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J-Bird III Restoration Series: Part 3 - A long drive home

by Ocean Crusaders 6 May 11:41 BST

In parts one and two we have explored the purchase and haul out of the World's First TP52, a vessel we rescued from becoming scrap.

When we last left the boat, it had been put back in the water without a keel and rudder, with the mast strapped to the deck ready to be towed to a place where we would haul it out of the water and put it on a truck.

The day after the crew at Quays Marina had pulled the boat apart, we turned up with our work barge Salter first thing in the morning. Salter is a 7m landing barge that was custom built for Ocean Crusaders, our charity that conducts waterway cleaning.

Recently we had new twin 90hp Yamaha outboards fitted, upgrading from twin 60's. The extra power was wanted as it never used to get up on the plane when fully loaded with over a tonne of load. With the new 90's it certainly could do that. However, on this occasion, the extra power was perfect for the job.

We pulled up alongside J-Bird III and hipped up to it. We didn't want to tow it behind as there was no rudder and keel to keep it straight. It would be easier to just have it alongside and from my experience with tugs and barges, if you hip up with a very light and slippery load, your steering should be fairly straight. With twin engines on the barge, it certainly helps for manoeuvrability.

I was also nervous about the stability of the yacht. I had feared all night of the boat 'turtling' on me. But as Mark, our volunteer, jumped aboard, it hardly moved. It was surprisingly stable. So we backed out of the marina and headed off from Church Point around to Brooklyn Boat Ramp which was right next to the highway between Sydney and Newcastle on the Hawkesbury River.

Meanwhile the keel was sitting in the slings of the marina waiting for Stuart from Boats by Road to come and get it. Due to the length of the bulb being 2.9m and Australian road regulations allowing only a 2.5m width, the plan was for Stuart to pick it up from the marina and travel with it standing until we got to the boat ramp.

Our trip was approximately 14nm so we had allowed three hours to do the trip before we needed to be at the ramp to meet our crane and the truck. However we were soon doing seven knots out of Pittwater and the boat was travelling smoothly. There was a slight westerly blowing and no swell as we rounded the point and entered the Hawkesbury where the incoming tide swept us along at up to eight knots.

Arriving at the boat ramp and the crane was there but the truck wasn't. We tied up to the pontoons and there were a few strange looks from the locals as they wondered what was about to happen. Surely this wasn't a trailer yacht!!!

The crane soon came over and we took up one of the ramps. We were using Wescranes, a crane operator that Stuart had recommended, as it is always good when people know each other and have worked together before. It saves time and with a 100t crane onsite, well every hour the dollar meter is ticking away. Usually by this stage I am trying to rush as I want to save money but I was surprisingly calm about it all, afterall, it needed to go smoothly and a bit of extra time was not an issue for me.

Stuart soon turned up and the first thing we had to do was lay the keel down. It was to lie down at the back of the trailer with the fin reaching forward. The boat would then sit over the top of it. As all of this is happening, a crowd was watching on. I guess it's not every day that you see a 52ft yacht lifted onto a trailer. The lifting of the yacht out of the water was a nervous time as the last thing you want is the yacht to slip out of the slings, however working with professionals, everything went really smoothly and with two people with the crane, two people with the truck and the two of us, we soon had J-bird flying through the air.

As the yacht sat perched over the trailer, we were soon installing the stands along the trailer to hold the yacht. The trailer Stuart had was a beautiful piece of machinery and it didn't take long and the yacht was lowered into position for her long journey north. Whilst a yacht that is 52ft long, plus a 7ft bow sprit is one thing on a truck, the biggest issue was not actually height (needed to be below 4.6m) or width. It was the length of the mast causing the biggest issue. The mast is just short of 25m and the overall length of the truck could not be longer that 25m or an additional permit was required. We soon had the mast in the air to adjust it into its final travelling position.

It took about an hour to lash the load down and we soon took off on Salter back to Pittwater to pull the boat out and then start the chase. As I was also driving a truck, we have to drive to hours as we have a log book. You cannot drive more than 12 hours in a 24 hour period which isn't an issue for the Sydney to Brisbane trip, however you have to stop for certain amounts of time along the way. We also had a heavy load and were going to be slow. Salter alone weighs 3.2 tonne on the trailer and we had the truck loaded too with a pontoon we were recovering, our events module and our cage of bags.

Stuart's plan was to get to Coffs Harbour. He only needed one pilot for the trip to Coffs and then he could only go through Coffs after 7pm and then he had to stop before it got dark. His ultimate goal was to get to a rest stop called Arrawarra which is just north of Woolgoolga. The next day he would need 2 pilots to get through the roadworks between there are Ballina.

I had a guess that we were around 2 hours behind them on the road. We eventually stopped for fuel just south of Coffs and I let Mark take off as he was going to be faster than me on the road as he was just in a ute with a trailer. He also wanted to get through to Noosa where he lives as we couldn't actually stay at my house in Brisbane as Annika was in isolation having been within 2 rows of a COVID-19 carrier in a recent flight from Sweden. I was going to be staying in a bed and breakfast next door to our house. So close yet so far.

I dropped into the Arrawarra rest stop around 2030 and there she sat. Stuart and the pilot were off in town having a bite to eat. I continued up the road with an endeavour to get home, have a good sleep and meet the truck at our yard the next day around lunchtime. It's always nice when a plan comes together, however on this occasion, it wasn't meant to be. With an eta into home of around 0130 in the morning, with two hours to home, I get a flat tyre on the truck. Unlike cars, you don't usually carry the equipment to change a truck tyre so out goes a call for assistance. 2.5 hours later I am back on the road with a bill for $350 and all they did was put my spare on. Let's just say I now have the equipment to change my own tyres!!!

I get in at 4am and manage to get 3 hours sleep before I get woken by a call from the government in regards to Annika's isolation. So now that I was awake I headed over to our yard to start preparing things for the arrival of J-Bird III.

Just after 1100, the truck arrived and soon after Wayne from Bayside Crane Hire turned up. Our boat was home. The next job was to put her onto her cradle and into her shed... that will be next time.

Ocean Crusaders is a charity dedicated to cleaning our oceans. We go places others don't want to, remove rubbish others don't even know is there and we do it for one reason, for our marine life. J-Bird III was destined to be scrapped if we hadn't bought her and now she is being recycled and given a new life. There is 'no use for single use' so when considering any product, think of where it will end up. Can you use stainless steel water bottles for your crew rather than buying slab after slab of bottled water. We did in the Sydney to Hobart and didn't have to clean our rope bags out of half drunk water bottles....and it was cheaper too.

Stay tuned to our progress by following our page at

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