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The mysterious disappearance of
yacht Southern Maid
I was very interested to read Andrew Clubb’s letter about
My curiosity, however, is in connection with Andrew’s father
having purchased the steel cutter Southern Maid which as Andrew
says, was one of the few yachts of the day that gave Vic Meyer’s
Solo a good run.
Assuming that the yacht is one and the same that I was very
familiar with during periods of successive ownership, it was
interesting to read a little more of her history; as nothing certain
is known of what happened to the yacht and crew later.
I can offer the following information in the hope that it might
be the same yacht and that readers might be able to provide
more detail of her eventful life.
I understand Southern Maid was designed in the 1930s and
built in the years after World War II. Her counter stern was quite
a remarkable feature of the yacht, as was the angled position of
the wheel; and the strong steel build of the hull and coach-house
gave it a sturdy, almost indestructible feel.
Around 1965, Southern Maid was purchased by an English
adventurer fairly recently arrived in Australia, who soon after
embarked on a voyage north.
Arriving at Middle Percy Island, south-east of Mackay in
Queensland, he met the then lease-holders of the island who
completed a jointly amenable transfer of the lease of the island
to him. For years, the yacht was a familiar sight in coastal waters
between Middle Percy Island and Townsville where at its Ross
Creek mooring it was much sought after by charterers.
Later she changed hands and the new owner undertook some
restoration and improvement work.
In 1973, owner and crew set off with an ultimate destination
of Hong Kong.
The yacht arrived in Rabaul where there was a crew change
and then set off for the Micronesian Group of Islands where she
re-supplied and then left on the final long leg of the voyage to
When ETAs were overdue, I recall the alerts that were made to
all ships to report on sightings of the yacht. I remember getting
the co-ordinates from met offices in Hong Kong, Guam, Manila
Apprenticeship on the
steam tug Wattle
Graeme Andrews’s article ‘Steam Tug Wattle’ (A fl o a t Nov ’13)
brought back memories of my time as an Apprentice Fitter &
Turner at Garden Island Dockyard from 1951 to 1956. I had joined
the Dockyard with the view to becoming a Marine Engineer in
the Merchant Nav y.
This involved an apprenticeship in a dockyard or other heavy
engineering workshop and completing the Marine Engineering
Certificate Course at Sydney Tech. You could then be employed
as a Junior Engineer while gaining the requisite watch-keeping
experience at sea necessary to become fully qualified.
The Dockyard policy then was to give the Marine Engineering
Apprentices in their final year six months watch-keeping
experience split between the Wattle and the larger diesel tug,
Bronzewing. As Bronzewing was out of service when it was my turn
to go on the tugs, I spent six months on the Wattle from early 1956.
The crew consisted of the Skipper, Deckhand, Engineer,
Fireman and an Apprentice. I enjoyed my time on Wattle with
hands-on exposure to a working triple expansion reciprocating
steam engine, as distinct from earlier working on engines under
refit. I soon learnt not to linger for long in front of the boiler (oil
fired) which occasionally experienced a back flash caused by a
draught down the funnel instead of up it!
Wattle was somewhat underpowered. This was evident as she
battled with quite large fuel oil barges or the square bowed general
and Darwin of all tropical lows in the area where the yacht was
likely to be located. Most of all, I recall the dreadful feeling after
having placed all the information on a chart that three separate
intense lows gave the yacht little chance of avoiding cyclonic
Southern Maid, with four on board was subsequently declared
missing north of Yap & Palau Islands in the Micronesian Group.
In not knowing, there is no closure after an event so immensely
tragic, it was interesting to read of some of the yacht’s earlier
history. Assuming that it is the same Southern Maid as was once
owned by Mr Clubb’s father.
Allan Lowther Porter,
Avalon Beach, NSW.
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