George Sass Jr. sets out on a 600-mile voyage of discovery, following in the footsteps of one of the world’s greatest explorers.
During the afternoon, the southerly winds increased to a strong gale followed by intermittent downpours. As the sun set the storm intensified, forcing the 105-foot Endeavor to alter course slightly and run under foresail and mizzen through the night. The quartering seas pushed the ex-collier ship hard.
Every two hours the 120-fathom sounding line was lowered over the side. It did not find the bottom. Thankfully several species of birds hovering in the blustery winds alerted the salt-stained and savvy crew that land was near. It had to be.
Endeavor’s stoic 42-year-old captain, James Cook, was nearly two years into his first world voyage. And he was exactly where he wanted to be—on the deck of a ship under his command, in the service of God and country. Milestones of the expedition thus far had included an astronomical mission to Tahiti to observe the transit of Venus and a circumnavigation of both the North and South islands of New Zealand. The captain also possessed secret orders from the British Admiralty, which he’d been ordered not to unseal until the ship was at sea, instructing him to verify the existence of a southern continent—Terra Australis incognita, the unknown southern land.
Unlike Cook, Arnie Hammerman and I planned absolutely nothing for our cruise on the Riviera 6000 Sport Yacht from Australia’s Gold Coast down to Sydney, the same ocean where the Endeavor cruised 245 years before. We were in town for the Sanctuary Cove Boat Show and over a glass of wine Arnie casually turned to Stephen Milne, Riviera’s brand director, mentioning our interest in getting on a boat for a few days. Milne, a rabid boater himself, recognized our wanderlust and was on the case. He made a few calls and 48 hours later Arnie and I were stowing our sea bags in the starboard guest stateroom of the brand new Riviera 6000, Gatsby, and heading out to sea.
The three-day cruise south to Sydney would take us along the same stretch explored and charted (thankfully) by Cook and his team—a large swath remains unchanged since the Endeavor cruised northward before rounding Cape York, homeward bound.
My old friend Graeme Mellor happened to be delivering a boat down the same stretch as well. He became our advance team of sorts. A transplanted and pragmatic Kiwi, he ended every endorsement of the next port with, “Oh, there’s a good pub up the street.” Arnie eventually noted that, “I don’t think any pub is bad to Graeme.” Besides beer suggestions, he notified us about whale sightings, squalls, and fuel prices—our own cruising concierge.
Our captain for the trip, Tim Wright, would have been right at home standing beside Capt. Cook on Endeavor’s deck. Wright’s calm and understated demeanor presented a refreshing contrast to some of the blowhard captains I’ve worked with over the years that possess an extraordinary ability to present their entire boating résumé in one breath—just before they crash into the dock. Tim, a Perth native, is a lifelong boater and after only a few hours I realized there wasn’t much he couldn’t do with a boat.
Arnie, this magazine’s publisher, is a fine shipmate. After logging thousands of bluewater miles together, we’ve developed an instant rhythm as soon as our feet touch the decks, sorting our gear, stowing provisions, finding our spots—all in silence. This seemed to be a relief to Tim and his mate Mark, who had only heard that two Yanks were joining them for a few days.
Arnie travels with what can only be described as his own Radio Shack. He has adapters, plugs, chargers for everything but a Tesla, and a bunch of gadgets all tangled within various bags. In short order, he had his music piped into Gatsby’s Bose system, his computer hooked up to the Wi-Fi, phones charging, and his big bear paw of a hand around a meat pie. We were cruising.
Cook was a man of action and possessed an innate sense of duty. There was no question that he would execute his herculean orders over the next nine years and three voyages as if they were minor tasks on a project manager’s to-do list. Discover Australia. Check. Discover the Hawaiian Islands. Yep, got that. Discover the Northwest Passage. Finished before lunch. Don’t forget to buy wife Elizabeth a gift before crossing the Indian Ocean. Oh, crap!
As the gale subsided, New Zealand was 1,200 miles astern. Cook was focused on getting his ship back to Plymouth, England via the Indian Ocean and around the Cape of Good Hope. The sloppy, squally weather continued. Yet now the sounding line found a sandy bottom in 80 fathoms, then 60 fathoms. Land ho! Lieutenant Hicks spotted a hill south of what eventually became Sydney. Cook bestowed upon him the honor of calling the landmass Point Hicks. (Kind of the equivalent of having a rest-stop named after you today, I imagine.)
There was no GPS to provide captain and crew with reassurance that their celestial navigation was correct. No satellite weather overlay to give them any insight into the size of the front they battled. No radar. No coast guard. Not even charts of what lay ahead. They were making the charts.
Yet on April 19, 1770, Cook and his crew managed to find the east coast of Australia and claim the island continent for the crown. As you do. And then the explorer dug deep into the inventory of available names, calling his sighting New South Wales.
To the few that knew him well, it wasn’t a surprise that Cook identified the “unknown southern land,” becoming the first European to do so. The ambitious mariner was an expert cartographer and mathematician who planned his expeditions with meticulous detail, right down to the crew’s diet of pickled cabbage selected to keep scurvy at bay.
The Riviera 6000 Sport Yacht is an easy boat to like and a very easy boat to cruise. The design evolved from the 5800, which I’ve run on several occasions. The primary difference is the propulsion, along with some nips and tucks. The new, larger 725-horsepower Volvo Penta IPS950s allow the builder to achieve the target performance with two engines versus the three IPS drives necessary on the 5800.
After entering the Coral Sea, Tim dialed in a sweet spot at 2000 rpm, which gave us a cruising speed of about 22 knots in the swells. (Top speed is 32 knots) Gatsby rose easily over the large swells and settled into the troughs like a piece of cotton falling on the floor. This motion combined with the very low sound reading of 66 decibels in the saloon created a relaxing environment. Indeed the four of us were well rested when we arrived at our next port each day—ready to head off and verify Graeme’s pub recommendation.
This was my first cruise of any significant distance on an enclosed express cruiser. It works. The large sunroof opened up the helm and saloon area so I truly felt like I was outside, because, well, I was. We kept the aft doors closed since the seas and salt air were whirling around, yet the lines of sight were good.
As the sun set on our first night, we ran a crazy inlet over a breaking bar heading into the Clarence River in Northern New South Wales. The engines hit a high pitch as we raced down a breaking swell, rock and sand on each side. Tim arched an eyebrow, adjusted the plotter, but that was all the action necessary. I nestled into the adjacent helm seat as seas broke on either side and asked myself, What truly defines a passagemaker? Does it have to adhere to a rigid set of requirements: displacement hull; single engine; 1,000-mile-plus range; function over comfort?
Well, geez I hope not. In one day we cruised nearly 200 miles in a variety of conditions, took naps in absolute comfort, made lunch, and most importantly moved the wine for happy hour from the chiller below to the bar in the saloon. We were dry, safe, rested, and comfortable, yet because of the hybrid nature of the Riviera’s indoor/outdoor design, we still enjoyed being on the water and outside. And weren’t we on a passage?
Tim spotted our opening into the harbor breakwater. “That’s going to be a little tight. We’ll manage,” he said, while finding our channel into Yamba. The town of about 5,500 did indeed have a fine pub for dinner. One welcome difference I’ve observed in Oz over the years, is that every marina employee I’ve met is downright pleasant. You need to do a drop and go? No problem. Sure, you can stay on the fuel dock for the night as long as you leave before 6 am. What a nice change after my encounters with some folks I dealt with in the northeast of the U.S. recently.
After a night in Port Stephens, we made our way toward Sydney in New South Wales. We settled into that onboard harmony when you begin to feel that you could go on like this forever. We passed the lovely, long stretch of beach below Seal Rock and began talking about Capt. James Cook again and what it must have been like to discover such a beautiful part of this planet. Sir Joseph Banks, the Endeavor’s botanist on Cook’s first voyage wrote, By the discoveries and enterprise of our officers many new countries which know no sovereign, and that hold out the most enticing allurements to European adventurers. None are more inviting than New South Wales.
Pulling into Sydney Harbor on the final morning of our trip I fully endorsed Sir Joseph’s observation. I’ve cruised the area on several occasions, but never arrived by boat. History, architectural wonders, beauty, and boats, boats, and more boats surrounded us. Tim dropped us off so he and his charge could continue on south of Sydney, to a spot not far from where Cook made his first landfall. There Gatsby would be put on a ship to Perth where her new owner eagerly awaited. “Yeah, but wouldn’t it be nice to keep going for the next few months, taking her on her own bottom?” observed Arnie. Yes, it would have. And Gatsby would have completed the long coastal voyage as well as any “passagemaker.”
Cook died in 1779 in the Hawaiian Islands during a dispute with islanders when he was hit with a spear in the back after firing his musket into the air. Could it be that he was the first victim of the modern drive-by—in this case a drive-by spearing? In a true British embrace of the reserved and understated, his death was described in some circles at the time as a “misunderstanding.” I’m guessing Cook would have heartily agreed.
After saying our goodbyes, Arnie and I made our way to the Four Seasons, dumped our sea bags on the floor, and headed out to enjoy a fabulous city. Like most boaters, we gravitated toward the water. Standing with the Opera House behind us, Arnie asked, “Can you imagine sailing into this harbor for the first time.” No, I couldn’t. Heck, I never imagined being lucky enough to do it in 2015.
- Builder: Riviera
This article originally appeared in the October 2015 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.