The Ship: Steadfast is a 58’ traditionally built gaff cutter. Her keel was laid in Albany, Western Australia in September 1990, and she was launched (after two long breaks while we were developing a vineyard and establishing markets for our wine) in February 2006. She has been built in the traditional way, with 1¾” Jarrah planking on 4”x4” doubled sawn frames, also of Jarrah. Karri was used on the inside for longitudinals (beam shelf, clamp, and stringers), and Sheoak for deck planking (over a marine ply subdeck), skylights, and hatches. We imported Brazilian mahogany for the capping rail and Oregon (Douglas Fir) for the spars.
Steadfast was built on the lines of the 1913 leHavre pilot cutter Jolie Brise, although we took some liberties in the layout and have installed a simple drum wheel steering setup in lieu of Jolie Brise’s long tiller. Her principal dimensions are:
Length: 58’/17 m
Sparred length: 75’/ 22 m
Beam” 16’/ 5m
Displacement: 40 tonnes
Pilot Service in the early 20th century: Prior to WWI, ships were not generally equipped with radios, and pilot boats were typically operated under sail alone. The Bristol Channel pilot cutters were usually owned by an individual pilot, who sailed with one crew and went out “seeking” in the Bristol Channel for a ship in need of a pilot. Upon finding such, the pilot went on board to guide the ship into port, while the pilot cutter, with the one crew on board, was towed behind.
The pilot service in France operated differently, in that a pilot boat was used to keep station a safe distance off shore awaiting a ship needing a pilot. When a ship came over the horizon, the pilot boat sailed up to it to offer pilotage services, whereupon the pilot was taken on board to guide the ship in, while the pilot vessel remained on station. These pilot boats typically remained at sea for two weeks at a time in all weather, during which they would also take pilots off ships that were outward bound. They might at any time have had as many as four pilots on board, all master mariners, awaiting an inbound ship. While waiting, pilots spent much of their time in the main saloon around the table that lay atop the water tank, smoking and playing cards, and enjoying each other’s company.
Sleeping Accommodation: The layout down below on Steadfast is in keeping with the original accommodation plan on the French pilot cutters, with four pilot berths (what else?) in the main saloon, the galley forward of this, and the fo’c’s’le with two single berths and heads forward of the galley. The pilot berths are full sized single berths behind the settees, and the main saloon is, by yachting standards, enormous. The four settees inboard of the pilot berths can slide out for four additional single berths, and there is a narrow berth in the fo’c’s’le that we normally use for a sail locker that can be made up if required. Sleeping accommodation therefore consists of six single berths, four slide-out berths, and one narrow berth. Crew quarters are in a separate compartment aft.
In keeping with her traditional character, Steadfast has a minimum of modern conveniences, and the level of finish down below could be described as simple but elegant. The sea toilet is pumped manually (into a holding tank) and fresh water for washing up is pumped with either a foot or hand pump. A hot shower is always available, by way of a solar bag with water heated on the cooker. It’s a little like glamping, only sailing, not camping.