21 YEARS ON A TEST SAIL OF A ROBERTS 55’ KETCH.
I was asked to deliver “Luann” a 55’ cutter rigged steel Roberts ketch from Southport to Cairns. At approximately 1,000 nautical miles I thought it would make an ideal test sail. The owner, an iconic former opal miner from Cooper Peedy and now an international coin dealer was to be aboard and I topped up the crew with experienced and non experienced students of mine as well as adventurers I had met on the net.
I checked out her safety equipment and except for the life raft which was a year past it’s service date, everything was newly replaced or in good working order. The Galvanised rigging wire looked original but I did not expect to put any real stress on that. Fuel was topped up at 1,000 litres and water at 3,000 litres. Heaps of sausages, chops, breads and cold meats in the deep freezer and plenty of fresh fruit supplemented by cans and dried foods and a beer per man per day, meant a gourmet meal each night. The 85 H.P. Ford diesel was checked over with oil added and there were spares of all belts, pumps and filters. Two belts were replaced during the voyage and oil mysteriously appeared and disappeared at will but the “old Henry” just cranked along at a beautiful purr.
A bank of six batteries was kept topped up by a petrol gen. set as the alternator did not work, the clouds left by two tropical cyclones did not allow the four large solar panels to work very well and a newly purchased and professionally fitted wind generator did nothing but spin and wink its led at us. Later in the trip we managed to get the shaft driven generator to work. We used a lot of power to drive the freezer and kept lights to a minimum. Electric toilet pumps (two) and water pumps for the sinks and shower also used a good amount of power.
Our navigation gear consisted of paper charts (50% were accidentally laminated), hand held compass, parallel rules, dividers and pencils. A chart plotter, built in GPS (plus three handheld GPS), radar and an auto helm that worked so efficiently that it would not let the helm free until we completely disconnected it and packed it back in its box. So we had to hand steer each man one hour on. Wind instruments had suffered the fate of pelicans landing on them so audio tape hung off the shrouds was all we had. The coach house had all its windows tinted for the tropics which meant very poor night visibility and with all the electronic gadgets flashing and winking at us it was like having daylight inside and black as a grave outside. I judge myself pretty handy with the old steam navigation system but had to tip my hat to the youngsters as they found some very difficult passages and landfalls at night with the electronic gear. (Surprise Rock off Hamilton Island was unlit as were a few others off the coast. It pays to read your notices to mariners.)
Luann’s hull has not been out of the water for about two and a half years so she had a bit of stubble on her bum. At around fifteen hundred revs we were getting five unassisted knots with a big three bladed prop. Add a headsail and we were doing six and a bit. I like to work on seven knots average on deliveries so a bit of extra sail with main, mizzen and staysail helped. She is not a racing yacht and she can’t be asked for quick tacking or manoeuvring. To get all the sails up and squared away is a twenty five minute job. To tack, with all sail up takes around fifteen minutes. The headsail must be furled and main and mizzen brakes have to be untied and the main also has a running back which needs attention during the tack. Once tacked unfurl the headsail, adjust the running backs and retie the brakes on the main and mizzen booms then square away. Not very fast just under sail but boy does she look romantic!
Deck space was good and clear. Most of the crew ran barefoot for two weeks and there was no stubbed toes or gashes even at night. We had to secure our own jackstays from new ropes for night deck work. Below there is a huge owners cabin with a queen size bed and single bunk and private head. A large galley with four gas burners a microwave and large freezer and 240 volt fridge. Double bowl sink with hot and cold pressurized water and plenty of good storage cupboards. There is a large saloon area with seating for twelve. There are two, two berth and one, one berth dedicated crew cabins plus supplementary berths in the wheel house and saloon. There is a shower and head for crew. The lazaretto is huge but no standing room. Forward there is also a large rope locker and anchor well. Lifelines are all of steel pipe so they are solid and feel safe. Both masts have climbing pegs to assist anyone being hauled up the masts in the bosun’s chair.
Luann’s paint work is bright and no ugly rust stains were visible and only the decks were a bit scuffed and looking like a need for paint soon. Some of her running rigging is getting a bit well used and will soon need to be replaced and if she intends to get into a bit of a blow I would suggest the standing rigging be done as well. The electrical faults will be ironed out quickly by a marine electrician I am sure.
On departing Southport it was my intention to head out through the seaway and travel offshore via the tip of Frazer Island then coast along inside the reef. Tropical Cyclone Larry however was giving us a hiding with strong winds and as I did not intend to stress the rigging I opted for a trip along the swamps behind the Stradbroke and Moreton Islands. At 2.2 metres the keel touched occasionally and I had the crew out with their pocket calculators estimating the height of the main mast as we crossed under powerlines. After clearing Moreton Bay I headed out to sea but over half the crew were now green in the gills and the boat is a bit big to work in heavy seas (4.5 metres and 35 to 40 knots) short handed. I opted to give them a break in Mooloolaba.
The weather in Mooloolaba showed another tropical cyclone called Wattie and this was heading down the coast. It was mostly over four hundred miles offshore but it was producing big seas and wind waves. I chickened out for three days and once it had passed (the cyclone), we headed out through a breaking Mooloolaba bar. This break was difficult to read as it was travelling side on to the exit from the rock breakwater. By standing on the cabin roof and looking over the wall I managed to time the breaking waves and we slipped out with only a little two metre wave breaking on our side. Yes we wore our life jackets!
From there we travelled twenty four hours a day until we pulled into Hamilton Island to refuel. We were using 7.8 litres an hour at 1500 revs sail assisted. By the time we reached Cairns our average speed was 5.9 knots which it turned out was an ideal trolling speed as we caught three nice sized Tuna for the table.
Luann will now be at home in Cairns, her owner intends to cruise her around the Great Barrier Reef for his own pleasure to do some diving and fishing. He does propose a trip soon to Papua New Guinea and up some of the rivers there.