ROXANE & a 105th Birthday Party
Yesterday I was contacted by Ross Dawson who told me of his plans next week to travel to Port Macquaire to celebrate his brother Keith’s 105th birthday. 105 years is enough to get a mention on WW any day, in fact last year we celebrated Keith’s 104th with the story on the yacht Seaward (link below to this tale). In that WW story Neil Chalmers mentioned Keith’s passage to Australia on the Tercel Brothers built yacht Roxane. Well today you get you read some of that story – it is a fine woody tale, read on 🙂 https://waitematawoodys.com/2017/05/24/a-woodys-104th-birthday-party/
The story starts back in 1937 when Keith together with his mate Dick Wellington, (& a “paying guest”) sailed to Sydney. At that time Roxane was the smallest boat to have crossed the Tasman.
The source for this account of the trip comes from a small book called ‘The Voyage of Roxane’ written by Keith with the assistance of his family around 2006.
Roxane was (is?) 26 feet loa, by 21’ lwl, with beam 8’ & draft of 4’1”. She carried 1 1/4 tons of lead on her keel, sloop rigged with a mast 36’ from the deck. Soon after they purchased her, Dick & Keith reduced the mast to just 27’ with sails cut down accordingly in anticipation of their trans Tasman adventure.
Roxane, I believe was a Tercel Brothers interpretation of a design by the well known American marine architect Charles Mower. The boys purchased her from Arthur Fisher, a jeweller of Whangarei for the sum of 190 pounds.
The current times being dominated by the Great Depression, money was hard to come by and the two partners anticipated they could get one of their eager mates to join the voyage to assist with finances. However, as Keith notes, ”once they saw the size of Roxane, they disappeared…it was unbelievable”
Nevertheless they managed to attract another chap their own age that had never been to sea before, but was keen, and, most importantly was able to pay the 20 pound asking price for a berth on the yacht. He was Les O’Brien.
The three set off from Auckland on Keith’s birthday 24th May 1937 after obtaining a Maritime Services Board seaworthiness clearance. They stopped off at Whangamumu where they collected a 4 gallon drum of whale oil for their oil bag, which came in very handy in the winter Tasman storms.
At a stop in Russell for a scrub and antifoul, their motor and receiving radio were “pronounced dead”, but on the 29th May they were on their way.
They dropped anchor in Cascade Bay, Norfolk Island on June the 5th, receiving a dunking after their small dinghy overturned whilst going ashore. After a ‘social’ time ashore they got back aboard, fortunately, as a wind shift put them on a lee shore, and in a rising gale they managed to claw free of danger but at a cost to a loss of their anchor which had to be cut free. They sailed around to Cable Bay where Dick again went ashore in an effort to ‘borrow’ a replacement anchor. To cut the story short, Keith & Les spent an exciting day or two blown away from Norfolk in a heavy gale finally recovering Dick, and a bagful of rocks to serve as an anchor, & departed Norfolk 9th June bound for Lord Howe Island, which, with improving weather, they reached on June 19.
The Islanders proved to be very hospitable in the 10 days the boys spent there, setting sail for Sydney on 7th July with more storms to test the tiny yacht.
On the 13th July they made landfall at Newcastle where they were met by a Customs Officer who flatly disbelieved that they had come from New Zealand. However, after receiving customs and medical clearances, eventually, the trio set sail for Sydney on July 15 reaching Sydney Heads late the next day…after a small encounter with a naval live firing exercise. This was only mildly interesting at the time to Roxane, but next day when they were ashore, the crew noticed newspaper placards in the street with the headline…”Yacht Crews Ordeal in Bombed Area”.
Les left the yacht in Sydney as planned so Dick, Keith and a couple of Kiwi friends set sail on August 16th for Brisbane as part of their intended voyage to the Great Barrier Reef and thence to Fiji. However Dick decided to return home & it was decided they would sell Roxane back in Sydney. The two partners achieved a very prompt sale to a Mr. Lowe for 325 pound, less 25% duty on their original purchase price, & less 2/6 (25c) duty on the unopened tin food left after their Tasman crossing
Keith records that…”Dick & I split up the balance, and parted good friends”. He heard news of Dick’s ownership of the Auckland yacht “Seaward” & that he later joined the Air Force, unfortunately to lose his life as a Wellington Bomber navigator over Europe during WW11. “A sad end for a great guy”, Keith wrote.
Keith soon after married the “very attractive red head”, Betty, who he had met on his first day ashore after the Tasman adventure! After some 80 years ashore in Australia, he remains a dyed in the wool “Kiwi”, despite his late Aussie wife and three Aussie daughters.
A final postscript – In 1987 on Keith’s 74th birthday his family shouted a trip north to Cairns. Unbeknown to him his son in law Peter had tracked down Roxane in Cairns and to Keith’s surprise they met the then owner for a sail in his old ‘ship’. To Keith’s latest knowledge Roxane is owned by John Keene in Townsville. John, at the time Keith wrote his little book, had good plans to restore the vessel to original condition. Notwithstanding some urgently needed work, Roxane is a remarkable endorsement of the Tercel brothers’ (all be it amateur) boat building skills, almost as long lived as Ross’s 105 year old brother.
(In the 2nd photo above we have the crew on arrival in Sydney…left to right Dick Wellington, Les O’Brien, Keith Dawson)