Iron Bark

Iron Bark II is a 35ft Wylo II steel gaff cutter, designed by Nick Skeates and built by me, Trevor Robertson. Between 1997 when she was launched and 2019 when I sold her, she carried me something over 150,000 miles from the Artic to the Antarctic, and the latitudes between. Annie Hill was aboard for seven years from 2000 to 2007 including a winter in Greenland. Iron Bark II has spent winters frozen in the ice of Antarctica and also Greenland and I believe she may be the only vessel to have ever wintered unsupported in both Antarctica and the high Arctic. 

The new Iron Bark III (or at least new to me) is an Alajuela 38, a 38 ft fibreglass double ended vessel designed by William Atkin and built in California in 1977.  When I bought her Iron Bark III came with a solid, well-built hull and mast but, having been used as a coastal motor-sailer all her life, was overloaded with the sort of gear that often goes with that sort of life (airconditioner, electric hot water system, electro-hydraulic sutopilot,  and so on). I removed the unnecessary clutter, filled in four through-hull openings and added anchors and other gear and modified the interior to make her more suitable to sail longer distances. This is an ongoing process, but she will never be as tough and forgiving as the Wylo Iron Bark II.

I am Trevor Robertson, an Australian born 1949 (so I am in my 70s now) and have been sailing since I was in my 20s, whenever I had a boat and the price of provisions for the next voyage. In 1976 I sailed from Western Australia in a thirty-four foot wood sloop to east Africa via Rodriguez, Mauritius and the Seychelles (and was there for both independence and the first coup), thence around the Cape of Good Hope to Brazil and the West Indies, where I was wrecked in 1978. I worked in the yacht charter business in the Caribbean for a couple of years then went back to working on oil rigs to earn enough money for another boat. 

Back in Western Australia, I bought Salvation Jane, 30ft IOR half tonner of the type popular as club racers in the 1970’s. She was run down but cheap. I rebuilt her, renamed her and did a Trade Winds circumnavigation between 1985 and 1991. I named her after an introduced weed in Australia. Salvation Jane, or Patterson's Curse as it is more commonly known, turns the paddocks a lovely purple when in flower. It is not poisonous but apparently has no nutritional value and stock avoid it unless starving but makes excellent honey. The farmers do not love it but the apiarist do. I called her Salvation Jane because, like the plant, she was pretty but pretty useless and mostly harmless. I reckoned calling her Patterson’s Curse was going to cause more trouble with customs authorities than it was worth, so Salvation Jane she became.

Salvation Jane was cheap to buy and cheap to run and could carry three months provisions for two people,and little else, so there was no temptation to spend money on trivia. Her anchor gear was good as it needed to be in an essentially engineless vessel. I once anchored in 39 fathoms when the wind failed and the tide threatened to carry her on a reef in the Bonaparte Archipelago in northern Australia. She did not have a windlass so it took a while to get the anchor up on that occasion.

Salvation Jane sailed like a dinghy so I seldom bothered to mount her engine, a 15 hp kerosene outboard. The downside of sailing like a dinghy was her lack of directional stability and lively motion. She did everything except put her head between her hind legs while trying to buck me off the foredeck. She had a vestigial main and five hanked headsails like many of those silly IOR-type vessels, so there was a lot of foredeck, work. 

She only took one bad knockdown in the circumnavigation, off the South Island of New Zealand, which left her with a stove portlight and half full of water. At least the water swilling over the bunks was not oily, which it would have been if she had an inboard engine. Other incidents of note were being caught in the crossfire of a political disagreement in South Yemen and being struck by lightning off Malta. For months after the Yemen incident she bled rust for months from shrapnel embedded in the topsides until I dug it all out and puttied her up. The lightning strike fried the electrical system but as that consisted of two cabin lights, a masthead tricolour and an echo sounder, was not hard to fix. 

I sold Salvation Jane  on my return to Fremantle and put the proceeds towards the building fund for the next boat, Iron Bark II. For all her faults Salvation Jane was a happy ship, and a lucky one, as was her successor, Iron Bark II, also named for Australian flora.

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