150 Story #7: TACKING THROUGH THE ALBERT CHANNEL

Submitted by Noel J Vautier – Squadron member since 1964

Each year as I sail through the Albert Channel into the Bay of Islands I recall the first time I did this – over 60 years ago. I was crewing on the A Class keeler Victory – a 38 foot cutter built by Logan Brothers in 1906 which the skipper Harold George had owned since the early 1920s. 

Harold is one of only two RNZYS Commodores who has held that office twice – for two years before the start of World War II and two years just after. He was an incredibly capable sailor – as indeed he had to be because Victory did not have a motor. Her sails were made of heavy canvas and her sheets and halyards of a natural manila fibre. 

The wind that memorable day as we came round Cape Brett was a fresh south-westerly and we therefore had to tack. Without any prior warning, just after entering the Albert Channel, the staysail sheet snapped and its loose end slipped over the side as the crew endeavoured to lower the thrashing sail. Harold’s concern however was that the sheet could be lost overboard and he therefore yelled at his two crew members to forget about the staysail and rescue the sheet. He later told us it could be turned round and re-used – even though it seemed to me to be near the end of its life.

We just succeeded in retrieving the sodden rope before we had to make the next tack. As Victory had no winches it was necessary once through a tack for one crew member to tighten the foresail sheets by holding each of them in turn tightly round a cleat while another crew member forward of the cleat bounced the sheet up and down. The task of the crew member holding the sheet round the cleat was to take up the slack inch by inch before securing it. By the time Victory had navigated through the Channel the crew had had a good work-out! 

The synthetic ropes we have today, together with powerful winches, make sailing our Farr 41MX keeler Matrix a dream in comparison. I was certainly lucky to have such an amazing apprenticeship with Harold George and have always appreciated his willingness to invite a teenager – with no keeler experience initially – on many cruises around the Hauraki Gulf and up the northern coast to the Bay of Islands and beyond. My memory of tacking through the Albert Channel is just one of many memories of Harold and Victory.

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