Report to Her Excellency,
Professor Marie Bashir
Governor of New South Wales
26th March 2003
Here is report number 2 of the voyage thus far. My last report was
written at anchor at the bottom of Dirk Hartog island while waiting for a break in the
weather to make a second attempt to head south. We had suffered badly at the hands of the
extreme southerly airstream during our last attempt, covering only 90 miles in 8 days.
With 190 miles to get to Geraldton and a diminishing fuel supply, we turned around and
sailed the 90 miles back in 1 day! This time we had loaded an extra 2 tons of fuel on
board and were waiting to make the second attempt.
With the weather clearing a little we weighed anchor and put to sea,
fighting an even heavier dose of the endless southerly winds. 24 hours later as we were
beginning to get used to the punishment, I was woken in the early hours by a total calm,
and then magically, the wind swung to the Northwest, we set all sail and shut down the
engine. There were beaming smiles all round, as you can imagine.
Running south with the wind, we decided to visit the Abrolhos Islands,
the site of the infamous massacre of the Batavia survivors by other Batavia survivors in
1629. We visited the Wallabi Group and tried to imagine what life may have been like to
stranded there fighting for your life on both counts. It was indeed a lonely and desolate
place with the most spectacular coral reef we have seen anywhere, far more beautiful than
The Great Barrier Reef and completely untouched.
We then continued our run of good luck, although Im sure Flinders
was watching over us, and we continued South East and on the 6th December at
0930 we secured alongside Geraldton wharf for a 3 day stay. Geraldton is a thriving,
prosperous town with good facilities and we were thoroughly taken in hand by the local
Rotarians. I was whisked off to lunch that day, breakfast the next with the Historical
Preservation society, Dinner for the whole crew and the rotary Club the next night. I was
introduced to the man who discovered the wreck of the Batavia, Mr Max Cramer. Max is in
his 80s and still dives very day. He is one of the most interesting men I have ever
met, and his appreciation of what we were doing was outstanding.
Its somewhat Ironic that while we are circumnavigating the
country celebrating 200 years of history, the West Australians are constantly celebrating
over 370 years of their History. Its also ironic that both the Dutch and the French
turned their backs on New Holland declaring it useless and unwelcoming. Well, unwelcoming
it may be, but useless its not when you consider the enormous wealth coming out of
the ground and out of the sea. I was amazed to discover that the French planted a
"Notice of Formal Possession" on Dirk Hartog Island in 1767, which the French
Government of the day declined to take up. Imagine how history may have changed!
I havent yet mentioned our trainees. The bulk of the young West
Australians on board for the 1st attempt from Carnarvon were from the
Australian Navy Cadets. Two of these young people were outstanding and want careers at
sea. As a result of their enthusiasm and emerging talent, we decided to offer them a long
term (2 year) training scholarship. As they have not yet finished school, they are both
studying via our own tutoring and a Distance Education curriculum as well as their
Maritime subjects. They are two fabulous young women with a big future and we are proud to
be able to help them.
Leaving Geraldton, we headed across to the southern Abrolhos, the
resting place of the Batavia and the site of the massacres on Beacon Island. We found the
Abrolhos a fascinating, but eerie and forbidding place. We headed south again with
favourable winds and at 0900 on 16th December, dropped anchor off Rottnest
Island. Going ashore in this very interesting place, I was somewhat stunned by the huge
numbers of tourists and day trippers. I realised what was normal so close to a thriving
city was abnormal to us. We had, for almost 6 months, been anchoring at and exploring
totally isolated and remote islands, uninhabited by anything or anyone except for turtles,
dolphins, seals and seabirds.
Leaving Rottnest behind, we headed into Fremantle and a welcome
Christmas berth. Fremantle is a delightful, cosmopolitan city full of extremely friendly
and supportive people. We were welcomed and hosted by the "Leeuwin" association,
I caught up with long lost family for Christmas, the crew had a good rest and we all
enjoyed the delights of the "Cappucino Strip".
On January 6th, with a full ship of Voyage crew, a happy mix
of both mature age and young people, and from all backgrounds, we turned her nose south
once again, heading for Cape Leeuwin. This leg was significant as it brought us once
again, in touch with the "Wake of Flinders". All the way down the WA coast and
through the Kimberley, we had been conscious of the impact of the Dutch and the very fine
work and achievements of both Nicholas Baudin and Flinders successor, Phillip Parker
King (son of NSW Governor Phillip Gidley King).
We rounded Cape Leeuwin on the morning of the 16th January,
after heaving to so that we could commemorate our arrival at the same place as Matthew
Flinders. Both Matthew and myself had the Indian Ocean at our backs at that point,
although he had run East and I had run South, the distance run was about the same. I
suspect our feelings were similar, a sense of relief on one hand and a feeling of
excitement because of the unknown ahead of us.
Rounding the Cape and turning into Flinders bay, we anchored off
Augusta to pick up Jennie who was joining us for a while. Leaving Augusta, we developed a
major leak in our engine exhaust(a leak of a different kind than Flinders, but in
its own way, just as much a difficulty). As it couldnt be repaired until
Albany, that meant sail only! and against the prevailing Easterly winds again. It took us
another 3 days to reach Albany after sailing nearly 100 miles south into the Southern
Ocean until we picked up a westerly airstream. At 1400 on 20th January, we
entered Princess Royal Harbour, site of Albany, the first British settlement in the West.
Albany is a beautiful port, and as usual, we were made very welcome,
and I had the privilege of being Guest of Honour at the Towns Proclamation Day
ceremony. This local pride in the celebration of the founding of the settlement was
wonderful to see. The entire town is a most historic and bustling place with much to see
and Im pleased to report that we received the same degree of assistance from the
local businesses with our repairs as elsewhere, with tradesman working all through the
nights to finish on time. It was unfortunate that we had such a short stay there and
sailing day came all too soon.
The weather pattern changed abruptly during that sailing day afternoon,
and our nice, safe wharf became very uncomfortable. In a very short time, the wind had
increased to a force that prevented us getting off the wharf, and then our troubles really
began. The wind increased in strength to above 70 knots, not only forcing us over at an
angle of 30 degrees against the wharf, but the seas building up across the wide shallow
bay began slamming us sideways into the wharf timbers. Your Excellency, I have experienced
such a storm at sea many times, but to be on board, hearing your ships timbers
protesting, and then splintering and cracking with each wave was too dreadful for words. I
really believe that had the storm continued overnight, we would have lost her. Fortunately
for us, a large group of locals arrived carrying dozens of used truck tyres, and they and
the crew worked remorselessly to pad the hull from direct contact. Amazingly, we managed
to prevent further damage and after several hours, the winds abated and things settled
down to normal. A careful assessment of the hull showed no damage to the hull structure
itself, and, amazingly, no leaks.
We remained alongside overnight and the next morning, refuelled and
prepared to leave. The wind again rose, but this time we were able to work off the wharf
in time and put to sea, bound for Esperance.
As you are no doubt aware, the coastline between Albany and a point
East of Esperance had been thoroughly explored by the French Navigator, Bruny
DEntrecasteaux and his ship Recherche years before Flinders arrival. Flinders
commented in his log that Msieu Baupres, the chart maker of
DEntrecasteaux, had done such a careful survey himself, there was no need for
Flinders to redo his work. It was this coastline we were now exploring ourselves. Our
first stop on Sunday 26th January, Australia Day, was the aptly named
Investigator Island, a barren granite island forming a small natural lagoon/harbour and
home to thousands of sea birds and several hundred Australian Fur Seals. It was a most
marvellous place, unchanged since Flinders, and the seals were most curious and friendly,
watching their visitors most closely. It was Australia Day, and one wonders what they
thought as we mustered the Ships Company and I spoke with some strength of the
discovery, exploration and foundation of this wonderful country we are all so proud to
call home. It was a moving moment in such a significant place as we all lustily sang
Advance Australia Fair.
We sailed on from there the next morning bound for our next stop,
Figure of Eight Island, only 25 miles from Esperance, arriving there on Tuesday 28th
January. This Island, while lacking the lagoon of Investigator Island, nevertheless
provided an excellent and picturesque landing place, adjacent to a beach upon which a
dozen or so Sea Lions were basking. We intended to leave them alone and occupy ourselves,
however they had other ideas and came to visit us, curious at these unknown visitors, and
it became a game with them, that as soon as the boat approached, they would, young and old
alike, race out and surface alongside and examine us with great interest.
We sailed from there next morning, bound for Esperance, well satisfied
with our communiqué with nature. We arrived off Esperance with mixed feelings, knowing
that a pleasant, successful voyage was almost over. As we made our final approaches to the
Harbour entrance, we suffered a steering gear failure, breaking one of the steering
cables. As usual, the crew reacted promptly, fitting the emergency steering equipment, and
once the ship was back under control, replacing the broken cable with one of the spares
carried on board. Somewhat of a memorable finish.
One of the most satisfying things about every voyage we undertake, is
watching the development of each person on board, their increasing enjoyment and their
obvious sincerity at the end of the voyage when they thank myself and the crew. The many
individual journeys of discovery, both of our coast, and more importantly, of themselves,
cannot be adequately described in any brochure. It goes way beyond any tourism type of
The port of Esperance is one of the friendliest of any port so far
encountered in the voyage. The people are just wonderful and went out of their way to help
us. We had previously enquired if there was a slipway there, as it was time to haul the
ship out for her annual survey. Indeed there was, and not only was the slip available, but
it was made available to us without costs or charges. This generosity saved us many
thousands of dollars, and was only the tip of the iceberg, with the local population
coming forward to assist in any way they could. One elderly gentleman (in fact the very
man who recovered Investigators two anchors, lost by Flinders at Middle Island)
called by everyday with gifts of home baked pies, fruit, bread etc. The overall generosity
of the Australian people has always been outstanding, however, when its directed at
us because of what we are doing, its emotionally overwhelming. We spent, in all, two
full weeks on the slip, with most days being 14 hours long. Coming off the slip, we
managed to provide some Harbour Sail opportunities for the people of Esperance as we
prepared the Ship for what was expected to be the most arduous and roughest leg of the
voyage, the Great Australian Bight.
Once off the slip, we had a busy week with 400 school children visiting
the ship, much final maintenance, and some leave for the crew. We sailed on 24th
February for Lucky Bay and Middle Island. Flinders found both water and food in Lucky Bay,
hence the name, and on Middle Island, which he visited twice, his men caught many geese,
and on his second visit, was forced to cut loose both his anchors to avoid being driven
ashore. While there, he buried his bosun, Charles Douglas on the island and it was one of
our missions to find his grave. We anchored in Goose Island Bay at 0715 on 26th
February and landed on the Island later that morning. Much undergrowth has sprung up in
recent years making the search very difficult. We believe we may have found the gravesite,
although the stones ringing it were much scattered.
We weighed anchor at 20.00 and proceeded to sea, heading for the edge
of the Great Australian Bight. We had been contacted by a Descendant of Rear Admiral
Pasley, Flinders mentor, to take a photo of Cape Pasley as we went past, but alas, the
whole area is still unsurveyed, requiring us to remain well south of the land. However,
shortly after Midnight, we had Pasley Island abeam some two Miles Distant. At least we are
able to report on this fact. It is interesting to note that on one of our brand new
charts, Flinders soundings are still shown, meandering through the still uncharted area
and we had intended to follow his original track until, looking at the adjoining chart,
his track was not shown, and so, regrettably, we had to go well south.
I had been expecting huge swells, large seas and strong westerly winds,
instead we were given almost flat seas, very little swell and steady easterly winds coming
from the direction we wished to go. For the first 24 hours, we delighted in a
South/South/Easterly driving us due east, however that eventually changed and we were
suddenly confronted with having to work into the winds, never an easy thing to do on a
At 12.25 on the 4th March, we crossed the 129th
Meridian and officially passed from Western Australia into South Australia. We mustered
the people to mark the event, having sent an email to King Neptune to ask his assistance
with the ceremony. He declined because of a large number of ships crossing the equator,
however sent a few courtiers in the guise of some dolphins to escort us across. Our
youngest trainee, Marcee Thompson, had never been out of Western Australia before, so she
was duly presented with a certificate to mark the occasion.
When the winds were dead against us, we motorsailed, however about
halfway across, I decided that motorsailing was too fuel intensive, and fuel needed to be
conserved in case of heavy weather or some emergency or other. This was one of those
occasions when I felt the presence of Flinders, as I needed to draw on his example and
make a decision as to which way to go. We were constantly surrounded by huge but graceful
Albatrosses and the much smaller, but equally graceful shearwaters.
At this point we were over 100 miles south of the head of the Bight,
turning north may have caused us to be too close to the coast in the event the winds went
southeast, while going south would take us even further off shore. I decided to go south,
while rigging the ship to work hard to windward in order not to be driven west thereby
losing ground. We sailed south all night, each watch officer watching their helmspeople
like a hawk, urging the helmsperson to keep creeping east. By morning, we had sailed over
60 miles south, but had gained 20 miles to the east.
We continued fighting the wind into the day, and then the wind shifted
to the south east and enabled us to sail with the wind on the beam direct for Fowlers Bay
(named after Flinders 1st Lt. John Fowler). There were smiles all round, and
although we still had some 300 miles to go, spirits werent about to be dampened.
Blessedly, our fair wind continued and we arrived at Fowlers Bay township on the morning
of the 8th March. We refuelled, re watered and re provisioned and cast off just
after lunch with a new voyage crew member, a meteorologist no less.
From Fowlers Bay, we worked our way south and east, working this time
against the previously friendly south easterlies. At 1600 on the 9th March, we
anchored off St Francis Island, almost exactly where Flinders had anchored Investigator.
We were escorted to the Island by a large pod of some 30 dolphins, gathered in front of
the bow and strung out ahead of us in pairs. On landing, Georgina, one of our
watchleaders, was befriended by a young sea lion that came and sat on her foot in the
shallows, simply refusing to go away. Other wildlife on the island were black gulls,
skewers and Cape Barren Geese (much the same as Flinders had noted).
Leaving St Francis behind us, we sailed south, passing the Franklin
Islands, (Named after his Midshipman John Franklin, later Sir john Franklin) and during
the night, Flinders Island. At 0820on the morning of 13th March, we rounded
Cape Catastrophe, named by Flinders following the tragic loss of 8 of his crew including
another Midshipman and the Ships Master, his friend John Thistle. We sailed up the
east side of the Eyre Peninsula and anchored in Memory Cove, so named by Flinders in their
honour, this being the last place they were known to have landed, their footprints still
being on the beach the next day. Although the cutter was recovered badly damaged, no sign
was ever found of the men. As you would expect, this tragedy had a profound effect on
Flinders and his crew. When we sailed into Memory Cove, from seaward it looked as it
always had, and it was easy to put myself in their place. The South Australian body
responsible has done a magnificent job of hiding the coastal approach road from the sea. I
found it a very spiritual place, one could be excused from thinking there are eight
spirits watching over the whole area.
The other special landfall was Thistle Island, named by flinders in
honour of John Thistle before the tragedy. In fact, this was where Investigator was
anchored at the time of the tragedy, where the eight were returning to when they
disappeared. It is a very special feeling to tread the same beach and go to the same
points of land as Flinders, and especially to anchor my own command in much the same
place, having sailed much the same distance. Again, little has changed since 1802.
So often do we find this lack of change that I am sometimes given to
wonder where our population is. Of course, we all know and it will impinge much more as we
work our way east, however, one cant help but wonder where we would be had the
French intentions not been thwarted by the British and, of course, the French revolution.
Or indeed, had the Dutch been a little more adventurous and taken a chance with this wild
and apparently unforgiving country.
Sailing north again, we rounded Cape Donington (named after
Flinders birthplace and home town) and sailed into Boston Bay before a stiff South
easterly (Again, our friend rather than our foe!). This beautiful broad bay, named after
Boston in Lincolnshire, is the very heart of Port Lincoln. Flinders would receive a
shock today at the growth, particularly in the plethora of Fish Farms, using new
technology to farm tuna and kingfish in huge floating cages. These farms fill every nook
and cranny of the coastline and harbour, making for very careful navigation when coming or
going. In fact, when first entering the harbour, we were forced to call all hands to take
in sail in the stiff conditions to avoid running into a cluster of them. It is strangely
appropriate that a ship first built in Boston USA should be sailing in Boston SA. The
Arriving alongside, we are all looking forward to some maintenance for
the ship and ourselves. I am taking a weeks leave and flying home to Hobart, my first time
off the ship for 4 months. Trim continues to be well and to be the most sought after
feline. All interest from the young schoolchildren in Flinders seems to disappear the
moment Trim makes an appearance, although she still soon tires of too much camera
attention. She has many little hidey holes around the ship to curl up in during the day,
although at night my bunk seem to hold the greatest attraction (apart from her food bowl).
Your Excellency, I have enclosed some letters and cards written by
various voyage crew, mostly young people, to give you a small idea of the impact we seem
to make on peoples lives. There is no doubting the importance of what we are doing,
and although the voyage is very low in financial return, it is extremely rich in emotions
and personal satisfaction. I am extremely humbled by the support shown nationally to me
personally, to the ship and the spirit of the voyage itself. I am very proud of the
achievements of my many and varied crew, and most importantly, very proud of this
beautiful ship that has carried us so safely this far.
I will write another report in due course, I trust this finds you well
and in the meantime, I send you my kindest regards.