Characters I have known Part 5
Updated: Jun 19
These blogs are anecdotes of characters I have known from Barker College, Roseville Junior Rugby Club, Gordon Rugby Club, Sailing and Coopers & Lybrand (PricewaterhouseCoopers). Read on.
This blog is a bit long but it is a well worthwhile read. It concerns two yachtsmen who I have the highest regard for and are very experienced. It is followed by a good story by John Wigan.
Bruce Gould (Gouldie)
I first met Bruce aboard the Sylph VI in 1963 (see ‘My first three trips to Hobart’ March 2021 and other blogs of Sept 2019, Oct 2019 and Feb 2020). He has done 40 yacht race trips to Hobart and won on Pacha in 1970, won the double (fastest and handicap) in 1987 and 8 trips to Hobart on the Radio Relay boats, three of which were on ‘Young Endeavour’. In 2021 he went to Hobart aboard the naval sailing vessel ‘Young Endeavour’ with Tim Cox.
However he was a crew member of the ‘Winston Churchill’ in 2008 where unfortunately three crew members died in the race.There is a video 27 minutes long regards Bruce’s sailing career. Google ‘Bruce Gould sailor’. See ‘Bruce Gould Part 1’ and ‘Bruce Gould 10 years on’ (2 minutes).
In addition to 2008 Bruce was aboard ‘Zephyr’ a 55 yawl when it sank in Bass Straight, a B52, Strewth which lost its keel in the South China Sea race and Norske when it broke a forstay in the Hobart to Sydney race in 1988.
One story I enjoy telling about Bruce is when he sent me an invitation to his third marriage. I replied that I was sorry that I could not attend but I will make the next one, for sure.
Paul Kerrigan (Kerro)
I met Paul through Bruce Dickson who was working with him and invited him to sail on the 8 meter Norske. No sooner than this introduction was made I had an enquiry from a workmate Anne Pender who asked if I knew a Paul Kerrigan who had applied for a room to rent at the house in Balgowlah she was living in. At this stage I best tell you a little about Paul.
Paul is a tall good looking man with an Irish accent and an engaging personality. I said to Anne that I had just met him the previous Saturday and he was the type of man who may rent a room but would be most likely to move into your room with a month. Well, that did not happen but he did move in with Gwen, Anne’s house mate within the month. They are still both together with two children.
At a later date Paul and myself purchased the sailing boat Cyan. He installed the plumbing and some electrics into the boat. He was brought out by my wife Deirdre after 12 months. However the reason I am writing about him is that he is a very able sailor in much the same way Bruce Gould is.
In addition I have sailed with Paul on Cyan, of course but also on Norske and Margaret Rintoul. He is a great shipmate. Able and reliable. See my Blog of August 2020 ‘Cyan adventures’.
The reason I am writing about Paul is that, like Bruce Gould, he is a complete yachtsman. He has done several Sydney to Hobart races but recently he completed a trip around northern arctic Canada, the North West passage. He did better than Henry Hudson, Martin Frobisher and Sir John Franklin who did not make it. It was eventually opened by the Norwegian Roald Amundsen in 1905.
Paul joined the Australian yacht ‘Drina’ a 62 foot yawl owned by Michael Thurston in Newport Rhode Island USA and sailed with Michael and three other crew to St Johns in Newfoundland, the west coast of Greenland and on to Cambridge Bay on Victoria Island. Here they refuelled by the curtesy of a tug and on to Nome Alaska to finish at Dutch Harbour in the Aleutian Islands.
There are some photos of his trip.
Here is Paul’s account of the trip
Drina AUS 577 – Northwest Passage Transit 2014
Closing the loop
On 11 November 2010, Michael Thurston (photo above) departed the RSYS on his beloved 50ft alloy ketch Drina bound east to Chile on the first leg of his third circumnavigation, his second on Drina.
I didn’t know then that it would be almost four years before I would next catch up with Michael and Drina.
By June 2014 Drina had completed the voyage from Australia via Chile, Cape Horn and the Falkland Islands to the east coast of South America and on to the Caribbean, east coast of the US, the Azores, Portugal, the Canaries back to the Caribbean, Cuba, back up the east coast of the US to Newfoundland across to the Azores again, Portugal, the east coast of the US and was now tied up outside East Greenwich Yacht Club, Newport Rhode Island. It was here that I re-joined him.
In these intervening four years Michael had hatched a plan to complete his adventure by circumnavigating the Americas, a feat accomplished by very few yachtsmen.
The bit missing was, as you might imagine, the hard bit. Closing the loop would require Drina to transit the Northwest Passage across the top of Canada and Alaska from the Atlantic where she was now to the Pacific, approximately 6,290NM.
That’s why I was in Newport on a chilly wet June day standing on the stern of Drina. Michael had reminded me that doing the NWP was something I had always wanted to do from childhood and now was as good a time to try as any other.
We were joined in this adventure by two others – another Aussie then living and working in Newport Rhode Island, Matt Jensen Young who is a qualified commercial Master and Ice Pilot, and Rossco Booker a young expat from the UK just qualified as a chemical engineer at one of New York’s upstate universities.
So it was that we four let slip the lines on 14 June and made sail north along the Maine coast, bound for Greenland via Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.
Broadly our plan was to make Devon Island in the north-eastern Canadian Archipelago, about 2,800 miles away, by early August. This was judged the earliest the ice would clear to allow passage up Lancaster Strait to connect with either Prince Regent Sound or Peel Sound to take us south again to mainland Canada and on across the top of Alaska to Cape Barrow and again south to Dutch Harbour in the Aleutian Island chain in the Pacific.
On Michael’s birthday, 20 July, we crossed the Arctic Circle off the west coast of Greenland well on our way to our jump off point for the attempt.
Eleven days later, on Friday 1 August, together with several other expedition yachts all bound on the same adventure, we found ourselves, as planned, dropping anchor in Dundas Harbour on the eastern tip of the world’s largest uninhabited island, Devon Island, well north of the Arctic circle.
Ahead of us at anchor were Arctic Tern GBR, Aventura GBR, Gjoa USA and Lillian B USA, and a day later we were joined by Moloda USA and Catryn GBR.
Dundas Harbour is a harbour in name only. It’s the site of a small Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) outpost that was abandoned shortly after WWII.
Early Saturday many of the crews launched their RIBs and went ashore to explore. There are several abandoned buildings still in reasonable repair and a sad graveyard with headstones recording the death by their own hand of several young constables. The conditions these young men worked in would be hard to describe, especially in the long months of darkness between November and February each year. They were serviced by supply ship with oil and coal once a year and were expected to provide much of their own food by hunting.
And then we were five…
Soon after our arrival at Dundas, Aventura (Jimmy Cornell’s new expedition yacht) returned from a trip west along the coast attempting to ascertain the extent of the pack in Lancaster Sound and reach Resolute Bay on Cornwallis Island. Jimmy reported that the pack was impassable much beyond the extent of Beechey Island with ice still blocking the approaches to Peel Sound and Prince Regent Sound. In the light of these conditions prevailing this late in the season he decided to abandon his attempt and return to Greenland. For Drina this turned out to be good news as Emily Penn, a young scientist examining the effects of plastic in the Arctic, asked if she could join our crew rather than abandon her research and return to England with Aventura. We agreed to include Emily in our crew for the attempted transit. Within a couple of hours, Emily transhipped to Drina with all her gear and equipment and then we were five.
Exploring ashore we saw signs of polar bear and so in the afternoon the boys decided to explore the harbour by RIB in search of the elusive photograph. They returned towards evening pleased with themselves having sighted not one but two bears and managed a decent set of photos without falling prey to either.
The following day we all waved sadly as Aventura shipped anchor and set sail Greenland and Europe.
Following analysis from Sydney on the changing pack conditions we on Drina, together with our friends on Moloda and Catryn, decided to move west in Lancaster Sound along the coast to find a safe harbour closer to the ice pack so we could keep better tabs on the ongoing melt.
By late on Wednesday 8 August, we were safely at anchor at Cumming Inlet, an ice-clear harbour some 50 miles west along the Island. We saw lots of ice to the south of our track however along the coast our track was clear. Artic Tern had made the trip ahead of us and had made a further 30 or so miles of westing and was now safely in Powell Inlet. With the wind forecast to go south and west, we decided to hunker down and ride out a forecast storm due overnight. The storm proved overrated and we all enjoyed a comfortable night. The wind had however pushed the pack north and we had to wait for a wind change to clear the pack away from the coast and all further westward progress was halted.
The crews of Catryn, Moloda and Drina went ashore to do some exploring and see if it was possible to climb the nearest headland to check out the ice cover to the south and west of us.
For the next few weeks this was how we operated. When there was a clear track, we would make westing to the next inlet along the coast then explore ashore and wait for the next opportunity to make more westing. By the third week of August, we had reached Beechey Island at the western end of Devon Island.
Here we met with the Canadian Coastguard aboard the ice-breaker CCGS Pierre Radisson – lots of help with weather updates, ice analysis and advice regarding our proposed route. These guys and girls do a fantastic job up here in the Arctic. So friendly and helpful with lots of advice for us small craft.
Later in the week, this same icebreaker became beset for three days west of Bellot Strait while escorting the expedition ship Akedeimic Sergey Vavilov south.
The Coast Guard confirmed our shore support assessment that the pack was moving east and that our present location would not remain ice-free for long. We spent the remainder of the day ashore along with the crew of Catryn exploring and photographing the grave of Franklin’s crew and others who had ended their days in this beautiful but desolate place called Erebus and Terror Bay.
It snowed and blew hard overnight, and early on the 20th we decided to attempt to reach Port Leopold on Somerset Island some 80 miles south south-east of Beechey. We made safe harbour at Port Leopold. Gjoa, Arctic Tern, Lillian B and Moloda were all strategies.
The group was split with Drina, Lillian B, Catryn and Moloda deciding to wait at Leopold until ice cleared west of Bellot, while Arctic Tern and Gjoa wanted to push south to Fort Ross at the eastern approach to Bellot Strait and wait there. So it was that a little later Gjoa and Arctic Tern left the rest of our little flotilla behind and made sail for Fort Ross.
The rest of us amused ourselves with lots of walking and climbing. Each day for the next few, a group would climb the southern headland of the harbour about 400 metres high to check the condition of the pack to our south while others would walk the foreshores looking for wildlife.
By the 25th Arctic Tern and Gjoa, after many adventures, reported their arrival in Fort Ross. However, the conditions in Prince Regent had deteriorated and it looked like it would be some time yet before the rest of us would make the passage south. The ice to the west of Bellot continued to be a barrier as well.
So it was that one by one the remaining boats reluctantly decided to abandon the transit and retire eastward to Greenland before Lancaster began to refreeze. We waved good luck and wished our friends safe passage home as we watched them depart. Drina would continue to wait. Our shore support team was confident that conditions would improve before the final freeze.
Early the next morning the wind changed, and we watched the pack begin to enter the harbour. To begin with, we were not that concerned. The tide had from time to time pushed parts of the pack into the harbour and carried it out again on the next tide. This time it was different as the pack soon filled the harbour and we retreated to the northern arm and tied up to a large grounded ice floe that provided some protection from the pack. We waited for the tide to turn expecting some movement in the pack. There was none. Drina was beset.
To begin this was a novel experience and we enjoyed the freedom to walk around on the ice, collect fresh water from the large melt pools and for the hardier among us engage in a little ice swimming. As the days rolled by, we began to take stock of our position. If the ice did not retreat, we were stuck. We were not prepared to overwinter in such a remote location. We had neither the food nor fuel to do so.
On day two we had a VHF conversation with the Norwegian Tug, Tandberg Polar as she passed about three miles off, bound south. She reported solid pack between her and our position. Not the news we wanted to hear.
By day three we began to prepare for a possible evacuation by the Canadian Coast Guard, by ice-breaker-based helicopter. It would mean abandoning Drina to the pack and she was unlikely to survive.
We crossed our fingers and continued to wait. Then overnight on day four the wind shifted: it wasn’t forecast, just a local weather event. The harbour emptied of ice as quickly as it had filled, and within hours of the wind shift the harbour was ice-free leaving Drina bobbing alongside our friendly grounded floe in brilliant sunshine.
Our shore team assured us that the coast of Devon was ice-free and that a new weather system would push the pack in Prince Regent to the east over the next few days clearing the way for us to make a dash south to Fort Ross to join Arctic Tern, Gjoa and Tandberg Polar.
All day we followed leads in the pack eastward and northward towards Devon Island. During the day, our shore team amended their analysis, and the consensus was now to make all speed south to Fort Ross. We reversed course. A narrow lead down the east coast of Somerset Island was reported as open and the pack had cleared to the west of Bellot Strait and most of the way to Gjoa Haven. At Fort Ross, Arctic Tern, Gjoa and Tandberg Polar had now been joined by Stephen Brown and his band of rock climbers on his 18-metre alloy Aero Rigged schooner Novara and all four would attempt a passage through the strait early the following morning 29 August.
Drina made all speed south in Prince Regent along the edge of the pack and on the morning of the 30th began a transit of Bellot. The transit took some 15 hours to passage the 17 mile strait. We struggled against currents of up to 8 knots and we were again beset by ice about two-thirds of the way through and waited for three hours before a tide change allowed a lead to open and we slipped through.
Our friends Glen and Anne Bainbridge on Gjoa had become beset the previous day and were rescued by a passing Russian expedition ship the Akademik Sergey Vavilov.
By midnight on 30 August Drina was sailing in 1 to 3 tenth ice west of Bellot and making for Gjoa Haven to refuel and run for Point Barrow some 2,000 miles away to the west before the refreeze due September 10 to 20. We were committed, there was no way back. No more waiting, it was now a race.
Within hours we were underway again bound for Cambridge Bay, the next settlement some 250 miles west. We dropped anchor here alongside our friends Arctic Tern, Novara and Gjoa who were there ahead of us. Again, the news was bad. There was no diesel in the settlement. We considered using the alternative jet fuel but were not willing to chance using it all the way to Barrow. We explored the option of hauling out and overwintering on the hard to no avail. There was no equipment capable of lifting a boat the size of Drina.
All this investigation took several days, with each passing day reducing the time remaining to reach Point Barrow before the pack began to refreeze later in September.
Then the Norwegians came to the rescue. The Norwegian tug Tandberg Polar bound for Cambridge Bay to help in the recovery of Roald Amundsen’s yacht Maud, was due in Cambridge on Sunday 7 September. On hearing of our plight, they very kindly agreed to supply us with as much diesel as we needed to get to Nome in Alaska.
The race for Point Barrow and the Ice Gate
Arctic Tern and Novara left Cambridge Bay early Sunday 7 September bound for Nome while we on Drina anxiously awaited the arrival of Tandberg Polar and our promised diesel. The tug arrived late that evening and we immediately went alongside to transfer fuel.
So it was that late on Sunday 7 September we left our friends on Gjoa and Tandberg Polar to overwinter in Cambridge Bay, and Drina motored sailed west with brimming tanks towards Point Barrow and freedom.
The race across the top of Canada and Alaska became another adventure that deserves a separate telling. We expected it to be hard going as the winds at these latitudes prevail from the west, so we expected lots of headwinds. To begin with, this was the case, and we motor sailed most of the time. An uncomfortable few days. Then to our surprise, the wind went to the north and east and suddenly we were broad reaching ahead of a building front. The wind was followed by rain and finally snow and by 10 September we were running before 35 knots often gusting to 50 knots with heavy snow or (as Malcolm Levy described in his nightly weather updates) “snow flurries”.
Six days later after an exciting ride and still running hard before the breeze we rounded Point Barrow and began to make a course south and away from the ice. On 19 September we crossed the Arctic Circle, successfully completing our transit across the top of the Americas.
Drina made for Dutch Harbour in the Aleutian Island chain where she overwintered. In May 2015 Michael departed Dutch Harbour and sailed down the longitude to Hawaii and on to the northern Cook Islands, then turning west along the Pacific Island chain to make for New Caledonia with several stops along the way. Late in that year she reached Brisbane and the Royal Queensland Yacht Club where she now resides. This completed Michael’s third circumnavigation, about 47,000 miles over 4 years. A satisfying achievement considering that much of the journey was made short or singlehanded.
Adventures such as these need extensive support. This NW Passage transit would not have been possible without the practical support and encouragement of many of our friends and fellow sailors ashore here in Australia and around the world. So, it would be very remiss of us aboard Drina not to thank those who made the adventure possible.
Weather and Ice Analysis:
Commodore J L Brooks CYCA
Commodore M P Levy RSYS
Weather and general advice
L Jensen Young NY
Peter Semotiuk CA
Douglas Phol CA
The Canadian Coast Guard Service
CCGS Ice Breaker, Pierre Raddison
Information Technology & Communications
W Kerrigan & S Kerrigan, The Can Factory London
Finance & Logistics
MV Tandberg Polar (Norwegian Tug)
G L L Taylor RSYS
Morale and Intelligence
Stephen Brown and his crew on SV Novara
SV Artic Tern and SV Gjoa
B D Gould RSYS and my many sailing mates who encouraged me to make the attempt.
On the Margaret Rintoul in 1989 it was a balmy night in Bass Straight and the late Peter Green (below in his bunk) complained about the noise and stories coming from the 1200 midnight watch which John Wigan and myself were on. The weather was North East at about 15 knots and the sea was calm. We were under main, a spinnaker and the mizen sail. I have previously mentioned the trip before, see Oct 2019, and Sept 2019 .
The reason there was so much noise and laughter was in answer to a question I had put to John Wigan or Wiggy as he was called. I said to Wiggy that I had run out of conversation and had nothing more to add for the rest of the night. Then I asked him to tell me about ‘the most embarrassing moment in your life’. Ah, he said that an easy one and he proceeded to tell this tale.
I was courting my fiancee, Jenny and it came time for me to meet the prospective in laws. They lived in Adelaide about 1600 kms or 16 hours drive from Sydney. We packed our bags on Friday morning to arrive about midday Saturday. On arrival we saw a modest house where the lawns were all cut and trimmed with flowers blooming around the perimeter of the garden. After greetings we found ourselves in the kitchen which seemed to be where people congregated.
Drinks were served and everybody was smoking and talking. There was a stove, some cupboards, a refrigerator, a sink with soapy washing up water in it and on the bench under the window a bird cadge with a budgerigar inside.
The bird was obviously a long time family pet because it said with rapidity ‘have you cleaned you teeth Jenny’, ‘what is your teachers name Jenny’, ‘have you got your bag Jenny’, ‘have you combed your hair Jenny’ etc etc.
All was well so far. Then Jenny’s mother said to her that they should go and powder their nose with a slight nod to Jenny’s father. The father looked rather awkward and mumbled that he had to go and feed the chooks. He left by the back door. This left myself on my own, Wiggy remarked.
After a while he was attracted to the talking bird. He watched it jumping on and off the wooden bar in the cage, looking in the mirror and bashing it with its beak and of course talking about Jenny. Wiggy then spied a holland blind above the window with a ring at the end of the blind cord. He pulled the blind cord down and manoeuvred the ring through the top of the bird cadge. He the joggled the ring within reach of the bird encouraging it to jump into the ring which it eventually did.
As it was swinging on the ring the holland blind took off like an ATLAS ROCKET. The blind rolled up and up went the bird until it hit the top of the cage where it indented the top of the cage into its head, Then the cage and the bird went up until the blind completely rolled up. Having reached its summit the cage fell apart and the birdseed, the water, the bird droppings, the wooden bar, the broken mirror, the cage in pieces and the bird fell to the bench-top. The bird was not moving. Hearing the commotion in came Jenny’s mother and called out “Not our Budgie”. She the picked up the bird and gave it mouth to mouth resuscitation. On receiving this the bird revived momentarily revived, spread its wings and flew into the soapy water and drowned.
That said Wiggy was the most embarrassing moment of my life.