We don’t see many classics sailing the West Australian coast. The weather is too harsh, the anchorages are poor and far between and the attraction for owners of such craft to sail amongst others of similar passion is limited. However, on January 11th of this year, one such craft anchored off from Dunsborough Sailing Club shortly after the Christmas/ New Year crowds had headed home
Built at Birkenhead, South Australia from the board of the famed designer Dr. T. Harrison Butler by J.P. Clausen and Sons, Seasalter was first launched into her namesake waters in 1937.
She is the largest of his designs ever built and is considered the Queen of all the vessels presently registered or known about by the Harrison Butler Association of the UK.
Her construction was solid with a massive piece of Jarrah for her keel 18”x16” (460x400mm), four garboard planks of 1 1⁄4” (32mm) Jarrah and hull planking of 1 1⁄4” (32mm) Huon Pine; her frames were steam bent Turpentine 2 1⁄2”x1 1⁄2” (60x40mm) on 10” (255mm) centres all copper fastened. She has two massive full length stringers a side through bolted on every second frame. Floors are 4” (100mm) thick and are alternated with mighty cast metal floors also through bolted to planking and frames.
This heavy construction is what has ensured her longevity for the past 80 years of adventures, voyaging, disasters and resurrections.
Her first adventure was as an Adelaide Harbour Patrol vessel during the Second World War when she was equipped with two soldiers with rifles and a box of grenades stored on deck! In 1946 she changed hands and her beautiful ketch rig was removed along with the graceful raised house and converted to a bald headed cutter. In this guise she contested the 1949 Sydney Hobart coming 6th from 9 other finishers with several retirements. She had begun her racing career which was to stretch ahead for the next thirty five years firstly in South Australian waters and later in those of Victoria. She sailed at various times under the burgees of the Royal South Australian Yacht Club, the Royal Brighton Yacht Club and the Sandringham Yacht Club. At one time she was prepared for a nonstop world circumnavigation but after two false starts the plan was abandoned.
In the 1980’s she was bought by a New Zealander who sailed her to Tonga and Fiji and subsequently lived aboard her in the Bay of Islands, NZ. In 2007 there was a ferocious storm which broke her moorings and Seasalter was washed up onto a rocky shore. She was sorely damaged and the vessel was offered to the present owner as a wreck.
Thirty months of full time work amounting to almost 14,000 hours and many thousands of dollars has saved this classic yacht from the funeral pyre. The work includes replacement of the entire deck structure including beams, carlins and bulwarks; replacement of 140 steel bolts with handmade bronze ones; reconstruction of the elegant raised house; replacement of newly cast bronze floors, hanging knees, chainplates, rigging toggles, gammon and cranse irons, deck plates and cowl vents; the design and implementation of as near original to the rig with which she was launched; new sails; a new interior; new wiring and motor.
Seasalter was relaunched in December 2015 just before Christmas and on January 9th, 2016 went for her first sail in the Russell Boating Club’s Tall Ships Race. This was also the first time she sailed under her original rig in seventy years! In February she went on a shakedown cruise to Gisbourne and return and on the 9th of May cleared from New Zealand for her first big cruise in twenty five years.
From Opua, NZ to Noumea, New Caledonia to Cairns suffering 55 knots and a knockdown; thence Thursday Island across the blistering Gulf of Carpentaria to Darwin; down the Kimberly and Pilbara coasts to Exmouth; around the corner of North West Cape and down to Dirk Hartog Island to join in the celebrations for the quadri-centennial of the landing of Dirk Hartog on October 25th 1616; onwards then down the Western Australian coast to Geraldton and Fremantle. From here she sailed to Bunbury and Bunkers Bay. She rounded Cape Naturaliste before being beaten back by a persistent southerly. She withdrew to the anchorage off the Dunsborough Yacht Club. With a change of crew, she again attacked the western extent of the Australian mainland and rounded the famed Cape Leeuwin to Albany, arriving on January 10th.
Crew problems ensued and once again I decided to sail solo as I had from Thursday Island to Fremantle. So the day before Lisa Blair left for her epic Antarctic Circumnavigation, Seasalter and I also left.
Since Cairns, I had had an appointment with the 2017 Australian Wooden Boat Festival, and for all those thousands of miles it was in my mind that I had to keep pushing to make the opening on the 10th of February. Thus with 1700 miles to go direct and only 21 days to do it in, I was under some pressure to get moving. Normally I plan for 100 miles a day. Most days I can do better than 150 but every day anchored means a hundred miles not sailed. So I made the decision to sail across the Southern Ocean and make a direct passage to the South of Tasmania.
Besides the rounding of Cape Horn, the Southern Ocean is the area of the world that most sailors view with some trepidation. I was in good company. I certainly didn’t view it lightly. But after several thousand miles of sailing I knew Seasalter to be a robust and sea kindly vessel.
In all, the passage took just an hour over 14 days. Halfway along I had rigging failure which meant I was unable to use the jib, the mizzen or hoist the main above the second reef. But by that time the wind was consistently above 25 knots and often to 45 and so forward progress wasn’t really hampered! Land was sighted through curtains of rain and I passed to the south of Matsuyker Island at latitude 43*49.’7S. Another 12 hours and I was tucked up in Cygnet Harbour secure from the forecast blow of 40-45 knots.
The Wooden Boat Festival was a resounding success and it was wonderful to receive the accolades of the thousands of visitors and co-exhibitors. Seasalter lay proudly amongst her peers.
Seasalter is presently in Hobart, whilst I return to New Zealand to work on her predecessor Mavourneen built in Hobart in 1946 and in which I circumnavigated the globe 1994 to 2001.
However, next year Seasalter will cruise the east coast of Tasmania before making her way across Bass Strait to Victoria to sail the waters of her youth and to attend the Paynesville Classic Boat Rally, the Geelong Wooden Boat Festival and hopefully the Sydney Wooden Boat Show in Darling Harbour, all in March 2018.
If you are in any of these places come down and see this graceful Australian Classic.
Written by Jay Lawry (Copyright claimed September 2017)
Photos by Jay Lawry and Harvey Raven