1970 return from Hobart in Caprice of Huon
In July 2019 I blogged the 1969 Sydney to Hobart race. This is about the return trip in January 1970. Gordon Ingate took his family on a trip to the south of Hobart, in the D’Entrecasteaux Channel. I joined the yacht at Port Arthur for the return trip to Sydney. The crew for the return trip was Gordon, his son Stephen aged 14 and myself. Ian was a country lad who had not been to sea at all and spoke with a droll voice. Stephen had day sailed and camped overnight but had not been to sea!
From Port Arthur we sailed through the passage between Tasman Island and the mainland of Tasmania. From there we sailed inside Maria Island, through the Schouten Passage and into Wineglass Bay. And there we stayed.
At about 1500 a souwesterly storm came up at about 40 to 50 knots. Our adventure had begun.
"we are off."
"No we are not. The wind is going to blow for the next 3 days. We should go tomorrow."
Gordon reluctantly agreed. What about some fishing. We launched the rubber duck (the replacement for the one lost in Sydney Harbour on Boxing Day 1979) and the 2 horsepower outboard. We dressed for the rain squalls now coming in with no abatement in the wind. We put some bait in the rubber duck with fishing lines and sinkers. Gordon and myself jumped in, started the motor and off we went.
After 2 minutes the rain was so heavy it filled the duck with water together with our sea boots. We travelled for 5 minutes, stopped and out went the fishing lines with 3 hooks on each line. Now we were fishing for flathead who are to be found on a sandy bottom. The problem was that we could not get the bait and sinker to the bottom as we were drifting at a fast speed out of the bay in the 40 knot plus wind. I then came up with the bright idea on starting the motor which would stop the boat drifting and allow the sinkers the reach the bottom. Bingo we got 5 flathead as soon as we found the bottom. But before we could haul them in the fish swam round the boat and we had the most enormous tangle around the propeller and the engine stopped. It took us a good 5 minutes to untangle the lines.
I looked up and noted we were a good 4 nautical miles from Caprice and I asked Gordon how much fuel we had for the return.
came the reply. Needless to say we were somewhat anxious about the fuel supply and immediately headed for Caprice, head to wind and against the rain. We just made it to within 5 metres of salvation and hand paddled the balance of the way. A very close call but we did enjoy the fresh fish for dinner.
The following morning we rigged the boat for down wind heavy weather sailing. With 2 reefs in the mainsail plus a vang and preventer fitted and the number 4 jib polled out on the spinnaker pole with the luff attached to the pole we set with the 40 knot still blowing. The watch system involved Gordon and myself steering the boat with the boys on stand by to call who ever was below up on deck when required. I had Stephen and Gordon had Ian.
The boat really was speeding along in the heavy wind. We were clocking about 10 knots down the waves, some of which were enormous. (Caprice is a heavy displacement yacht with a full length keel and so does not plane) As the boat reached the top of the wave it would tip forward and begin its downhill slide. The tiller would be heavy at first and as the boat gathered speed the tiller became very light. When the boat reached the bottom of the wave it would shudder and the wave would fill the cockpit with water with the overflow spilling into the cabin.
At about 2000 hrs I was in the quarter birth with my head in the tunnel still in my wet weather gear and was listening to the conversation on deck.
it was Ian’s very slow Aussie country accented voice.
"What are all those instruments for?"
My ears pricked up with mild alarm.
"that one is for boat speed, the other is the on-a-wind indicator, there is the off a wind indicator, the compass, the wind speed and the depth sounder."
Now Gordon was conducting the conversation dressed in two pairs of pants plus wet weather trousers. thick socks and up to the knee sea boots plus a couple of jumpers, a wet weather jacket, a naval cap and a hood over his head. He was also talking in an authoritative manner.
"Did they have those instruments in the olden days?"
drolled Ian. Knowing what was coming I started to head for the bunk opening.
"No they did not"
said Gordon in a deep voice.
"Captain Cook did not have any thing like what we have today."
Again in the drolly voice Ian said
"Then how did they steer?"
I am still trying to get out of my bunk. Gordon stated
"they steered by the seat of their pants and the wind on their ears."
Fat chance for Gordon with 3 layers of pants and his ears snugged beneath his cap and hood.
"Show me Mr Ingate."
"OK I will shut my eyes and you count to ten"
With that the boat lurched forward and started on its downhill slide. The sound of water surging was horrific and then crash. The boat fell on its side and jibed all standing. Water came into the cabin. The boom was bent. The stern then went up in readiness for the next wave.
"Billy, Billy get up here quick"
On the next wave Gordon managed to jibe it back. I started to tie the jockey pole the straighten the bent boom which was not easy in the dark.
All through this trip the two boys stayed below and read books. How the did it without being sea sick I still do not know. Coming up the New South Wales coast the weather eased considerably. Gordon insisted on playing cards (pontoon) with me for money. It took me a day to work out why I was losing so much. On his watch he would put Ian on the helm and would insist I play when I should have been in the bunk. On my watch he would get in the bunk! As an antidote I remembered Gordon suffers from sea sickness in adverse conditions. I was out of pocket but I knew how I might get my money back. I started chain smoking and it worked. After about one hour Gordon was green and decided to lie down by which time I had my money back.
We arrived safely in Sydney after a 4 day trip.
Below are two photos of myself. Firstly trimming the spinnaker in the 1960’s and then 30 years later again trimming the spinnaker. A somewhat more casual approach what!