A short story written by Larry BAMFORD while on board the RAAF Marine Section boat 015-17
The “Govilon” rebadged as RAAF 015-17 sailed out of Melbourne on December 7th 1944 and was handed over in Pt Moresby for disposal in November 1945
Note: Larry enlisted in Brisbane in late 1939 in the RAAF and they allocated him to the Marine Section probably because he had been working on boats on the Brisbane River for a few years. From 1939, he was moved up and down the east coast RAAF bases from Pt Cook in Melbourne to Townsville.
The Marine section came into being soon after the establishment of the RAAF in 1921 to provide rescue boats for trainee pilots flying over the sea, to take crew out to the seaplanes and to clear the area of debris before takeoff. One article I’ve read said that there were 2000 men involved in WW2 and that the unit was disbanded after that war.
A few short months of married life with even shorter weeks just spent with my wife –seven weeks to be exact, had taken away most of my earlier enthusiasm for the sea, particularly in small craft and as the “Govilon” was no luxury yacht, just fifty six feet of utilitarian ugliness with the barest possible conveniences for the crew of six.
I was willing to find any and every excuse a good one for prolonging that idyllic state in which I now lived. A bed sitting room and use of [a] kitchen mightn’t seem much to some people but at that time this was the most desirable residence I could imagine and there were to be times within the next year when that “home” would soon in retrospect to be even more heavenly.
At last the day arrived the Skipper, a W/O [Warrant Officer] with a world yachting cruise to his credit decided that what could be done to make a sea going craft out of an ex river picnic launch had been done and we cast off from No 1 North wharf in the Yarra River at 0130 Dec 7th 1944. The weather didn’t look too promising with an overcast day and a S wind blowing force 2 but the barometer had risen slowly all the previous day to 29.90 and the forecasts were favourable.
By 0600 we were abeam of the West Channel Pile light in Port Phillip Bay. Our biggest worry on this, the first stage of our trip now lay immediately ahead of us, that notorious mile wide stretch of treacherous currents and known as the Rip. I had often heard of it from local fisherman without ever having seen it, I had acquired a wholesome respect for it.
We were lucky. Our calculations of our speed and time had proved right and we caught the last of the flood or as there was barely any breeze, we made the passage with no further worry. Huge boils were to be seen in places even under those ideal conditions and it needed little imagination to realise just how bad these waters would become when the ebb reaches its maximum of 7 knots. Here, I should explain that Pt Phillip Bay is a roughly circular stretch of water about 30 miles across at it’s widest part and with an average depth of about 15 fathoms. The tides on the shores of Melbourne on it’s northern side being furthest from the entrance are uncertain as to height and periodicity being largely controlled by the winds. At the entrance, however, with it’s inner end choked with sand banks and islands, the tides are semi-diurnal i.e. occurring twice daily & are calculable in occurrence at least. A peculiar feature of the Rip is that High and Low water occurs three hours before and after the slack owing to the huge volume and water imprisoned in the bay being forced out between Pt Lonsdale and Pt Nepean the rocky headland at either side of the Rip.
To return to the story, a line of foam just a short distance to seaward of these two headlands marked the limit of the current and once beyond this boundary the wheel lost its kick and behaved normally. So that I was able to look around me. The sky was still overcast, but as there was only the faintest breeze everything was peaceful and Queenscliff on the Western side of the Rip looked quite picturesque with it red painted roofs, green herbage and it’s tall white columns and lighthouses set there to guide mariners from all over the world thru these waters into the calm and shelter of Pt Phillip Bay and so on to smoke and commerce of Melbourne as well as all the delights a modern city can hold for a shore hungry sailor.
At 0750/7/12/6 we set a course of S45E and streamed the log. The day was still lightly o/cast but the sea was calm and with the glass falling steady the omens seemed good for the first open sea stage of our trip. The morning was devoted by all hands to that inevitable “shaking down”. Things which should have been in the cabin lockers were in the hold and the lockers were jammed with gear that would be wanted only rarely. Our noon pos[ition] was Long 145 deg 03E, Lat 36deg 35S making our run since leaving the wharf a mere 57 miles. At that rate, we were due for many nights at sea thanks to our hard working but hopelessly underpowered engine.
During that afternoon, the glass dropped slowly but steadily and by 1500 [hours] was down to 29.80 while the wind from ESE had ………….to force 4 altho’ the sky was clear but as there was still nothing abnormal about these conditions, we were not unduly worried. By 1630, the glass had dropped to 29.78 and the wind had strengthened to E5 we brought the vessel up to 580E to meet the sea which was making ……….. with a short chop. One hour later the wind was blowing force 6 from the E and we began to wonder just what we were in for. When the wind reach[ed] force 7 at 18.30 and the seas were breaking not many of the crew were happy. It was too soon for us to have got our sea legs and the galley, a mere box containing two primus stoves, let into the cabin wall and depend[ing] on a few 6” portholes in the cabin for ventilation was soon declared out of bounds by all hands. Neither the 2nd Eng[ineer]. nor the deckhand had been to sea before and I tried to give them a hand to get something hot but had to give up. The skipper was on the wheel and when I told him of our plight, he handed over to me where I was quite happy and with the aid of the Chief, a man with an iron stomach like himself he nailed a fruit case astride the after bulkhead of the cabin and wedged our spare primus into it where he concocted a stew which was to become our mainstay at all times like this in the future.
The first necessity of food at a time like this is that it shall be easily prepared, hot, easily served and eaten and finally easy to digest. “Harold’s Stew” as we came to call this concoction had all these qualities. First, it was a matter of emptying two cans of vegetables and one tin of M[eat] & V[egetables] into a large saucepan. All this was precooked and ten minutes on the primus would get it hot so that even in the roughest weather it was possible to jam oneself in a corner and balance the saucepan on the flame. Serving it meant dipping in with a big iron spoon and dumping the sticky loads onto a deep enamelled plate, the plate and it’s own stiffness ensuring that it would stay put with a minimum of sleight of hand tricks and lastly, being more vegetables than anything else it was kind to those uncomfortable stomachs to be found amongst us. As Alain Gerbault (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alain_Gerbault) has mentioned several times in his books, it is best to keep meat down to a minimum. Going to sea in small craft precludes the normal exercise of life and ….unless the diet is kept as bulky as possible elimination is likely to be difficult to the intense discomfort of the would be mariner or in my opinion, this is the cause of at least 80% of sea sickness.
My night trick on the wheel was 2400 to 0200 and I had decided to get what sleep I could as soon as the evening meal was over – just in case I missed the rest of the night and it was just as well that I did. About 10 pm the skipper came aft to wake me and told me that a hand was needed on the pump. The same genius who was responsible for the design of our galley had decided that a #3 semi rotary pump would be adequate for a bilge pump in an addition to a small affair on the main engine that had obviously been designed by the maker to deal with any slight leak such as from a gland and generally keep the bilge dry under normal circumstances. These were not normal circumstances. Our craft was being thrown all over the ocean, chips left behind by the shipwright in what were now inaccessible parts of the bilge, were washed adrift to block valves and strainers so that after a couple of minutes pumping it was necessary to get to work with a spanner to clean the valves and strainer. The strainers on the engine driven pump being completely inaccessible so that it was necessary to remove the whole of the suction pipe each time and unseasoned timber having been used in the combings before being subjected to quite a few of Melbourne’s scorching summers “Northerns” [so that] every sea that came aboard [and] ran thro as though the upper works didn’t exist.. Over the hand pump and before the wheel house was a skylight the full width of the housing a very nice place to have a sky light when riding at anchor in calm water but now it leaked just as badly as the combings. The pump was only a little above the engine room floor, now awash with several inches of water, and far too low to work from a standing position for very long so we took it in turns to sit there in the swishing water with a constant shower from above.
Our electrical system of 24 V for lights and radio was supplied by a bank of 16 plate batteries charged by two small aircooled petrol driven generators known in Air Force parlance as A.P.U.’s or Auxiliary Power Units, at times of power …………..that had found itself very handy for charging A/C batteries since they had given up their peacetime job of supplying a small quantity of light to a country house but completely unsuitable for our job. They had a floatless carburettor and depended on suction to bring the petrol up from the (base?) which formed the tank and so when ever the vessel healed which was every few seconds the engine either choked or steamed and stopped either way. Our W/T op[erator] had to work to a set schedule and when he was sending at night the total drain was something like 15 X, a discharge rate that would soon flatten the batteries, but fortunately they were fully charged up to noon that day and he went off watch at midnight to reopen again at 0630 to get the morning “weather”.
At midnight the glass had fallen to 29.70 with an easterly gale at force 8 but by this time we seemed to have lost all feeling and reason now. Everyone was cold, wet and tired and a cup of steaming hot coffee would have………..indeed at that moment but it was out of the question. I took on the wheel at 0100 and stayed there until 0400 before going back to the pump and getting what rest I could in between time.
Our Second, a lad of 20 who until a year previously had added up figures in a bank ledger for a living and who but for the war would doubtlessly have been quite content to do so for the rest [of his life] showed his mettle that night. This was his first sea trip and he was wretchedly sea sick, but in spite of this he insisted on doing most of the pumping, never missing a stroke even when vomiting and as there was plenty of water available at that time to wash the place out there was little chance of it becoming foul.
Sadly. this is where the story in his exercise book finished. He and 5 other RAAF crew continued up the east coast stopping at all sorts of places till they got to PNG where they went to a number of places till they handed the boat in at Pt Moresby for disposal in November two months after the war finished. However, he kept a very detailed log Larry kept of the journey which runs to around 30 foolscap pages and hopefully, I will transcribe it one day.
Wind speed info https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beaufort_scale