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Old 01-03-2008, 16:56   #1
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Captains Courageous and Schooner "Henrietta"

While away sailing over the last 3 weeks one of the books I read was "Navigator In The South Seas" by Brett Hilder which was published way back in 1961. There was an interesting anecdote in it, the story of which I was previously unaware and which may also be of interest to others who have seen the still popular 1937 (not the 1996) version of the film "Captains Courageous" based on Kipling's book.

For those who haven't seen it, the film's story line is mostly based on a Grand Banks cod fishing schooner and has some good sailing scenes of these schooners, especially the race back to port to sell the fish. Anyways, this is going to be long winded but if interested or have seen the film maybe bear with me.

Apparantly the schooner the film is set on was the "Henrietta", a genuine Grand Banks fishing schooner, and after the film was made it was sold to a Bostonian called Pete Sawyer who held a seagoing masters ticket - this prior to WWII. He apparantly then used her for scientific expeditions to Labrador and around the Arctic.

He married an Australian and they cruised the "Henrietta" down to Australia but futher cruising was curtailed by the war breaking out. Sawyer then joined the Royal Australian Airforce, as a navigation instructor I assume as that is where he met Hilder who was also a master mariner and during WWII taught navigation in the RAAF (but later moving to flying catalinas). "Henrietta" was moored in Geelong and apparantly the Melbourne pilots were considering chartering her and took her Port Phillip Bay chart to correct it but failed to return it.

One weekend Sawyer, Hilder and 2 others set out for Melbourne to dock the vessel there but found the Port Phillip Bay chart missing and ran into problems (remembering these were both professional navigators, Hilder especially used to navigating in difficult circumstances) when visibility was lost in showers and squalls.

They ended up running onto a reef and they couldn't get the vessel off by their own efforts so sent a message ashore by a launch (as no radio) for a tug to be sent out. In the meantime the wind increased to a gale, being associated with a passing cyclone and "Henrietta" was driven further onto the reef and filled with water. Night came and they finished up in the rigging to keep out of the breaking seas and wrapped in a sail as they were suffering from the cold, it being midwinter.

They were rescued off the bowsprit the next day and "Henrietta" was lost. Then just 3 months later Sawyer was killed in an aircraft crash and Hilder plus the two others who were with Sawyer when his "Henrietta" was lost scattered his ashes over the site of the wreck.

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Old 01-07-2008, 14:43   #2
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Thats a strange but interesting peice of information. Now I know what happend to the boat after the film... cool.
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Old 01-03-2013, 11:14   #3
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Re: Captains Courageous and Schooner "Henrietta"


my grandfather sailed this ship with pete, his name was robin harker sometimes refered to by ''bob'', this ship was withought a doubt used in the film captains courageous as i have photographic proof. there were 9 men on her last voyage most of them just young blokes looking for adventure. and did they get it, the seas were tough on such a small ship
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