On an eastward crossing of the North Atlantic solo sailor Trevor Robertson dodged Hurricane Bertha and encountered Cristobal in his gaff cutter Iron Bark. Then on the way back it was icebergs …
Trevor Robertson and Iron Bark
I decided early in my life that the two things I most enjoyed were pottering about in small sailing boats and poking about the less travelled parts of the world. For the past 40 years that is what I have done whenever I had a boat and money for provisions.
I generally earned my cruising money working as a geologist on oil rigs in odd corners of the world on contracts that were too unpleasant or risky for most to accept.
My first ocean passage was in 1976. A young lady and I sailed westwards across the Indian Ocean from Western Australia in a wooden ex-racing boat. As was then the norm, navigation was with a plastic sextant and leadline, the vessel had an unreliable petrol engine, paraffin lamps and she leaked so there was seldom a dry bunk. The voyage ended in shipwreck in the Caribbean, the young lady having long since departed.
Eventually I wound my way back to Western Australia where I earned enough to buy a 30ft daysailer that I refitted and between 1986 and 1990 sailed round the world by way of the Suez and Panama Canals. Although I enjoyed the voyage, it was apparent that increasing affluence and the influx of larger boats loaded with new electronic navigation and communication equipment was taking the interest out of tropical and temperate sailing for me.
I could not afford a vessel suitable for higher latitudes so I built one in Queensland. This was Iron Bark, a Wylo II class 35ft steel gaff cutter designed by Nick Skeates. She has proved to be nearly perfect for my purposes: capacious enough to carry a tonne of stores, comfortable, seaworthy with a short, stout rig that will take an immense amount of abuse and her steel hull can shunt ice.
Although I have done quite a few miles in the tropics in Iron Bark, I prefer less-frequented areas. Much of my sailing in the past 20 years has been in places like Antarctica, Greenland, Patagonia and Labrador. I have spent a winter alone in the ice of Antarctica, a winter frozen in north-west Greenland with a companion and another alone in the same area.
I believe Iron Bark is the only vessel to have wintered unsupported in both Antarctica and the Arctic; she is a fine little ship.
I have sailed about 195,000 miles so far, 118,000 of them in Iron Bark. In 2009, Annie Hill and I were jointly awarded the Blue Water Medal by the Cruising Club of America. My most recent voyage was from St John’s Newfoundland direct to Fremantle, Western Australia round the Cape of Good Hope, a passage that took 171 days.