An Old Welsh Boat in a New Zealand Volcano

Caplin was built at Anderson’s yard on the beach below Penarth Head in 1937. Commander Douglas Graham had already completed a single handed trans-Atlantic voyage and wanted a boat to take him around the world.  He set sail in April 1938, this time with a crew, his young daughter Marguerite. The adventure began by way of Ireland, Spain, the Caribbean, through the Panama Canal and across the Pacific to Tahiti where they learned that war had broken out. The dream of circumnavigating the world was coming to an end. They sailed on to New Zealand where Caplin was sold and Graham returned to Britain to rejoin the Royal Navy.

More than sixty years later Caplin was still in New Zealand now owned by Dutchman, Jan van de Berg, violinist and Concert Master with the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra.  He brought the old boat to  Akaroa harbour, created when a massive eruption formed the crater of a volcano.  And when a second eruption blew out part of the rim, the sea rushed in and nowhere is the sense of being inside a volcano more evident than from a boat, surrounded by the mountainous rim.  I had been tracking the whereabouts of the thirty-two foot, cutter-rigged gaff yawl Caplin for two years and had finally caught up with her and her Dutch skipper at Akaroa.

We let-go the moorings and raised sail in a light north-easterly that sent us slipping across the sea; it was a perfect spring day for sailing.  But by late afternoon the wind freshened and it grew distinctly cooler.  Yet with the breeze, Caplin lifted her bowsprit and began to truly sail!  She easily rode the gentle swells and gave us just a hint of the seakeeping qualities that have kept her crews safe for more than seventy years.  As if to give a nod of approval, a pair of dolphins leapt out of the water astern of us and were soon gone; but moments later, a pair of little blue penguins floated by, quacking away like ducks.

It was dark by the time we picked up the mooring again and since the dinghy is not big enough for three, I stayed aboard to await  the second run.  Sitting alone on the stern in the darkness, I contemplated this fine old yacht and her first crew, Douglas Graham and his daughter Marguerite, and the incredible voyage they had undertaken so many years ago.  A voyage of more than 11,000 miles, from Penarth to New Zealand, without any of the modern navigational aids.  The skipper’s ability had been well proven but Caplin’s mate, Marguerite, was just eighteen when they set off down the Bristol Channel; she could not cook and had never sailed before!   What an adventure, what a feat!  This is indeed a very special ship and I knew that we had shared a rather special day with her too.