OSP: This week we’re with John Lucas. So welcome along John and thanks for joining us on the Ocean Sailing Podcast and we’ve got a unique opportunity this week, we’re going to talk to John about his story from more than four decades ago now about an amazing trip that he made. John, tell us a little bit about what was this trip, where did this start, where did it end and where did the idea come from to start with?
John Lucas: Sure and good morning David. We call this particular expedition The Daydream Expedition where upon we sailed a flat bottom houseboat from Geelong, all the way to Thursday Island taking approximately three months. The whole issue started when a group of missionaries got together in Geelong and bought this houseboat.
After they had finished the houseboat they found that they couldn’t get it up to New Guinea in any way shape or form. They’d run out of money by that time, things weren’t going too well. On a particular day I came across the guys that put it together and I said, “Why don’t you sail it up?” And they said, “Well, we’re not too sure if that could be possible because we can’t even get it out past Point Henry,” which is a local signal station in Geelong.
One conversation led to another a month or so later I was approached and asked if it could really be done. I said, “Well, let’s give it a try.” So myself, Len Day who is one of the owners of the boat and two other people and the three of them had never been to sea in their life before. The were novices going to sea however Len had flown in the London to Sydney air race, so he was a pilot, not a seaman. So we rigged the boat up, we had advised Canberra of what we had in mind and they sent down something like 26 different departments to try and stop us from doing it.
We had to meet all the regulations and in the end there was no reason why we couldn’t do it. However, I would say today, it would be impossible and you would not get the permission because of safety at sea rules. So we set the boat up, it was a flat-bottomed houseboat with a draft of 18 inches, two big rudders on the stern, quite a comfortable boat being a houseboat inside. We also rigged a mast, which carried a cat gaff-rigged sail and that was for the sake of an auxiliary if we had any problems with the motor.
The motor in particular was a water jet motor that traversed 360 degrees, it was the invention of a local in Geelong who wanted us to give this particular engine a try so that was installed and it was a 310 horse power Perkins diesel, converted to over eight with the sea and cooling and we put the crew together and set off. Our first trip was down to Swan Bay for the night where we pulled in and Swan Bay is a very small bay down near Queens Cliff which is The Heads. The next morning we setup to go out of The Heads.
Now, The Heads are known as one of the, if not the roughest, the second roughest stretch of water in the world, second only to the Cape. We were very cautious about how we go and tackle that, the first episode of course getting out of Swan Bay is we what? We ran aground. Surprise, surprise. This was a good start to the trip. However when we sorted that out, we got in touch with the Point Lonsdale light, which organises the traffic coming in and out through The Heads.
We were given the okay to make our way out so we put the big engine on, sails up. At the same time, there was the start of the Melbourne to Devonport, the up rise. The weather was pretty bad and they actually canceled the start of that but we being a little better at sailing decided that we’d take the risk and go out. Not a very smart idea if we found out halfway through.
But having done that, we made it through The Rip and not too long after making it through The Rip, our sail tore. So that was the first bit of damage on the boat. We knew that there was a sail maker close in at Flinders. We stripped the sails off, took the sails in, got them repaired, we ported in at Flinders of course, prepared the sail and prepared to go around Wilson’s Prom which again is pretty tricky if you catch it on the wrong day. That’s why they call it the second roughest stretch of water in the world.
Well we ended up going around that in a four seven which was not very comfortable but the lucky part for us was actually on the stern. So halfway around and a number of quick prayers, we thought we’d be in trouble but we then found a refuge bay which is a safe little haven around the point there, so we pulled in there for the night, sat in there comfortably and the next morning things had quietened down a lot, so we took up along the coast.
We then got to our next stop and we wanted to go in and pick up some stores which was relatively easy to do on a flat bottom houseboat because you don’t have much of a draft. I lined up the leads to go in and I advised the crew that they were the leads, that’s how we got in and there’s quite an active discussion onboard with the guys that hadn’t sailed before who thought that there was an easier and softer and more gentler way to get through the quite big waves that were coming in.
Big argument pursued and my comment was, “Well, your boat, your problem, we will do it your way but don’t call me if you get into trouble.” Well halfway through, we’re in trouble, we were starting to broach and those sorts of things and after a time we finally made it in to a place called Inverloch, at which stage I said, “Well, thanks for the invitation to join you on this cruise but I think under the circumstances, I’m out of here.”
OSP: That’s quite an interesting place to be, given that you’re part way into a pretty long trip, to come to that conclusion quickly.
John Lucas: Yes, well the conclusion was drawn because I had lost the authority to run the boat. As we say in the classics, one ship, one captain. Again, I had the experience. I’ve been sailing since I was about eight year’s old. However, we worked through that issue and Len then said to me, “Well John, from this day on, you are now 100% in charge, what you say goes.” That’s a good idea that put all the pressure back on me.
We then stayed in Inverloch for about two or three days until the weather had changed a little and then we continued our trip up along the coast. The local newspapers and TV stations were covering the trip and so we had a chat to them about our experiences getting through The Rip on a flat bottom houseboat which weren’t very comfortable. They were quite surprised that we had made it through.
The local sailors in the area complained and said how crazy we were and that we would have no hope whatsoever of taking this houseboat up to New Guinea. However as the day pursued, knowing that we’d taken every step for our safety, one of the crew members decided after the rough trip that the first few days that he’d quit, he had enough. I think it was either too slow or he was too concerned as to what might happen with this trip.
OSP: What sort of speeds were you doing do you think?
John Lucas: We were probably doing speeds, conservatively, around three to five knots. We had picked that particular time of year because it’s the start of the south east trades. So we pretty much had the wind on our stern most of the way. If we picked up some northerly weather we really had to pull off and park somewhere until the northerlies are gone. Because the houseboat had a chisel nose on it, which obviously didn’t take too kindly to northerly winds.
OSP: So what sort of angle could you sail to within. Beyond a reach how much further beyond could you go?
John Lucas: More than likely just on a reach. Yeah you certainly wouldn’t go into a beat of any sort. Again, because of the southwest prevailing, it was mostly up our tail or on a fair short of a reach, shy reach, which would carry on to a broad reach if we got a little bit more easterly into it.
OSP: So we’re looking at some of the newspaper cuttings from the time of the trip and this is before mobile phones existed and this was before internet existed. How did you communicate your story and your updates and your progress to the people that were following you and then on the media side?
John Lucas: Okay, well the government said that we would have to get a radio that was strong enough that we must radio in every evening to let them know where we were. We were doing that but we weren’t getting any response from them, they just weren’t there or weren’t listening and weren’t available. So whilst we tried every night, we pretty much didn’t get anywhere near them.
Philips had heard of our trip and they decided to sponsor us with a big radio, so they gave us the radio, which helped us immensely through the trip and we could keep in touch with people back home. We made it up to Ballina, we made it around the cape and up to Ballina, which is — I’ll just go back on that. We’re actually back in Sydney, I’m reading ahead on myself here. Ballina’s a little bit further on.
Well we made it in to Sydney and we pulled into the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia (CYCA) who welcomed us and gave us a free berth for as long as we wanted to stay there, at that particular stage of course all the TV stations and the newspapers was starting to catch up with us and finding out where we were, what we’d been through and how we were handling the whole situation.
So we stayed in Sydney probably for about four or five days and when the weather cleared a little bit, we again took off through Sydney Heads and headed up towards Port Macquarie. That part of the trip was reasonably comfortable and it wasn’t until we get near Coffs Harbour that the wind picked up somewhat considerably and we were fighting 25 to 30 knot breezes. There were big ships that were passing us by that were bearing their bow and the spray was probably reaching 30, 40 foot up in the air, which made us look very small in comparison. Of course made us think twice about what we were doing.
OSP: How long was this vessel and how wide was it?
John Lucas: It was 40 foot long, if we go back to foot and inches and had an 18 inch draft. One of the problems we had with the water jet unit, which traversed 360 degrees, was okay but we found that we couldn’t get a lot of steerage out of the boat. So we had to put two big rudders on one on each of the stern quarters, which helped us immensely to turn the boat or to control the boat. That made it a lot easier.
We got up to Coffs Harbour and the weather had certainly turned nasty but we were doing reasonably well, we didn’t have a lot of problems and we’d put quite a few miles behind us. After leaving Coffs, the next stop would have been Ballina and we were fighting some pretty big seas by that stage but we were running a bit short on fuel and running short on food and what have you. So we decided we should put into Ballina. We had to pull the sail down, kick the big motor over, lined up the bar and boy did we shoot in that bar.
We got in on port up at Ballina and this old fella came down, big beard, smoking a pipe, dirty old jacket on, said, “Who is in charge of this craft?” Not being in the best frame of mind at that that particular time, I said to him, “Who wants to know?” He said, “I do. I’m the harbour master.” I said, “That’s great.” He said, “Well I’ve never seen anything like that in my life.” He said, “I saw you coming up the coast,” he said, “Our bar has been closed for five days. I was out doing the garden and I saw you and thought you’re going to run for cover down around the point.
Next thing I looked up and you were lining up the bar. I thought, “Well, I better get to the garage and grab the port’s closed signs and run them up the masthead,” which I did. The only problem was when I got them to the masthead, I had no cleats on them. He said, “By this stage, you had started coming over the bar and I just stood back in sheer amazement and couldn’t believe what I was seeing as you came through, well done.” My comment to him was, “Quite frankly, if you got those signs up, we wouldn’t have known what they meant anyway and we were coming in.” That was quite a bit of a challenge.
OSP: Well and quite a compliment in a way from a harbour master who sees all sorts of things happen and then to put in context, the east coast of Australia, the sand bars most of the way up and down the coast are pretty treacherous and they change and move around a lot and lots of them aren’t suitable most of the time in the conditions that we have.
John Lucas: Sure. Well going back in the early days, of course they’ve got a long way lately to making a lot of the bars a lot safer than they used to be.
OSP: To put this in context, what year are we talking about here? What year was this?
John Lucas: We’re talking about 1972.
OSP: So 44 years ago, just to put some context.
John Lucas: So 44 years ago, most of the only boats that generally used the bars were the fishing boats that knew the waters very well and spoke with the harbour master before they came in and out.
OSP: Okay. In terms of the trip John, what is the total distance from Geelong to Thursday Island?
John Lucas: Over 3,000 miles.
OSP: When you think about that, and you put that into context, that’s more than crossing the Tasman Sea twice and it will get you a fair way to South America if you were to sail across the ocean towards South America.
John Lucas: It most certainly would.
OSP: How old were you at the time?
John Lucas: I was 27 at the time, that might give you an indication as to how old I am now but how many sea miles I’ve done.
OSP: With the trip, how many people did you do the trip with?
John Lucas: Well it started off four of us and as I said, one of them got off but when we pulled in at Inverloch, we went to the local hotel to have a bar meal and a quick drink. We had little to drink on board but went to the bar to have a quick drink, we were talking to one of the young farmers there and he said, “Well where are you guys from and what are you doing?” We said, “We have this flat bottom houseboat and we’re trying to take it all the way to New Guinea.” He said, “Do you need help?” We said, “Yeah, actually we’re one short in the crew.” Well within the next half an hour he’d been home, packed his bags and he was on the boat.
John Lucas: He had had a bit of experience, so he had worked on trawlers and what have you, over the years, in between his farming, when he was cropping and what have you. But he was very keen, jumped on board and was a great help of course.
OSP: You made it out successfully over the bar again and you left Ballina and what happened next?
John Lucas: Okay, our next big bar to across was of course the bar at Surfer’s Paradise, which was notorious in those days. Most of the fishing boats that came out through there, used to have to run up the coast, find the channel and run back down. We had different things in mind because we knew we had a shallow draft and we heaved the boat straight through.
Now, it was a pretty rough day and those that were at the local hotel, all came roaring out and thought that we’re going to see the greatest demise of a boat that had ever come through or crossed that bar. When we got in, of course there were great cheers and many of them came down the boat, brought a lot of alcohol with them, congratulated us and sat down on how to chat all day, all night about what we’d been doing, how we got to that stage, and what our next big trip was to be.
OSP: Great, a classic Gold Coast welcome. So then you stopped in the Gold Coast, and how long were you here for?
John Lucas: So after the Gold Coast and we were in the Gold Coast for about five days, again, waiting for a bit of a break in the weather. However we knew that there was an inside passage so we used the inside passage to go up to Morton Bay and out through Morton Bay to continue our journey.
Our next big problem was getting around Double Island Point. Once again, the weather was very heavy, the bar had been closed for a week or so. So we were stuck out there, we couldn’t go in, so we had to find somewhere to hide, which we did just around the corner of Double Island Point, there’s a little lagoon.
We carefully placed it out to make sure we could get in, we popped in there and had to sit in there for about four or five days before they reopened the bar. Now, we were in constant contact with them and the first prawn trawler that came out when they reopened the bar, hit the sand bar and disappeared completely.
OSP: Gosh. So it just sank?
John Lucas: It sank and there were no signs of it or any of the gear and as you would know, most fishing boats carry a lot of floatation gear, none of that was ever found. So what we assume happened was they were coming out sitting on the top of the wave, it dried out underneath them, the bow dropped off the wave, hit the bottom, the sand completely encompassed the boat and nothing was ever seen of them again.
We were called in to help to see if we could find them because the way they had settled quite a bit by then. So we traveled up and down the coast whilst the coast guard also went out looking for them, but they were never seen and no parts of the boat were ever found again.
OSP: Wow, puts the challenges and dangers of crossing bars into context when you hear a story like that.
John Lucas: Yes, most certainly. I think we all learn when we go sailing that the first thing to do when you’re crossing a bar is to try and get some local knowledge form somewhere because the bars do shift, there’s quite a bit of shifting sand. They can be in one place one day and different place the next. So local knowledge is certainly very, very important.
OSP: Okay, so what happened next?
John Lucas: From there of course was inland passage, which was lovely of course, going inside Fraser iIsland, coming out of the top, by that stage of course, you’re basically inside the Great Barrier Reef, you’ve gotten rid of a lot of the big swells that come up from down south and traveling was a lot more comfortable by that stage. We’d made a couple of stops to pickup fuel and then made our way up to Hamilton Island where we were warmly welcomed and then up to the group of islands there.
Now, a lot of the people on the island had heard that we were coming up. They met us when we got in, we had some very wealthy business men approach us and asked us if we needed anything. We really didn’t but they said, “Well, what we’re going to do is we’re going to let you order as much steak and as much food as you can carry and as much fuel as you can carry and we’re even going to organise some paint for you if you want to paint the boat when you get up there.”
So we loaded up with all those things, thanking them very much that they were quite interested in the trip that we had taken and talking about it and what sort of problems we’d had and where we were going to go from here. So that was very helpful.
OSP: That’s a generous offer and crew will never turn down a good feed or a good meal after a long trip, so it was great to be able to stock up there.
John Lucas: Well by that time, the idea of having a steak was very good. But we had good cooking facilities on board. Surprisingly enough, many would ask us how the boat was traveling and when it rode a wave, it was very much like a surfboard so it went up basically level and then sunk down basically level. So you could take on a big sea a two metre sea or a three metre sea and ride the wave out quite nicely with the salt and pepper still on the table.
OSP: Wow. And it’s 40 foot long, what was the beam of the boat?
John Lucas: I can’t quite recall the beam.
OSP: Looking at pictures, it’s pretty big, right? Probably at least 15 feet maybe wide?
John Lucas: Yes. 16, 18 foot wide.
OSP: Okay. So what happened next?
John Lucas: So we then left there, which was absolutely lovely of course, going up to Rockhampton Mackay. As I say, once again, we were in calm seas by that stage. The motor was running pretty much all the time, not a lot of breeze, the breeze had dropped out, so we were looking forward to doing the last laps as we went up past Rockhampton, Mackay following the passage up through there, Townsville, Cairns. Had an engine problem in Cairns and had to call back home for new parts to replace, to keep the engine going.
We did find that the sail we’d set up came in very handy quite often through the trip but in this particular stage, it was all we had. So it did help us a fair bit of the way. So we’re pretty well up at Cairns by now and heading inside the Great Barrier Reef, which was quite pleasant, a lot of whales. We made it up to the very tip of Australia and right at the very tip of Australia, there’s a little channel that you got through and there’s a Japanese Pearling company.
Now that pearling company had been there for 50 odd years or so, which was quite interesting because we’d had a war with Japan, but the Japanese were up there pearling, we were invited into the pearl farms, fed up very well, drank some nice Japanese wine and they presented us with some of the pearls in particular some black pearls, which are quite expensive. They were very happy to see someone come in and have a chat to them, pull in, what have you. We stayed there for a couple of days before we started to make our way over to Thursday Island.
OSP: Pretty unique opportunity that you probably never would have imagined possible, especially if the cultural differences maybe even then, given that it wasn’t that long after the war really, 25, 30 years.
John Lucas: Yes, not long after which was quite surprising. When we got up there, we were met by the US Navy who then advised us, unbeknownst to us that they had basically been covering us on our trip all the way up with their technical gear, which would have been happy to know of course. But they had us on board, gave us a lovely meal, presented us with a United States Navy officer’s ring and made the comment that our trip sounded more exciting than the RA and Kontiki expeditions put together. Cause one thing you don’t normally do is put to sea in a flat bottom houseboat.
OSP: That’s a really nice touch. What a nice way to recognise the trip you’re undertaking given by this stage you’re probably on your way to your trip and in the final stages.
John Lucas: Yes, the final stages, the trip from Australia across to the islands was very rewarding, very comfortable, big seas had gone, we were glad to get in and looking forward to booking our flight to get back home, having been away for two days shy of three months.
OSP: Okay and then to the arrival at Thursday Island, describe how that unfolded?
John Lucas: Well we arrived at Thursday Island, which is regarded as a first port of call into New Guinea. So they have all the customs there, they have a customs hall. We had the customs officers come down and meet us, we had to fill out the official customs forms for getting in there but we were made quite welcome.
There were not a lot of Anglo Saxons actually made it up that way, so they were quite happy to see us. We did our official bit and our official paperwork, we booked our flight and spoke with the missionaries over in New Guinea who were to come over and pick the boat up and take it up to the Fly River.
OSP: Did you ever follow the boat after that? In terms of where it ended up?
John Lucas: I have no idea where it ended up, after having spent three months on it, which probably two days short of what we should have spent. It was constantly used, the Fly River is one of the largest navigable water ways in the world. We certainly had very little to do with the boat once it got there but the missionaries did use it to travel up and down the river and because of the 360 degree traversing water jet, it was quite comfortable on the river runs.
OSP: So when you’re think back now about the construction of the boat and the condition of it when you stepped on board was it fit for purpose or did you have challenges along the way with things breaking and wearing out and coming apart?
John Lucas: No, the boat held up extremely well, the only damage we really sustained apart from a few problems with the motors and the sails, we actually took a big brass - huge brass bell that we were going to give to the missionaries, we had that parked on the bow and when we came over the Ballina Bar, with a fair bit of water smashing across there, we lost the bell. So I have no doubt the bell is still down the bottom of the Ballina Bar. But the boat was in good condition when we handed it over.
OSP: What was it constructed out of?
John Lucas: It had a steel hull on it, built very much like a barge. So it had a chisel nose on it and of course the upper deck was in ply. We put two ex-aircraft seats on the back so that we’d be comfortable sitting on the wheel, we ran shifts of course as we went up there, it was sort of four on and eight off as we swung to people looking after the craft while the others were asleep. But it was much appreciated when I got up there.
OSP: Okay, what were the bunks like in terms of sleep, did you get a good night’s sleep?
John Lucas: Yes, always a good night’s sleep because it had four cabins and each cabin had two bunks in it and they were very comfortable bunks and all in all from the point of view of those that do sail and sail mono-hulls where you’re on a slant most of the time. We’re on a flat surface and could get actually get a good night’s sleep.
OSP: When you think about that, that changes things a lot doesn’t it when you are flat almost all of the time. What about managing provisions, cooking and refrigeration, did you have refrigeration?
John Lucas: Yes we had refrigeration but once again because of the shallow draft, we could get in wherever we needed to get into pick up fuel and to pick up fresh goods, bread and milk, the lunch was normally two slices of bread with some sliced cheese in it and a raw tomato. The idea of losing a lot of weight on the trip certainly came true, I think I dropped about two stone.
OSP: Okay, and did you have much success with fishing along the way?
John Lucas: We did, we’ve had a line in from time to time, never caught much. However when we got up near Cairns and Townsville, there were a lot of Spanish Mackerel around. Spanish Mackerel are a very good fighting fish and you really don’t have to use bait, you can actually put a colored ribbon on your hook and throw it in and they’ll snap at anything.
So we had a lot of Spanish Mackerel to eat, plus from time to time we would run into prawn trawlers and we would offer to buy some prawns off them but being the good fellas they are and being boaties, all boaties are good friends, they would give us bags and bags of prawns, which everyone would enjoy of course and did not want to charge us anything.
OSP: Okay. So if you think about the people in the three-month trip, it’s a long trip. After that initial incident coming over the bar, where you had almost had a bit of a mutiny going on, how did people get along? Did you have people all got along well? Did you have personality clashes at times? Did you have things that became large thorns in your heel by the end of the trip?
John Lucas: Yes, there were those times and that’s because you’re living in closed quarters of course. So there was a small breakdown between the crew and the skipper and the skipper and the owner were sort of 50% of the road and the crew were the other 50%.
So there were times when we had to call everyone into a meeting and say, “Look, if you’re going to let anyone down, you’re going to let the team down if you don’t participate and do what we expect of you. They all came around, there were no big blues or arguments, there was just some grumpy little incidents that came up over the trip.
OSP: Which is pretty natural, three months together in a space like that. You talked about the multitude of government agencies involved and getting approvals to do the trip, what did you have to do back then in terms of safety equipment and what was the plan if it all turned to custard?
John Lucas: Well, as I said, at that particular time, just prior to that, all the States used to look after their own coastline and three or six months before we did the trip, what the government did was they put them all into Canberra so that it then became the centre to say you have to go to Canberra. So I think Canberra were all interested in coming down and having a look at checking safety. So we had to rig the boat with a lot of safety gear up to date; jackets, right arrows, flares, charts and anything else you can think of that might be in our safety. As I say, today, you would not be allowed to do something like this. You just would not be able to meet the safety standards.
OSP: Okay, when we think about the trip, did you have any really hairy moments or times when you actually wondered if you’re going to get through?
John Lucas: Yes, hairy moments, probably three months. No, not quite. Going out through The Rip is always a testing time. There were 19 commandos back then who had to paddle across the front of The Rip and they were all lost. They all drowned and they were commandos. There was a pilot boat and pilot boats are a very, very safe boat. They lock up all the hatches if they roll over, they pretty much come back up the other way, however two boats had been lost at sea going out through The Rip.
It’s pretty treacherous passage of water. It’s one that the Sydney Habour sailors don’t look forward to when they’re coming across there because you’ve got all that big water coming across from the west, you got all that run down the southeast coast, you’ve got that big winds and seas coming up from the south and it all meets there and it can be flat calm at one instance and really bubbling at the next.
Wilson’s Prom was obviously a, more than a challenge. At one stage, I certainly believed that we’re in trouble until we come upon Refuge Cove but a lot of the yachties know where Refuge Cove is and a lot of them do use that as a safety mooring overnight. The bars up along the coast were obviously very challenging. Back in those days, once again, you didn’t have the advice that you have today.
We did, it was one of the first books that Allan Lucas — no relation to him by the way — actually wrote and we were using that one as the bible as we went up. I found that very, very informative and very, very helpful but certainly many of the bars created a lot of problems but once again, once we got inside Fraser Island and up past the Whitsundays, it was just magic. It was probably some of the best sailing I’ve done in the world.
OSP: Okay, it’s interesting that the trip is more than 40 years ago but you’ve got really vivid memories of quite a lot of the detail of the trip. It must have had quite a big impact on your life obviously at that point. But what have you done since or what did you do next? Following something like that, it must have almost been a challenge to go back to a day job and a regular sort of nine to five life.
John Lucas: Well fortunately for me, I was in show business back then and we would probably only bring one or two shows. I was Elton John’s Australian tour manager, did shows like the Bee Gees, Suzi Quatro and what have you. So I would probably only do two big shows a year, so I did have a lot of time to do so many things like this.
But I started at the Royal Geelong Yacht Club at the age of eight, in Yachting World Cadet dinghies and I was the youngest member of Royal Geelong to have a Quick Cat Catamaran which was designed by Charlie Cunningham, was a single handed boat. I was certainly too small and too young to handle it, so that was quite a challenge and I’ve had several boats since then.
OSP: Okay, and have you done much in the way of offshore passages or have you been mostly coastal cruising or done a bit of racing? What’s your sailing been year round?
John Lucas: Done a bit of everything. I spent a bit of time over in the Isle of White. Lived in the Greek Islands for about three months, did a lot of sailing around the Greek islands, lived in the south of France for about six months, done a lot of sailing through the South of France. So I spent a lot of time on the water doing racing and cruising.
OSP: Okay. That’s great, and what else would you like to tell me about the trip or your experience that I haven’t asked you about?
John Lucas: Well, as I say, the newspapers and the TV stations covered the trip pretty extensively and so I have a good record of the trip and my son was looking over the records only a few years back and he said to me, “Dad, if I wanted to do something like that, would you let me?” And I said, “No bloody way son.”
OSP: What did your parents think of it at the time?
John Lucas: My parents and my girlfriend who I finally married and have been married to for over 42 years, all had a trying time waiting because it wasn’t all that often that they heard from us and they picked up most of their information from the newspapers. So they didn’t know where we were or what was going on. The family were very apprehensive.
OSP: Which is pretty natural because that’s not a common voyage that someone does, let alone in a houseboat. It’s not really made for that kind of thing I guess, but shows you what’s possible if it’s well constructed and you’ve got capable people on board.
John Lucas: Yeah, we do think all things are possible and I think sailing comes down to riding a bike and driving a car and as much you’re on the side of caution and you just take everything as it comes and you work through the issues. But homework again is probably one of the most important things. Understanding the crew is certainly another one and the crew’s requirements. So it’s all a fair sort of a challenge, but something — this was a once in a lifetime opportunity, something that no one else has ever done, and no one else is probably silly enough to ever do it again.
OSP: They won’t be allowed to.
John Lucas: Let alone be allowed to, yeah. But it was an exciting voyage.
OSP: It’s a great story and I really appreciate you taking the time to share it with us today so that people can listen and understand and learn about a story that they would probably not be aware of. Particularly given this predates when even media content was online. Certainly what I’d like to do is scan or photograph some of the material you’ve got here and post it online because it will allow anybody listening to this to then go online to the show notes.
John Lucas: Yes I’m sure they’d appreciate seeing what the boat looked like.
OSP: Yeah that’s right, visually, it brings it to life and when you look at it, it puts it into context. It’s quite staggering and the mast relative to the size of the boat, it’s not a big mast, so clearly it’s not going to be moving at a great pace. With that, how much of the time where you motoring and how did you manage fuel requirements and carrying enough fuel?
John Lucas: Look, we were probably motoring most of the time but once again because it had a shallow draft, we could get in and out when we needed to fuel.
OSP: Well that’s excellent John, I really appreciate you putting the time aside and we’ll capture this and post it online and be ready to share it, it’s really a fascinating story. I was amazed when you told me about the story, maybe about a year ago now, you mentioned it to me. What a fascinating story.
John Lucas: I do mention it from time to time and the local papers back home have a history of it of course and they’re always asking about it. But other than that I basically haven’t done much with it. I’ve been asked on a number of occasions to do a book on it. I’m not a bookie person so I wonder whether that will ever get done.
OSP: Well it’s a lot easier to talk than to write. Well that’s great. Well thank you for appearing on the Ocean Sailing Podcast this week and look forward to being able to share your story with everybody.
John Lucas: You’re welcome Dave
Interviewer: David Hows
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- Sep 18, 2016 Episode 20: Roger "Clouds" Badham Show Notes
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- Sep 17, 2016 Episode 18: Elise Currey Show Notes
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