Episode 1 of The Sailing Podcast is the first part of a two part interview with Allan Breckall. Allan has a love for Cheoy Lee Yachts. The interview includes Allan recounting his first blue water trip across the Tasman Sea where he encountered a significant storm. He also shares some great advice about heavy weather sailing tactics and a lot more.
We would like to thank Allan for taking the time for this interview.
Click on the media player below to listen
As this was the first episode of the podcast I didn’t actually have time to get around to writing any show notes. I would recommend that you continue on to Episode number 2 with the second part of our interview with Allan Breckall.
- Later down the track we also got to interview Allan again and hear some of his opinions about Heavy Weather Sailing. You can find that interview in Episode 12 of The Sailing Podcast.
Transcription and Cheoy Lee Yachts
This is the Sailing Podcast with David and Carina Anderson – Episode 1. We would love you to come and join us on our journey.
Hello everybody and welcome to the first episode of The Sailing Podcast. Thank you for joining Carina and I on our journey. The interview today is Part 1 of a two-part interview with Allan Breckall. Part 2 will be available as the next episode. Today’s interview is mostly about sailing in heavy weather and Allan has some great advice about Cheoy Lee Yachts and tactics for heavy weather sailing. If you had the chance to listen to the preview, you realized he has been out in some pretty waves while crossing the Tasman Sea, sailing between Auckland and Sydney. There’s more about that in this interview. Thanks again for listening. We really hope that you enjoy it.
We met Allan at our house in Castaways Beach, Queensland and he told us that he first got into sailing after he emigrated from England to New Zealand when he was in his late 20s. In New Zealand, he was living in Auckland where his house overlooked the harbour and his interest in sailing was captured from watching yachts start in their weekly race from right outside his front door. After being introduced to sailing, he had several yachts and the second one which he speaks about in this interview was a 31-foot 1/2-toner designed by Laurie Davidson. It was called Imprint. The name, I guess, had something to do with Allan being in the print industry. He actually owned and operated one of New Zealand’s premier yachting magazines at that time called Yachting and Boating. He earned it in the early 1970s. Imprint was launched about 1973 and a few years after this, he got the urge to do a blue water cruise. That’s where we picked up the interview and I hope you enjoy his story.
Allan: So it was shortly I got this yearn to do a blue water cruise sail and I try to sell this boat which was a half toner and buy what I, at that time, thought was a good cruising yacht by traditional standards and after some time of looking out to sell it, somebody said to me, “Why don’t you go in Imprint?” as that’s what it was called. So I went through the ritual of preparing it for the cruise and in New Zealand, the boat has to be to Category 1 before you can clear customs as a New Zealand citizen which I was by then.
David: So that, I think is still a current rule now.
Allan: Oh indeed it is.
David: That has been in place like 30 years.
Allan: Oh yes. It doesn’t apply to visiting yachts.
Allan: But New Zealand residents and registered yachts have to be, in those days, they were of AY registered ship. Now, they’re only New Zealand register, they had to be Category 1, the captain had to prove his ability to navigate, prove his seamanship, the boat had to be hauled out and was already inspected by a surveyor, it had to come up to all sorts of standards of safety equipment and so on and so forth.
David: So anybody who sailed their boat in and then registered in New Zealand thinking that later they would just easily sail out, could find themselves quite…
Allan: (laughs) If it was a New Zealand registered ship, it was required to be to Category 1, which is the highest level of yacht racing category. All ocean racing boats have to have it.
Allan: That’s just to leave the country, that’s not to sail locally. Locally, you don’t need a boat licensed or anything but to clear customs, you have to have Category 1.
Allan: Of course, you learn a lot from that as well. The equipments you take on board is valuable and you’ll given instructions by, you have to a member of a club and the club safety officer spends a lot of time talking to you. So, you don’t just go out there green into the blue water. So, we set off and we set off in late May 1977. A friend of mine, who also done a lot of cruising with me and racing with me and he still is a friend and he still sails with me. And we set off in the middle of the winter for Sydney. I won’t bore you with the details as to why we decided to go to Sydney but that was the plan.
David: So, you’re not in a race or anything?
Allan: Oh no! No! We just wanted to sail.
David: Wanted to go into it…
Allan: To parts foreign, which of course in those days, Australia was classified as.
Allan: So we set off. We checked the weather going back several years and that time of the year was reasonably good for weather. Historically, it was either easterlies or northerlies. So we set off and we had this, we set off in quite heavy weather. So we battled up the New Zealand coast and went around the North Cape, and headed off towards Australia with a hauling easterly above Australia and we we’ve doing so 6, 7, 8 or 9 knots in this little 31-footer. It turned out to be an exceptionally good boat. It was a high volume well-ballasted, well-set up little boat designed originally as a half toner but it performed very well under the circumstances that we were getting into. We had a tiller and I had a little tiller steering device, electronic tiller steering device to include a Tiller Master which was extremely successful and very, very reliable.
Carina: So that was really an auto pilot?
Allan: Well, an autopilot, yes. I did have a windvane system built for the boat but the weather was quite bad and within the first couple of days, we bent or broke or something on that, so it never got used. But this little Tiller Master thing which is the same as the Autohelm but it was an American very, very basic little device, whether they still that make that model, I don’t know but it was very, very successful reliable and very, very successful. And we set off and we spent the first three or four days with this hauling 35 or 40 knot easterly up of back side and we were screaming long and we were sitting in the cockpit thinking “Gosh, this is easy.”
David: Do this all the way would be right.
Allan: This is fantastic waves we were. I mean, it was rough and wet and it was a bit blowy and a bit cool but we thought, we were making fantastic progress. And then Huey, as you all familiar with Huey, God of the Wind had a change of heart and he moved the winds to 180 degrees where he left it for the next 15 or so days.
Carina: Oh boy!
Allan: Which is what it took me to get to Sydney. It took me a total of 21 days to get form Auckland to Sydney.
Carina: What would be an average time, in a boat like that?
Allan: In a small boat like that, you should do it seven or eight days, nine days, depending on… Again, it depends on weather. And the weather slowly built up and these weather records can be checked. If you want to check them from the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th of June 1997, 1977 I beg your pardon. In my log, I estimated the wave heights to be up to 60 feet, that’s 20 meters, and wind speed to be around about 85 to 90 knots.
Allan: Eventually, when I got back to New Zealand, because I left the boat in Sydney and flew back to New Zealand for some reason I cannot now remember, we checked it with the New Zealand weather bureau who have a measuring system on thing called the Maori Oil Rig which is situated off the West Coast Cape of New Zealand north island of New Plymouth and they measured the height of the waves as 85 feet and the wind speed as… What’s 85 feet? 30? Close to 25 meters.
David: Yeah, by 3 yeah.
Allan: And wind speed got up to 115 knots and we were out there a 31-foot boat. We were upside down twice. At some stages, he had no sail up or whatsoever and one day we actually went backwards a little bit. We thought this was normal because we’ve never been up there before. (laughs)
David: Never been up there before.
Allan: We didn’t realize it wasn’t normal.
Carina: Did you think you were going to die?
Allan: No, not exactly. It’s quite a lot of fun. (all laugh) The main thing that it proved to me was it was a well-found vessel provided it is manage properly, will come to know no-harm provided it doesn’t hit anything hard. If it hits another ship or rock, then you’ve got problems, but the sea is unlikely to ever destroy a small well-found yacht. And I say small because often the smaller the boat, the safer it is because it is not the strength of the boat that matters, it is the buoyancy and the fact that it’s water tight. When it got really, really bad, what we did was we took every piece of rig down. We had to sail up at all. We didn’t have storm sails up. We lashed the tiller down to leeward and retired below, lit a few candles and recited the Lord’s prayer with sincerity. The secret was the fact that with the helm lashed to leeward, the boat is trying to go windward a little bit. By leeward mean, you got the tiller lashed over to, say the weather is coming on your port side, you lash the tiller down to starboard, which puts the rudder and which means that the boat is then trying to head into the wind. In very strong winds, anything that goes about 60 to 70 knots, the actual hull of the boat acts like a sail itself. It actually, we were doing 3 knots on the wind, probably only about 10 to 15 degrees on the wind but we were doing 3 knots without any sail up.
David: It was just action of the hull.
Allan: Just the wind over the hull and the helm down to leeward, that’s the secret. You got to hold your helm over the port if you’re going that way, like obviously, if it’s wheel steering, you’d have to lock it with a rudder to windward or lash it, whatever you need to do, and the boat was quite stable. And the times we went upside down, it happened twice. The first time, we were both inside the boat and we raced up the wave and got to the top of it. Bearing in mind these waves are 80 feet height and waves of course has a gentle slope on the windward side and a steep slope on the leeward side and when we got to the top of this wave, the wave decided to break as they sometimes do at sea and of course the top of the wave broke, the yacht fell literally sideways unto the leeward side face of the wave and the rest of the wave is breaking and then passed over the yacht. We did not go through 180 degrees but we did go to vertical, so the mast was vertical downwards and the keel was vertical upwards, I know that for a fact because I was lying in the bunk and the next minute, I’m crashing and lying on the ceiling or the cabin head looking at the windows of deep blue water.
David: Deep blue…
Carina: Was it daytime or night time?
Allan: They’re both daytime fortunately and the first time it happened, I can remember using the two Liverpool expletives which I won’t repeat on this thing but they weren’t polite words. But then, it was all over when I don’t know, seconds, possibly 15 to 20 seconds? There was a cascade of white and I thought we lost the mast but we hadn’t. The dinghy which was lashed, this was a little cockleshell type of dinghy was lashed the cabin top just moved down into the scaffold a little bit and we just went on deck and re-lashed it down.
David: What about water coming into the cabin?
Allan: No. We had our hatch closed.
Allan: This is when I watched some of shots of the Fastnet Race from helicopters, I was staggered to see boats in heavy weather where there hatch is open.
Allan: I mean, the first thing you do when a boat is in heavy weather, by heavy weather I mean anything go at 50 or 60 knots in big seas, provided you’re not being land, you don’t try to sail the boat. I think you hear people saying you sail it out of danger. I don’t agree with that. I think you get all the sail down and you then make the boat water tight and you just let it bob around.
Allan: There was a book I read many years ago called Tinkerbelle about a mad American who sailed a little trial sail from America to England. It took him 91 days and in the height of one of the raging storms, he saw a little light bulb go floating pass and it doomed on him that it is buoyancy not strength that is the issue. Having said that, you don’t want a weak yacht because in the event that bounce off occasional rift now and again so you do want it bit strength but buoyancy is the thing. This is why I praised the Lord that I didn’t buy a traditional yacht because heavy traditional yachts, bigger boats tend not to bob around. They’re more comfortable in 99% of the sea, but they don’t bob around. And I can speak from some experience because in later years, I had a 47-footer.
Carina: But what do you mean by traditional yacht?
Allan: Well, long keeled, slack in the bilges, older style design boat, and I had one that was a modernist boat but it followed those lines. I know for a fact that when I was going, sailing that boat in modest conditions, when the beam swell, the boat would not roll with the swell. It would roll against the swell. The point I’m trying to make is that, I’m talking about extreme weather, not talking about 15, 25 or 30 knots. I’m talking of extreme weather. It is my opinion that smaller, lighter, buoyant boats with their hatches closed, because as I was saying before both in the Fastnet disaster and the Sydney Hobart disaster, both was seen with their hatches open. And even if you have to open the hatch to get out, you close it once you’re out. And it was that which saved us, taking week. The only water that came into the boat was already in the bilges, a little bit of bilge water was locked around. I mean there might have been a dripped through the hatchway, I don’t know. I didn’t actually measure it. All I know is that we didn’t get water of any consequence and I supposed a bit fell out the toilet as well. The second time it happened, I was actually in the cockpit and it rolled over and exactly the same circumstances. We got to the top of a wave. I almost saw it coming. I grabbed the hull to the mainsheet. There was no sails up, took the mainsheet was tighten down the hull to stop the boom banging around and the main travel happened to be across the seat, where I was sitting, in front of the companionway, grabbed a whole of that, I was hanged on with my safety harness but I also grabbed a whole of the mainsheet and hanged on and the boat went inverted and having this already happened, I knew all I had to do was to breathe deeply for a moment or two. I like my current yacht, Rainbow, which is a Cheoy Lee Yacht design.
Carina: So, you were outside of the boat as it happened?
Allan: I was sitting in the cockpit and I saw this all happening.
Carina: So, you were completely under the water?
David: You were submerged?
Allan: And I was submerged and as I started to come right, my friend Tony, who was down below, he was banging. He was brave enough not to open the hatch. But he was banging on the companionway entrance and the hatch board screaming “Allan, are you alright?” (laughs)
David: I see.
Allan: (laughs) Having said that, after a sort of 40 years of cruising and even ocean racing, I’ve never experienced anything like that again. It’s only that one trip. I’ve had heavy weather. I’ve had perhaps 40 and 50 knots but most of the time, its 15 and 25 knots.
David: It was a great way to start your blue water travels isn’t it?
Allan: (laughs) But it served a lot. It took the fear out of sailing provided you don’t hit lumpy stuff, hard stuff or other boats and your boat is well-found and the rigging is reasonably tight, not too tight but reasonably tight and it’s good rigging and it’s checked regularly. Sailing masts only break when they got, this is my opinion, I don’t know if mast doesn’t break when they haven’t got sails, they only break when there’s a load on because when they go over, the sail floats with water. When the boat is trying to right itself, the righting moment of the keel is trying to pull the boat up and the sail is trying to stop it coming up and the mast breaks. Broken masts of course are quite hazardous because they usually break around the spreader which allows you then to lash. This has never happened to me but I’ve spoken to lots of sailors who have. It’s impossible to lash a broken end of the mast on the boat because if the broken end goes over the side and it’s still attached to wires, it’s going to act like a battering ram and poke a hole in your old little boat which might allow some of the water to get out.
David: Then you’re in big trouble. Yeah.
Allan: So that’s my opinion of heavy weathers and I feel in the position to make some suggestions about heavy weather sailing because I’ve been there, done that. A lot of the people who talked about it have never seen it because I’ve spoken to cruising yachtsmen who have been cruising for 20 to 30 years and never seen more than 25 knots. And good luck, let’s hope it stays that way. I mean, I wouldn’t go out looking for that Tasman crossing again. I enjoyed it and I’m glad I did it. It was a good experience and we had a lot of fun with it and there’s lots of car race to it like we made a ride in Sydney and all sorts of little stories. I could perhaps tell you enough of that.
Carina: Before you left to go on that Tasman crossing, had you like, did you have any idea that the weather was going to be bad?
Allan: We’d already checked the weather. It was going to be good.
Carina: Oh… Cheoy Lee Yachts
Allan: What I mean it was going to be, it was going to be seven days which is all I could forecast at that time. They recorded five to seven days of easterlies and we’ve got three or four days of easterlies. And then, Huey decided that we had it too easy too long.
Allan: Obviously, he didn’t like us and turned it around. And just to qualify this, any of the listeners that may have been aware of a vessel called the Shota Rustaveli. The Shota Rustaveli was a Russian cruise line at 20,000 or 22,000 tons. At the same time, you remember the oldest style of cruise line as they used to have lifeboats along the top deck and you know how high they are after the water. This is another issue that justifies my attitude about buoyancy, because the Shota Rustaveli had, I think it was 22,000 ton. Obviously, it’s not going to roll after the waves at sea in the same way that we did. And when it got to Auckland, it was actually, we must have passed it, it must have crossed because it was going through the same weather. When it got to Auckland, the boats on the stab at side were all smashed.
Allan: Smashed. Broken. You know how strong lifeboats are. Because the sea, these 64-foot seas, 80-foot seas had been crushing against and it was an irresistible force, hitting an immovable object. See, when that irresistible force hit us, we said, “You got it mate, we’re going” and so we did.
David: Yeah. You give way a little bit.
Allan: And that’s my attitude to buoyancy. And I think it’s a very critical point that is sometimes not always considered. This 47-foot that I had was quite a heavy boat, she was 16 or 17 ton and she was a good boat. She was a fast Fastnet maker, sailed well, did all the right things, but it was a keeled boat, a deep keeled boat, not a flat-bottomed, fast machine, but she will still do 9 and 10 knots quite happily and make passages of 7, 8, to 9 knots, but she didn’t roll with the sea. She used to roll against it. It actually could be quite uncomfortable even if you’re going a long swell uncomfortable.
David: What was the name of that one?
Allan: That was Aphrodite.
David: That was Aphrodite. That was the one I’ve seen the picture of?
David: Beautiful looking boat.
Allan: She’s down and I believe she was sold to somebody in Bateman’s Bay.
David: Where did you sail in Aphrodite when on the family?
Allan: Well, that’s how we got in Australia. We left New Zealand with my wife and I remarried by this time and I had two young children, one of whom was four, well nearly four, and the other was nearly one. That was in 1990. We sailed, we had a year however in the Pacific. My eldest youngest son, that’s from my second family, who is now 24, had his fourth birthday, a masquerade party in Lautoka.
Carina: Oh, in Fiji?
Allan: And my younger son went to walk on Kuto Beach in the Isle of Pines. (laughs). So, they’re blue water sails as well. We then eventually arrived in Australia and one thing led to another and we’re still here. So, it was not a plan of migration. We left Auckland and rented a house out and even left the dog in the house with the tenant. So, it was not a plan of migration but man proposes and God disposes.
David: Right. And what happened to Aphrodite?
Allan: Oh, I sold her. When we went into the business over here and we became urbanites for a little while so she had to be sold because the Mooloolaba is not the best place to have a…
David: Big boats.
Allan: Well, any kind of a boat unless you’re going do it, like I have a boat now but I don’t sail. I don’t do day sails. I go away for a week or four nights or three weeks or six months. I mean, mostly, I go away for a six-month cruise right in the Pacific including New Zealand or that sort of thing. But mostly my yachting started in New Zealand and it is a yachtsman’s paradise. This is not an advertisement for New Zealand but the only thing against it is the weather. It can sometimes be a bit blowy and a little bit rainy but it has very sheltered waters, you never more than half an hour to a half from sheltered. It’s a beautiful country.
David: That’s what makes the New Zealand sailors so good, isn’t it?
Allan: Oh yes.
David: It’s a great area but the weather can be bad, but they still love going out in sailing.
Allan: Well all this, I don’t know if you watch any of these programs in television about international racing, nearly every yacht is skippered by a Kiwi and these are the overseas yacht. Even when Alinghi took the America’s cup off New Zealand, it was a Kiwi crew and a Kiwi skipper who had been part of the New Zealand crew who took if off to Kiwis.
Allan: I mean…
David: Not quite right isn’t it?
Allan: No, it’s not quite right really but it was.
David: But that’s the way the rule was.
Allan: They are still. Russell Coutts and I don’t remember the other crew’s name, Brad Butterworth and they were voted as the two most popular people in New Zealand for some years.
David: Not bad. Not bad.
Allan: But it’s a bit like Rugby I suppose. It was interesting in the recent World Cup, three of the four teams that were in the semi finals were coached by Kiwis. Three out of the four, including the Australian team and the other finalists. Not France, of course they wouldn’t have a Kiwi coach. That’s not the way the French people are. Obviously New Zealand, had a New Zealand coach, Australia had a New Zealand coach, and Wales had a New Zealand coach and it’s the same thing with yachting. It’s wherever you go.
Well, we hope that you enjoyed the first part of our interview with Allan Breckall. As I mentioned at the start, Part 2 of this interview will be up on the website soon as Podcast No. 2. Please come and visit us at our website, it is www.thesailingpodcast.com. You can sign up to the mailing list there so we can let you know when the Podcast is released or you can like our Facebook page, that’s www.facebook.com/thesailingpodcast. If you can’t remember all that, you can just search on Facebook for The Sailing Podcast and you should be able to find us there. The show notes will be up on the website soon and we’d invite you to add a comment there. Let us know how you enjoyed the Podcast. Of course, you can always just email me, it is firstname.lastname@example.org. Let me know what you’re up to. You might help me come up with some ideas for future Podcast episodes. Thanks again for listening. If you’re using iTunes, please do me a favour and leave a rating on iTunes. This helps other people to find us and spread the word around.
You’ve been listening to David and Carina Anderson of The Sailing Podcast. Have a great day and thank you for joining us on our journey.
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