Thursday, 10 June 2021



Bill Tilman (1898-1977) lead an extraordinary life, first as a mountaineer and explorer of remote, high altitude parts of the world, then later sailing a succession of pilot cutters to mountains that he could climb from the sea. He chronicled these expeditions in fifteen books that are superb examples of all a travel book should be. This is not the place to try to summarize such a life; that is best done by reading his books. They are available as two compendium volumes, one consisting of his seven mountain/travel books and the other of his eight sailing/mountain exploration books. In addition all fifteen volumes have recently been reissued by Lodestar Books with all original maps and photos plus new introductions and afterwords. The following is one of those new introductions.

Although Tilman spent longer traveling to the high latitudes in small vessels than he did trekking and climbing in central Asia he seems never to have developed the same affection for the Arctic landscape or its people as he did for the Himalayas. Perhaps this was because he knew central Asia in all its seasons and moods, something he never achieved in the Arctic. All his voyages to the high latitudes were made in summer, which in both the Arctic and Antarctica is no more than a short interlude between winters. In the polar regions winter is the dominant season; without spending a winter there, any appreciation of the polar regions is superficial.

Tilman knew his brief summer trips gave him a biased view of the place and considered wintering in Greenland. He twice mentions the possibility in his books, once in “Mischief in Greenland’ after his first voyage to Greenland and again in ‘In Mischief’s Wake’ when describing Mischief’s last voyage. Tilman achieved so much in his life that it is unreasonable to wish he had done more, but the world is poorer for not having a description by a writer of his caliber of a winter spent in a small vessel frozen into a remote polar bay.

Then and now, a small vessel is by far the most effective way to explore places like Greenland, Antarctica or Patagonia. To see the full round of the seasons the same boat frozen in the ice makes a good winter camp. Having transported its crew and all they need to the winter site, it then provides them with shelter for the winter and carries them and all their gear away again when the ice melts. Compared to a hut or even a tent ashore, its environmental impact is minimal. All that is required is a stout vessel with survival systems that can be kept working in the cold. There is no need for a large vessel or one specially built for such a venture. My own Iron Bark, a 35 ft steel gaff cutter of no particular distinction, has spent a winter in the ice of Antarctica and two winters frozen in Greenland; any of Tilman's pilot cutters could have done the same.

I expect that if Tilman had decided to spent a winter in the Arctic ice he would have chosen some bay remote from any settlement. Mischief could certainly carry enough food for her crew for eight or ten months of winter and enough fuel for cooking and melting drinking water, if not for heating. In Patagonia Tilman arranged for fuel to be delivered to a predetermined depot and he could have done something similar if he had wanted heating oil for a winter in Greenland. Even if this was not possible, spending a winter in an unheated boat with an insulating cover of snow is not particularly difficult, certainly easier than it was for the Inuit who until recently spent their winters in relative comfort in snow houses heated by nothing more than a stone lamp burning seal oil. 

A small vessel with a snow cover is quite habitable when heated by a nothing more than couple of candles and the intermittent use of the cooking stove. How habitable depends on the boat, but the interior temperature will probably rise above freezing once the cooker and candles have been lit for the breakfast and stay there for most of the day. I spent a winter in Antarctica on Iron Bark with only enough oil to run the heater for eight hours per week and although it was seldom comfortable, the lack of heating was no great hardship.

Although the discomfort of a winter in the high Arctic would not have bothered Tilman, his erratic crew selection methods may have caused him problems. At times he had trouble keeping his crews motivated and disciplined for a few months at a stretch on an ocean passage in relatively benign latitudes. The stress of a long winter’s night in the ice would certainly have been too much for some of his crews, while others would have thrived on the challenge. The potential for crew problems when living in a cold, dark vessel through the winter is considerable. Antarctic bases spend a great deal of effort screening numerous applicants for a few winter positions and still have a significant failure rate, and they are living in conditions that are palatial compared to a small vessel frozen in a remote bay.

A couple who have lived and sailed together for long enough to be used to one another’s quirks is undoubtedly the best crew for such a venture, but given Tilman’s well-advertised aversion to women on his vessels, that was never an option. A single-hander is not going to have difficulties with crew but a pilot cutter is too much for one person to handle, so this option too was closed to him. The relatively large crew of a pilot cutter means there are plenty of hands to share the workload and provide company but there is a real risk of serious conflict within a group of five or six, particularly in the dark months when the sun never rises.

That said, having company through a polar winter makes it easier to get through the long winter’s night. I have spent two winters alone in the high latitudes, one in Antarctica and the other in Greenland, and each time found the dark of the long winter’s night (80 days in the case of my solitary Greenland winter) hard on the mind. In comparison, the winter that Annie Hill and I spent frozen into a remote bay on Greenland’s west coast in latitude 73°N passed pleasantly, and not only because the food was better and the bunk warmer. While I doubt if the long night would have bothered Tilman, with or without company, one wonders how his crew would have fared. The darkness depresses many people, even those brought up with it. Greenland has the highest suicide rate in the world, chiefly among young men: food for though if planning such a venture.

Dramatic photos such as those of Shackleton’s Endurance have lead to the expectation that any vessel in ice will be subject to pressure, forced upward and crushed. While this may happen to a small vessel caught in the open by moving ice, the opposite occurs in a protected bay – the vessel gets dragged down as the ice thickens. A vessel frozen into bay ice is not subject to any lateral pressure provided it is moored far enough from the shore to be clear of the shearing pressures of the tide crack and in water deep enough that the sea does not freeze to bottom causing pressure ridges. Indeed, once firmly frozen in the vessel becomes part of the floe, safe, warm and with an apron of ice all around to protect it from collisions with stray bits of ice.

New ice is formed by the freezing of seawater-saturated snow lying on the surface of the floe and the ice thickens from the top. As the process repeats itself the first-formed ice remains at at the bottom of the floe and is pushed deeper and deeper as the winter progresses. Unless a vessel can emulate the Fram and withdraw its rudder, propeller and bobstay, these projections become embedded in that first-formed ice and drag the vessel down. While the ice is thin the vessel can break it and float near its normal lines. Later as the ice thickens she is becomes firmly stuck in it and pulled down, but not by the full thickness of the ice because of the phenomenon of pressure solution which allows the vessel to rise through the ice to a limited extent. Iron Bark was drawn down by between one and two feet in the course of each of her Arctic and Antarctic winters and I would expect something similar would happen to a pilot cutter.

The simple, robust equipment on Tilman’s pilot cutters would have worked well through an Arctic winter. Without deliberately attempting to emulate him, indeed without any knowledge of his methods, most of Iron Bark’s equipment is identical to Tilman’s, an example of convergent evolution. Paraffin (kerosene) stoves work at temperatures that butane or propane do not. They can be kept running with a basic stock of spare parts and burn a compact, widely available fuel. Even now, there is nowhere in Greenland to refill a propane bottle, but paraffin is sold in every village. Candles are a more reliable source of light than electricity with the bonus of providing a little heat. They also give an early warning of inadequate ventilation as they dim and gutter long before oxygen level fall to that critical for humans. Frills such as pressurized water systems that Tilman would never have contemplated for a summer voyage become completely irrelevant in winter when everything is frozen.

For the rest, living on a small vessel in winter requires a little fortitude and considerable patience. The alcohol for preheating the stove itself needs warming before it will burn, pens will not write and toothpaste does not squeeze from its tube until warmed in an inner pocket, liquid detergent freezes and rum is a slushy solid. None of this would have bothered Tilman, but it may have been a problem for some of his crews.

Advancing age sometimes requires changing methods, if not objectives, and perhaps Tilman’s later voyages (excluding that final one on En Avant) may have been happier and achieved more in a smaller vessel. Instead of persisting with pilot cutters after the loss of Sea Breeze, it may have been better if he had replaced her with something smaller. By that time Tilman was not making long traverses or climbs that required an extended absence from the mothership. A vessel that could carry three people and be managed by one for a day or two while the climbing party was ashore would have served his purposes and been easier to crew, sail and maintain.

Given Tilman’s preference for older wooden working vessels, a Falmouth Quay punt or a small ex-fishing vessel would have been obvious candidates. Such vessels were at that time cheap to buy and run, seaworthy, capable of withstanding hard usage and require minimal mechanical equipment, all important considerations for a vessel in Tilman’s hands. As an example, Pauline and Tim Carr have done splendid things in the Falmouth Quay punt Curlew, sailing and climbing in both winter and summer in South Georgia and the Antarctic Peninsula. A similar vessel could have carried Tilman plus another climber and a ship keeper to all the places that Baroque sailed, as well as being able to spend a winter in Greenland’s ice if Tilman had chosen to do so.

But this is all speculation, and impertinent when applied to someone of Bill Tilman’s accomplishments. He lived a full life and left us a legacy of fifteen magnificent books, more that enough for one person.

Friday, 23 October 2020

Confined to port by quarantine

Along with much of the rest of the world, I have been confined to port by quarantine. The time has not been entirely wasted as I have been refitting my newly acquired Alajuela 38 to convert her into an ocean going vessel. As anyone who has done this knows, transforming a coastal sailer into an ocean going one is a long, tedious business, Anyone who has not had to do this is unlikely to be interested in the details or frustrations of the job. Either way, there is no point in cluttering the world with yet another description of a rebuild/refit.

To fill the gap until I can do some more interesting sailing, here is a piece written for the Royal Cruising Club journal Roving Commissions. Every edition of this excellent annual publication back to 1883 is available online ( There are articles by well-known authors such as Hammond Innes, Miles Smeeton, Eric Hiscock and Robin Knox-Johnson. But the real gems are probably from much less well-known people such as Willie Ker, John Gore-Grimes and Pete Hill, to pick a few names nearly at random. Look it up: it is well worth the effort.

I thought this next piece described a voyage too hum-drum to be worth posting, but one of the yachting magazines (Yachting World) picked it up and published it, so it may have some merit. Here it is.


When I launched Iron Bark in 1997 I said that I would move on to another vessel before I turned seventy. In October 2018, with that birthday looming, I sailed from Ireland for the West Indies to look for her replacement. After crossing the Atlantic by the trade wind route, a voyage of no particular note other than a pleasant diversion to Plymouth to catch up with an eclectic and far-sailing group of voyaging friends, I hauled Iron Bark out of the water in Carriacou to prepare her her for sale.

Iron Bark II is going to be hard to replace 

I wanted to replace Iron Bark with a similar vessel but built of fibreglass for reduced maintenance in my dotage. I decided on an Alajuela 38, a fibreglass version of William Atkins' Ingrid built in California in the 1970s. The Alajeula is a little larger and heavier than Iron Bark and rigged as a bermudian cutter. I would have preferred a gaff-rigged vessel, but there was nothing suitable on offer at a price that I could afford. Perhaps I will be able to re-rig her as a gaff cutter sometime in the next few years

There were several Alajuela 38 for sale and I flew to Tampa on Florida's west coast look at the nearest one. Under previous owners, this vessel, Diva, had been from California and British Columbia and back. Then she moved to the east coast of the USA, probably by truck, and had since twice been as far south as Panama. Although she had covered quite a bit of water, her sailing seems to have been entirely short hops with no ocean passages. She was fitted out to maximise comfort at anchor or in a marina with little consideration for functionality at sea and her motor had seen far more use than her sails. She was basically sound and although much of her equipment and fittings were unsuited to ocean voyaging, I believed the surplus systems could be discarded and the missing ones added at a cost I could afford, so I bought her. I intended to change her name when I registered her in Australia, but this was delayed as the US Coastguard were exceptionally slow in removing her from the American register. Consequently I sailed her to the Caribbean under her old name.

Marinas are expensive so I did the minimum necessary to get her seaworthy enough to sail to the Caribbean where I could transfer my tools and gear from Iron Bark and get on with turning her into an ocean-going vessel. I stayed in the Harborage Marina while I prepared her for the voyage south. The marina was convenient to services, had a friendly staff and a large live-aboard community who immediately accepted me into their ranks. One resident, Chris Sheldon, was particularly generous with his time and vehicle, driving me around doing things that cannot be done online, such as having gas bottles inspected.

Diva's hull and rig were sound and well built but her interior had a boat-show layout with too many open spaces and far too little stowage. Her sails were in good condition but intended for the light conditions of the American coast and barely adequate for an ocean voyage. The mainsail lacked a deep reef and there was no proper high-cut sea-going jib. However with care and patience I believed I could make the passage south with the sails as they were and sort out her deficiencies in the Caribbean.

Most of the locker doors had only friction catches that would burst open in a seaway so I bought a roll of duct tape to restrain them. The galley had no bar in front of the stove or strap to hold the cook in place, there was no usable manual bilge pump, the cockpit was huge and its drains small, the nonskid was designed to be easy to clean rather than to keep the crew aboard and there was a maze of plumbing in the bilge with the potential to sink the vessel. I removed as much of this piping as I could along with five electric pumps and hoped the rest would last month at sea without sinking her.

There were various bits of fancy joinery that would look well in an article on a finely finished yacht but also looked as if they would not survive long on a seagoing vessel. The beautifully built teak butterfly skylight amidships fell into that category, as did the dainty platform on the bowsprit, an elaborate folding table in the saloon and the huge hard dodger that covered the entire cockpit. I hoped they would stay in place until I got to the Caribbean where I could address their shortcomings. The passage from Florida is after all only 2400 nautical miles in flying fish latitudes, albeit largely to windward.

More urgently the cutless bearing needed replacement, the anchors were inadequate and there was no windvane steering, only an electro-hydraulic autopilot. We arranged that Sailor's Wharf, the yard that was to haul Diva for survey, would replace the cutless bearing while she was out of the water. They made no attempt to do the job, or even offer an excuse for not doing it, but still charged savagely for a short in-slings haul. The defective cutless bearing meant limiting motoring to short distances at low speeds until I could fit a new one in the West Indies.

I bought a Monitor windvane and, having no wish to deal further with St Petersburg's yacht yards, fitted it afloat by hanging precariously over Diva's stern. Adding a 33kg Vulcan anchor was simple but expensive, as was replacing the defunct battery system. I bought several reels of rope and replaced much of the running rigging. I should have done the lot; almost everything I did not renew failed on the voyage south.

There was also a persistent air leak in the diesel fuel system that stopped the motor at unpredictable intervals. The fuel system was complex with dozens of hose-clamped joints, half a dozen ball valves, three filters and two pumps, any of them capable of leaking air. I fixed a couple of air leaks, which reduced the severity of the problem but without completely solving it. Until I could simplify and rebuild the system in the Caribbean, I had to accept the engine was unreliable.

On Saturday 30 March 2019 I sailed from St Pete for the West Indies. As a change from my usual quiet, almost stealthy, departures there were a dozen or more people to see me off. The motor lasted long enough to get me around the marina breakwater and out of sight of the well-wishers before dying. I cursed, anchored (thereby blocking the channel), bled the system and motored into open water where I thankfully made sail. It is a long time since I have set off on an ocean passage on a vessel so ill prepared, but I would be broke and my visa long expired if I stayed in Florida until all was done.

The voyage from Tampa to the eastern Caribbean divides in three legs. The first 500 miles is a coastal passage around the Florida peninsula, south down its west coast then north up the east coast. Once far enough north to clear the Bahamas I would turn into the open Atlantic, sailing east when I could and north when headed by the wind. On this leg I hoped to stay between latitude 28°N and 30°N until about 63°W, a distance of about 900 miles. It was likely to be largely to windward. Having made my easting, I would make the final 1000-mile leg by arcing south-east to find the trade winds then south to landfall in Martinique. I expected the voyage to take about a month.

There is an alternative route much used by American yachts. This is a series of short hops through the Bahamas to Hispaniola, Puerto Rico and on to the Virgin Islands that allows them to remain in port when the wind is contrary then motor to the next refuge when winds are light. This way it is possible to reach the Caribbean from Florida without spending more than one or two nights at sea but it adds months to the passage south. I never considered this option as I wanted to get to the Caribbean with dispatch; also Diva's dodgy cutless bearing and my predjudice against engine noise precluded that much motoring.

The 500-mile leg around Florida and into the open Atlantic took a week in generally light headwinds. There was predictably a lot of traffic; pleasure craft by day, fishing boats and cargo vessels both day and night. I slept in 20-minute cat naps, which soon became tedious. Although I had no difficulty getting enough sleep with this regime it left little time for cooking and cleaning and nothing for reading a book, watching birds or enjoying life at sea.

I reached the northern end of the Straits of Florida before dawn on the seventh day and, with the wind in the east, hardened the sheets and steered north-east towards the open Atlantic. There was one final zigzag to avoid two merchant vessels rounding the tip of the Bahamas Bank with minimum clearance that squeezed me up against the bank before they inconveniently disappeared into a rain squall. The squall passed and the sun rose on an empty ocean. I turned in for a long sleep, confident that I was now clear of coastal traffic and that the AIS would alert me to any large vessels.

Five days of moderate, sometimes fresh, winds got me well clear of the Bahamas, initially sailing NE close hauled with an easterly wind that slowly veered to SSE and let me make easting with the sheets just started. As always it was a joy to once again be clear of land and its encumbrances. I spent the days on deck occupied with bosun's work, whipping rope ends, splicing and generally tidying up the running rig, or with a needle and palm sewing canvas covers, with all night in except for rare AIS ship alarms. If there had been more birds I would have been perfectly content, but the tropical oceans are a poor place for birds.

The compass had extensive sun crazing of its acrylic dome and a large air bubble that made it unreadable. I spent hours polishing the dome to reasonable, if not perfect, clarity then refilled it using baby oil. Baby oil is excellent for this, being clear, miscible with compass oil and of similar viscosity. Baby oil is also an excellent lubricant for marine toilets and for treating wood cutting boards; I believe it can also be applied to infants' bottoms. Every vessel should carry this elixir.

Early on Thursday 11 April, 12 days out and 5 days after turning into the Atlantic, the breeze died away to an ominous calm. When the wind returned it quickly hardened to NE6-7, a strong to near gale head wind. With a deeper reef in the main and a smaller jib I would have carried on, but with the sails I had there was no choice but to heave-to. For 32 hours I lay under double-reefed main with the helm lashed down, fore-reaching slowly and with leeway making a square drift.

When the wind moderated to ESE5 at dawn on 13 April I set the staysail and half the genoa and crashed off close hauled, making a course a little north of east. The wind remained SE or ESE for several days, allowing me to work to the east without being forced much to the north. Then a fresh SW breeze gave us a great shove so that we crossed 63°W in 29°30'N on 16 April. There I hauled the wind abeam and headed south-east to look for the trades. Despite the time spent hove-to, I had made about 1000 nautical miles of easting in 10 days, faster and more easily than I had expected.

The sea was covered with great rafts of Sargasso weed that repeatedly fouled the self-steering paddle. While clearing the paddle with a boathook I hit the spinning wind generator with the boathook handle, breaking off one blade and rendering the generator useless. I was now entirely dependent on the engine for battery charging. It would be inconvenient but not catastrophic if the engine failed. Before leaving Florida I had eliminated most systems that relied on electricity - autopilot, pressurised water, electric toilet and so on, but for the first time in my life I had gone to sea without a sextant and tables. If the engine stopped, the batteries had enough charge to give me a GPS position every day or two. This would let me make a landfall and I could do without or bypass the rest of the electrical equipment.

The fair south-westerly backed to a squally easterly headwind. I bashed on close hauled, reducing sail as the squalls became more intense until we were down to the 147 sq ft staysail alone. With a deeper reef in the mainsail I could have continued to plug to windward, but I could do no better than a beam reach with only the staysail, making about south. Occasionally a wave broke aboard and filled the cockpit, which took a long time to drain. To my surprise, the hatch covering the engine instruments in the cockpit well did not leak enough to short out the maze of wires behind it, but I will move those instruments to a safer location soon and give the cockpit bigger drains.

Ashore in Carriacou awaiting conversion to an ocean-going vessel. 

On 21 April, 22 days out, after two and a half days under the staysail only, the wind eased to ENE6 only exceeding 30 knots in squalls. I set the main with both reefs tied in and crashed off with the wind half a point free. A couple of hours later the lifelines went slack. When I went forward to investigate, I found the bowsprit platform had wrenched free from the bowsprit, taking the pulpit and the lifelines with it. The hex-head fastenings that held the platform and pulpit down were not through bolts, as I believed, but merely coachscrews. The force of a few not very large waves had pulled them out, leaving the pulpit and platform dangling.

Before sailing from Florida I had noted the fragile nature of this platform and intended rebuild it on arrival in the Caribbean, one of several modifications needed to correct multiple faults in the design of the bowsprit. I lashed the platform and the pulpit down to the bowsprit as best I could, an unpleasant business as I had to sit on the unsecured platform while passing the lashings. Before venturing down the bowsprit to do this I hove-to and trailed a line astern to give myself a chance of regaining the boat if the platform collapsed. Wearing a harness was pointless, as it often is when single handed. If I went overboard a harness would merely leave me dangling, unable to regain the deck. I forbore as unnecessarily melodramatic making the log entry alleged to have been found on yacht drifting empty in the English Channel: 'I have to go to the end of the bowsprit, but will I return?'

With the pulpit and platform temporarily secured, though it would not survive a hard blow, I reverted to jogging along under staysail alone. Twenty-four hours later the wind eased and I made more sail. Shortly afterwards the wind died completely, leaving us lurching in the left-over sea. For two and a half days that we lay becalmed and drifted 40 miles east. This all or nothing wind rather aggrieved me as here in the latitude of Antigua, 19°N, I expected steady trades winds.

In the early hours of 26 April a gentle NNE breeze got us moving again. This breeze slowly hardened into the trades as they should be, a fresh to strong wind on the quarter that sent us rushing joyously along for 300 miles in just over two days to anchor off St Pierre, Martinique on 28 April, 29 days from Florida. Next comes quite a few months' work converting Diva to a voyaging vessel.

Thursday, 8 August 2019




I always intended to sell Iron Bark when I turned 70. Well, that birthday has come and now she is for sale. Below is list of her specifications and some photos; for more information contact me at

Iron Bark is a 35.5 Wylo II launched in 1997 and continuously upgraded since then. Wylos have a reputation for being tough, go anywhere vessels, and Iron Bark is a particularly good example. She is fitted out to be a comfortable voyaging home for two people plus two occasional guests, well insulated and comfortable in all latitudes, cool in the tropics and warm in the polar regions. Although she is probably the only vessel ever to have wintered unsupported in the ice of both Antarctica and the high Arctic, Iron Bark is far more than a rough, tough expedition boat. She can easily carry everything necessary for her crew to be self-sufficient for extended voyage without the load intruding into her interior. Few vessels of 45 ft have as much stowage. The gaff cutter rig is powerful, easily handled and immensely strong. The steel hull is equally robust. Iron Bark will look after her crew when things become seriously unpleasant, be it a hurricane, ice or coral.

Iron Bark is currently out of the water in the West Indies, in Carriacou, newly repainted. She and all her gear are in excellent condition, ready to take her new owners anywhere in the world that has more than 1.5m of water and less than 0.3m of ice. She is priced for a quick sale with no haggling as it is time for me to move on to the next part of my life.

Iron Bark's record is a proud one: 152,000 miles sailed and three winters in polar ice, twice round Cape Horn and once through Magellan Straits/Beagle Canal, two voyages to Antarctica and two to Greenland, and much more. She has won numerous awards: the Blue Water medal from the Cruising Club of America, the Seamanship Medal from the Royal Cruising Club and more  (and it really is Iron Bark that has won them, I just tag along for the ride).

1997 Launched in Queensland, Vanuatu, New Caledonia, New Zealand
1998 New Zealand, Antarctica
1999 Wintered in the ice, Antarctic Peninsula
2000 Antarctica, Falklands, West Indies
2001 West Indies
2002 West Indies (Annie Hill joined), Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, Labrador, Nova Scotia.
2003 Cape Breton Island, Newfoundland, Ireland, England, Canaries, West Indies
2004 West Indies, Nova Scotia, Greenland
2005 Wintered in the ice of Greenland 72°N, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, West Indies
2006 West Indies, Panama, Galapagos, French Polynesia, Samoa, Tonga, New Zealand
2007 New Zealand, Tasmania
2008 Tasmania, NSW, Queensland, New Zealand.
2009 New Zealand (North I to Fjords and back), (Annie Hill left), Chile
2010 Chile (Patagonia), Falklands, West Indies
2011 West Indies, USA (Chesapeake Bay), Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, West Indies
2012 West Indies, Nova Scotia, Greenland.
2013 Wintered in the ice of Greenland, Newfoundland, Maine, Bermuda, West Indies
2014 West Indies, Chesapeake, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, Scotland (hurricane off Iceland)
2015 Scotland, Ireland, Labrador, Newfoundland, sailed for Western Australia 12 Oct
2016 Arr Western Australia 31 Mar (171 days from NF), Fremantle, Kimberley, Fremantle
2017 Western Australia, New Zealand, Antarctica (summer only)
2018 Antarctica, Falklands, Ireland, West Indies
2019 West Indies. Refit prior to sale.

Steel gaff cutter, round bilge, extra heavy-duty aluminium spars, keel cooled engine allowing her to motor in heavy ice or very silty water. Launched 1997 and well maintained and continuously upgraded since. Currently ashore in Carriacou, West Indies, newly painted and ready to be launched.
Australian registered and tax paid.

LOD 35'6'' (11.82m)
LWL 32'0" (9.75m)
Draft 4'10" (1.47m)
Beam 10'0" (3.03m)
Length over spars about 44 ft (13.5m)
Air draft (bridge clearance) approx 47'6" (14.5m)
Dry displacement approx 9.5 tonnes

Lower mast: aluminium 6061 T6, anodised, 200mmx5.8mm (massive, originally intended for use as bollards for 220 tonne Fremantle class patrol vessels).
Topmast: 75mm aluminium spinnaker pole extrusion
Rigging: Lowers 10mm 1x19 316 ss with Staylock terminals (2012). Uppers 8mm with Staylock terminals (2017). No running backstays as the mast is strong enough not to need them.
Jib on Profurl C320 (2016)
Staysails hanked on, working staysail is on a boom. Running staysails have a booming out pole.
Main laced to mast. Gaff has custom made ss jaws with molybdenum disulphide filled nylon inserts for low friction hoisting.
Topsail hoisted to standing topmast (no yards required)
Enough spare wire to replace any stay, and because the terminals are Sta-lok, no outside help is needed to do this.

Sails and sail handling:
Three mainsails. The one bent on is an old sail seeing out its days in flying fish latitudes. There are two more mainsails stowed below. One is a well made heavy sail that has had some use and is good for another circumnavigation. The other is a new, unused Tasker sail made considerably stronger than their highest specification offshore sail- a Cape Horn mainsail. The mainsail has conventional slab reefing with reefing winches on either side of the boom to allow the sail to be reefed from the windward side on either tack.
Four staysails: The working staysail bent to the boom is a heavy duty Lee sail in good condition and there is new spare working staysail stored below (made by Tasker, brand new heavy duty Cape Horn capable). There is also a new, unused light running (tradewind) staysail and a used but strong storm staysail, both stowed below. The staysail sheet leads to a two speed winch (Barlow).
Jib: Heavy duty Lee furling jib, good condition on a Profurl C320 with dedicated furling winch. No spare jib. Jib sheets are handled by a pair of Barient 2 speed self tailing sheet winches.
Topsail; Good condition. Set to topmast head without yards.
Trisail: Old but never yet used, good condition.

Anchoring gear:
Bower chain and warp lockers are made of stainless steel and self draining (no mud in the bilge). 
Both bow rollers are unusually large (150mm diameter) and have built in chain pawls. The starboard roller is modified to allow a roll bar anchor to stow below the bowsprit. 
The kedge has a heavy duty fairlead to aid deployment/retrieval.
Starboard bower anchor: 60 lb Manson Supreme on 80m 3/8" chain.
Port bower anchor: Either 20 kg Spade or 75 lb Herreshoff pattern fisherman (depending on bottom) on 40m 3/8"chain and 100m rope.
Kedge: 45 lb genuine CQR on 12m chain and 100m rope (or 20 kg Spade if preferred).
Windlass: Maxwell 1500, custom made with twin chain wheels.

Decks general:
Non skid is cork chips set in paint, which is effective when icy and cool underfoot in the hottest weather. Stainless steel has been used extensively for the toerails, deck edges and high wear areas including all the area where the chain runs. There are solid 32mm diameter stainless steel rails all round (no wire fences) supported by stanchions, each of which is strong enough to be used as a mooring point. The entire centre deck can be used as a water collection surface with the rainwater passing through flushable filters before reaching the tanks.

Self Steering:
Aries, completely rebuilt with almost entirely new components in 2017

Isuzu 3KC, 25 HP. Keel cooled with dry exhaust cooled by a freshwater jacket on the exhaust manifold. This allows the engine to be run in heavy ice or very silty water. Spare starter, spare alternator, complete set of spare gaskets and seals.
Propeller: 3 blade fixed 16"x12" LH. Spare fixed 2 blade propeller. Propeller puller.
150 litre main tank in keel pumps up to a 20 litre gravity fed day tank. The day tank gives 16 hours between fills at 1800 rpm (1.25 l/hr) giving 5.5 kt in calmish water.
The engine has 5600 hrs and has been meticulously serviced.
Engine access is excellent.

Alternator 100 amp Hehr Powerline with Hehr smart regulator
100 watt solar panel with latest generation MPPT regulator
3 battery banks: House 220 amp hr deep cycle AGM (2017) separated from engine and windlass batteries by splitting diodes to make charging completely automatic. Engine and windlass batteries are flooded lead acid. All systems have 100 or 150 amp circuit breakers immediately adjacent to each battery to protect the wiring from fire in case of a short circuit. Individual items of equipment are protected by appropriately sized fuses and/or circuit in the switch panels.

Standard Horizon CP180 chart plotter/GPS with external antenna
Standard Horizon GX 2000 VHF with inbuilt AIS
Standard Horizon CP180i chart plotter and echo sounder visible from cockpit when hand steering.
Sony FM/MW/LW radio, CD and MP3 player
YB3 tracker - installed and wired up but never activated
1500 watt 120v inverter plus 110-220 transformer

Cabins and Galley
Taylor 2 burner plus oven kerosene stove. A very good galley with plenty of work top space, drawers and dedicated lockers for all cooking utensils, plates cups etc within easy reach of the cook.
Two water tanks, 120 and 60 litres with foot pump.
LED lights throughout except for 2 rarely used dome lights.
Leather upholstery in the saloon - good condition except for 2 small cushions that need recovering.
Saloon and cabins are white panels with varnished trim. The trim is ironbark and teak with some kwila, mahogany and oak. The cabin sole is scrubbed white ash and particularly attractive. All interior paint and varnish is extremely hard wearing two-pot polyurethane.
Double berth in forcabin - a very comfortable berth especially at anchor with hatch directly overhead for ventilation in the tropics
Two settee berths in the saloon - good sea berths with lee cloths/ lee boards.
Large clothes lockers and 4 metres of book shelves.
All lockers regardless of the orientation of their top have positive catches. Everything stays in place if the vessel is knocked down.
Heater: Dickinson Newport oil fired heater with stainless steel chimney and dedicated air intake. The above deck section of the chimney and air intake can be unscrewed in moments and stowed below or extended to 1.5m above deck if the snow is deep. There is also a solid fuel heater (wood, coal, peat, briquets) that can be changed out for the oil-fired one when in places like Patagonia where wood is abundant and oil scarce, and a chain saw for cutting firewood.
Toilet: Jabsco manual with holding tank.
Manual bilge pump.

2 fire extinguishers
Fire blanket

For more details, email me at

Although they were not intended to describe how the Iron Bark is put together, the handover notes that I wrote in anticipation of selling her do describe how some of the systems work, so I will add the here.



 The engine is keel cooled. The coolant header tank is on the aft end of the engine box. Top it up with water and antifreeze/inhibitor as required. The correct level when the engine is cool is marked by a cross piece in the tank immediately below the filler cap. The system is not pressurised and the space above the cross piece marker is for coolant expansion when the engine is at working temperature. The total volume of the cooling system is approx 40 litres. I normally run about 30% antifreeze/corrosion inhibitor. This is the conventional (green) type. Do not mix it with the orange type as they are incompatible.

 The exhaust is dry with a water jacket on the exhaust manifold. It exits via a loop to the deckhead and out through a seacock just below the rubstrake amidships on the port side. The loop is high enough to prevent water entering the exhaust system under most conditions, but for safety I close the exhaust seacock at sea when the engine is not running and hang the ‘ENGINE EARTH’ key from the seacock as a reminder that it must be opened before starting the engine. I normally leave the exhaust open when at anchor.

 Fuel is gravity fed from a header tank below the galley counter. The tank holds about 20 litres which is sufficient for about 12 hours motoring. It is filled by a hand pump: to ensure that I never run out of fuel, I pump up fuel from the main tank every 6 hours. The pump is semi-rotary and not self-priming. There is a ball valve immediately below the pump that is turned off when the pump is not in use so that it does not lose its prime. To fill the header tank, first turn the cock on then put a small container under the header tank breather outlet, which is a green holes with a ball valve in it above the galley counter by the exhaust box (I use a plastic bottle). Pump until the header tank is full and fuel spurts into the bottle. Turn off the cock under the pump and remove the bottle from under the breather.

 There are two fuel filters. The first one is a Recor in the locker behind the header tank pump. It has a water separator that is drained by a valve in the base. The element is the spin-on type. The second filter is on the engine. It is necessary to remove the side of the engine box to get at this effectively – not a difficult procedure. I change the fuel filters when I think it is necessary rather than at a fixed interval. When using drummed fuel of dubious provenance in places like Patagonia, the interval may be as little as 200 hours. More generally it about 1000 hours.

 The lubrication system is conventional. I change the oil and filter every 150 hours, which is very conservative but kind to the engine. The oil change interval could be extended to 250 hours and the filter to 500 hours without adverse effect.

 The engine is isolated from the electrical system except when starting. The gauges are double insulated with no earth via the engine block. The tachometer is a proximity sensor on the cam shaft, not a frequency meter of the alternator.

 The gearbox is a conventional twin shaft (Hurth type) using automatic transmission fluid. The shaft has a plumber bearing in the middle, under the bottom companionway step. This should be greased every 500 hours. The shaft gland is a stuffing box and it too should be greased every 500 hours.



 1.      Open the exhaust at the seacock behind the removable panel on the starboard side immediately forward of the galley. I hang the removable earth key on the seacock handle so that I do not forget to do this

2.      Check the engine is in neutral and advance the throttle to about half.

3.      Turn the earth key on. It is labelled ‘ENGINE EARTH’

4.      Turn on the ‘ENGINE CONROL’ and ‘INSTRUMENTS’ switches. This provides power to the engine instruments , to the starter solenoid and alternator field coil.

5.      Press ‘PREHEAT’ for 15 seconds.

6.      Press ‘STARTER’

7.      Once the engine has started, turn off the ‘ENGINE EARTH’



 1.      Engine in neutral and idling

2.      Pull the stop control – the cord at the aft end of the engine box.

3.      Turn off ‘ENGINE CONTROL’ and ‘INSTRUMENTS’

4.      If at sea, close the exhaust and hang the removable ‘ENGINE EARTH’ key on the seacock as a reminder that it is closed. In harbour I leave the exhaust open.

5.      Put the gearbox astern to stop the propeller turning.



 Conventional 12v, negative earth and entirely double insulated (floating earth) except the starter motor and glow plugs. All wires are labelled, generally at each end, always at one end. The alternator is a heavy duty Balmar 100 amp with smart regulator. See manufacture’s literature for details (aboard in the boat's documentation folder).

 There are three battery banks: engine, house and windlass separated by splitting diodes. The engine battery is a 12v flooded lead-acid battery and the house bank is a pair of 6v AGM batteries in series. These batteries are under the port saloon seat. The windlass battery is a 12v flooded lead-acid battery and is under the forward berth. The voltage sensor from the smart regulator is connected to the house bank so it is the state of charge of the house bank that dictates the charging rate. The charge rate is optimised for AGM batteries. The solar panel is connected to the house bank and again optimised for AGM batteries. The solar panel has the latest generation MPPT regulator – see manufacturer’s literature for details.

The large battery switch is used to select the battery bank that starts the engine. It is normally left on bank 2, the dedicated starting battery. By switching it to 1, the house bank becomes the engine starting battery and ‘both’ puts these two banks in parallel. It should never be necessary to use the house bank to start the engine.

The entire system is double insulated with no earth through the hull or engine, with the exception of the starter motor and glow plugs. These cannot be easily isolated from the engine block, so it is necessary to briefly connect the engine to the battery negative when starting the engine. The heavy duty switch labelled ‘ENGINE EARTH’ does this. It has a removable key.

All systems are protected by a 100 amp circuit breakers, the long wires having one at each end in case a wire chafes through in the middle. This is in addition to the normal fuses and circuit breakers protecting individual circuits.

The windlass has it’s own battery under the forward berth. The charging circuit has a 100 amp circuit breaker in it close to the splitting diode in the main battery box beside the engine. There is another 100 amp circuit breaker between the battery and the windlass. This is in the forward cabin. The solenoid that activates the windlass is in the locker just behind the circuit breaker. The solenoid is activated by a foot switch on deck. I leave the circuit breakers in the on position except on passage.



Below water line:

1.      Sink outlet: access by lifting the floor panel of the lower locker under the sink.

2.      Toilet inlet: access by lifting the toilet compartment floor.

3.      Toilet outlet: access through the open-fronted compartment beside the toilet.

Above the waterline:

1.      Bilge pump outlet: seacock in forward small (upper) locker in the saloon, port side.

2.      Engine exhaust: see engine section

3.      Toilet holding tank breather: in the toilet compartment, near the deckhead.



 Water is in two keel tanks: the forward tank holds 60 litres and the aft tank 120 litres. Change tanks using the ball valves in the forward galley locker, under the fuel transfer pump. The fillers are on deck, the port filler goes to the small forward tank, the starboard one to the large aft tank. Rainwater can be caught and directed into the tanks by stopping the deck scuppers with a small piece of sponge or rag and opening the fills, which are flush with the deck. The whole midships deck (18 sq m) becomes the collecting surface. There are filters in the filler pipes to keep deck grime out of the tanks. The port filter is in the toilet compartment in the upper open-fronted locker beside the head. The starboard filter is in the back of the clothes locker. Unscrew the filter body to access the filter screen for cleaning.



Fuel tank is in the keel, under the engine, 150 litres. The filler is in the cockpit, port side. The main tank breather, which is normally closed, is in the forward galley locker along with the fuel transfer pump. When filling the tank, put the end of the main tank breather hose (a ½” green hose) into a suitable container, usually the same one that is use to collect overflow when topping up the header tank and open the breather ball valve in the breather hose. Close the breather again after refuelling.



Currently the toilet is a manual Jabsco with a holding tank. I have found that it requires less maintenance than the Lavac previously installed and not any more likely to blockages. If there is a blockage, it is almost always at the outlet of the holding tank rather than in the toilet and is usually because a female acquaintance could not be persuaded that there is a difference between toilet paper and paper towels or facial tissue. The system will handle toilet paper without a worry but paper towels and facial tissue clog it immediately. The least unpleasant way of unclogging it is to rig up an electric bilge pump on a long lead, hang it over the side from the dinghy, push the pump discharge pipe up the toilet outlet (which is at water level) and circulate water until the blockage is dislodged.

To use the holding tank, close the outlet seacock. The holding tank is above water level and is emptied by opening the seacock and letting gravity do the rest. When the seacock is open, the toilet contents are pumped through the holding tank on the way overboard.



The interior woodwork is entirely removable for access to the hull. The only exception is the athwartships bulkheads, which cover a trivial amount of hull. The order of removal is from the top down. For example to remove the panelling in the saloon behind the starboard settee back, start at the deckhead and unscrew the handrail and varnished battens. Next unscrew the painted deckhead panels, then the cabin side panel and finally the panel behind the settee back. The panels are held by woodscrews into timber furring pieces that are in turn bolted to the steel frames or deck beams.

The insulation is largely 32mm polyurethane panels that are a push-fit between the frames and stringers. This allows them to be removed for inspection of the hull and to allow welding of the hull without starting a fire. The insulation does not extend far below the waterline.



The rig is conventional. I originally had both running backstays and a stayed topmast but concluded neither were necessary so abolished the runners and made the topmast unstayed. The jib is on a Profurl furler and is generally trouble free. The staysail currently in use is on a boom, but the new one (as yet unused) is loose footed. I have tried it both ways, and there are advantages to each. For inshore work the boomed staysail is convenient but it is hard to goose wing it when running downwind. The loose-footed staysail with a booming out pole is better in this case.


The non-skid is cork chips set in paint. Repair of small or large sections is simple – there is plenty of spare cork chips aboard.

The rails are 1”NB 3016 stainless steel water pipe, which is about 32mm OD with a wall thickness of 3mm. This is much more substantial than the usual 1.6mm wall tubing used on yachts. The stanchions have 1” round bar inserts that are plug welded through the deck and braced by substantial gussets below deck. All are strong enough to use as mooring cleats.



 The above-deck section of the chimney unscrews and is stowed below when at sea. Usually only the short 400mm section with the cowl is necessary, but there is a 1 metre extension for when the snow is deep or if is a down draft behind a dock.

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

....and north up the Atlantic


It took me 9 days to sail from the Antarctic Peninsula to the Falkland Islands where I arrived on 17 February 2018. The Australian yacht Kraken the British yacht Novara, both of whom I had met in Antarctica, were tied up to the public jetty. I could have rafted outside them but anchored off for a quiet night. Navara had left by the time I had cleared customs the following morning, but I caught up with Kraken's news. They had made a very fast passage of 3-1/2 days from Deception Island to Stanley and had got in before the wind veered as the next depresson arrived. A larger, faster vessel's speed advantage over a small vessel such as Iron Bark is much increased on a short passages if they can make port with a fair wind before the next weather system brings a foul wind. In contrast to Kraken, Iron Bark had to weather three lows on her way from Antarctica to Stanley, each one bringing sustained strong headwinds.
Anchored off Stanley in front of the whalebone arch
I immediately set about reprovisioning and preparing for the voyage north up the Atlantic. The Falklands are at the end of a long, irregular shipping route, so food other than local mutton is expensive and the vegetables are of poor quality. I spent 10 days refuelling, reprovisioning, repairing sails, checking the masthead and in general preparing for sea. A few people from Stanley remembered Iron Bark from her previous visits and I ran into Skip Novak who was in the Falklands to join the training barque Tenacious as a lecturer for a South Georgia voyage, Surprisingly, he remembered Iron Bark from a meeting many years before. My stay in Stanley was was interrupted by a several NW gales. They were well forecast and each time I moved Barky to Moody Brook at the west end of Stanley Harbour, where the protection is better than off the town.
It does not always blow a gale in Stanley
The lateness of the season and poor weather combined to make even a short visit to other parts of the Falkland Islands impractical. I was ready to sail on 26 February but a another gale sent me scuttling down to Moody Brook. Kraken and Iron Bark lay there windbound for five days. Eventually the gale blew itself out and I sailed back to Stanley, topped off the water and on 4 March departed for Ireland.
It is about 8000 miles to Ireland along the sailing ship route and I expected it would take close to 100 days: a long voyage but one with the interest of crossing all the major wind systems except the polar easterlies (which I had crossed on the way from Antarctica). The passage begins in the westerlies, which can be boisterous but with South America only a few hundred miles to leeward, seldom produce really dangerous seas. Next comes the south-east trades, then the South Atlantic variables followed by the doldrums. The North Atlantic is a mirror image: the north-east trades, the horse latitudes then finally the westerlies from the Azores to Ireland. Although I did not expect any really severe weather, it is not going to be a downwind romp; I would be close hauled for several thousand miles.
The wind was a light when I sailed from Stanley, but freshened to a strong breeze from the north-west. Progress was excellent with the wind a point free and a lift from the Falklands Current. A week after leaving Stanley I crossed 40°S, leaving both the Southern Ocean and the westerlies behind. Here a strong, later gale force, NNE headwind set in and I hove-to for 36 hours. I got moving again when the wind eased, but within a day was again hove-to in another short-lived north-east gale.
After that boisterous start the wind eased and the daily runs fell, predictably as we were now in the variables. The days merged into one another as I fell into that timeless routine only possible when the land behind is a distant memory, the land ahead to far off to anticipate and the weather benign. The days had a cadence: all night in thanks to the AIS, a coffee at dawn, breakfast of oats, raisins and nuts, some rather ineffective cleaning of the cabin using seawater, lunch of bread and cheese or similar, reading, then an evening meal usually of soup and bread. I baked a small loaf of bread every other day as in warm weather anything larger quickly gets mouldy.
The passage up the Atlantic was bedevilled by calms
The days were occupied with the endless jobs necessary to keep a vessel on a long passage seaworthy. Most days a sail needed to come down for a bit of stitching, halyards and sheets were checked for chafe and slipped to renew the nip, the steering gear oiled and there was time to read my stock of books. Another fair-weather job was to strip and varnish the companionway and main hatch. Part way through the varnishing a pair of noddies adopted Iron Bark. They spent the days fishing and returned to Iron Bark at night. One insisted on perching on the companionway coaming, tail inboard, streaking the still-tacky varnish with guano. When dislodged it would fly a couple of circuits and return to its original perch and deposit more guano on my new varnish. This went on for three nights. I like having birds around but that one should be thankful I did not have a rifle.
The wind generally had an easterly component to it, but remained light and fluky. The variables merged imperceptibly into the SE trades without any increase in wind strength. Eventually, in 11°S and 700 miles ESE of Recife, the trades freshened to SE3-4 I had the first day's run of 100NM since leaving the westerlies a month earlier. Six days of steady wind carried us to within 50 miles of the equator. There it fell calm – we were in the doldrums.
There were rain squalls in the doldrums, but none heavy enough to fill the tanks
Barky drifted across the line in 22°40' W on 17 April, 44 days out from Stanley. The doldrums are fairly narrow on the west side of the Atlantic and there is a north-setting current to help get through them so it took only four day at an average of 55 miles/day to find the NE trades. Predictably, the NE trades this close to the equator were in fact NNE and we slopped off close-hauled to the north-west, a full four points from the desired course. Initially the NE trades were as languid as their southern counterparts. The combination of light winds and an ever-more foul bottom meant daily runs averaged only 90 miles.
The North Atlantic had calms as extensive as further south
The trades generally veer from NNE to ENE as one sails north, allowing a vessel to alter course in an arc until it is laying the rhumb line to Europe with the sheets free. The sooner this happens, the faster the passage. This year the trades did not veer until I was north of the latitude to the Cape Verde Islands and almost through the trades before the wind veered enough for me to start the sheets. By this time Iron Bark had been close-hauled on starboard tack for so long that gooseneck barnacles were growing on the topside to within a hand's span of the rail. There was also a thick carpet of barnacles on the bottom of the keel where I had been unable to paint when I antifouled between tides before sailing from New Zealand and more barnacles along the waterline where ice had knocked off the antifouling. I scraped those I could reach, but enough remained to seriously reduced our speed.
I scraped off as many barnacles as I could reach, but enough remained to be a significant drag.
There were rain squalls about and some came with enough wind to need a quick reduction of sail, but none heavy enough to fill the tanks. The lack of fresh water mean the everything – cabin, galley, clothes – were grubby. It is difficult to do a proper job of cleaning with salt water.
The trades, never strong, trickled to an end in latitude 30°N, about 1000 miles west of the Canaries. For eight days we drifted through the horse latitudes, which lived up to their reputation for light, fickle winds. The best day's run was 67nm, the worst 21nm. Our accompanying flotilla of Portuguese men of war jellyfish often seemed to be sailing faster than Iron Bark.
Sunset in the variables
On 18 May, in latitude 36°N, 75 days out from Stanley and 350nm WSW if the Azores Islands, the wind freshened and veered to WSW. I gybed, which put us on port tack for the first time in nearly two months. My hopes that this was the start of steady west winds were dashed when the wind veered further to become N6 then, a day later, died away to NNE2. After four days of headwinds, the westerlies returned but were at best fitful. On the few days that the wind was fresh and free I made runs of over 100nm despite the foul bottom, but more often there were light headwinds and a contrary current. Eventually we drifted on to the continental shelf some 150nm off the Irish coast in a glassy calm. There were enough fishing boats about to make drifting with no steerage way unwise so I abandoned my intention of making one last long passage entirely under sail and started the engine. The breeze never returned and I motored the rest of the way to Bantry, anchoring off the town at noon on 8 June 2018, 96 days and 9116 nautical miles out from the Falkland Islands.
Irish landfall at dawn, 96 days from Stanley
Since leaving New Zealand about 7 months previously I had sailed 16,270 nautical miles and spent 165 days at sea. No voyage of that length including rounding Cape Horn is ever going to be easy, but the weather was more benign than I have encountered in those seas in the past, and I got to Antarctica, too.