The circumnavigation of the world, in a 36-tons yawl, and with a crew which suffered changes at nearly every port of call, was the feat achieved by the late Lieutenant Muhlhauser, who left England in September 1920 and returned in July 1923.
For technical efficiency the feat of the late Lieutenant G.H.P. Muhlhauser in sailing the yawl Amaryllis round the world from England with a small crew has not been surpassed. Muhlhauser was a fine seaman and navigator. he served with the Royal Naval Reserve during the war of 1914-18 and proved himself to be an exceptional navigator. When he sailed round the world he made it a duty to be exact where most men would not have bothered aver trifles. He left England in September 1920 and returned in July 1923. Soon after his return he died.
Before the war of 1914-18 he cruised in small yachts from the east coast and graduated in that rough and tumble of the North Sea as a first-class yachtsman, becoming owner of the Wilful, a well-known eight -tonner, which he sailed to Norway and other countries. After the war he sold her, as he had become imbued with the desire to make a long cruise.
When he was demobilized in 1919 he got into touch with a yachtsman who was planning a voyage to the West Indies and arranged to go with him in the Amaryllis, which the yachtsman has just bought. She was 36 tons Thames measurement, 62 feet overall length, 52 feet on the water-line 13 feet in beam and 10 feet in draught. Most of her ballast was iron, carried inside, but she had a 3.25 tons lead keel. she was yawl-rigged, and an auxiliary engine of 12/15 hours-power was installed. Much work had to be done. The engine was installed and the hull was copper-sheathed, but nearly a year passed before she was fitted out, and then the yachtsman found that he could not go. The upshot was that Muhlhauser bought the yacht. She had been built in 1882, but had been well treated. Tiller steering was unusual in a yacht of her size, and Muhlhauser did not like her long counter of 10 feet, but he decided to do the best with her, his original idea being to sail her to the Antipodes and sell her at a profit.
Throughout the voyage Muhlhauser was always bothered by the crew problem and his troubles began before he weighed. He sighed on a young fisherman for a voyage to New Zealand. Muhlhauser gave the man a month’s wages and thus persuaded him to sign off. Muhlhauser eventually sailed from Plymouth with a crew of three amateurs. Two were brothers and the third was an Irishman. One of the brother, Charles, was a former lieutenant of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. John, the other, took over the galley and proved a first-rate cook, and David, the Irishman, tended the engine and made it go.
Luckier than most, yachts bound across the Bay of Biscay, the Amaryllis had fair weather. Outside Plymouth Breakwater, Muhlhauser steered for Ushant, which he gave ample sea room, and then headed for Vigo. By the time this Spanish port was reached the ship’s company had settled down to an ordered routine. Muhlhauser carried three chronometers and adequate charts.
Starting as he did with three amateurs was a risky proceeding, and it says much for his tact that the original ship’s company was a happy one. He was shocked when on man went below during a squall and put on sea-boots and oilskins, while the rest of them were struggling to reduce canvas and getting wet in the process. On another occasion he was horrified when one of the amateurs altered course so that the mainsail would shade him from the sun. Worse was to come, however, for one man appeared with a book which he proposed to read while steering. Controlling his outraged R.N.R. feelings, Muhlhauser pointed out the enormity of the intended crime, and persuaded the helmsman to defer his reading until his watch below.
The first stop avter Vigo was Funchal, Madeira, where Muhlhauser had some minor repairs done. At Las Palmas, Canary Islands, David fell sick, and Muhlhauser decided to put in at Santa Cruz, Tenerife, where David recovered.
The Amaryllis reached Barbados in twenty days from Tenerife, and at this place the two brothers left, as they had sailed with the object of finding work in the West Indies. Barbados happened to be prosperous at that time and Muhlhauser had great difficulty in obtaining a crew. He even looked over the local prisoners in his search for two efficient hands. He finally signed on a negro as cook and seaman, and secured a half-caste lad named Stephane from a Venezuelan schooner. The cook-seaman was hopeless. He could not be trusted with the tiller, and when he became seasick he admitted that he was not a sailor, but a chain-maker. Muhlhauser’s first job at Trinidad, the next port of call, was to ship him back to Barbados.
From Trinidad Muhlhauser cruised through a good part of the West Indies in search of a reliable hand. he went to Grenada, Carriacou, St. Vincent, St Lucia, Martinique, Dominica, Guadeloupe, St. Christopher, Saba, St Croix, Puerto Rico, Santo Domingo and then to Jamaica in search of a hand. The Amaryllis and the Caribbean Sea made this part of the cruise hard work for two men and a lad. Stephane let the yacht gybe and smashed the boom near Jamaica, and when David tried to start the motor they found that a rope had fouled the propeller. David dived with a sharp knife and freed the propeller, and the yacht arrived at Kingston, Jamaica, under trysail and motor.
David’s wife and son were at Kingston, so he said farewell to the Amaryllis, and Muhlhauser was worse off for crew than ever. he managed to find Sam, a young San Blas Indian, who had settled in Jamaica, and Sam sailed all the way to New Zealand. He spoke little English, but had some Spanish. The language difficulty was surmounted. When Muhlhauser and Sam failed to understand each other in English, Sam spoke to Stephane in Spanish and Stephane translated Spanish into French.
Before the Amaryllis reached Colon, Muhlhauser appreciated the seamanlike qualities of Sam. Muhlhauser rounded up outside Colon at night in a fresh breeze to heave-to, but could not get the topsail down as the sheet had fouled the end of the gaff of the main-sail. Sam went aloft, worked his way to the end of the gaff and cleared the sheet. Muhlhauser made the transit of the Panama Canal with out any trouble.
His problems at Balboa, on the Pacific side of the Canal, were to get another man and to clean the hull of the yacht. He nearly lost his coloured crew, as Sam thought the yacht was too small and Stephane did not get on well with Sam. Having failed to find the right type of man, Muhlhauser decided to go to the Islas Perlas, thirty miles from Panama, to get the hull cleaned by divers. The two coloured youths decided to stay with him and he went to the Islas Perlas. He failed to het the hull cleaned as the divers said the water was too cold, and so he set off for the Galapagos. He used the engine during the long calms which are always experienced on this passage to Wreck Bay, Chatham Island.
The conditions and colour of the fresh water supplied to the yacht at Wreck Bay look ominous, but there was nothing better, and Muhlhauser anchored for the night off Ua Huka and then went on to Nukuhiva where the hull was scrubbed by two native divers. Confident in his ability as a navigator Muhlhauser sailed through the dangerous Tuamotu Archipelago instead of going out of his course to avoid it, and he reached Tahiti safely. Having visited Moorea he sailed to Rarotonga, in the Cook Islands and then to the Tonga Islands. This part of the voyage was stormy. In the Tongas he saw a piano in a boarding house and found that the instrument has once been in the Amaryllis when she was in England. The piano had been exchanged for one in another yacht and this vessel had been sold in the Tongas. The assumption is that the piano had been taken to the South Seas in Ralph Stock’s ‘Ogre’, which was sold at Nukualofa. At Suva, Fiji, Muhlhauser waited for an American named Abercrombie, whom he had met in Tahiti, to join him.
On the next passage the Amaryllis was becalmed near a reef and carried on to it by the current before Muhlhauser could start the engine, which was giving trouble. his plight was seen by a lighthouse keeper who arrived with a whaleboat and some natives. The helped to pull the yacht off the reef before much damage was done.
Imperfectly Charted Waters
The yacht was examined in New Caledonia, but the only damage was to three sheets of her copper sheathing. When the Amaryllis arrived at Sydney, New South Wales, Muhlhauser’s friend went ashore and Muhlhauser tried to sell the yacht, or find a sailing partner.
Having failed to do either he sailed to Auckland, New Zealand, still hoping to sell the Amaryllis. The passage across the Tasman Sea was and stormy. The yacht had to heave-to on Christmas Day and Muhlhauser ate a Christmas dinner of bully beef. At Auckland he vainly tried to sell the yacht. in the end he accepted the offer of a young Melbourne yachtsman, C.R. Tadgell, to sail with him to England. The young Australian had done a good deal of dinghy racing, although he had not cruised, and proved a fine sailor. Sailing an open boat is the best training for ocean cruising, as the dinghy-sailor is never a carpet yachtsman. he has to put up with wet and uncomfortable conditions when he is caught out, and he learns to be active, alert and cheerful.
Sam decided to go ashore, and Muhlhauser signed him off. In his place Muhlhauser engaged a Kanaka called Joe, who proved a valuable acquisition. Muhlhauser decided to sail to England by way of Java, Singapore and the Suez Canal, which meant that part of the course among the islands north-east Australia would be in imperfectly charted waters. He procured what charts he could, and then sailed. Tadgell was invaluable in dangerous waters. he always went aloft and conned the ship.
Muhlhauser went up to New Caledonia and began threading his way through the islands, having many adventures ashore, and by good seamanship avoiding all misadventures as sea.
One dark night Muhlhauser had a sudden premonition and altered course. After he had done so he saw an unlighted rock which would have wrecked the Amaryllis had he not changed her course so suddenly. He had been prompted by the super-instinct which a long voyage develops in a born seaman and which cannot be explained. Near Thursday Island, Muhlhauser, Tadgell and Joe rowed the dingy to a sandheap, to search for turtle eggs. They made the dinghy fast by driving an our into the sand and tying the dinghy painter to it, but while they were looking for eggs, the dinghy was struck by a squall, pulled the oar out of the sand and blew out to sea. The three men were separated from the yacht by 300 yards of water in which there were likely to be sharks. Stephane was their plight from the yacht and launched a hip-bath to paddle to them, but this sank under him. Each of the three seized a piece of driftwood and swam for the yacht, luckily reaching it before the sharks woke up to the fact that meal was passing by.
Muhlhauser found trouble at Thursday Island when he put the yacht alongside a wharf to scrub her hull, as the tide was strong, and he smashed his topmast when he was bringing the yacht alongside. He sailed to Timo, and went north of this island through the Flores Sea. The engine was taken out and repaired when the yacht was dry-docked at Surabaya. The copper sheathing was in godd condition, but there were many barnacles on the keel.
Proceeding through the Java Sea, north of Java, the Amaryllis put in at Singapore, where Joe signed off as he wanted to return to New Zealand, and Muhlhauser’s crew troubles began all over again. He shipped a Belgian who had been in steam but could not master the art of steering a vessel under sail. This man left at the next port, Penang. He was replaced by a Lascar and by a Malay cook. Unfortunately the cook’s religious scruples, he was a Mohammedan – did not allow him to cook bacon, so Stephane had to do that. Having crossed the Straits of Malacca and called at Saban, Sumatra, the Amaryllis sailed to Colombo. On the passage to Aden Muhlhauser had constantly to watch his two recruits as they were often making mistakes due to inexperience.
Five weeks to Make 1,300 Miles
The engine, which Muhlhauser had overhauled, proved invaluable during the tedious passage up the Red Sea. He found that refraction made accurate observation of the sun difficult and he preferred to rely on star sights. The winds were constantly changing, and the sails had to be trimmed to get the yacht on her way, as stores were running low. Muhlhauser put in at Port Sudan for stores and water and then went on again, sometimes making only 38 miles in twenty four hours. When she reached Suez the Amaryllis had taken five weeks to comer 1,300 miles.
When he came to tackle the Suez Canal Muhlhauser found progress slow and had a tug to tow him for most of the way to Port Said, where the Lascar was shipped home. At Alexandria, the next port, Muhlhauser was to his surprise given a great reception. The yacht went on a slip, and he found that the copper was wearing.
he took on a new hand named Horowitz at Alexandria, but, as the man could not steer a sailing vessel or even row, Muhlhauser sent him ashore at Malta, and engaged a man called Galea in his place. Having put in at Sardinia, Minorca and Gibraltar, the Amaryllis entered the Atlantic and coasted north to Vigo, where Muhlhauser had touched his outward passage. Before she was across the Bay of Biscay Muhlhauser was dreaming of future voyages in his grand little ship. The Amaryllis anchored off Darmouth and the voyage was over.
In New Zealand Muhlhauser, who did not like the tiller , had it replaced by a steering wheel which he preferred. This caused trouble when he was in new Zealand waters. The rudder lines jumped off the drum and fouled so that the yacht would have gone on to the rocks had not Muhlhauser cut the lines in time and put the stump of the tiller down by hand.
Muhlhauser’s untimely death, which occurred so soom after the accomplishment of one of the finest voyages of circumnavigation, was a great shock to his many friends in cruising circles. He was a fine type of man, quiet and unassuming, and he got the Amaryllis round the world without any fuss and maintained her in first-class condition.
Howard, S. (n.d.) Cruise of the “Amaryllis” in Shipping Wonders Of The World. London: Amalgamated Press