The Image at left, dated around 1910 is from the Timeframes collection at the National Library of New Zealand. It depicts Rogue beating out of Clyde Quay (the scene of "The Jibe") in conditions similar to those described in the article below.
The article first appeared in Seaspray magazine, October 1946. The author Ronald Carter had a regular column in the magazine, and is the author of the well-known book on New Zealand yachting "Little Ships", which for many years was the only readily available collected history of NZ yachting in the country.
Yachting historians will tell you that a lot of the content of the book is innaccurate, but there's no denying he wrote a good yarn!
Thinking of Wellington, and some of the many good times I have spent down there, reminded me of an incident that occurred some years ago and which I have never forgotten; for I was priveleged that day to watch from a "grandstand" seat, so to to speak, one of the smartest exhibitions of seamanship which one could possibly imagine. I have always regretted that I did not have a movie camera with me that day, for the subject of the film would have been of particular interest to yachtsmen. Of all the complicated manoevres carried out on board a sailing vessel with a fore and aft rig, none, perhaps, requires so much careful thought and action on the part of skipper and crew as does a running jibe in a heavy wind and sea. I don't know how others feel, but, speaking for myself, I must confess that just preparatory to jibing in a hard breeze, there always comes a slight anxiety and it is only when the main-boom has crashed over, and I see the stick still towering above me, that I relax once more. And so, whenever I jibe a mainsail over, I think of the incident I am about to relate, and the perfect manner in which it was executed.
I was standing on the "hard" of the Wellington boat harbour, in the company of some friends and debating the point as to whether or not we should take the old Atlanta out for a sail. It was a dirty day and I remember that I shivered violently in my shorts and woollen sweater. The wind was "in" and corresponding with high water, yeasty green seas were constantly cascading over the outer walls of the boat harbour, while ever and anon a particularly heavy gust picked off the wave crests, hurling sheets of blown spray clear across the haven.
Old "Attie" and her neighbours were rooting backwards and forwards on their double moorings, alternately burying their bows to the gammon bands as, after a plunging rush forward, they fetched up with a vicious jerk on their fore chains; a momentary , swinging pause; then up rose their bows as their fore chains slacked away, while their sterns sat back heavily, sending sheets of spray flying in all directions, from beneath their long lean counters.
For some little time we watched these monotonous gyrations, meanwhile discussing the prospects of first getting aboard without a ducking; then heaving Atlanta round, so that her bow, instead of her stern, would be facing up to windward, before attempting to make sail; finally completing the somewhat difficult task of laying out of the boat harbour, under a fresh and dead muzzler, with the concrete "hard" very close-to, under our lee. We weighed these matters over very carefully and finally decided that, as the afternoon was rapidly advancing, with the promise of an early and fading light, under a low and gloomy sky, it would not be worth all this trouble, with the attendant slight anxieties. So, the sail being off, we just stood about the "hard" and yarned.
Suddenly someone spotted a sail, and, sure enough, away out in the region of Somes Island, the triangular tip of a yacht's trysail could be seen rising and falling in the big sea that was running and from that moment all eyes were on her until she fetched her moorings. It was an inspiring sight to watch her when she got close in. With the wind dead aft, she was cutting through the water with a big white bone in her teeth and as she rose on the crest of a wave she was literally carried forward for some seconds, after the manner of a surf-board rider. With all eyes eagerly fastened on her, the big question now arose among us: Would she haul her wind and go about, or risk a running jibe?
Now the entrance to the Wellington boat harbour is so situated that a yacht running straight before the wind, for the entrance, must on approaching be on the port tack if she wishes to avoid going about or jibing, as immediately after making the entrance she has to turn slightly to port to gain an entrance between the overlapping sea wall; hence the question, as the approaching boat was on the starboard tack. Personally, I had no doubts that she would haul her wind and go about when she got close in and I think the majority of the gathering were of the same opinion.
Less than a hundred yards out we knew the answer. With the big sea that was running we now knew that she had insufficient room to haul on the wind. She was going to jibe!
I experienced a rising excitement as I waited for this coming manoever and I remember I thought of the horrible mess there was shortly going to be when her stick started to come forward, for I felt sure she would carry it away.
On she came, surging through the water like a submarine and it was only a stone's throw from the outer walls that the motionless oil-skinned figures in her cockpit suddenly came to life. II watched two of her crew man the backstay runners, while a third hand on the main sheet started to inch it in. "Now," thought I, "we shall see."
Of the actual jibe we saw practically nothing; it was so quick, the human eye could not register the action properly. In came the mainsheet, simultaneously with her lee backstay runner. Suddenly we saw her boom go up and I waited for the crack which would tell me her mast was going. Instead of a falling stick - and though we were some distance off - we heard distinctly, coming down the wind, the sharp metallic click as the shackle on her mainsheet block fetched up with a jerk on the horse and before we could recover from our surprise she had slipped in between the double walls, jibed over again and was lying close hauled for her moorings. She had evidently had a duster for her trysail was wet to the hounds and a lot of water came out of her bilges before the pump sucked dry.I was lost in admiration for one of the neatest pieces of seamanship it has ever been my fortune to witness. Yes, it was the little Viola, but, being a stranger, I do not know who was on her tiller that day, nor who were the crew. But I do know that, when it comes to seamanship in a ticklish moment, Wellington yachtsmen certainly know their ropes.