‘It seems like a lifetime ago’, says Ceramco New Zealand’s crewmember Simon Gundry. ‘Almost 30 years ago to be exact, since we were sailing down the Atlantic on the first leg of the 1981-82 Whitbread on the Bruce Farr designed Ceramco New Zealand..
‘Twelve New Zealanders off to conquer the world on this epic adventure, as it was in those days and I remember the moment now, as clearly as if it happened yesterday: the cracking of the mast, the crunching of rigs and sails and the yells of the crew on deck. I was just lying in my bunk waiting for lunch, looking forward to another six hours on deck, hard on the wind, just a few miles behind Flyer, on the way to Cape Town on the first leg.
‘I can remember vividly the hours on deck afterwards, trying to get the sails onboard, the rig onboard, and keep the boat going in some direction. I can remember the leadership of Blakey (Peter Blake, the skipper), Geoff Stagg and Keith Chapman – all the crew rallying together after the dismasting. I can remember the feeling of utter devastation, of having let down the nation, sitting there in the Atlantic with tears in most of the crew’s eyes.
Keith Chapman planning then how to convert this dismasted boat into a ketch and complete the sail into Cape Town, which we finally did, carrying a jury rig some 4000 miles and spanning three weeks. After nearly 50 days at sea we sighted Table Mountain and smelt and then tasted the cold beer of Cape Town.
Funnily enough, the crew of Ceramco celebrate this dismasting every year, gathering at one of the crew’s homes here in New Zealand. We haven’t missed a year since the dismasting in 1981. Phone calls or emails go out a week before 21 September on an annual basis, and somebody volunteers their home for the night.
We gather usually about 6pm, everyone bringing food to barbecue, bottles of wine, salads, breads, children, memories and stories. The hosts for the evening have the responsibility of having some sort of boat with a mast on the lawn; usually an old ragtag sail hanging from it, maybe a rudder or maybe a keel, whatever they can construct out of what is hanging round their houses. It has to have a mast.
The barbecue is a collection of good food, good wine and good stories and always ending with making OC Rutter sit in the newly constructed boat on the front lawn. He was the helmsman at the time of the dismasting. He dons his old wet weather gear and gets liberally doused with water – usually about 10 o’clock at night, when the boys have had a couple. Somehow then the mast is tipped over, trying always to avoid people’s heads.
This is now known throughout the world of yachting as Ceramco’s Annual Mast Falling Down Party and long may it continue.
Unfortunately, a couple of the crew have now fallen by the wayside, with the terrible deaths of Peter Blake and Keith Chapman, leaving us now a tight bunch of 10.
Long may this tradition continue. It is a hell of a lot of fun, with a lot of good people, and some wonderful memories.