The Ceramco Files: 'Cape Town at Last'

The Garden Party, which was held at Cape Town to celebrate the arrival of Ceramco
Ceramco NZ
This week it is the 25th anniversary of the dismasting of Ceramco New Zealand. Over this time, Sail-World is featuring a series of images and sound clips from one of the seminal moments in New Zealand yachting culture.

Day 35: Friday, October 2. Noon position 32.58S 20.12W.
Day’s run 227 miles. Course 165 degrees.
Wind NNE 20 to 25 knots. Barometer 1022.


This is more like it. For most of the night we were doing between 9 and 12 knots, rocketing along under the red and white ‘Sooty Sail’, storm jib (as staysail), four-reefed main and trisail (as mizzen staysail).

We’re well out of the tropics, down below the latitude of Montevideo, and curving around the back of the high pressure system on a course that will take us close to Tristan da Cunha which is 500 miles to the SE of us. We’ve covered 1910 miles since losing the rig 11 days ago, averaging 173 miles a day. Flyer and Challenger are again being coy about their positions but Conny must be getting close by now.

As we’ve come around the western side of the high, the isobars have squashed up between the high and a low pressure system to the west of us. The wind has followed us around so that it is still on the beam and we are maintaining best possible speed for the shape we’re in. Ceramco has been surfing to 14 knots but the conditions are keeping the pressure on Lui and OC. The head blew out of the ‘Sooty Sail’ again this morning, another trip up the mast for Lui and more repair work for OC. But we’re really jumping across the chart and Cape Town has become a destination, not just a name on a map. All going well, we could be there in seven to nine days. We try to forget that Flyer could make it in two or three. That’s where Ceramco should be.
Newt works on his sun tan
Ceramco NZ

Vonny decided to make me a belated birthday cake, a sponge, but missed badly in the ‘rise’ department. His concotion finished up as a thick biscuit, quite tasty. The bits that did rise he smothered in jam and an icing of cream and coconut, topped with chocolate raisins. Went down a treat with my birthday bottle of rum (also belated). We were down to opening cans with kitchen knives.

The patented types of tin openers had all gone the way of the gas lighter for the stove. The best opener on a boat has to be the basic job with which you pierce the top and lever around. All the fancier types give up the ghost. There are still some of the Devonport Yacht Club ladies’ fruit cakes left. They were baked in Auckland before Ceramco was shipped. Remarkable how long they have lasted. There’s the odd bit of mould, but that’s soon hacked off and, as long as the cake was baked with the right amount of rum, brandy or sherry in it, they still taste perfect.

The Garden Party where everyone had to bring a pot plant
Ceramco NZ
Ceramco is jumping around quite a lot now as she gets a wriggle on. This, and the fact that the ocean is distinctly cooler, should put a stop to Staggy’s toilet habits. Everyone else uses the downstairs loo, but he insists on using the pushpit.

We heard of a marvellous bit of Kiwi ingenuity aboard Outward Bound which today is 1400 miles from Cape Town and looking good on handicap. A week ago, they broke their main halyard. They had a light line up the mast to hoist a spare, so it wasn’t a problem until two days later when the spare broke. Now they had no way of hoisting the main nor of getting a man to the top of the mast to fit a new halyard. Their solution, in 30 to 35-knot SE winds and big seas, was to hoist Matt Smith up to the hounds on a spinnaker halyard (remembering Outward Bound is fractional rigged) and with him the l7ft-long spinnaker pole.

He lashed the middle of the pole to the mast as high as he could reach above the hounds then used a line attached to the top of the pole to pull himself up another 5ft or so. His next step was to tighten the lashing on the pole and mast before climbing on up to the top to reave a new main halyard. Quite a performance, even if Outward Bound did lose 30 to 40 miles of weather ground while it was being achieved.

Day 47: Wednesday, October 14: Noon position 35.19S 14.35E
Day’s run 118 miles. Course 110 degrees.
Wind W 8 to 10 knots. Barometer 1015.


Oh, the pain of it. We broke the ton — but it’s hard going. The only relief comes from Cape Town still 190 miles away. Jim Lidgard has arrived to help Terry and Pippa with the mast which was now fully assembled and on its way from the local sparmaker’s to the yacht club, complete with police escort. When we spoke to the three of them again tonight they’d been out celebrating something or other. They told us they had a welcome party organised with plenty of ice-cold champagne, 40 crayfish and a large number of oysters. I’ll swear the boat picked up speed. There wasn’t much wind in Cape Town but here’s hoping Huey is huffing and puffing for our arrival. We are quite proud of our jury rig and, after all the effort that has gone in, we want to arrive with a bit of dash.

The log reported: ‘The Jets (Chappy and Jaws) hit 12 knots?? Jaws was on the helm, we saw it coming from 30 yards. A wave bigger than the rest. A hardened champion, Jaws wiggled the stern and we were away. In our path a container, an iceberg and a whale. Talk about weave. Truly magnificent.’ This was followed by a caustic: ‘Sounds like the Jets’ after burners are expounding forth.’

Day 48: Thursday, October 15. Noon position 34.09S 17.27E
Day’s run 160 miles. Course 105 degrees.
Wind SSW 18 knots. Barometer 1014.


The boys have been warming up for the party to end all parties. Nobody slept much last night ahd the Doc was prompted to observe that he thought Vonny’s somewhat hypermanic state was due to the proximity of Cape Town and the probability that he would soon be able to attend to his thirst. In mid-afternoon we were buzzed by a light plane which made two trips to enable Pippa, Terry, Jim and photographer Bob Fisher to see Ceramco, the Chinese junk. We could see Table Mountain and the Cape of Good Hope in the distance.
Triple -slotting jury rig style
Ceramco NZ

Ceramco must have made quite a sight — a bone in her teeth and trucking along in the 15 to 20-knot south-wester. Good on you Huey. By 4.00 pm we were into Table Bay and picked up Outward Bound which had brought the Kiwi contingent out to cheer us on. It was an emotive moment. Finally, at 1828.10 GMT, we crossed the finish line and were the toast of the dock. It had taken Flyer 36 days 10 hours 56 minutes 37 seconds to reach this destination. We’d been at sea for 47 days 7 hours 28 minutes and 5 seconds. Cerarnco had some time to make up across the Southern Oceans, but for now we could relax, content in the knowledge that we’d completed a difficult assignment with a certain degree of ingenuity and determination. And there hadn’t been one cross word.

Log extract and text from 'Blake's Odyssey' reprinted by kind permission of Alan Sefton. Sound recordings kindly provided by Peter Montgomery from his personal archives.