The Last Cape Horners —
The end of the great sailing ship era
Author and producer: Garry Kerr
Video: 73 minutes with 20 minutes of additional information. Also available in DVD.
RRP $29.95 video and/or DVD.


  Garry Kerr is a professional fisherman who, from his base in Portland, Victoria, has fished around Bass Strait and Tasmania for more than three decades. In addition to his work as a seaman and ship master, he has produced a self-published book and video list which offers a major contribution to the recording of Australia’ maritime heritage.
Kerr’s first book was probably the self-published Australian and New Zealand Sail Traders of 1974. This book set Garry Kerr’s pattern of a careful use of oral history, searching out and recording the words of the men and women who were involved on the scene at the time.
The author backs his research with an excellent choice of illustrations.
Since then author/producer/researcher and seaman Kerr has ‘branched’ out although that may be perceived as a pun when his self-funded video and matching book on the story of Tasmania’s unique timber, Huon Pine, is considered.
The Last Cape Horners is Garry Kerr’s latest work and it is one that any person with any interest in ships with square sails, particularly those with an interest in sailing or re-creating such craft should view.
Those enthusiasts who sail aboard the James Craig, particularly come to mind, for here can be seen moving film of life in really tall ships in really bad conditions. Handling a cumbersome movie camera at the end of a yardarm, some 30m above the sea, in bad conditions was no job for the faint-hearted.
The Last Cape Horners connects two unlikely small ports each almost at the ends of the earth. Port Victoria was and is a tiny coastal hamlet on a South Australian gulf. The Aland Islands are near the really cold end of the Baltic Sea.
From here a tough-minded Finnish businessman, Gustaf Erikson financed an almost desperate effort to keep the ‘Great Days of Sail’ viable during the 1930s and late 1940s.
To compete with steam ships the great windjammers turned to bulk cargos and none was better than grain. Speed was not needed and this and minimal crews and poor foods combined to extend the trade for a few years.
Many young Australians joined these ships for the return run, mainly because many of the young Scandinavians who’d made the outward voyage had had enough and deserted ship. The young Aussies soon found out just why!
Garry Kerr has found many of these men and their women, from either end of the voyage route and has recorded their stories which make the still and fi lm images of this video memorable. Their quiet voices tell tales of hardships and working conditions unimaginable by today’s standards.
Those visiting the quiet holiday town of Port Victoria will find a few obvious traces of those great days. Viewing this DVD or Video fi rst should be a ‘must’ which will bring both the town and the long-defunct trade to life.
Also available from Mainsail Books are: videos or DVDs, Trading out of Hobart – an oral history on film, The Oldest Living Tasmanian – the Huon Pine, The Trading Ketches of South Australia – an oral history, on film, The Couta Boat – Return of a Classic, and The Huon Pine – A history of the harvest and use of a unique timber. By Garry Kerr and Harry McDermott, large format, cased. Profusely illustrated in colour and mono, 295pp, RRP $59.95.
Also available from Boat Books and associated ships chandlers.


How to Choose the Right Yacht

by Joachim Muhs
published by Adlard Coles
RRP $29.95 (105pp; 215mm x 140mm)


If you have just wandered through another wonderful Sydney Boat Show, your tongue would soon have been dry and rough from dragging along the various wharves and displays. Smiling salespeople would have handed out brochures with all the usual claims about each boat’s performance. But how do you judge the suitability of a yacht for your purposes?
This book will help you understand a boat’s handling capabilities and otherwise make judgments about her ‘sailability’. The book presents technical information in an easy to read manner, to help you escape the clutches of an eager salesperson. It is one of a Sailmate ‘how to’ series, which includes an even more interesting book called

How to Cope with Storms by D. von Haeften. Both are worth a look if you can find them.
Allen and Unwin distribute all three books in Australia.


Skipper’s Emergency Handbook –

How to Resolve Any Crisis at Sea
by Tony Meisel
published by Adlard Coles Nautical
RRP $39.95 (224pp; 240mm x 140mm)


As its title suggests, Skipper’s Emergency Handbook has been put together to help out in a crisis – at sea. The book is the right colour for the job. With a bright red and yellow plastic cover to resist a healthy splash of water, the book gives the impression that it is ready for action.
The author, Tony Meisel, sets out his goals for the book in his Introduction. He wants his book to provide “direct responses to a wide assortment of waterborne difficulties” to give the embattled skipper an answer in a crisis to the question “what do I do now?” Meisel himself is an experienced sailor and skipper. He has been associated with editing Motor Boating and Sailing magazine and as Editor of the Nautical Book Club.
Skipper’s Emergency Handbook is a book of disasters and how to get out of them. Starting at Abandoning Ship, and continuing alphabetically to brief advice about replenishing low drinking water supplies, the book has an easy to follow format.
Find your crisis in the Index and go to the relevant page.
Your Chapter is presented, fi rst with a brief description of the particular issue facing the Skipper. This is followed by a simple decision tree. For example, when a collision is on the cards, the book suggests a series of possible actions by answering “yes” or “no” to particular question. Each “yes” answer has a direction to a subsequent page with advice about what to do in that situation.
And in the above case, if “no” is the final answer, then the book tells you how to align your yacht so as to present the smallest target! Diagrams show how to take evasive action and, in the final analysis, present a small target.
It seems to me that there is probably no substitute for experience, but given some experiences are pretty hard to come by, a book like this on hand might be a way to get through a problem. It’s possible the collective knowledge of crewmembers might come up with ways to handle a broken mast. But in this crisis, the suggestions in the book would give the Skipper a variety of choices of actions to take, even though these would be taken under very adverse conditions.
If you buy this one, the first thing I would do would be to correct a small flaw in the book. The Index points to the page to go to for your problem solutions. But, in the heat of the moment, the page numbers in the Index would be too hard to read – write some big numbers in before you need them.