Some boats through no fault of their own seem to attract an aura about themselves. Every time a sail is hoisted, there is something in the air that says: “something interesting/funny/scary/tragic is about to happen”. Such a boat was the Ethel. I’ve no idea how she got into the pickle snapped from the dockside pictured here, but it appears to have happened in 1914. As an aside, the collier Hercules was torpedoed and sunk in 1917.
Ethel was built by Charles Bailey Sr. in Auckland and launched 1884. She probably initially had a plumb stem. The clipper bow she shows in these photographs bears the hallmarks of a later adaption. At 33′ LOA and 7′,8″ beam, she was a handy little cruiser, and raced in the 3rd class fleet at Port Nicholson Yacht Club.
Ethel was purchased and brought to Wellington by two young brothers T & Kenneth Cole, in 1909. They soon converted her from a cutter rig to a yawl – a fashionable setup for Wellington yachts from about 1900 to 1920 which were intended for a lot of cruising. The image of Ethel (still cutter rigged) here with all of the women on board is a fitting one to this tale.
In May 1912 Wellington was scandalised to read in the morning papers that the lads and a couple of friends had, on a Sunday, taken four women unchaperoned out for a sail and picnic on Ward Island. To make matters worse, two of the women were barmaids! Unfortunately, whilst picnicking, a southerly squall came through, followed by driving rain. In trying to get back aboard the Ethel, the dinghy was lost, and the party was stranded. The Ethel was sailed back to Wellington by two of the party to raise the alarm. The castaways were picked up by the Siren (happy name!), and taken aboard the Naomi, dried and fed. A full article of the events, along with cartoons may be read here.
The Cole Brothers sold Ethel in 1914 and joined up. Kenneth, a winner of the Military Medal, in January 1918, was killed at the Somme in April 1918. Ethel changed hands twice during the war period. A great deal of mirth was taken at the expense of her handling – particularly in the Clyde Quay marina, where is was felt positive that she only came in at full tilt, relying on banging against another vessels and eventually the breastworks to bring her to a halt. See here and here.
Although a member of the Port Nicholson Yacht Club, Hill was a loner, and only ever sailed Ethel single-handed. He lived at his shed at Clyde Quay, and spent all of his time either in his shed or at sea.
In December 1918 he took off for several months to the Marlborough Sounds. In June 1919, he left Port Underwood for the return to Wellington, but after several weeks it was realised he hadn’t arrived.
Wreckage of a yacht had been spotted North of Wellington at Otaki. It was worried that Hill was lost until news was received eventually that he had been blown South of the Wellington entrance and had for five days struggled to get Ethel to weather and get inside the channel. Exhausted, dehydrated and starved, he decided to drive Ethel ashore at Palliser. She was a complete wreck. He managed to get ashore and find a farmhouse, where he was fed and looked after for several days before he got a ride on to Featherston. From Featherston, he decided to walk back to Wellington – a matter of more than 60 kilometers. It appears he took his time about it, and odd jobbed here and there before deciding to go to Auckland instead. What happened to him after that is a mystery.