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CHANGING THE HELM.

by Ian Grant on 11 Apr 2000
Sea time, represents a valuable personal experience in the life of Brisbane yachtsman John Pforr who has challenged natures elements over a wide range of rhumblines off the Australian coast.

Skipper Pforr is one of the very few Australian offshore sailors to have completed 21 major ocean races as the master of his own yachts.

With this experience in mind he is well weathered and matured with many hard miles of sailing on the open ocean documented in his personal log book, however he feels the time has come to hand over the helm of the majestic Herreshoff ketch Fortress to David the second eldest of three sons..

John Pforr will not be hanging up his favoured yachting cap or drying out the deck shoes, he will still remain on deck as a vital crew member when ever Fortress sets sail.

He will never replace the chance to test his valued experience gained from a long career in ocean racing with the creature comfort of resting with a good book in a warm and stable lounge chair when the crew call is made to man the deck of Fortress.

The senior sailing master has achieved his career milestone and is just standing aside to allow the younger generation to carry on the family tradition.

Fortress is one of the few yachts to be raced in the Queensland’s major blue water classic the 308 n/ml Brisbane to Gladstone race with a crew comprising parents, three sons and some long term sailing mates.

Both John and Marie Pforr have good reason to be proud of their sons Anthony, David and Peter who have traditionally accepted the demanding sport of ocean yacht racing as the character building feature in their lives.

David has served his time as the important watch captain and sailing master on the family yachts Fortitude and Fortress having competed in 17 Gladstone races including five Cruising Class wins in Fortitude and a Performance Handicap trophy win in Fortress.

There is no doubt that he will capably carry on the family tradition with Fortress pressing her claim on major offshore race honours when ever her ketch rig sails are set to catch the wind velocity.

It will also be a proud moment for John Pforr who first tested his seamanship against the wild elements of the notorious Tasman Sea and Bass Strait in the 1964 Sydney-Hobart race.

“That race so long ago taught me a lot about seamanship and self preservation”. Pforr said.

“We were caught in a full blown force 6 Southerly Buster on the first night at sea when the yacht sprung a plank and began to take water during the incessant slamming into the big seas”.

“The floor boards were awash and we bailed with buckets for hours just to stay afloat, it was a real life challenge which I will never forget”. He Said.

However the drama failed to dampen his enthusiasm and love for life at sea leading him to building several small yachts which he sailed on Brisbane’s Moreton Bay.

One of the yachts was sold to place a deposit on his first home and when family came along he encouraged wife Marie and their young children to become part of his cruising and racing crew on the small H28 ketch Fortitude.

Naturally Fortitude was eventually steered towards entering in the 1979 Brisbane-Gladstone Race Cruising Division where she was skilfully sailed to score the first of five straight victories.

Meanwhile the family had outgrown the rather cramped below deck living quarters on Fortitude forcing skipper Pforr to search for his dream yacht a 13.8m Herreshoff Mobjack ketch.

A long search around boat yards and sheds linked to the Australian coastline failed leading the determined skipper into New Zealand’s Bay Of Islands where he found a partly finished Mobjack covered in dust and almost abandoned in a farm shed near Kerikeri.

The yacht was basically hull only, no deck, no interior, just the shell and shape of the famed Mobjack design.

Pforr had found his dream yacht but she was far from being ready for a race day launch which seemed to be no major problem for the innovative skipper who signed a purchase contract on site.

He had given himself a time frame of 9 weeks to have the yacht finished, launched and ready to sail the Tasman Sea rhumbline on her delivery voyage to Brisbane.

This was a mind bending assignment overcome by sheer determination which included moving 26 highly qualified staff on site where they worked beyond a daylight to dark time frame on numerous tasks which included buying some vintage English Oak household furniture that was hand crafted into the below deck fit out.

The challenge of building this yacht was different, John Pforr a very successful Brisbane photographic Industry businessman who had a passion for perfection in his yachts and a capable craftsman in his own right rolled up his sleeves as the driving force behind the building team.

As expected Fortress was a magnificent sight when she was craned onto the low loader for her trip down a narrow mountain road to her launching in the picturesque Bay Of Island waters in September 1988.

But the impending launch celebration faced a hitch midway down the mountain when the team were forced to beg and borrow equipment to rebuild a suspect bridge strong enough to safely carry the load.

This was achieved while the big yacht on an equally big trailer blocked the road for several hours while Pforr and his team became makeshift civil engineers.

Fortress naturally attracted attention when Marie Pforr smashed the traditional bottle of champagne over her bow as she slipped gracefully into the waters at the Bay Of Islands.

Skipper John Pforr had finally realised his dream to own a traditional Herreshoff Mobjack and appreciated her sea kind character during a rough Tasman Sea crossing to her home port at the Royal Queensland Yacht Squadron marina in Brisbane.

Since arriving in Brisbane Fortress has featured in the successful Gold Lotto television promotion gracefully sailing in the carefree environment on Moreton Bay to become one of Queenslands most admired sailing yachts.

The ketch has also provided the dedicated Pforr family with many treasured hours of cruising and racing and this will continue following the traditional handing over celebration when her crew veterans John Pforr and long term sailing mate Terry Halton offerd a special toddy of Bundy Rum in a toast to the success of their new skipper David Pforr as he sets her course into the future.

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