an interested party in Sydney, the owner of a travel agency. He had two close friends who were both wooden boat enthusiasts and he was keen to join them on Sydney Harbour. The three of them flew over to inspect Janillian and, very soon after, my beautiful boat was having her mast unstepped and being craned onto a low loader bound for the Elizabeth Bay Yacht Squadron in Sydney Harbour.

The new owner kept in contact after buying Janillian and regularly entertained me with his Yiddish jokes. On one occasion, on a visit to Sydney, we rang him on the spur of the moment – and he invited us to join him for a cruise on Janillian around Sydney Harbour, which we readily accepted. We had a great afternoon and realised that Janillian was the ideal boat to have in Sydney Harbour.

In an extraordinary twist of fate, Janillian changed hands once again after several years and the new owner returned her to Goolwa where, in 2021, she remains, racing regularly with the wooden boat fleet.           

It was a sad parting after a decade with that beautiful boat but I moved on and purchased a small Sabre craft from a close friend from Brighton and Seacliff days, Don Pratt. This turned out to be a mistake, as I thought I would be able to launch it and retrieve it single-handed but it turned out to be quite heavy, needing at least two people to get it off the trailer and into the water. Although it was a nice craft fitted with all the go-fast running rigging – uphauls, downhauls, outhauls, boom vangs, Cunninghams, and so forth – she and I parted company very quickly.                         

My final (to date) flirtation with sailing took place on a trip to Egypt in 2004. There I encountered, not for the first time, craft fitted with ‘lateen’ rigs. This type of rig emerged around the 2nd Century AD in the Indian Ocean, in areas with a gentle climate. Northern Europeans were resistant to the for-and-aft rig for many centuries. They were familiar with the design, having seen it in use in the course of trade and during the Crusades but believed that the stronger winds in their part of the world made it impractical. The Renaissance changed this and, beginning in 1475, for-and-aft rigged vessels came into common use, modifying eventually to the sail combinations we use today. The square rig, however, was retained for the harsher conditions of the North Sea and Atlantic Ocean. The big advantage of for-and-aft rigging is, of course, its up-wind performance, which is virtually impossible with a square rig – hence their need to follow the trade winds. Modern America’s Cup catamarans are able to sail as close as 20 degrees off the apparent wind.

In 2004, we visited Egypt and spent some time exploring the marvels of Luxor. Included was some sailing in feluccas and the design of these craft would seem ideal for the gentle breezes found in Egypt. 

The design of the hulls of these craft reminded me of the classic Murray River boats with shallow draft and broad beam.

I fantasized briefly on importing a hull to Goolwa and fitting it with a lateen sail which I felt would be very well suited to the Murray River, but then reality was restored and I realised how expensive it would be and how different the climate was at Goolwa with a minimum of gentle breezes. In fact we had no respectable wind on the Nile whilst we were there and more often than not our crew were forced to man the enormous oars and row us to our destination. 

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