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Preview: GYPSY, A Visit Aboard A Wandering Blokes’ Boat

June 25, 2015

A four-generation coastal cruiser built right and kept simple. Seems like there’s a lesson here.

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– [Steve Knight] Well, we’re sailing on the Gypsy on the River Derwent, in Tasmania. Tasmania is the island state of Australia, that lies to the south of Victoria. The River Derwent is a massive river, as you can see. We’re in the city of Hobart, that’s roughly twelve nautical miles from the mouth of the river. My two great-uncles, Sid Knight, and Jet Knight decided they wanted to do some cruising, as well as get the occasional racing unit. That’s why they decided to go for a boat called Gypsy. They called it Gypsy because they’re a bunch of blokes who wanted to go wandering. We’ve also got one hundred years in the family coming up, because she’s been in the family since October 1919. I’m the fourth generation to skip her. She passed from my great-uncle Sid, to my grandfather, Doug Knight. Doug passed away in 1968. She then went to my father, Barry. Dad died in 1975, a couple days after my shipmate’s birthday. So, I took over. In March this year is my fortieth year as a skipper. We’ve had about six crew over the journey, since she’s been in the family, that have been crew members for fifty years or more. Carl here has been with me for forty years, too. When I took over I’d just turned seventeen, and a lot of my grandfather’s crew was still onboard. Somebody said to me years later, Gypsy gets handed down the Knight family through the generations, and comes complete with crew. Well, I’m lucky. I’ve got a crew list of about twenty blokes. There’s about eight that are reasonably regular. And that’s one of the marvelous things about Gypsy. The crew are just a fabulous bunch of blokes, and they stay with the ship. So, when I took over, I had a hold of a crew that started out with my great-uncle, with my grandfather, with my father. One opening day we had blokes onboard, there were about eight of them onboard, and there was someone onboard from every decade, from the teens, up to the nineties. A lot of the fellows have been with me for a long, long time. God willing, a lot of them will be here for fifty years or more.

– There are a number of parts of this boat that are still referred to with the names of the older crew. Some of them haven’t been onboard for thirty or forty years. There’s Percy’s bunk. Percy died a long, long time ago, but fifty people have slept in it since. It’s still Percy’s bunk.

– On a ten day cruise, we’ve got in the habit of taking one of young fellows away to teach them. Hopefully, they’ll absorb it as they’re going along. We take Joe and Sam, and we’ve had Anthony’s son out. As they get a little bit older, they start coming out on Sundays, day trips, Saturday trips, and then there can be an Opening Day, when they get to about sixteen, I think. When they get older, they still come on ten day trips.

– This is the next generation coming through, which is always nice to have them onboard. They get a little bit of flavor, in the nicest possible way to the crew. It keeps the crew refreshed. I’ve done twenty of them in a row. You get a good variety of guys onboard. Some have got some little idiosyncrasies that I won’t go into. But they’re a great bunch of blokes. It’s just a very nice thing to do. Every January for ten days.

– Gypsy was built by Wynn Tetlow, a local blacksmith, and the local sawmiller, called William Ball. She was launched in 1914. She’s built out of Huon Pine, which is one of the many trees that only grow in Tasmania, and nowhere else in the world. It takes over a thousand years for a Huon Pine tree to mature. The timber is rot resistant, borer resistant, beautiful to work with. She’s original. There’s been hardly anything changed on Gypsy. She’s got original rig, original hole. What you see is what was built. She’s a carries a jack yard topsail, she’s, a bumpkin. I think she’s around, about fifty feet from the end of the We do a ten day trip every year. We’ve done one every year from and including 1919, and it hasn’t missed a beat. 2018 will be her one hundredth consecutive annual ten day cruise. To the south there is the entrance to the D’Entrecasteaux Channel, which is the waterway between mainland Tasmania and Bruny Island. Bruny is roughly forty nautical miles long in a straight line, as the crow flies, or as the sea gull flies. Full of delightful little anchorages of islands, and places to poke into. It’s absolutely gorgeous cruising. Very deep water. If you get to the mouth of facing East, or Notheast, you come to Denison Canal, which is a short cut, which means you don’t have to go around Tasman Peninsula, which is where Port Arthur is. You can head up the east coast, which is where we often go on our ten day cruises. You’ve got absolutely gorgeous places like Barrow Island Coochie pass Coochie island This is the most magnificent beaches, clear water. Beautiful islands. National Parks. Beautiful white beaches. Usual blue sea. We’ll take a dingy with us and a couple of crow pots a couple of square ball nets, fishing gear, and a few beers. A little bit of food. Not a huge amount of food because we live off of what we catch basically, to a large degree.

– I met Steve over thirty-three years ago. I’ve been sailing with him for about thirty years. I’ve made some lifelong friendships. It’s all because of this boat. One of the lovely things about Gypsy is her simplicity. She’s very simply built. She’s very simple to style. Hard work, but no winches, or block and tackle. When we go to sea, we don’t have to worry about much. We don’t have to worry about electronics breaking down, or winches failing. All we have to worry about is the weather. There’s no pressure when we’re out. For me, this has led to a fabulous environment for us to share some of our innermost thoughts, and sometimes when things aren’t too good, we’ve all occasionally revealed our selves to our best mates. Men rarely do this. Quite often, if there’s anyone feeling too devastated, we all tend to joke and that in itself is a very comforting, and very easing way to deal with the issues that we often talk about. Only the passing of time can give you that really deep connection. It’s not something that a young man would realize probably. I’m sure it’s not something that all our sons, our apprentices, really think about. But, it’s with the experience we’ve had together as a group of men. I’ve often thought when we’re out sailing, how lucky we all are to share this simple, simple pastime on a fabulous old boat, with an unbelievably generous man as our skipper. Long live Gypsy.


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