Allan continues with stories of his adventures sailing in the Tasman Sea and into the Pacific. This includes a story about a rescue Allan participated in while out sailing in the Tasman Sea as well as an encounter with the Royal New Zealand Navy.
You can view a transcription of this episode along with the Show Notes below the Media Player.
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We would like to thank Allan for taking the time for this interview.
Click on the media player below to listen to episode 2
I did a bit of research into the P & O vessel Allan was referring to during this podcast using the fact that Bill Belcher was in his Liferaft in 1978. I believe it was the Arcadia, which was in Fiji in 1978. I found a link with some information about the arcadia:
Bill Belcher wrote a great book about his being shipwrecked – it is called Shipwrecked on Middleton Reef – I have a copy at home that I found at a second hand bookshop and it is a really good story. He has another book called “Wind-Vane Self-steering” that I have which is a fantastic explanation of the various options when it comes to Wind Vanes. I would love to discuss Wind Vanes on The Sailing Podcast sometime because I don’t really understand how they operate. Here are the Amazon listings for the Bill Belcher books:
Transcription of Episode 2
This is the Sailing Podcast with David and Carina Anderson – Episode 2. We would love you to come and join us on our journey.
Hello everybody! Welcome to the second episode of The Sailing Podcast. Thank you for joining Carina and I on our journey. The episode today is part 2 of an interview with Allan Breckall. The last podcast was part 1 of this interview. If you didn’t catch that podcast, you’ll find that on our website www.thesailingpodcast.com/podcast1. You’ll find the Show Notes there as well and I’ll add some photos of Allan and his current yacht called Rainbow. Another easy way to find us is on iTunes. Just search for ‘The Sailing Podcast’. You should be able to find our page and subscribe there to receive each episode automatically.
In Part 1 of the interview, Allan shared his story about his first blue water sailing trip across the Tasman Sea between Auckland and Sydney in his yacht named Imprint. He then shared some heavy weather sailing tips for extreme conditions which are what he experienced during that trip. Today’s Podcast with Allan continues on with some of his stories from his early sailing adventures. It starts with some good advice about currents in the Tasman Sea as well as his participation in a rescue operation out in the Tasman. We picked up the interview just after I asked Allan how many times he’d been across the Tasman. He said from memory, he has up to 14 or 15 crossings now. The interview was done at our house in Castaways Beach, Queensland over the kitchen table and unfortunately, in the interview, there are some tapping noises. It’s just fingers tapping on the table and of course that went straight into the microphone. Sorry about that.
I asked Allan about the Tasman Sea’s reputation as a difficult crossing. That’s where we enter the interview with Allan explaining how allowing for the various currents as you approached land can be one of the most difficult parts of any ocean crossing.
Allan: One of the issues with the Tasman is that, as in any part of water, there are currents. And if you picked them right and you understand where they are, they can be quite advantageous. The worst part of most ocean travelling, is when you are close to land. The seas get steeper. There is always a cape or something to get around. There is a patch of sand somewhere to get in your way and the worst part of trips between Queensland and New Zealand are the two capes, Cape Moreton and North Cape.
Allan: In fact, getting around from Cape Reinga and past the Three Kings can be an actual nightmare if you don’t get the tides right. There were a couple of times, I can’t remember exactly when it was, but Tony and I, had a south-easterly, and we were beating around North Cape and we were hard on the wind doing about 4 ½ knots with a deep rig and very tightly filled Genoa. The boat was loving it. In fact, I was enjoying it too, but he then, without me knowing it, took a fix at where we were on his little handheld GPS, and then an hour later, took another fix and he told me that he just gone sideways.
David: Oh no! Just so much current and it was just running.
Allan: Oh yeah and I thought that were doing fine. We’re doing 4 ½ knots nicely going along…
Allan: I mean, we could just see the land just in the distance but you couldn’t tell where you were in relation to it. And we were just going sideways with the current.
Allan: So currents: anybody that does any blue water sailing, (there are several good books around about currents) should be aware of them and they should log them regularly. I mean most sailors do this anyway, but when you log your speed through the water from your sum log and you speed over the ground from your GPS – you have got to check those regularly, every, like in this one trip. In fact, that trip that you came back with me on, on the way over, we had a young chap Dale with us who had a very good bit of information. We actually had two currents side by side about half a mile apart going around past the Three Kings, between the Three Kings and North Cape and we have to get across the first one very quickly. We only had like, I think it was about a mile, a nautical mile. And it was that wide and at that stage of the tide, the current is going one way and the other current at the same time. What you do is you nip across the one you don’t want and get into the one you do want, whichever way you’re going and it’s only just in that area passed the Three Kings. The Three Kings is that group of islands about 60 miles just northern tip of New Zealand and for some unknown reason, there’s a lot of current. Well, you can imagine, you’ve got two oceans, you’ve got the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean trying to get pass one another. The tidal difference at Auckland between the Manukau Harbour and the Waitemata Harbour which at high tide are only about 200 meters apart, is five hours. There was five hours difference between the tides which carries on up to North Cape. Anyway, enough about geography. Thought we could talk sailing or something else.
Carina: You said you’ve been like 12 times across the Tasman, how many times have you been sailing around the Pacific Islands?
Allan: Oh, I don’t know. I stopped keeping logbooks. I’ve done about, I’ve done five in the last five years and prior to that I did a two-year trip on Imprint. I did a two-year trip on Improbable and I did a one-year trip on Aphrodite. And apart from that, I did a couple of Fiji races, stuff like that -races up and back and stuff.
Carina: That’s a lot.
Allan: I’ve done a lot of blue water sailing and some that’s being quite spectacular, some that’s being very ordinary and sometimes it gets boring.
David: So with the trips across the Tasman, these days, the sort of road that you like to take is to go to Lord Howe on the way there but not on the way back.
Allan: Well, there is a problem with that. I liked to go to Lord Howe on the way back, but there’s a problem – it’s not available to yachtsmen anymore.
David: Because of their customs?
Allan: Well, customs and quarantine. Well, quarantine and the police. In the past, the police officer on Lord Howe Island used to do quarantine, customs and immigration.
David: And clear you into Australia?
Allan: I used to, and they’d clear you in and provided you have not got an animal on board, I mean, no problem. They clear you in so you could come from New Zealand to Lord Howe and then straight to Moololaba and going the other way, you could go directly from Mooloolaba to Lord Howe to New Zealand.
David: And to do it that way would save you a few days having to go to Brisbane to clear?
Allan: Yeah. Well, Now you’ve got to go into Brisbane to clear. Now, you got to go to Brisbane River. So, that’s two days, then you’ve got to get back out and around the cape again. Not only that, it was three days to Lord Howe. You could get in there, you could pop into a marina or onto a mooring, go ashore and get a bit of fresh vegetables and fresh loaf of bread and it’s sort of broke the journey. It was quite a little break. It’s just a beautiful place to go to as well. I mean, it’s magic, at Lord Howe.
David: Excuse my geography but Lord Howe is a little bit south?
Allan: Yes it is.
David: That’s sort of a good…
Allan: It’s almost. If you drew a straight line from Cape Moreton to North Cape, Lord Howe would be about 100 miles south of that line.
David: So, it makes a good sort of tack down?
Allan: Hardly any deviation to get there. The first time I went to Lord Howe was purely by accident after on this trip on Imprint. After we had that tremendous ride, I’d been up and down the Australian coast for some time and I had a crew on board. I had a male and two young females and we’ve been down to Sydney to clear the boat. Don’t ask me why, I kind of lost account. But we’ve been down the Sydney and we’ve painted the boat at Elizabeth bay and then we clear the customs in Sydney and we were tacking for Fiji and now I have a tiny little radio and it was what I call a SSB, what it known as an HF radio – but it only had two frequencies on it. It only had 2182 which is the emergency frequency and it had 2207, I think of 2271 which is the Auckland working frequency. These were the days when VHF radios were almost non-existent on a boat on the water. You just had to switch down to 2182. As we were leaving, we were told to keep a look out – well we weren’t told too, but all vessels and all ships “Please keep a look out for black old trawler up to 100 miles off the coast – been missing for nine days.” Anyway, about two days out, I’m sitting on the deck with one of these ladies chatting away and we saw a vessel up in front of us and saw a light flashing. Looking at it from the binoculars, it looked to me like a naval vessel. I don’t know why but the shape of it seemed or just the angle we’re looking at. I thought I saw smoke from the funnel. And with the light flashing, I thought they might have seen us. The only people who I knew who use flashing lights normally are the navy, I supposed that why I thought of it that way. It looked to me as it was steaming towards us and flashing a light and I couldn’t understand this. And so anyway, after a while, we got a little bit closer, I realized it had a black hull and I remembered the message. So we headed off up, dropped the sails, because it was to windward. As we got closer, sure enough, it was a vessel – a trawler, a black hull up and it turned out to be the missing vessel which had been missing for nine days. They had hundreds of aircrafts out searching for it. The navy searched up to 100 miles off shore and we found it 200 miles off shore. To cut a long story short, what happened is that the engine had broken down and their radio wasn’t working. It was an old trawler as big boat in Sydney was being taken up to Mooloolaba to be restored and put into service and the welding had dropped off between along the chine, just above the water level so there was a gap between the two plates, the side of the vessel and the chine as it goes towards the hull, there was a gap that was nearly a centimetre thick were the welding had just dropped out and it was about a meter long. And every time the vessel roll, it scooped in a couple of bucketful of water. And because they had no engine, they have no pump because being an old vessel and ill-equipped and all, it was originally intended to do just a coastal trip. It was originally just going to head up a coast and the owner who was driving alongside up the coast. They had citizen band radios talking to him and then of course, when the boat got a bit further out…
David: Ah, he is driving on the road?
Allan: He is driving up the coast on land and they are sailing up the coast and they’re keeping contact with the little handheld CB radio. Then one night when the engine broke down and they drifted out, he couldn’t contact them so he reported they’re missing and then they started looking for them. By then they actually had gone 200 miles.
David: Was the smoke flares?
Allan: No. What it was, the flashing light was in fact, they’ve seen me obviously and they had got a mirror, they pulled a mirror off the head door and were using it as a heliograph to flash lights.
David: Oh that’s quite awesome.
Allan: And they’ve got, the only thing they could find dry on the boat was an old mattress they got out and they’d set the mattress on fire and that was to attract us. So then, I get on and realized it was them and I got onto channel 2182 and I called up and the only station I can get was the Smoky Cape light and they come up and they said “Don’t do anything.”
David: Where is Smoky Cape?
Allan: Somewhere between here and Sydney and I have seen it on the chart but I forget it now and these were the days when the old lighthouses were men and this was the only guy keeping and listening watch on 2182. So eventually they told me to go alongside and get the names of the crew. So obviously they were making sure that I wasn’t just having them on.
Allan: So, I went alongside and they had one named Smith, and I thought that doesn’t sound real. The other guy was a Swiss and he was called Kurt something and was other name you could easily make up. So, I then relayed the names and I think their date of birth or something.
David: There were just the two of them?
Allan: Just the two of them on board. They were the delivery crew. So, eventually they agreed. They said “Yes, that’s fine” and I said “What do I do? Do I take these guys off?” And they said “No, no because once you leave the ship, it’s abandoned and once it’s abandoned, it can be salvaged by anybody.” Anyway, to cut the long story short, they eventually sent a Hercules out from Canberra and I was chatting to the Hercules on 2182 and they were circling around. What was happening is the owner and the salvage people in Sydney were trying to decide what to do about it and in the end, they decided that it wasn’t worth salvaging. So Canberra told me that as it too old. And a side issue to that, the Orsova or the Oriana which was one of the old type P&O liners 40,000 ton was stopped by the Hercules. She was on her way and she was nearby. He stopped the vessel in case they were needed. And they’ve been hanging around for half an hour and I called up the Hercules rescue 164, it was his number. I said “These guys weren’t on any immediate danger. The weather wasn’t bad and we were going to take them off so they weren’t in any immediate danger. We would have left them on the vessel. So you can let the Orsova or Oriana go. So eventually Canberra told me, or the rescue 164 told me to take the guys off and sink the boat.
David: And sink the boat? So there wouldn’t be any danger?
Allan: Yes. We put a light on it. We went on board, cut hoses and it would have sunk eventually. As it turned out, there was some very bad weather. They were lucky we got them when we did because when we got to Lord Howe – which is where we took them to drop them off – which was my first visit to Lord Howe, we sailed up a tail in a cyclone and they would have been gone. They had no safety gear on board. What they’ve done is they made a sort of a floater out of bits of fish boxes. You know, they pull it and expand it and they had written diaries and they had written their last will and they were gone. They were happy that they were going to see their wives and family again.
David: That’s like many episodes of Gilligan’s island.
Allan: Anyway, we got them off. We didn’t see the boat sink because it was sinking slowly and it was getting dark by the time we left but the light was on and it was going to sink because we cut hoses, the engine intake and something else. We’d cut the toilets. We’ve cut several hoses inside the boat anyway. So, it’s going to sink. It was already slopping around. When I got on board, it was already wet, like a lot of water and it’s sloping around and by the time we left, we were waiting for the water to get off the boat. So, it was going to go. It’s just waiting to go in five minutes.
So, we took them to Lord Howe and dropped them off there but the sequel to the Oriana, which is a story I love telling. Much later, I was in Fiji and tied in the wharf, (it was the Oriana or the Orsova, it doesn’t matter which one it was) I appeared in my pink satin shorts and a shirt and unshaven. Mind you, that would be the case because I used to have a beard in those days. I walked up to the boat and I said to this officer, they have a crewman, in this case, happened to be an officer, who has to guard the gangways to stop people going on and off the boat without permission and I said “I want to see the captain” and he said “ho ho ho” and used words like “Go forth and multiply” in their vernacular and I said, “no no no” and I half related the story to him and he then took me to the radio room where they got the log out.
Allan: And they went through the log and they found my name and the name of my vessel and the incident and that they have been stopped. So, I was shown into the captain’s cabin which was some spacious large room and his assistant captain, who was also a captain, was there. We had tea and breakfast. We’re sitting there with me trying to behave like a gentleman, which is quite difficult to me at times and I said, “I just saw them and dropped them in and as captains of the sea you know…” And so I said “Thank you” and he said “Oh, no no. No Mr. Breckall, I must thank you.” I said, “Why is that?” He said “You may or may not be aware of it but when there is distress at sea, maritime law demands or appoints the first vessel there is in command of the rescue team and any vessel that arrives after is under his command.”
David: Yes. Yes.
Allan: So, for 30 minutes, I was in command of the Orsova.
David: You’re in ultimate control.
Allan: That story takes a bit of beating. And after we finished our tea and biscuits and I said “Thank you very much” and walked out and he said “Before you go,” and handed me a very large bottle of his best scotch whiskey. Like it wasn’t a little bottle, it was like flask sort thing, you now, probably about two and half to three litres, I don’t know but I was not able to argue – I just said “Thank you very much.”
David: That’s fantastic.
Allan: A lot happened on that first trip. I don’t know why but I assuming I’m looking for trouble. But on the way, (this was on the way before the Orsova story), on the way to Fiji, one evening, with these two rather nice young ladies on board and myself and that male chap. It happened to be my turn in the galley and I was doing some fried rice and the others were sitting playing cards or drinking wine down below inside the bunk and it was very hot. We were over the cooking area. So I went up to the cockpit and we would going along at about 5 or 6 knots and the boat was just sailing on beautifully. On my starboard side as I went up, there was a warship. There was a warship and it was about 200 meters away from me and I could see the silhouette of it. It had lights on and it had guns on it. And I thought “My goodness” and all I had at that time was an old British Army 303 and I thought this is going to be an unfair fight but we’ll do out best. We’re British, we’ll go on fighting. And the next thing, it starts to do a big U-turn and it comes up astern of me and it is so close to me that the stem-head fitting is over my head in the cockpit, you and then a spotlight goes on “BING”.
Shipwrecked on Middleton Reef
On the stern of my boat, in very small letters, is the name ‘Imprint, Auckland’ and the next thing is a loud hailer came up saying “Good evening Auckland! This is RNZ Navy Vessel.” So then, we came up on the radio on channel 2182 and he then came alongside and the two girls came out who were minimally clad and all the sailors on the side were giving us all this roaring and shouting and yahooing. I invited the crew over for fried rice but they declined and they’re steaming alongside of us along 5 or 6 knots, very close, like literally as wide as this room is away from us, that close. And on the radio, whoever it was on the radio, said “Yes, hope we didn’t alarm you”. Some weeks previously, this New Plymouth to Mooloolaba single-handed race had been on and the storm I told you about that hit us at Lord Howe had also hit our fleet and there were five vessels missing. They were out looking for them and instead they found us. And he said “You’re looking in pretty good shape.” And if anybody wants to check up the dates and facts, it’s the time when Bill Belcher (was missing), Well they eventually found them all except Bill Belcher who is a very well-known New Zealand yachtsman who has written lots of books on self-steering gear.
David: I think I’ve got of his books.
Allan: Yeah? And he hit Middleton or Elizabeth Reef, one of those two, I don’t know which one and he then, this was quite a story in Australian waters. T hey went out searching for him and they found him. Elizabeth and Middleton Reefs are two reefs north of Lord Howe, right in the path between Auckland or between New Plymouth and Mooloolaba and he hit one of these and he stayed to his boat for days but for the reasons only know to God, he abandoned his boat which of course you don’t do. I mean the golden rule is you step up into your life raft – You don’t step down into it. In others words, you got to be standing on the cabin top and the water is going around your knees before you get off your boat. This has been proven too many times. And he got in his life raft and went missing. He was eventually found still alive 14 days later, I believe, right up the Queensland Coast up past Rockhampton somewhere. He’d drifted.
David: Read that stories.
Allan: If he’d stayed with his boat, they’d have found him and he was quite safe on the reef.
David: So, it would be one of the first places they probably would look?
Allan: Probably would have been in the first place, so yeah.
David: That’s where you would expect a yacht to come to greif.
Allan: So, all of these, I mean, what I’m saying is all of these can be qualified by historic fact.
Carina: So, how was he when they found him?
Allan: He was dehydrated and he wasn’t terribly well but he didn’t have to be hospitalized or anything. I don’t remember to be honest with all the detail. I was a bit irritated, I supposed, to think a man of his experience and knowledge would leave his boat, particularly a boat is on a reef. He’s not going to go anywhere is he? Why leave it? I mean, even if the water cover the reef and he had to tie his lifeboat, he could have stayed there because that’s where he’s going to be found quicker. Anyway, that surprised me about Bill Belcher. He was a well known identity around Auckland. He lived on Waiheke Island. He has done lots of single hand races and he was a well established sailor. My mind you, these were the days before GPS, so he was doing all his navigation by sextant and so knowing what he was, he should have stayed well clear. I mean, the golden rule is that you give everything hard 50 miles leeway or I do anyway, I don’t go within 50 miles of anything hard. Just as a sequel to that, just as a matter of interest to back up some of the stories I’ve been saying about currents, when Rescue 164 was about to leave me, he said “Would you like a fix?” And I said “Yeah, have you got a couple of joints.” And he said, “No no no, would you like an accurate position?” So I said “Yes alright.” And he flew right over my mast top and with his navigation equipment on board, gave me a fix down to the nth degree. And I was just over 200 miles. No, it wasn’t even that far, it’s a 150 miles from Lord Howe. And I said, “That was just going to be easy.” Don’t even have to get a sextant or another box again so we’ll just use dead reckoning to find our way and I did. And the next morning when Lord Howe should be on the horizon, it wasn’t there. So I get my sextant, starts taking fixes and I am 50 to 60 miles north of the island because there is a current there.
Allan: And I was going vertically east west and in 150 miles, it think it was, I had gone 50 to 60 miles north of Lord Howe Island. And there was a another sequel to that story. This was a wonderful trip honestly. I should have written a book about this one.
Allan: Once I got my fixers and we sailed down towards Lord Howe, I arrived and it was a bit choppy so getting fix’s within a couple of miles is not easy. In calm conditions, you can get it down to a couple of 100 yards but anything is choppy, just sort and this is only a 31-foot boat and it was a very buoyant boat as I’ve already explained, so it was bobbin around fairly a bit. And I said to the people and it was a squally day where we had rain squally or showers around but a lot of sunshine as well, a nice day but squally and I said to the crew, “Well, we’re there.” And they laughed at me and they said, “Well, we’re not.” And I said, “Well, I say we are.” I said “I’ve taken more sights than you’ve had hot dinners and we’re there. We’re within 4 to 5 miles of the reef and I’m not going any closer until we can see it.” They said “No were not. You’re dreaming.” And if you saw that film South Pacific, there’s a moment in it where the clouds part and Bali Hai, the island of Bali Hai appears. Just as if you’re drawing the curtains and that’s exactly what happened and I just said “Nya nya nya nya nya!” because that’s what literally happened. There was a rain cloud or a rain shower or something and it’s just, the cloud separated like the curtains and the island just appeared out of this cloud and it was literally less than 5 miles away. And I guess I did a little bit of gloating about that…
Well, we hope that you enjoyed our interview with Allan Breckall. We love listening to Allan and his stories of sailing. He’s still out there sailing around the Tasman each year and I hope that he doesn’t mind me mentioning that he is now in his 70s and still as chirpy and adventurous as a 20-year-old. I did a bit of research into that P&O vessel he was referring to using the fact that Bill Belcher was in his liferaft in 1978. I believed that the P&O cruiser was the Arcadia. It was in Fiji in 1978. I put up a link on the Show Notes about the Arcadia. It’s actually at www.nzmaritime.co.nz/arcadia. I also put up a link to the Bill Belcher book about his being shipwrecked. It’s called Shipwrecked on Middleton Reef. I’ve got a copy at home that I found at a second-hand bookshop. It’s a really good story. He has another book called Windvane Self-Steering. I’ve also got that and it’s a fantastic explanation of the various options when it comes to windvanes, I’ve loved to discuss winevanes on The Sailing Podcast sometime.
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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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