Long Weekend in Longreach, Rottnest

We departed Fremantle Yacht Club at 9.45 am with wind speed at 8-10 knots and enjoyed a broad reach averaging 4-5 knots. Our maximum speed was 5.9 knots. We experienced a bit of weather helm and thought maybe next time we would ease the sheets as the main sail may have been over sheeted. We used about 50 amps having only used the motor for exiting the marina and entering Longreach anchorage. The regen seemed to provide 4-5 amps but we weren’t sure what the solar panels were feeding into the system so we ran the generator for a couple of hours while we went ashore.

Mangles Bay to Fremantle Yacht Club

After an incredibly peaceful night and a wonderful sleep we departed Mangles Bay at 10:00 am and motored north (there was still no wind). Although not ideal for sailing, the lack of wind made for very pleasant conditions on the water. Ever hopeful we hoisted the sails but had to motor all the way to Fremantle Yacht Club. We docked in at Pen C1 at 3.30pm. Ashanti was in her new home.

Maiden Voyage

My cold and the weather delayed moving Ashanti to Fremantle until the day the lease on our temporary pen in Mandurah was to expire. Once again I couldn’t believe our good fortune and was glad we’d delayed our departure. The weather forecast indicated we had a two-day window of fine weather before the arrival of a front with strong winds. Motoring out of the Mandurah Marina at 11.30 am, I took the tiller while Jamie dropped the bow spit, worked out which sheets belonged to which sail and began the process of unfurling the jib, hauling the staysail, the foresail and the mainsail. I was grateful there wasn’t much wind making it relatively easy to guide the sails between the sheets that hung on either side of the topping lift. Having read a little about sailing a gaff rigged schooner we’d learned that it was unnecessary to overly tension the sails and Jamie left them relatively baggy so they could catch the light, northerly 3-4 knot breeze coming across the starboard side of the bow. I felt an enormous sense of well-being as we motor sailed out into the oily calm ocean with the sun kissing our faces on what was a cloudless winter day.

We headed away from the coast escorted by three dolphins surfing our bow wave. I lay on the foredeck and hung my head over the bow to get a closer look. The bow was too high for me to reach into the water, but the water was so clear I could see the bubbles that formed along their blowhole and it was as if I was snorkelling alongside of them. I watched them weaving between one another and the keel of the boat and marvelled at their timing and coordination. Although we were going only 3-4 knots the dolphins skimmed in and out of the wave we generated at an incredibly fast pace. I wondered whether they were playing or whether we were giving them a lift to where they wanted to go. Perhaps a bit of both, but I like to think of them as just enjoying the experience as was I.

The wind remained light and was pretty much on the nose so Jamie kept the motor going for most of the day. I was grateful I didn’t have to put up with the nauseating smell of a diesel motor and was pleased our electric motor was incredibly quiet with virtually no smell except that generated by the bank of warm batteries. The boat seemed to take care of itself, the waves were gentle and the blue mesmerising. While the going was pleasant, at times I wondered if I might find cruising for lengthy periods a little boring. Besides the dolphins I’d seen there was nothing but sea, sky and the distant shore. In my head I hummed the Neil Young song with the line “The ocean is a desert with it’s life underground …..” and wondered what was beneath us. I hoped for some excitement like a shark sighting, but when I mentioned this to Jamie he thought the contrary. Once a fisherman who had caught all too many sharks and now a surfer, Jamie did not want to be reminded of creatures he abhorred. I stopped looking out for something to hold my attention in the water and my thoughts turned to having a wine at lunch to ease my restlessness. I could understand why sailors turned to drink to allay both the monotony when becalmed at sea. To enjoy a sail like we were experiencing, I needed to relax and get into the slow rhythm of the boat.

Food, a glass of wine, the warmth of the afternoon sun and the gentle rhythm of the ocean put me into a more meditative mood better suited to sailing. I leaned my head against Jamie’s chest, closed my eyes and allowed random thoughts to float in and out of my consciousness. The afternoon slipped away in this peaceful state until Jamie felt compelled to run the new generator he’d purchased because the battery banks registered the charge at the halfway point and we had another day’s sail ahead of us.

Rather than going around the back of Garden Island to Mangles Bay, Jamie did a quick calculation comparing the height of her mast to the bridge clearance and opted to save time by navigating through the shallower waters and under the bridge to Mangles. He kept me busily looking out for a clear passage through the shollows and, as we approached the bridge, called on me to judge whether we would make it under! So from a relaxing afternoon, I was on high alert with Jamie ready to throw the motor into reverse as the bridge loomed closer. The bridge looked impossibly close to the top of the mast but we cleared it with room to spare, after all it was designed to allow boats to pass under and Ashanti’s topmast at just under 10 metres was not excessively tall.

The late afternoon sun dipped into the ocean, the wind dropped and the outline of Garden Island darkened against a brilliant red sky. We continued in the dark, still waters of Mangles Bay looking out for a DPI mooring to hang off for the night. With boathook in hand I shielded my eyes from the light spilling from the shoreline and directed Jamie to a dark object bobbing in the distance. We hooked up to the mooring effortlessly and checked the time. It was 7.00 pm and time to test out the galley’s cooking capabilities.

Becoming acquainted with a gaff rigged boat

Six weeks later I returned from Melbourne having bailed from the job I was doing. My elderly parents, my relationship and learning to sail Ashanti held priority. The day after I returned we sailed Ashanti by ourselves for the first time. Concerned about the age and capacity of her batteries, we had replaced them with something a little more heavy duty. I was pleased we had a mild and sunny winter’s day with very light airs to motor around and hoist her sails by ourselves in the ocean beyond the marina. Each of the four sails had a halyard, three of which had a gaff and topping lift that needed to be hauled together with the ‘throat’ and tensioned separately. The jib had a dingy furler that seemed to tangle too easily and of course there was the halyard to lower the bow spit. With so many and so much rope (I know you shouldn’t refer to it as such, but rather as a sheet a line, a halyard or a painter), it was a relief to be able to become acquainted with their functions in a calm sea and the gentlest breeze. Back in the marina we spent another night on board. I explored and began to make an inventory of the contents with the various lockers, although for the most part I really didn’t know the name or function of the item contained within. With our heads swimming with new impressions and information we took a break and headed to the beach with our boards for a surf.

We’d planned to move Ashanti to Fremantle by overnighting at a mooring in Mangles Bay the following weekend. As is typical in winter the weather turned foul and we both developed colds with hacking coughs. We were anxious to bring Ashanti closer to home but I wasn’t well enough to do the two-day sail. I prevaricated and managed to put off the sail until both the weather and I were better. To be completely honest, I also felt rushed and didn’t want to sail Ashanti until we were more prepared. Much to our frustration a second weekend of stormy weather delayed us further. I spent the time reading about gaff-rigged boats, watching Youtube clips about sailing and contacted members of the Old Gaffers Association for advice and support. My tentative attempt to reach out resulted in several members contacting me. Like Colin they were generous with offers of support and invited us to attend their AGM, which was to be held during the same week.

On a wet and windy night we donned rain jackets and stumbled through the darkened University Campus in search of the Old Gaffers meeting place. No need for a sign, we knew we were in the right place when we noticed a gathering of healthily weathered, silver haired people through a lit window in one the University lecture theatres. It was also no surprise to see Colin (Ashanti’s creator) in the same gathering. Introductions were made and they kicked off the AGM with a most interesting talk about the corrosive effect of salt water on various metals. If I understood anything it sounded like salt water and metal created a corrosive circuit akin to a battery and particular metals had a negative or positive impact on each other. I learned boats had sacrificial zinc annoids to reduce corrosion and consistency in type of metals used because combinations of different types (depending on where they ranked in relation to one another on a metallic properties table) had the capacity to increase corrosion. My take home was that bronze was okay as long as we didn’t use it in combination with other metals higher up the property scale. Our stainless steel rigging was also okay because it was wrapped in a type of tar and protected from air and moisture. I was amazed to found myself fascinated by the talk, heretofore being acquainted with Ashanti, I couldn’t have remained awake through such a lecture.

Taking possession

sailing gaff rigged schooner sea trial Mandurah wooden boat yacht

The following week’s sea trail took place on a sunny and still winter’s day. Our ‘salt of the sea’ friend came along to help out and appraise Ashanti’s performance. Satisfied the motor proved powerful enough to drive us through the fast channel current beyond the marina walls, we hoisted the sails and she sailed gently in the light airs. Her leather lined throat creaked and groaned against the mast, a comfortable old world sound bringing to mind the romance of a pirate ship. Literally there to ‘learn the ropes’ we mined Colin for every bit of information we thought we might need to know. Obliging and considered, Colin provided details including the all-important rationale of why and how her many components were designed, made and functioned. On a steep learning curve, my brain has yet to understand amps, volts and draw, but I’ve filed the terms for future learning. Continue reading “Taking possession”

Love at first sight

gaff rigged schooner wooden boat traditional handbuilt sail y

I knew little about boats, except they had terrified me as a child and made me horribly seasick . In more recent times I seemed to have overcome the nausea after a summer sailing the harbours of New England on my brother’s yacht. A subsequent flirtation with kayaks and partnership in a J24 sailboat on the Swan River won me over. I enjoyed the thrill of cutting through water, whether sailing in a howling sea breeze with a following 2 metre sea or paddling the upper reaches of the river where overhanging trees and the sky is mirrored on its surface.

I was pleased to have sold the J24 and wondered why I was taking an hours drive down the coast to look at a sail boat that was for sale. Having seen so many on the internet I hadn’t paid too much attention to this one. When we approached Ashanti tied among many other boats, I couldn’t be sure this was the boat we were going to look at, but my heart leapt with anticipation hoping this was indeed the boat we’d come to see. She was perfect in every way, beautifully painted with glossy wooden masts and trims, she was an old style, gaff rigged schooner built on what I considered an intimate and human scale.

Inside Ashanti was even more beautiful, polished bronze and varnished woodwork were used throughout the interior. Cute like I imagined a gypsy caravan, she had a lovely arched cabin roof providing plenty of headroom. Lined up along the cabin walls were numerous bronze portholes through which the breeze could blow. In the corner stood a beautifully designed, pristine galley with an oven and stovetop yet to be used beyond boiling water for an occasional cup of tea. But best of all, she didn’t smell like diesel, oil, mould, or dirty bilge water. There wasn’t a whiff of an odour about her.

It was at this point Ashanti’s owner and, as it turned out, her designer creator and builder, Colin, pointed out her most amazing feature. She had an electric motor powered by eight 6 volt batteries. Traditionally modelled along the lines of a gaff-rigged schooner with a jib, staysail, foresail and mainsail, Colin took inspiration for her design from a “Nimble” drawn by V. B. Crockett of Maine USA. It was redrawn by Bruce Roberts as a Roberts 32 and Colin acknowledged using Roberts’ plans for the hull build, with alterations to give back the more pronounced shear that Roberts had flattened off. He also rounded the hull to garboard to keel, bringing back the Nimble wineglass shape to the hull and at the same time giving a little more buoyancy to the stern.

With wooden blocks, belaying pins, hand pumps, halyards and an icebox rather than a fridge, she offered simple and economic systems requiring minimal power, while her powerful, quiet and reliable electric motor offered the latest and a more sustainable system capable of drawing on wind and solar energy. I was impressed and although lacking confidence in the cruising lifestyle aspired by so many, I allowed myself to imagine traversing the oceans in Ashanti. I looked across at the watery blue eyes of my partner and saw he was completely smitten .

Eager not to lose the opportunity she afforded and delighting in her every feature, we an offer subject to a sea trial. I normally advocate reflection before committing to a purchase, but Ashanti was unique and rare find, too good to allow slip from our grasp. I wholeheartedly agreed and we shook hands on a purchase.