I have, over time past, looked for a mention of a the yacht Susan, I was delighted therefore to not only see her name listed but also some photos where she appears much cared for and loved. I note, from the photos, her mast is now aluminium, gone are the Highfield levers on the backstays as is the bumpkin aft. In 1960 Derrick Hindell owned Susan, a tall, rangy vegetarian. He’d skippered yachts for wealthy owners in the Caribbean. Towards the end of that year he sold Susan to someone in Auckland, at the time she was in Diamond Harbour.


Ritchie Wood who was maybe 19 at the time and myself (16) made-up Derrick’s crew and in early December we set sail from Lyttleton Harbour for Auckland. Apart from sea-sickness the first week was uneventful though Derrick’s diet of soya beans, wheat germ and peanut oil took some getting used to. Early in the morning, mid-December, we were in freshening winds, we had passed Cape Kidnappers on our way for a stop at Gisborne. By mid-morning the wind was up 25kt to 30kt and seas mounting quite alarmingly. By early afternoon we were under bare-poles but for a small spitfire jib running before a full-blown SE storm. We passed close in to Portland Island, the NZ Pilot of the time said the light was manned, we tried signalling but to no avail and after a few turns of the crank on the Gibson Girl the transmit light expired. After further reading of the pilot, our first thought of letting the yacht hit the beach and swimming for shore, had no merit – in a SE storm seas could break up to 3nm from shore – the pilot did tell us that shelter could be found tucked in to the lee of Long Point.


I wont elaborate on the next few hours other than to attest to the wonderful seamanship and navigation skills of Derrick. Susan was running into the bay under bare poles with a small Enfield, single cylinder, engine ticking over for steerage. As the water shallowed so too did the wave height increase, in the late afternoon, in troughs the crest appeared the height of the mast. We’d watch in alarmed fascination as the stern was sucked up almost to the transom as huge waves passed under us. It was after dark when Derrick turned Susan towards the shore and in those days before GPS how and when he decided to do that I don’t know, but to come up behind Long Point close to midnight took a high degree of seamanship. Though she was, more than once, close to beam ends as we turned across the seas those few hours were testament to Susan’s 22ft of seaworthiness, a lesser craft of that size would not have survived.


I hope my short tale adds in some way to the history of this fine little craft, it’s been said many times before – if only they could talk. As an aside I saw some time back a beautifully kept Woollacott at the Queensland Cruising Yacht Club, I think it was bigger than Susan, maybe 24ft – 26ft. My mate confirmed it was a Woollacott (the lines were unmistakable) owned by a local doctor. I don’t remember the name, maybe someone is able to shed some light on this.


Susan Crosses the Tasman