In mid-March 2003, I had taken a break from teaching a class of fishermen how to use a sextant in Port Lincoln and had gone for a stroll along the wharf to clear my brain from celestrial navigation.
And here, to my astonishment lay one of the most beautiful traditional wooden vessels I had ever seen. Her name was Windeward Bound, a two masted brigantine-rigged vessel, and she was engaged in the 26,600nm circumnavigation of Australia in the wake of Matthew Flinders. Even to the extent of having a ship’s cat, ‘Trim’, peering at me from a warm spot on the for’d hatchway. Sadly Trim, named after Matthew Flinders’ original ship’s cat, went to her reward on February 14, 2016, but surely her spirit lives on as generations of young sailors and trainees continue to experience life under authentic conditions in a real ship!
On March 30, 1996, at the culmination of over 10 years planning, and six years of construction, Windeward Bound slipped into salt water for the first time. And now she has turned 20, no mean feat for any vessel these days, and her story from inception to now is indeed a remarkable one.
It all began in 1965 when a young Royal Australian Navy sailor stood on the shores of Garden Island and watched the arrival, from England, of an old Baltic trading vessel known as New Endeavour. From this encounter a dream emerged of building and then operating a similar Tall Ship.
A distinguished service in the RAN and, later, the rigours of acquiring a highly invaluable trade as a joiner/cabinetmaker, whilst supporting and providing for a young and growing family, sadly saw the dream shelved for a while.
But unlike many such dreams, fortunately this one came ‘off the shelf’, and has translated into the beautiful reality that we now see, often gracing Hobart’s wharves. She bears her name in honour of Lewis Winde, the builder of the 1848 Boston top-sail schooner on which Windeward Bound was modelled.
She is rigged with four square sails, three headsails, three staysails between the masts, a gaff mainsail and gaff topsail, totalling 12 sails in all. Under sail she is a picture by any means, and she sails well, be it cruising sheltered waters or venturing across the Tasman Sea.
Captain Sarah is justly proud of her rapidly learned and acquired skills at ‘amateur boat building’, something she had to learn from the bottom up, as well as the acquisition of the timbers which were to complete her construction.
Firstly Sarah employed the services of the renowned Naval Architect Michael Seward to draw up the plans, and then once the materials for her build were assembled, the construction began in earnest. Happily there was no shortage of volunteers, or advice, and with practical guidance and mentoring by the well-known Hobart boat builder Bill Foster OAM, perhaps best known for his restoration of the old sailing ship, the May Queen, now moored in Constitution Dock, the physical form of this beautiful vessel began to take shape.
Her Blue Gum keel and stem were built of floor joists from the old ‘Prince of Wales’ theatre whilst her ribs and deck beams are of Douglas fir from roof frames in the old theatre as well. Her stern post was constructed of two massive beams from the Long Gallery in Salamanca Place. The old Hobart harbour ferry Excella was painstakingly dismantled providing two container loads of Huon pine and New Zealand Kauri.
Happily a further 120 tonnes of Eucalyptus Regnans old growth was donated by ANM, (Australian News Print Mills) who allowed her construction to take place in their old newsprint shed on the Derwent River, just opposite the Royal Botanical Gardens in Hobart.
Her development and planning process took almost five years, and while that was underway, much other work was accomplished including the pursuit of that all important sponsorship.
Captain Sarah told us: “In 1990, the first of the many blessings came our way. A very large timber warehouse, on the waterfront, belonging to one of my major clients, ceased being used. Negotiations began and they gradually warmed to the idea, finally agreeing to make it available to build the ship inside as a form of sponsorship.
The keel was finally laid at the end of June 1990, using the last $1,000 in the bank to buy the steel. As the days, weeks and months went past, all the recycled timber was cleaned up and machined to the various required dimensions and slowly laminated into place by the growing band of volunteers, and with all my new found skills coming into use!
At the end of 1992, we were concerned to discover that Hobart, like the rest of Australia, had a growing problem with disadvantaged youths, young offenders and ‘youth at risk’. At this time I was vice president of Project Hahn, a successful youth group loosely modelled on the famous Outward Bound movement who successfully used wilderness adventure based therapy to bolster self-esteem and personal growth, and this lead me to consider using Windeward Bound in this manner. Studies of UK, European and United States based sail training organisations, along with that of New Zealand, led us to the realisation that this was a highly feasible answer to assisting these young people, who were otherwise falling through the cracks.
Thus, the Windeward Bound Trust was formed and ‘Personal Growth by Adventure Sailing’ for young people became our target. It was our belief that no young person should be denied this opportunity and it was resolved to specifically target the disadvantaged, whether by financial, social or other circumstances. Word quickly spread, and within months we had a small group of nervous, but otherwise extremely streetwise young people, male and female, hard at work alongside our adult volunteers assisting with the construction. Most of them stayed with the ship through her launch, fitout and early sailing days.
On board they become involved in all aspects of a working sailing vessel from repairs and maintenance to sailing. They learn time-honoured skills including overhauling wooden blocks and even caulking the decks, as well as emergency procedures and survival, all under expert supervision.
We have produced 38 ship’s Masters in the last 10 years alone, as well as obtaining cadetships for others in the merchant navy. Several thousand young people have discovered themselves on the decks of this wonderful ship and made changes to their lives that most likely would not have happened otherwise.”
Since launch day in 1996, Windeward Bound has covered more than 220,000nm, circumnavigated the Australian continent, sailed to New Zealand and back, something they are justly proud of, as it entailed sailing against constant easterly head winds, in fact the trip to Auckland took 32 days. She has circumnavigated Tasmania, crossed Bass Strait 37 times and sails the Australian east coast regularly. Invariably she has been crewed by Australia’s youth, proving repeatedly the value of a structured Sail Training Program on a traditional square rigged vessel.
A nice touch has been the continuance of the Trim, the ship’s cat’s name in the incarnation of a beautiful 20ft, eight oared hard chined whaler donated by the late David Boykett OAM, two-time Australian rowing Olympian, and also a driving force behind the restoration of Alma Doepel, the last remaining Australian-built three-masted topsail schooner. He had also formed a foundation to build a 50m barquentine, but fell ill with cancer in 2014. Trim is a fine vessel, donated complete with a sailing rig, and ideal for sailing/rowing programs for junior schools around Tasmania. Coming complete with a ketch rig, she is in survey and sits nicely in the water proving to be an invaluable tender for Windeward Bound, though she still requires two new oars. Recently the Royal Australian Navy also donated 3 x 14’ dinghies, which should nicely supplement this program and introduce many young aspiring sailors to a career at sea.
A magnificent sight at sea, Windeward Bound, the flagship of the Naval Association of Australia, proudly flies the flag of many sponsors, and of Rotary International with whom she works closely, and has been prominently supported by her former patron, Professor Marie Bashir AC, the governor of New South Wales until her retirement from Office.
For a vessel that receives no regular government funding, she has been remarkably successful. That she has survived at all is a credit to her sponsors, past and present, managers, volunteers and dedicated crew.
And remember that vision of New Endeavour in 1965? Well in 1987 she was broken up, however, her masts, yards, some of her sails, her anchors, anchor windlass and cables are now part of Windeward Bound. That young sailor could never have imagined that, nor for that matter, could anyone else!