The longest and most ambitious expedition undertaken in an Atalanta was in 1960-61 when Tony Peck and John Riding set out in A113, Aku, to sail round the world in a westerly direction. Tony bought Aku from Fairey Marine, Hamble in early 1960, and on 15 November 1960 they left Hamble, to start thier epic adventure. They fitted out at Weymouth and then sat in Salcombe for several days faced by force 7 to 8 headwinds of. On the morning of 28 November 1960, they set course for Ushant, off the north-west They left Salcombe on November 28th 1960. The trip was abandoned in The Galapagos when Tony Peck became ill. A113 was passed to a Hotel owner on the islands, and then his son, before being wrecked in 1990 – see Aku’s Boat page.
and eventually reached the Galapagos Islands some 500 miles west of Ecuador in the Pacific Ocean.
During their voyage they experienced the only known occurrence of a keel breaking, a snapped rudder blade and the boat under threat of sinking through the keel box cockpit drains. Read on ……
From the 1960-61 AOA Bulletin – Setting Off
On 15 November 1960, John Peck in Fairey Atalanta “Aku” (A113 ) left Hamble on the longest planned Fairey Atalanta cruise yet . He planned to sail westward round the world – a two year, 31,000 mile journey.
John Peck was a racing motor cyclist aged 49. He was accompanied by 24 years old John Riding, of Southport. Their supplies included 800 meals of dehydrated meat, vegetables and milk, and a crossbow for harpooning fish.
Their route will take them to the Canary Islands, the West Indies, then through the Panama Canal and across the Pacific Ocean to Tahiti , Tonga, Port Moresby, the Cacaos Islands in the Indian Ocean, Mauritius and down to South America. On the return crossing of the Atlantic they hope to visit St Helena.
A troubleseome passage to Las Palmas
The first stage of the voyage to Las Palmas in the Canaries was reported in the AOA Bulletin of 1961-62. It took over five months, largely on account of bad weather in the Bay of Biscay and delays caused by two mishaps. In high winds and awkward seas off the N Spanish coast the port keel broke just below the pivot. (The breaking of a keel on Aku has proved to be a unique failure in the 30-year history of the Atalanta. In the prevailing sea conditions the keel was evidently not held firmly by the pressure plates and was heard to be swinging backwards and forwards but for a break to have occurred there must have been a weakness in the casting.) The boat managed to make the little harbour of San Juan de Nieva at the entrance to Aviles where a new keel, sent out by Fairey Marine, was fitted. The boat put to sea again but in less than a week en route for Corunna the rudder blade snapped and there was another enforced wait for a new rudder before sailing on the Las Palmas.
From the 1961-62 AOA Bulletin – A113 reaches Las Palmas
MR. J. A. (TONY) PECK, ‘Aku’ (A.II3), is now wintering at Las Palmas in the Gran Canarias Islands before setting out across the Atlantic on the next stage of his round-the world cruise.
Fighting for Westing and raising the cockpit floor
Mr. Peck, accompanied by Mr. John Riding, set out from Hamble on 15th November 1960. They finished fitting out at Weymouth and then sat in Salcombe for several days faced by headwinds of force 7 to 8. On the morning of 28th November they set course for Ushant, off the north-west corner of Brittany, with a westerly force 4 to 5.
During the next week they drew level with Ushant twice but the weather and tides were against them and they put into St. Peter Port, Guernsey, on December 5th, after riding out force 10 gales in the Channel for days at a time. During the storm they were several times flipped right on to beam ends by sudden breaking seas. On one occasion they shipped such a huge sea that the cockpit became self-filling but Mr. Peck restored the situation by stuffing two loaves of bread in plastic bags into the keel drains and then pumped her out. He was carrying about a ton of stores.
They dried out in Guernsey and raised the cockpit floor by three inches, then left on December 15th arriving at Morgat, Brittany, in the early hours of the following morning “after a quite exciting passage through the Chenal du Four in pitch darkness, and then through the rocky bits round Brest. All without a chart; mine had been wrecked by water in the storm and I was unable to get another. I had reason to bless the sudden turns the Atalanta is capable of when under power and I can also tell other members that she is happy if very uncomfortable when lying a-hull in force 10 conditions for 48 hours“.
Into Biscay but the weather is still foul
Christmas Day found them several days out of Morgat and making poor progress across the Bay of Biscay. At mid-day (nearly turkey-time at home), when they were about 80 miles NNE of Finisterre, the wind increased to force 9 and slowly veered to the west. Despite all their efforts they were forced back and into Biscay, so eventually they put into Gijon, Spain. There they were told by the local Port Captain that a Gijon boat had been lost in the self-same storm together with thirty sailors from the port register. Mr. Peck found that ‘Aku’ was quite comfortable in force 9 winds, with a storm jib, normal sheet arrangement and main down to about half-boom length. She stayed dead on her own selected course 50degrees off the wind with the tiller lashed centrally with a few inches playeach way to relieve the kick in breaking seas. She did this for nearly thirty hours, while they kept watch and three times put her on to the other tack to keep out of the way of land. There were no other ships in their part of the sea during the Christmas holiday.
Tiring of the continual rain in Gijon they decided to port-hop and set off for Aviles, running into a very heavy swell from the north-west as they neared the headland of the Caho de Penas. Rounding the cape they turned in to a near gale-force wind which soon raised a steep chop at right angles to the existing swell. This was very un pleasant. As ‘Aku’ rose towards the crest of each wave she received a sharp flick up in the bow from the breaking crest, and no matter what Tony Peck did the keels would swing back a shade. Then as she topped the crest they swung forward again with a violent thump, sometimes accompanied by a sideways lurch from the swell. Conditions began to ease as they neared land but suddenly there was a nasty noise, a loose feeling and the port keel had broken just below the pivot.
They managed to get a rope round the two keels, as the broken one, held by the hoisting lug, was thumping the keelbox, and this partly steadied it. They reached the little harbour of San Juan de Nieva, at the entrance to Aviles, with some relief.
Fairey Marine sent out a new keel; ‘Aku’ was swung up by crane and the actual break was found to be a tangent to the lower edge of the pivot hole. The pieces fitted together perfectly and there was no sign of any flaw. Tony Peck thought that it could have been caused by cooling the casting too quickly.
Comment by Charles Currey in 1961:THIS IS THE ONLY KEEL FAILURE WE’VE EVER HAD. AS A PRECAUTION, TONY PECK NOW HAS A HARD WOOD CHOCK WHICH FITS OVER THE HOISTING GEAR PORT AND STARBOARD, PREVENTING THE KEELS FROM LIFTING AT ALL. ONLY FOR DEEP WATER USE, OF COURSE!
If its not keels, it’s rudders
Aku was soon back in the water again, and after four days of fog, Tony Peck and John Riding left to creep along the coast again-first to Luarca, the next day to Foz, then Santa Marta. The following day, bound for Corunna and in an uneasy sea, the rudder blade snapped off flush with the lower edge of the stock. Rounding the Caho Prior into slightly smoother water, they managed to get the broken blade half on to the stern, drill a hole in it about a foot from the lower end and bolt it alongside the stock. Steering was not very certain but the broken blade upside down against the stock gave very much better results than the stock by itself.
So into Corunna and another wait while a new blade was sent out from Hamble.
They finally left on May 19th-lost the wind and motored to Caminares. Next day to Puerto Muros, a most delightful place with a beautiful sheltered bay. The Chief of Police told Tony Peck that the port once had a large sardine trade with sailing vessels calling from all the north European countries. This trade ceased and most of the fishermen went to work on merchant ships, con sequently a large number of them speak English.
‘Aku’s’ next port of call was Vigo which has a very good Club with a tiny separate harbour. After two days in Vigo they left on the afternoon of May 26th. The weather was fair, little wind and a shallow depression stationary and slowly filling, 1,006 mbs., off central Portugal. They started off due west to go round the depression and get the right wind, but it started to move north and they met force 8 winds first on the port beam, then on the stem. Soon they werein the middle of the depression, 994 mbs., and a very messy sea. As they swung slowly towards the south they met the other side and had 8 again on the stern. This was followed by two days of no wind at all, when they ghosted only 11 miles in forty-eight hours, although all through the trip the Canaries Current was adding 12 due south miles a day.
At dawn on the thirteenth day out of Vigo, Alegranza showed up only three miles west of where it should have been and they passed between it and Lanzarote Island the most easterly of the Canaries. They went down west of Lanzarote to Fuerte Ventura, then headed for Las Palmas and sighted land in very good visibility at 2 p.m. on June 10th.
If it’s not weather it’s navigation, or both!
Tony Peck’s troubles were not quite over. He had missed a check sight for current drift at noon, so he took a radio bearing on Las Palmas air beacon and it showed that they were making a landfall 10 miles north of the beacon. Thinking that the freshening wind had led them north, and without looking at his chart book, he headed for the beacon. When he did look at his book he found that the aerodrome is 12 miles south, and the port three miles north, of Las Palmas.
The wind was now nearly force 7 and the sea fiercely choppy, so they set No. 2 jib, four turns on the main and tacked north. The sea eased as they entered Las Palmas bay to drop the hook off the Club at about 10 p.m. G.M.T. They were very wet and covered with salt, like snowmen, after five hours of constant sousing by water so warm that it dried as it landed. Part of the time they had been circled by a Spanish destroyer, which eventually decided that they were coping and went off. Tony Peck hoped to meet its Commander in Las Palmas to thank him for his concern for their welfare but he was told that the destroyer had probably gone to Tenerife.
Time to relax, renew and eat tomatoes
At the Club they collected a pile of mail that had been accumulating for them since before Christmas. Now they are waiting for the end of the hurricane season before setting out across the Atlantic to the West Indies. They have some engine spares to fit and a new propeller to replace one damaged on driftwood off Ushant. Spare time will be filled with replying to letters, writing articles for papers (for cash) and eating magnificent tomatoes at five pence a kilo.
Las Palmas to The Galapagos
Unfortunately, we have no details after that except that Tony Peck was obliged to abandon the expedition for health reasons on reaching the Galapagos Islands in the Pacific Ocean and sold Aku to the owner of the Galapagos Hotel. The boat then lay in a tropical mud berth for a number of years but was brought out eventually with no deterioration to the hull.
Read more about AKU and what happened to her on her Boat Page.