- Brock, David K., Lieut. (E), RAN (Rtd)
- Ship histories and stories, History - pre-Federation
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- June 1998 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
The weather was ideal for the parade of sail. From the water it looked spectacular, and from, the shore it probably looked even better. It seemed as if the total population had come out to watch; there wasn’t a single vantage point which wasn’t chock-a-block with people.
There was drama early in the parade of sail. The big Mexican barque “Cuathtemoc“, which was about two ships behind us, failed to make a turn in the course and ran aground on Goat Island. She eventually got off under her own power, and was not damaged, as she continued in the race.
We all made it outside the Heads without further mishap and then had about an hour to fill in until the start. By this time the wind had veered to the west, but conditions were quite good. The start was rather crowded, but we were fairly close to the line when the gun went off. Shortly after the start the wind became patchy and came in southwest, not the northeaster which we had been hoping for.
We were sailing “full and bye”, sailing as close as possible to the wind, but keeping the sails full. Although yachts and other modern ships can sail as close as 40 degrees to the wind, Enterprize is 19th century design and she could not point higher than 80 degrees to the wind. Probably the biggest disadvantage of this era was the hull shape. You may have observed that ships of this era had very bluff bows, unlike the modern ship which has a much finer point of entry. Apparently the thinking at that time was that if a ship had too fine a bow, there was a danger when she came down the face of a wave that it would continue its downward plunge. Bluff bows were to prevent this happening. The other change which has taken place is in the design of sails. Modern synthetic materials ensure better air flow over the surface of the sail, and a great deal more attention is given to shape. When running before the wind this is not quite so critical but it is vital for windward work.
During that first night the wind shifted further south which meant that we were pointed more towards New Zealand than Tasmania. About 0400 we tacked and at daybreak we were disappointed that we could still see Sydney! The forecast didn’t offer much hope. The southerlies were expected to continue, apart from brief northerlies on Wednesday which would be followed by another change with gale-force southerlies.
During the forenoon, the skipper called a meeting of all hands and discussed the situation. A feature of this race was that, in order to get all the ships into Hobart at much the same time, the race would finish on February 2. At the appointed time on that day, ships which had not crossed the finishing line would report their position, and this information would enable the finishing sequence to be determined. After reporting, ships could use their motors to get to Hobart as quickly as possible. With the forecast headwinds it was clear that by February 2 we would still be somewhere on the NSW coast and a long way from Hobart. On the other hand, if we chose to retire then, and motor to Hobart, we would have a much more comfortable ride and we would be there in time for the celebrations. The skipper asked if anyone would be upset if we withdrew from the race and at 1100 we advised race control and started the motor. We still kept some sail on, but with the assistance of the motor we were able to sail a much more direct course. Later on that day, we heard that race control had changed the finish time to 1730 on February 1.
The predicted northerly arrived in the middle watch on Wednesday, and the motor was shut down and the square sail set. This weather, however, didn’t last and by afternoon we could see a change building up ahead. In preparation, sail was reduced to a reefed mainsail, one staysail, and one headsail, and the motor restarted. At about 1500 we were in it, with 40-knot south-west winds blowing the tops off the sea. It was quite uncomfortable, and it was decided to make for Tathra Head where we could shelter. We got there about 1800 and anchored for the night, giving everyone a good night’s sleep.