The Victoria lad who built a boat and sailed her around the world

Plaque 05 GuzzwellPlaque 05

In 1953, John Guzzwell, while working as a maintenance carpenter for the Canadian Pacific Railway Ferry Service in Victoria, decided to build himself a sailing boat. The English naval architect Laurent Giles planned a 20’ 6’ yawl for 50 pounds sterling, which John built, mostly unaided and with hand tools, in a rented shed behind a fish-and-chip shop on View Street. He launched Trekka in August 1954, and in September 1955, sailed for Hawaii. Over the next four years he completed a circumnavigation in Trekka, then the smallest vessel ever to do so. He returned to Canada in 1959. He wrote a book about his adventures, Trekka Round the World, which he re-published in 1999.

John on Trekka's fore deck

John on Trekka’s fore deck

On the way to Hawaii, John met Miles and Beryl Smeeton, owners of the 46 foot ketch, Tzu Hang. John and the Smeetons spent some months cruising and exploring the Hawaiian Islands together before crossing the Pacific via Fanning Island, the Samoan Group, and Tonga, to New Zealand. John’s descriptions of the pre-tourist boom islands are a fascinating view of a lost world.

Trekka was stored with friends in New Zealand, when John decided to join the Smeetons on Tzu Hang. They intended to sail to Melbourne for the Olympic Games, and after the Games, return to England via Cape Horn.

In December 1957, John was back in New Zealand. After giving Trekka a complete overhaul, he sailed for Sydney in April 1958. A couple of gales, an encounter with the south-flowing East Australian Current, and a fortnight of calms saw him making landfall on the New South Wales coast at Trial Bay, finally reaching Coffs Harbour on May 26 1958.

The Yawl Trekka at the Victoria Classic Boat Festival

The Yawl Trekka at the Victoria Classic Boat Festival

Trekka had not been anti-fouled before leaving New Zealand. At Coffs Harbour she was craned out and back in for the then equivalent of $1.85. Then John began a mostly leisurely northward cruise of Australia’s East Coast. It began with a cyclone off Cape Byron and finished at Thursday Island in September 1958. Like his account of cruising among the Hawaiian Islands, this part of his book describes a Queensland coast and a way of life that has vanished in the succeeding 50 years.

Obviously there had to be a crossing of the Indian Ocean: there were stops at Cocos, Mauritius, and Reunion Islands. There was a stay at Durban in South Africa followed by an exciting journey to Cape town, and then the Atlantic crossing via St. Helena and Ascension to Barbados and the Panama Canal. His transit of the Canal cost US$2.16. The last stage of his circumnavigation was a 60-day voyage, Balboa to Hawaii, then a re-crossing of the Pacific to Victoria.

John went on to a successful career as a boat builder in many parts of the world. He is still working and lives at Seattle, Washington.

Trekka completed two more circumnavigation with different owners. She is now held by the Maritime Museum of British Columbia. At present she is being refurbished for the Museum by Tony Grove, a Canadian craftsman and boat builder.