Early years in Sydney overlooking the fabulous harbor, playing by the waterside and sailing with the family every weekend meant that I was always going to be interested in ocean life. The best move my father ever made was in 1967 when the family moved to ‘Tivoli’, a farm on the outskirts of Hobart, Tasmania. Horse riding, tractors and some honest labour all gave me a feeling for nature and mechanics, both which have served me well over the past 40 odd years. On a farm there isn’t much that can’t be fixed with some fencing wire, a good trait to have on a cruising yacht.
After bumming out of university studying geology (crashing the family car didn’t help), a year as a ‘brikkies’ labourer and an epic surfing trip across central Australia onto West Australia eventually found me studying Surveying at University. I thoroughly enjoyed the combination of outdoor bush work mixed with office maths and drafting – the map reading, sun observations all eventually helped with using the sextant and navigation. I was fortunate enough to obtain a scholarship with the Public Works Dept, the main road construction authority at the time. I actively sought out the bush jobs in rural areas, tracing the old surveys from a previous era and marveling at the accuracy of their work with only basic equipment.
During this prosperous time, we only needed to work 70 hours in two weeks, Flexitime meant that 9 long days gave one extra day off – perfect for building a yacht, the dream of surfing exotic islands always close . So from 1978 to 1983 most of my time was spent at the farm in Cambridge, just 45 min from work building Southern Sojourn. Two back operations slowed me down a bit but also directed me to buy a 34 foot concrete hull, based on a Hartley RORC 33 design, modified by the previous owner. A fantastic learning process, having at the time never built anything. I made up my own design for a centre cockpit, and used a new compound called ‘Ferralite’ for plastering the deck – dripping polyester resin on my face and the smell of acetone will never be forgotten. That building process still affects me to this day – lessons like, using the correct gauge of electrical wire due to voltage drop were really pressed home when numerous items just stop working, finding out why was quite a story. In March 1984 with my best mate ‘Wakka’ we sailed out of the narrows Marion Bay bound for New Zealand and the start of a, now, continuing sailing adventure.
The reality of cruising New Zealand, Tonga, Fiji, The Solomon Islands and New Caledonia were far beyond any dream, not always idyllic but so much better than living in suburban society. With a second wife Nikki, a few dollars in the bank, and after working on a charter catamaran and motor yacht in Auckland, we ended up at Melbourne in March 1987 for the start of the double handed Melbourne – Osaka race. Sponsored by Yamaha, with a $10,000 ‘subsidy’ to each entrant the race was a great way to get to Japan and (we thought) eventually Canada’s west coast.
Mr. Fuji and Mr. Suzuki showed us their ‘Wild West’ camp – just one acre, with a couple of covered wagons, pretty simple but it provided sufficient income for them to make me an offer for ‘Southern Sojourn’ that we just could not refuse. We ‘cruised’ from Osaka to Yokohama for our final month, as always the reality of a foreign culture so much more interesting than having seen it on TV.
After a short visit to see my mother and Auntie in Montreaux, Switzerland we realized there were yachties actually making a living from working on yachts. Our first try in Sicily was a complete failure, looking to find work at the height of the summer season, we later found out, was near impossible. Eventually we ended up in Puerto Portals, Portals Nous, Mallorca, Spain. This new marina was almost empty in late 1987, but we managed to find a skipper / stewardess position on an 18 m power yacht – the yacht was fine but the owners were hopeless, Nuevo rich and just plain rude. Shortly after jumping ship we found Ian, a flamboyant Australian entrepreneur, with glamorous wife and 3 very young children that had just bought a 19 m, plywood HOS (Heap of Shit) Ocean Fantasy. This ‘yacht’ built in Spain from an Italian design (?) had two 650 HP 2 stroke Detroit diesels, that used nearly as much oil as fuel.
For 4 years we learnt the paid yachting trade, had many exciting interludes, learnt about the owner / crew relationship while I learnt basic mechanics and how to deal with other people’s problems. There was another Melbourne – Osaka race in 1991 that we wanted to enter, perhaps another profitable sale. We purchased new ‘Southern Dufour’ a Frers designed 39 foot sloop in early 1990, after taking delivery in Southampton, England we sailed her to Mallorca where she was dry stored so we could leave in November after the end of the summer season.
Mallorca, Gibraltar, Cape Town (54 days nonstop) and eventually onto Melbourne for the start of the race in March 1991. The sail from Cape town was pretty interesting as we headed south towards the Kerguelen Islands the rudder stock broke above the bottom bearing, all this in 50 knot winds made me glad to have some ideas about temporary repairs. We eventually headed to Perth for major repairs to the rudder, little were we to know how these repairs would eventually create bigger problems.
By April we were well on the way to Osaka, some 200 miles South of Guam, when without warning and a fairly substantial thud, Southern Dufour rounded up into the wind, and the bilge alarm went off. Within 30 minutes we were in our life raft and Southern Dufour was on her way to the deep blue depths – the reinforced rudder stock had ripped a large section of hull out after hitting a log or similar object, no doubt the hull around the stock had also been weakened by the leverage of a 6 foot spade rudder hanging only on one bearing. Back in Europe Ian had purchased ‘Wild B’ another HOS (after I had already voiced my concerns) – this time at 25 m and with twin 1,500 HP MTU engines, quite a handful. The old saying; ‘you can’t shine a shit’ was very appropriate, though we did spend several years trying.
Several seasons to Turkey and many anchorages on route, another wife departing, numerous interesting crew and guests, babysitting the family in London, and generally a wonderful time, so after 10 years with Ian I ended up being sold with Wild B to the new Swiss owner and so started the best years of my life – Solaia and Melissa.