Prologue

 

Amon-Re is a twenty-six-foot Heavenly Twins Cruising Catamaran, which I purchased in England, while I was serving with the Royal Canadian Air Force, stationed in Germany. I took her, accompanied by my wife Stella, from England, through the European waterways into Germany.

 

After my retirement in 1980, we continued our journey through the inland waterways to the Mediterranean, joined by our daughter Kendal.  Our total travels took us 1790 kilometres, through three hundred and thirty-four locks, on seven rivers, through five tunnels, down an incline plane, and across a number of aqueducts.

 

In the Mediterranean, we found the South of France to be crowded and expensive, unlike the French interior. With that, we headed for Corsica, which we discovered to be delightful and unspoilt by tourism at the time. From there, we went to the Baleric Islands. On this passage, we experienced a full-blown force 10 Mistral and we lay a hull for 42 hours.

 

We had already experienced a force 8 gale in the English Channel, but after this storm, I knew that the Amon-Re could go anywhere. We next hopped along the coast of Spain to Gibraltar, where I prepared for my solo Atlantic crossing.  My daughter Kendal had returned home to Canada by this time, and while I made a solo Atlantic crossing to Barbados, Stella returned to London to stay with my parents for a few weeks.

 

Mistral: a strong, cold and northwesterly wind that blows from southern France, reaching between 40 and 100 kmph

Lying a hull: A controversial method of weathering a storm, by downing all sails, battening the hatches and locking the tiller to leeward. A sea anchor is not used, allowing the boat to drift freely, completely at the mercy of the storm.

 

From the Canaries to Vancouver Island:

 

The first leg of the crossing, to Las Palmas, in the Canary Islands, took me two weeks. I had to deal with a total of four gales in the month of October alone. I was so tired of bad weather, I wondered to myself, "What am I doing out here?" After an eight-day rest in Las Palmas, I continued on to Barbados where I arrived one month later. This passage was entirely different from what I had expected, being mostly light winds and pleasant sailing. Stella arrived in Barbados on the 13th of December, with our son Jim arriving from Canada on the 14th. I arrived aboard the Amon-Re on the 15th.

 

During our cruising in the West Indies, we met two other Heavenly Twins Cruising Catamarans. We had all made the Atlantic crossing that year. A few years later, I was to meet one of them again in Brisbane, Australia. This was the Aussie Tomcat, sailed there by Tom and Sue Szerb.

 

We cruised the Grenadines for four months before Stella and Jim flew back home to Canada. Without their assistance, I was left with the task of getting Amon-Re all the way from the Caribbean to Vancouver Island on my own.

 

My solo passage from Barbados to Panama was mostly uneventful. The sea conditions ranged from calm to heavy, but the Caribbean was a great deal rougher than I had expected. After my Panama Canal transit, I had a 93 day-long non-stop passage to my home back in Victoria, on Vancouver Island. I was becalmed a lot on this passage, being the year of the "El Nino" current, which threw a scut into the weather patterns of the Pacific.

 

During this period, two main issues were my flexible water tanks leaking, and one of my twin forestays breaking with 2000 miles still left to go. Luckily, I was able to get by with my spare water containers and rainwater, so water-shortage was not a problem.

 

I finally arrived home, none the worse for wear with adequate basic food supplies remaining (though my luxury items like cheese and pickles were long gone, and I had used up all my cake-mixes sometime before reaching home too). 

Extra food storage in rear starboard cabin.

I spent the next three years working in Canada, when circumstances caused me to decide to continue with my solo circumnavigation. On August 30, 1984, I set off from Victoria for Western Samoa, in the south-pacific. This was a 62 day passage, the last half completed with a Jury-rigged steering arrangement. The steel tiller had broken away from the rudder at the weld. I spent a month in W. Samoa, where I had my steering fixed. While there, I visited the grave of Robert Louis Stevenson, on top of the mountain which overlooks the Port of Apia. It was a long hike, but the view from the top was magnificent and well worth the climb. You could see the town and harbour, with its coral reefs stretching for miles along the coast.

From Western Somoa I proceeded to Vavau, Tonga. Vavau is the northernmost group of the Tongan Archipelago. I spent a month there, and found the Tongan people to be delightful and very friendly. While there, I attended an authentic Tongan feast. It was to celebrate the opening of a church on one of the islands. The whole village was in attendance, and I was one of only three "Palangi" (white people) who attended. The food was fantastic; Tongans are noted for their feasts. I now know why these islands are called the "Friendly Islands".

 

I had stayed longer than I had intended, still being there at Christmas time. I was talked into staying for the New Year. It was now well into the cyclone season. I made my departure on the 5th of January, and headed for New Zealand. I arrived two weeks later, on the day that the first cyclone of the year devastated Fiji, and did considerable damage to the islands of Tonga.

 I stayed in the Bay of Islands, which is in northern New Zealand, for three months. During this time I had a new mainsail made, tired of repairing the ragged old one. I also had new spreader brackets made, as one of my spreaders had broken away from the mast. Another task I accomplished was to beach Amon-Re and clean and anti-foul the bottom. During my stay in New Zealand, I put Amon-Re on a mooring and made the five hour bus trip to Auckland, where I spent a wonderful week with friends who drove me around and showed me the sights. I met some lovely people in New Zealand, both in Auckland and the Bay of Islands. I found New Zealanders to be very hospitable.

 

Tiller: A horizontal bar fitted to the head of a boat's rudder post and used as a lever for steering.

Rudder: A flat piece, usually of wood, metal, or plastic, hinged vertically near the stern of a boat or ship for steering.

Anti-Foul: A paint or other coating inhibiting the growth of barnacles and other marine organisms on a ship's bottom

To Moor: To secure (a ship, boat, dirigible, etc.) in a particular place, as by cables and anchors or by lines.

 

New Zealand to the Barrier Reef

 

From New Zealand I headed out across the Tasman, which showed its teeth. I made my way to Brisbane, Australia, where the steering cable broke three days before my arrival. I rigged up a manual steering arrangement: a tiller extension over the aft cabin top, to the centre cockpit, using the tube from my telescopic "whisker" pole and a boat hook slotted down inside of it. The next three days weren't very pleasant, manually steering Amon-Re for fourteen hours at a time, more often than not in the pouring rain.

 

In Brisbane, I put in a new steering system, with the help of my son, Jim, who'd come to visit me for three weeks. I didn't replace the holding bracket; the original one seemed to be in decent condition. I would later come to realize this was a mistake.

 

I spent a month in Brisbane, and really enjoyed Jim's company. We visited Tom and Sue Szerb who had sailed there in their 26-foot Aussie Tomcat, another Heavenly Twins Catamaran. They showed us a great time, and drove us all over the place. After seeing Jim off, wishing him well on his flight back to Canada, I proceeded up the coast toward the Great Barrier Reef.

 

The second day out, I blew out the genoa in a squall. These things always seemed to happen at night, when it was pitch black. I took down the torn genoa and also lowered the mainsail. The weather had been miserable all day, drizzle punctuated with torrential downpours. The wind, however, was mostly only a Northwesterly force 3 to 4. After the squall eased I put up the working jib. About an hour later another squall hit, and while taking down the jib I got hit in the eye with a flaying sheet, stunning me for a moment. I said, "To hell with it!", and streamed the new sea-anchor Tom and Sue had given me. I went inside, changed into a dry track suit, and had some hot chocolate and cookies.

 

Before turning in, I checked my eye in the mirror and was surprised to see only one brown eye staring back at me. The other had turned grey. I also had a translucent blotch in the vision of my bad eye which worried me for a few days afterward. I am very fortunate that the damage wasn't permanent. The wind blew strong all night long. By mid-morning, it was a full force 8, but it eased up in the afternoon. I proceeded. Amon-Re had been very comfortable, bobbing around like a duck on the water, and I was able to get lots of rest. A few days later, I arrived at Scawfell Island, in the Southern part of the Barrier Reef. I anchored for two days, and enjoyed a much-needed rest.

 

Aft cabin: Sleeping quarters beneath the aft or rear section of the boat (sometimes referred to as a mid cabin.) Genoa: A large foresail whose foot extends aft of the mast, used especially on racing yachts.  

Squall: a sudden, sharp increase in windspeed, often associated with active weather, such as rain or thunderstorm.

Jib: A triangular staysail set forward of the forwardmost mast.    

Great Barrier Reef to Darwin 

I proceeded up inside the Barrier Reef, stopping at Townsville, where I spent ten days and replaced my solar panel with a new one. The original had stopped charging and couldn't be repaired. My next stop was Cairns, where I spent an enjoyable three weeks, and got to know some of the trawler men. They were a real rough and ready bunch of guys, but good-hearted. They normally didn't take to "Yachties", but it seemed they accepted me, possibly due to the mutual respect we had for one another. I learned a lot about trawlers during my stay in the Cairns.  

 

Cooktown was my next port of call. This is where Captain Cook careened and repaired the "Endeavour" after hitting a reef. It is now only a small community with a population of around 800, a far cry from the rip-roaring gold-rush town of 30,000 people it was a century ago. From Cooktown it was 400 miles of complete desolation to the summit, Cape York, and the top of Australia. This stretch was strictly day sailing, stopping to anchor every night as the reef closes to the shore, and navigation has to be spot on. I didn't see any other Yachts in this 400 mile stretch, only a few trawlers. It is the desolation that makes it so beautiful. 

From Cape York it was on to Darwin, running through the Endeavour Straight with its extremely strong currents. One has to pick the right time, as the current can reach 6 knots. I had a lovely run across the Gulf of Carpentaria (Northern Australia) with winds Easterly and Southeasterly, between force 3 and 6.  About 30 miles North of Darwin I went aground while rounding an island and heading for the mainland, and was soon sitting there, high and dry. Darwin has a 27 foot rise and fall of tide at Spring Tides. I took advantage of this and scraped some barnacles off the bottom while waiting for the tide to come back in. A few hours later, Amon-Re was floating again and I proceeded to Fanny Bay, Darwin, where I sailed in, weaving my way through 160 Yachts at anchor, as my motor wouldn't start.

 

Darwin is a lovely, modern city with a 50,000 population, mostly re-built since cyclone Tracy devastated the old town on Christmas Day, 1974. I spent a month in Darwin, where I had my outboard motor repaired and also replaced a frayed forestay. I beached Amon-Re and gave the bottom a thorough cleaning. I met lots of other "Yachties" here, who would be making the Indian Ocean crossing. There were those who would be going up through the Red Sea and into the Mediterranean, and those who would be going around South Africa. It was here that I made my final decision as to my route. I would sail via South Africa.  

 

Trawl: A large wide-mouthed fishing net dragged by a vessel along the bottom or in the midwater of the sea or a lake.

Forestay: A stay leading forward and down to support a ship's foremast. 

Darwin to Durban

 

The first week after leaving Darwin, my progress was very slow. The winds in the Timor Sea were very light to non-existent, and I only averaged about 50 miles a day. However, once in the Indian Ocean,  things changed, and I had lots of days with force 5,6 and 7 winds. Being Southeasterly, the seas were on the quarter, so I made good time, averaging about 123 miles a day.  I had a nasty wallop from a freak wave that loomed up from the South beam on. I thought that Amon-Re was going to ride over it, but the breakers on top of it walloped her; she shuddered and shook. Everything on the galley counter ended up on the floor, including a can of syrup.  Of course, the lid came off the can, and its contents collided with knives, forks, sugar and powdered-milk. It was quite the mess to clean up.

 

My saloon hatch was also open, so everything on my table got wet. (charts, log-book, etc.) Only moments after the wave, Amon-Re carried along nicely, as if nothing had even happened.

 

My first stop in the Indian Ocean was Mauritius, where I spent three weeks and had my tiller re-welded. It was broken again at the weld, and I had travelled over 3000 miles with my Jury-rigged wooden one (the same arrangement I had used in the Pacific).

 

From Mauritius, I had a mainly uneventful two weeks passage to Durban, South Africa, apart from the auto helm bands breaking, and my stove acting up. I spent another three weeks there, where I beached Amon-Re and cleaned and anti-fouled the bottom once more. I was also able to replace my old stove with a good second-hand one.

On the quarter: To the stern of the boat.

Galley: The kitchen in a ship or aircraft. 0

Autohelm: Self-steering gear is equipment used on ships and boats to maintain a chosen course without constant human action. 

Durban to Barbados

 

Following the departure from Durban, I went non-stop to Barbados in the West Indies, a passage of 6200 miles which took me 54 days. A few of the locals were flabbergasted when they heard that I was going to take such a little catamaran- of all things- around the Cape, non-stop and singlehanded. Little did they realize, she is a lot safer and much more comfortable than most mono-hulls.

 

I was in three gales rounding South Africa which lived up to its name: "The Cape of Storms". First was a North Easter which was no trouble at all, as I was running with it. This was followed by a South Westerly. I followed the local recommended procedure and headed inshore, and rode it out using a sea anchor over the stern.

 

Amon-Re was very comfortable about a mile off shore, the land affording a bit of a lee. Outside the 100 fathom line, which is only five to ten miles off shore, is where the monstrous waves occur. These waves are created when a strong Agulhas current is opposed by a South Westerly gale. After the gale was over, I headed out to take advantage of the Agulhas current. I was swept along, having two consecutive daily runs of 182 miles and 194 miles; I could hardly believe my luck. I was becalmed for twelve hours on the Agulhas Bank, which is found along the continental shelf of South Africa.

 

The next gale was a South Eastern between Cape Agulhas (The southernmost tip of Africa) and the Cape of Good Hope. Again, there was no real problem, as I was running with it. The waves were not overwhelming, although every once in a while, I would have some 20 to 25 footers. I think this was when the wave patterns got into phase with each other, because they didn't last too long. I did broach on one large wave and Amon-Re slithered sideways down the back of it, but the next wave picked her up and put her back on course again.  

"Gladys", my auto-helm 3000, did most of the steering (and, may I add, did a marvellous job), allowing me to get lots of rest, if not actual sleep. I also had my little storm jib boomed out to prevent it from backing, which worked very well. A couple hundred miles north of Cape Town, I found the sailing that dreams are made of: a gentle flowing sea, with a following force 3 to 4 breeze. I boomed out both genoas and just sleighed along like that for weeks, clocking up to 120 miles a day. Being a catamaran, there was no rolling motion. I was going to stop over at St. Helena Island, but I was unable to get the outboard engine working again. It was in the evening that I passed three miles off the island and did not want to chance entering a strange harbour in the dark with no engine, so I continued on to Barbados, arriving there on the 3rd February 1986. This completed my solo circumnavigation, (Barbados to Barbados) and according to Nobby Clarke, consultant for Guinness Superlatives Ltd since 1970; "The first catamaran and smallest multihull to go around the world singlehanded".  

 

Becalmed: Leave (a sailing vessel) unable to move through lack of wind.

 

Return Home

 

After Barbados, where I spent three weeks, it was onward to Panama again. This was a lovely sail with a nice following breeze between force 3 and 6, unlike my previous passage, which I bettered by two days. It was after Panama that I had my long, arduous trek home- a journey of 95 days, non-stop. My run from Panama was a bit hair-raising on one occasion, when I experienced a full force 10. I had streamed a sea anchor and was running under bare poles. The wind was extremely violent, and the seas were very steep (around 20 feet.) I was crossing a relatively shallow bank of 95 meters depth, which stopped off to 3000 meters. This created a really nasty sea, and turned out to be the only time that Amon-Re took water over the after-cabins. It wasn't much, but some did swill over and into the cockpit. When the storm abated, I hauled the remains of my sea anchor. The bag had been torn right off; the four small lines holding the hoop had parted.

 

The first five days out of Panama, I went like a train, averaging around 130 miles a day. That was where my good run ended, for I was becalmed a great deal, and on one stretch, made only 420 miles in 21 days. At the halfway mark, I had yet another steering failure. This time, it was the bracket (the one I should have replaced in Australia) that holds the Teleflex cable. It had rusted and broken. Also, the tube on the end of the Teleflex cable broke, and, as I was unable to fix it, it was once again back to the jury-rigged steering with the tiller extension of the aft cabin top for the remaining 2850 miles. I blew out my large genoa in a squall, and this slowed me down in light airs, as did the Goose barnacles on the hulls. I had been over the side on four occasions when becalmed, but the days after my last barnacle-scraping session, I noticed four white-tipped sharks cruising around off the stern. That put an abrupt end to my hull-cleaning.

 

I encountered a few other problems on this leg of the passage. My last bottle of gas for the stove ran out ten days before my arrival in Victoria, when it should have lasted another month. I had no hot meals, hot drinks, or cabin heat for the remainder of the passage. Secondly, my short-wave radio receiver died a few days later. I really missed my radio; it normally played all day long. It was right in the middle of the World Cup Soccer play-offs, and I had been keeping a record of all the results, so I was very frustrated.

 

The last ten days were a bit miserable, but I was able to manage okay. When I had 1200 miles to go before reaching Victoria, I could have  made the choice to head east to San Francisco, which was 500 miles away. I decided to press on, and arrived home on June 24, 1986, none the worse for wear and with about a week's supply of food remaining.

 

Summary of Things that Went Wrong

 

  • Flexible water tanks leaked

  • Twin forestays both replaced during voyage

  • Broken spreader

  • New mainsail - New Zealand

  • New genoa - South Africa

  • Broken steering - Tiller

  • Broken steering - Wheel cog

  • Broken steering - Cable + bracket

  • Autohelm repaired in New Zealand

  • Outboard motor repaired in Darwin and Barbados

  • Solar panel replaced in Townsville, Australia

  • Stove replaced in Durban, South Africa 

 

In Conclusion...

The ocean will all too soon find the weaknesses of the mariner or his vessel. It seems that the weakness of Amon-Re was in her steering system; it just did not hold up. However, If I were to do the voyage again, the only changes I would make are:

 

  • Have a dual steering system, each independent of the other

  • Replace the outboard engine with a 7-horsepower diesel (Yanmar)

  • Put in heavy duty flexible water tanks

 

All of these problems have since been rectified in later Heavenly Twins models.

 

A quick look through my log books shows that in the years that I have owned the Amon-Re, we have been though fifteen gales of force 8 or more, two of which being full-force 10s. Amon-Re has proven herself as a fantastic little sea boat. I thank Pat Patterson, who designed her.

 

Copyright Alan Butler, 2019. All rights reserved.