Profile of a Sailor

Welcome to the Lonsdale Lines. Hop Aboard for Legends, Laughs and a Little Lunacy

How many vessels do you think you need to own to have your own shipping company? Having recently listened to the sailing tales of Jean and Hamish Lonsdale, I feel that they would be well qualified to run Lonsdale Shipping Lines, hence the title of this Profile of a Sailor.

Hamish was born in Liverpool, Merseyside, UK, and recalls that both his parents worked for the navy during the second world war. One poignant memory was that his mother, who worked in signals, communications and support, sometimes had to “pull a ship off the wall”, indicating that a British vessel had been sunk.

Hamish spent some of his early holidays in Portmerion in North Wales, and observed that ships carrying wool from Geelong unloaded their ballast on nearby Madoc Island. Those same ships then collected cedar and slate from Wales to take back to Australia for the construction of houses and Hamish reminisced that “As a child I was looking at the stone for where I was going to live”. He and Jeannie later built a house in Bannockburn, but that doesn’t come into this story.

Canoeing featured more heavily than sailing in Hamish’s education since, as a boarder in Abbotsholme, Darbyshire, he was permitted to try a range of activities designed for those who weren’t inspired by cricket or rugby. After his school years, having studied engineering and the relatively new field of data processing, Hamish was working as an engineer when he met Jeannie in 1972.

Jeannie was born in Ballarat and grew up in Western Victoria. Her family purchasde the block in Barwon Heads around 1958. Jeannie’s family originally had an old cottage on the block, “The only house in Barwon Heads where it snowed in Summer” – apparently ceiling paint flaked off and fell down on your head when you slammed a door.

Jeannie learnt to sail early and owned a heron but “didn’t talk to the other sailors on the river in those days”. She recalls that she paid 50 pounds for her heron (“it was probably worth 20”, says Jeannie). It had wooden spas and cotton sails and “was a complete wreck”. She put chewing gum into holes and down the centreboard casing to stop the leaks. Despite these apparent drawbacks you could sail it, row it, or fish out of it.

Back to the Jeannie and Hamish story. Jeannie had a climbing accident early on in life and at the time she swore to herself that “If I ever walked again, I’d go to England”. Sure enough, she walked again and was working in the UK as an au-pair, looking after children for working parents, when her story joins Hamish’s. Her first meeting with Hamish brings together legend, laughs and a bit of lunacy, as you will see!

According to the legend, Jeannie’s employer was often somewhat inebriated when he arrived on the train from work and Jeannie had to pick him up and take him home from the station. However, given that gentleman’s affinity for the bottle, the homeward journey often included a drop in to a pub on the way home, which Jeannie had to facilitate.

So one evening Jeannie was taking her employer home via the “Cricketers” in Brent Pelham. On that particular evening Hamish was commuting from a village outside London and happened to be at that very pub playing darts. Never one to be backward in coming forward, Hamish offered to buy Jeannie dinner and the rest, as they say, is history.

Since Hamish’s parents had retired and moved to Shropshire, Jeannie went to live with them to get to know them and in 1973 Hamish and Jeannie both came out to Australia to live. As we have seen, Jeannie’s family had connections with Barwon Heads and boats prior to her jaunt in the UK, so Hamish and Jeannie were soon down at the Barwon, experimenting with different vessels and establishing their fleet.

Hamish remembers buying an aluminium tinny, which, given his new country and his love for ale, was aptly named “Fosters”. Jeannie bought a windsurfer but later someone gave her a go of a laser. In the early years, the pair sailed lasers in BH while sailing big boats with Royal Geelong. Since Royal Geelong shut down their program during January, many sailors came down to BH to try their hand at smaller dinghies.

The Lonsdales sailed some large vessels such as Papillon (a PR 25), Buccaneer (an Endeavour 30), Ali dell’ Aria (a 28 foot carbon-fibre racer which had been world champion and completed the Sydey to Hobart under the name “Highway Patrol”). These were great times for the pair because they raced every Saturday and also met with the sailing fraternity every Wednesday night. Rules relating to personal space as crew members did not exist while racing aboard the larger vessels and some manoeuvres during a race required one crew member to climb over another! So much for social distancing.

Further lasers were gradually added to the Lonsdale fleet including “Annie” then “Smocka” then Hamish had “Argon” (because it was “a bit of a gas” = funny) then “Ratty” which David Hoskins still owns. From this vessel (and The Wind in the Willows) comes the name of our newsletter, Ratty’s Ramblings, of which Hamish was the first editor.

Once their family arrived, two daughters, they all tried skiing but eventually came back to river activities and built a sabot which Hamish filled up with expanda foam so that it could never sink. The girls even decided to see if they could sail it when it was full of water, which was apparently somewhat successful. Somewhat later the family bought a cadet called pisces, which was housed in Geelong.

Somewhat later again, Tony Ware, a Barwon Heads sailor, took his Hobie 16 to QLD for the Australian championships but then left it sitting in his backyard, so H&J bought it. “That was absolutely terrifying,” Jeannie recalls. “It went so much faster than anything else on the river”. The couple remembered a VERY fast reach between Sheepwash and the bottom mark at Ocean Grove where they “parted” all the other cats with no room to spare, a scene possibly reminiscent of Moses and the Red Sea in the Cecil B. De Mille classic “The 10 Commandments”.

Speaking of Hobie 16s, Jeff Roberts once took Jeannie out on a 16 and she remembers thinking “boy this river’s shrunk”. Hamish recalled that in the 16 they “either won easily or we were last” while some on the shore believed they could tell by the position and angle of the boat whether “the Lonsdale’s were fighting again!” Legend reports one occasion where Hamish and Jeanie were actually throwing the tiller to each other saying “you sail it!”

There haven’t been a lot of husband and wife teams sailing together on the river over the years. Tony and Julie Creak are one other example. In recent years the Lonsdales got rid of the Hobie 16 because Hamish’s knees were giving way and as Hamish puts it, “you have to be mobile to avoid other river users”.

Jeannie “played around with ‘Tigger’, a Hobie 14, for a while but it got a bit heavy dragging it across the mud flats”. Given their situation, Jeannie has now gone back to the laser on the “kiddy sail” (4.7m2), which she finds much more controllable in high winds.

Jeannie recalled for me a laser legend from long ago. She took her old laser out just as a fishing boat was chugging past. We’re not quite sure what went wrong, but a collision ensued. According to Jeannie, “The river was wide but do you think I could miss the fishing boat? No, I went straight up its backside” (sic).

Jeannie recalled another legend:

One infamous day three Barwon Heads sailors, who shall remain anonymous, wanted to take their cats out in the open ocean in fairly heavy weather. One cat ended up on the Ocean Grove beach with the tramp shattered. Another boat came back with all 3 sailors aboard. The third vessel was later found on the back beach of Portsea.

Photo: Greg Martin pointing out to sea at Rocco’s boat

Another legend tells of a spirited Barwon Heads personality. One safari, this gent was at the front of the laser fleet. He cut the corner at Sheepwash and proceeded to sail straight across all the fishing lines. The fishermen, in anger, then cast their lines at all the boats which followed. On another similar occasion the same sailor, when abused by the fishermen, stood up in his boat and said “well you come here and say that!”

Jeannie remembers buying a wrecked Hobie 14 one day. Apparently fellow boat club member Rick had a spare rudder for a 14 so Jeannie gave $50 to Rick’s partner, Linda, in an envelope to give to Rick. According to the legend, Linda went home and tossed the envelope in the fire. Did you know about that, Rick?

There are countless other facts and figures about the Lonsdales. For example, they have both served the committee in many different capacities for many years. Hamish regularly meets with Barwon Coast on our behalf. As mentioned he was the first editor of Ratty’s and is also famous for helping out fellow sailors with repairs and engineering tips. Jeannie, known to many for her Jeanius picture framing, designed the club logo (see newsletter file) around 1990.

I value highly the humour, kindness and supportive nature of these two “old salts” of Barwon Heads and would recommend Lonsdale Lines to anyone who is looking for a cruise with a difference. Thanks, Hamish and Jeannie for all you have done for the club over so many years.

Source: Ratty’s Ramblings Summer 2021