Off Shore Sailing

In about March 1948 Jock was asked to deliver a 42ft harbour racing yacht ‘Mavis’ to Sydney and invited me to be part of the crew. Jock, his brother Don and another crew member whose name escapes me, joined ‘Mavis’ for the trip. We left Hobart the morning after the large Ocean Pier burnt down. I watched the fire from Princes Park the night before we left and couldn’t believe the sight. It burnt down right at the start of the fruit export season. Next morning I stood at the bow of ‘Mavis’ and pointed out large beams that were floating, almost submerged. The whole river was a mass of debris and floating apples. I scooped up an apple to eat, which looked great but tasted vile. Smoke and salt water had penetrated right through it and I can still taste it.

The trip was wonderful and everything I could have wished for even though I was slightly seasick for the first day. The spectacle of Tasman Island, Cape Raoul and Cape Pillar was hard to believe. It was an easy run up the East coast, a night anchored at Schouten Island and off to the big unknown. The trip was fairly uneventful until a day and a half from Eden when it blew a hard south-westerly and we sailed with a fully reefed mainsail, no headsail and surfed down the face of the waves some 25 feet high (8metres).

We arrived at Eden, a fishing port on the south coast of New South Wales and while the others were tidying up down below, I washed and scrubbed the deck with salt water. I couldn’t believe the warmth of the water so when I’d finished I dived over the side and started the most delightful swim. Soon Jock came out of the cabin and called for me to get out of the water. ‘You are not in Hobart now son, this is a fishing port and full of sharks.’

Eden was my first experience in a town out of Tasmania. I couldn’t believe how insulated people were. Even on the wharf where we pulled in to go ashore, no one would bother speaking to us. ‘Mavis’ was ill equipped

for a trip like that. No lifesaving gear, nor lifelines around the deck, no engine, nor navigation lights. If a ship was sighted in the distance at night, we would flash a torch onto the mainsail. At one stage in the hard blow, she began to leak, the pump stopped working and I had to lie on the floor and bale into a bucket with a cup because the narrow bilge didn’t allow anything wider.

The only drinking water we had was in several four gallon (18 litre) kerosene tins, which were empty by the time we arrived in Eden. No one would sell us water but Jock exchanged a carton or two of Cascade beer for enough to get us to Sydney.

The trip up the N.S.W. coast was delightful and on the last full night before arrival, we had our meal, I took the helm, the others turned in and I had the loveliest sail. The breeze was light and on shore, it was shorts weather and I sat, steered and kept an eye out for passing ships. Later in the night, the sky colour changed and this puzzled me, until I realised after it continued to brighten that it was dawn breaking. I had sailed right through the balmy night and time had totally disappeared from my mind. A few hours later we sailed into that wonderful Sydney Harbour, full of yachts, waterfront homes, beaches, ferries and everything exciting. I remember spending a few days living on the boat before I flew home to begin work the ‘Lass’.

Flying was the most remarkable experience for a 16 year old – the thrill of finding my way to the airport terminal in the City, then to the airport and boarding a giant plane (then a DC4), flying to Melbourne and changing to a DC3 for the flight across the strait. I think in those days every flight dropped down in Launceston.