25. HMAS Seamist

HMAS Seamist


Seamist (385) was constructed in 1939.  She was one of the modern sleek Halvorsen cruisers from their Neutral Bay yard and probably the last to be designed by Lars Halvorsen.  Whilst some reports indicate she was built for Oliver Triggs, (386) the founder of Meadow Lea, or for motor racing identity Hope Bartlett, (387) she was in fact built for Mr and Mrs Gale of Potts Point.  Gale was a ‘well known’ member of the Broken Bay branch of the Royal Motor Yacht Club and managing director of Consolidated Trust Ltd, the largest property owner in Kings Cross at the time, controlling over 400 properties. (388)


As with other luxury motor cruisers, this was not the first Seamist.  


The first vessel, also named Seamist, had been built for the Gales by Halvorsen’s at their Neutral Bay yard and had been launched in October 1937. (389)  Despite its small size at just 45 feet (13.72m), the first Seamist was described at the time as ‘luxury afloat’ with flying bridge, large main saloon, kitchen that ‘you could not call a galley’, and accommodation for six with the French polished Queensland maple paneling lending a ‘dignity seldom found afloat’.  She was powered by twin 40hp engines giving her a speed of 11 miles (17.6km) per hour.  The media reported she would be added to the ‘large list of palatial cruisers registered with the Broken Bay branch of the Royal Motor Yacht Club’.  


The first Seamist. (390)


By March 1939, the first Seamist had been sold to Oliver Triggs. (391)  At the time she was subsequently requisitioned by the Navy on 14 August 1942, she was owned by Percy Walton.  From the time of the requisition, she was named Sea Mist by the Navy.  In early 1943, Sea Mist had been taken over by the US Army for their Services of Supply/Army Service Forces (SOS/ASF) Unit. (392)  The purchase for £2,000 was finalized in April 1943. (393)  As the vessel became the property of the US Army, there are no records in the Australian Archives of her service.  However, a vessel of the same name appears in the Queensland newspapers in 1945 operating out of Brisbane. (394)  That vessel was described as an ‘American launch, the Sea Mist’ and ‘The Sea Mist is a 45 foot trunk cabin motor launch’.  Perhaps this vessel was Gale’s first Seamist.


Mrs. R A Gale naming Seamist at its launching. (395)


Gale’s second Seamist was launched on Monday 14 August 1939, (396) less than two years after the launch of his first Seamist and just three weeks before the outbreak of war in Europe.  Seventy guests attended the cocktail party and toasted the launch of the new 60 foot (18.29m) cruiser. (397)  

The new Seamist included four bedrooms with accommodation for eight people, dining room, bathroom, galley and wheelhouse.  Seamist’s launch was attended by owners of other motor cruisers, including Percy Christmas, owner of Toomeree, and Fred Harris, the future owner of Steady Hour II.


Seamist – successor to the smaller 45 foot Seamist. (398)

Seamist was requisitioned on 17 June 1941.  Prior to the requisition, the Navy had been advised the vessel was owned by Automobile and General Finance Co Ltd with Mr Hope Bartlett of Nowra being the hirer via a hire purchase agreement. (399)  Evidently, Gale had sold the vessel in the previous 22 months, or perhaps he had an involvement with the finance company.  Bartlett delivered her from Jervis Bay to Garden Island and claimed his costs of doing so.  The survey completed by Automobile and General identified total rentals owing by Bartlett of £4,460 with a further £500 yet to be paid to Gale.  A total cost to Bartlett of £4,960.


Seamist was commissioned into the Navy on 21 July 1941 under the command of Sub-Lieutenant John A Doyle RANR(S). (400)  Significantly as will be seen, Doyle was due to remain her commander till midnight on 31 May 1942, however, at 4.00 pm on the afternoon of 31 May 1942, Doyle handed his command to Sub-Lieutenant Reginald T Andrew RANVR.  


Seamist was armed with .303 Vickers machine guns mounted fore and aft with depth charges on the stern.


The Navy’s Lloyd surveyor valued her at just £4,000.  By August 1941, Bartlett had not received payment for his delivery costs and wrote a stinging letter to Muirhead-Gould and referred to there being no ‘end of red tape and humbug generally associated with Government dealings’ and proposed the matter should be written up so ‘the public can see what sort of treatment one gets from your department, and I can assure you that I shall never be caught again like this’.


By September, the ‘owner’s value’ was set at £5,500 which included the value of sundry works Bartlett had undertaken prior to the requisition.  Lloyds maintained their value at £4,000, which the Director of Engineering (Naval) accepted as the maximum amount to be paid for Seamist.  However, he did recognize, that purchase for that sum, may not be possible due to the hire purchase agreement.  Bartlett again raised the question of payment for his delivery costs with Muirhead-Gould in October.  Muirhead-Gould passed the matter up the line to the Naval Board.


On 8 November 1941, the Naval Board approved the deployment of Seamist with Silver Cloud to Port Moresby.  The transfer did not occur and by the end of May 1942, she remained at Sydney. (401)


HMAS Seamist. (402)


In December, the Naval Board arranged for negotiations with the owner, Automobile and General, to be conducted by Mr Tennant who had been involved in negotiations for other vessels.  The first negotiation was held on 29 December 1941.  Tennant’s offer was for £3,750.  The following day Mr Gard of Automobile and General advised he thought he could persuade Bartlett to agree to £4,000.  Tennant informed Gard that sum would not be recommended to the Navy, but if Bartlett could be persuaded, it would be recommended and ‘might be regarded as fixed’.  Gard advised Tennant that Bartlett’s position had hardened and Bartlett considered the Hire Purchase Agreement Act would protect his position.  Tennant disagreed.


Through Gard, Bartlett replied saying he was not prepared to accept a figure less than £4,250.  The Secretary of the Contracts Board advised the Navy the only course was to proceed by way of an ‘Impressment Order’.  Gard advised Tennant that Automobile and General would like to settle the matter at £4,000 but were unsure of their position with regard to Bartlett as the hirer, and wished to seek advice and asked for the ‘Impressment Order’ to be delayed.  


For her role in the Battle of Sydney Harbour, Seamist was awarded the ‘Pacific 1942’ Battle Honour. (403)  Following the Battle, she spent time patrolling at Port Kembla and Sydney.


Just a month after the Battle on 2 July 1942, the purchase of Seamist, by the Commonwealth, was finalised.  Automobile and General accepted the purchase price of £4,000.  Of Bartlett’s claim for delivery costs of £36.18.0, only £10.6.8 was paid.  Not only had Bartlett’s Seamist been requisitioned at a reduced value, his claimed costs of delivery from Nowra to Sydney had been significantly reduced.


In March 1944 she was transferred to the Naval Auxiliary Patrol, and following a refit in Sydney, (404) she was assigned as an Air Sea Rescue vessel for duty at Darwin.  On 18 April 1944, she departed Sydney with Steady Hour, under tow by HMS Springdale. (405)  From Cairns, both vessels proceeded under their own power and arrived in Darwin on 22 May 1944, having sailed via Thursday Island and Melville Bay.  On arrival, Seamist was allotted to Melville Bay (406) for air-sea rescue duties, 650 km to the east from where she had just sailed.  There are no records of her duties and actions whilst at Melville Bay.


On 4 January 1945, Seamist left Melville Bay to return to Darwin to be surveyed.  Together with Steady Hour, she was to be assessed for re-engineering with new Gardner Diesel engines.


She sailed via the inshore route.  Whilst en-route, during gale conditions and with visibility down to 50 feet (15.24m), she struck a submerged object.  On checking the bilges, there appeared to be no apparent damage.  She arrived at Port Essington later that afternoon and anchored in Berkeley Bay.  Further inspections were carried out which failed to discover any damage.


The following day Seamist continued to Popham Bay where she anchored overnight.  The following Day she reached Cape Hotham and, on 11 January, whilst approaching Darwin, the port engine stopped.  She anchored off Vernon Island for emergency repairs and reached Darwin the following day. On being slipped, it was confirmed she had struck something, and the copper sheathing over her keel was found to be in a very bad condition, crumbling away in numerous places.


On 26 February 1945, with Steady Hour and the former three-masted coastal trader Alma Doepel, (407) she departed Darwin for Thursday Island and Townsville for a refit. (408)  On 3 March 1945, she was at Melville Bay when Steady Hour was destroyed by fire whilst refueling. (409)  


By 1 April 1945 Seamist had arrived in Cairns (410) and on 6 and 7 April, she sailed to Townsville in company with ML 825.  Her commander’s, 2 May 1945 monthly report, records she had sailed 7,743 miles (12,390km) since she had been commissioned into the Navy - and she still had to sail from Townsville to Sydney. (411)  The NOIC Townsville noted to NOIC Darwin that a defect list he had received included for the installation of the two Gardner diesel engines, but no such engines were available, and that considerable structural and electrical alterations would be necessary.  He indicated such work could not be completed in under four months and would prejudice the refit of other vessels.  He asked for instructions.  On 10 May, it was determined Seamist would proceed to Brisbane for her refit.


Seamist arrived at Brisbane on 20 May 1945 for her ‘general refit’ and by September, with no further naval commitment for her, she was directed to Sydney. (412)  She departed under tow by HMAS Koala and arrived in Sydney on 8 October 1945. (413)  She was ‘paid off’ on 9 November 1945 for disposal.  


On 18 December 1945, she was valued at £2,850 to £3,000 for disposal.  The Navy advised Hope Bartlett and offered her for sale to him for £3,000.  Bartlett accepted the offer, and the Navy was instructed to arrange delivery to his address in Nowra.  She was delivered (perhaps one could say returned) on 16 January 1946 – 4½ years after she was taken.


As for the value, it seems preposterous she had been taken for £4,000 and resold to the owner, for £3,000, when based on the Navy’s own depreciation of 10% per year, and given the work required to return her to her former glory, she would have been worth considerably less.


During her post war years, Seamist was subsequently owned by a succession of owners.


It appears Bartlett sold her to a Sydney businessman before she was purchased in 1954 for a sum of £10,000 by 2GB radio personality, Jack Davey. (414)  By the time Davey acquired her, she had adopted the name of Sea Mist which has remained to this day.  


Davey’s personal assistant Lew Wright (415) referred to her as ‘little more than a hulk’ when he first went aboard.  He said his heart sank when he surveyed the chaos aboard, ‘Sea Mist was a scene of neglect and disorder’.


Within months, she was fitted with a new pair of Gray marine diesels and had been transformed into a floating palace, including piano and cocktail bar.  The first official outing was with a group of nurses who had cared for him whilst he had been in hospital.  It was to be one of many cruises on which he entertained celebrities including Abbott and Costello, Shirley Bassey, Liberace and Frank Sinatra and many others from more humble backgrounds associated with the many charities he supported. Over four years, Sea Mist travelled on numerous voyages as far afield as Eden near the Victorian border and Tangalooma Whaling Station north of Brisbane. In July 1956, she was nearly wrecked.  She was being taken north from Sydney Harbour to Southport for one of Davey’s holidays.  With rough conditions, the delivery crew decided to shelter in Port Stephens and made for Tea Gardens.  But confused by a fishing boat that had gone aground in the dark, Sea Mist became wedged and stranded on a submerged heap of ‘slag’.  Water began flooding in through portholes that had not been closed.  By morning, locals advised the crew to abandon the cruiser as a total loss, however, the crew knew of Davey’s love for the cruiser and worked to save her.  At low tide, they roped her securely to another vessel and as the tide rose, she lifted so the pumps could be operated to discharge enough water to refloat her.  Wright was of the view she was undamaged due to the craftsmanship and ‘solid triple-skin type construction’ of ‘Old man Halvorsen’.  With one engine working, she returned to Sydney and within two months, returned to her ‘former opulence’.


Davey sold Sea Mist in 1958, to a ‘Sydney businessman’. (416)  His identity remains a mystery, but by 1963 she had been included in the Register of British Ships to Jack Sydney Kelly of Elizabeth Street, Sydney.  She was sold again in July 1968 to W A and H H Kilby.  As the new owners were American citizens, the vessel could not be registered and the Certificate of Registry was returned.  The registration was closed on 14 October 1968. (417)


In 1972, she was purchased by Graham Moffatt to entertain vacationers on Keppel Island, off the central Queensland coast.  At the time of purchase, she was moored in Middle Harbour, a tributary of Sydney Harbour.  For Moffatt, Keppel was a fantastic natural place but lacked pleasure activities and he planned to overcome the deficiency by taking tourists on coral-viewing expeditions, deep-sea fishing, and excursions to any one of the other twenty-seven islands in the area. (418)  She was again registered on 25 September 1972 to Kenneth McMahon and Partners Pty Ltd of George Street Sydney – possibly Moffatt’s company, and a month later on 12 October 1972 she was sold to Civic Industrial and Country Projects Pty Ltd, of Southport, Queensland. (419)


Sea Mist at Royal Queensland Yacht Squadron, 2012. (420)


By May 1975, she was owned by Francis Hugh Aston (Retired) of Florida Gardens, Queensland.


By 1978, Aston had sold Sea Mist to John Donnelly of Donnelly Benefits Pty Ltd of Tarbot Street, Brisbane.  He then sold shares in the vessel to a consortium of owners in 1981.  According to the current owner, Sea Mist underwent a refit in 1979 for her to be used for charter work.


In 1982, she was purchased in Brisbane by her current owner, Ray Munro.  During his 39 year ownership, he has lovingly maintained her and she is a cherished member of his family.  In 2000 he replaced the Grey engines installed by Jack Davey in 1954 with ‘shiny new Perkins Sabres (421) and in recent years, Ray managed to purchase Jack’s piano, which is now onboard once again. (422)


Despite her role in the Battle of Sydney Harbour and receiving the ‘Pacific 1942’ Battle Honour, HMAS Seamist is not included in the Navy’s ‘Ship Histories’.

385 Different forms of Seamist have been applied.  See Footnote 73 on page 27

386 http://nicholasjcornish.blogspot.com/2012/08/hmas-sea-mist-and-attack-on-sydney.html  A Blog by Nicholas James Cornish, nephew of one of the owners.  Last entry on 8 September 2018.

387 Wikipedia – source not cited

388 See:  Singleton Argus, 26 August 1938, p.4., The Sun (Sydney), 18 May 1939, p.44. and 22 December 1939, p.9., The Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 5 April 1940, p.6

389 Referee (Sydney), 21 October 1937, p.24

390 RAN Sea Power Centre - Australia

391 The International Powerboat and Aquatic Monthly, 10 March 1939,  Advertisement for Halvorsen vessels

392 NAA: MP138/1, 603/246/2350: Purchase of Motor Yacht Sea Mist., p.12

393 NAA: MP138/1, 603/246/2350: Purchase of Motor Yacht Sea Mist., p.1

394 The Telegraph (Brisbane), 29 December 1945, p.4 and 31 December 1945, p.4

395 Halvorsen photograph album, No. 2 held by the ANMM

396 The Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 15 August 1939, p.14

397 There is some confusion regarding the length of Seamist.  The Halvorsen Register includes ‘Seamist II’ as a ‘60’ Motor Cruiser’.  Svensen records her length as 60 feet (18.29m).  The Lloyds survey for the Navy, records a length of 60 feet.  However, Cornish and Wikipedia record a length of 65 feet (19.81m).  The current owner confirms the length at 20m (65.6 feet) from the ‘anchor roller to the stern’.  Both measurements are correct.  The official measurement for Registration is from the ‘fore part of stem to the fore side of the head of the rudder post’ which is 60 feet, whilst the overall length from ‘anchor roller to the stern’ is 65.6 feet (20m).

398 The International Powerboat and Aquatic Monthly – September 1939

399 NAA: MP138/1, 603/246/4966 – Vessel Seamist for Airmist.  This Record includes details of requisition and purchase.

400 See Footnote 14.

401 NAA: MP138/1, 603/246/6400 – Lolita – Sinking due to explosion in engine room 13/6/45, p.65

402 AWM Photograph 301988

403 RAN Ship/Unit Approved Battle Honours, 1 March 2010

404 NAA: MP1049/5, 2026/27/160: Loss of HMAS Steady Hour

405 NAA: AWM78, 418/1: Sydney Log.

406 NAA: AWM78, 400/2: RAN Administrative Authority – Darwin Naval Base (HMAS Melville): Reports of Proceedings., Part 2

407 See http://almadoepel.com.au for details of the ongoing restoration project

408 NAA: AWM78, 400/2: RAN Administrative Authority – Darwin Naval Base (HMAS Melville): Reports of Proceedings., Part 1, Report for period January to March 1945

409 NAA: MP1049/5, 2026/27/160: Loss of HMAS Steady Hour

410 NAA: MP138/1, 603/246/4966: Vessel Seamist for Airmist

411 NAA: AWM78, 309/1: HMAS Seamist [Sea Mist]: reports of Proceedings

412 NAA: AWM78, 381/1: Small Craft [Fairmile, ML] Base, Brisbane: Reports of Proceedings

413 RAN Sea Power Centre - Australia, Ship Histories, HMAS Sea Mist.  See also NAA: AWM 78, 418/1: Sydney Log

414 The Australian Women’s Weekly, 8 November 1972, p.21-22

415 The story of Sea Mist with Jack Davey is told in: Wright, Lew, The Great Jack Davey, 1976

416 The Australian Women’s Weekly, 8 November 1972, p.21-22

417 Register of British Ships, Microfilm C2/16 held by ANMM, Registration No. 316388, No. 7 in 1963

418 The Australian Women’s Weekly, 8 November 1972, p.21-22

419 Register of British Ships, Microfilm C2/17 held by ANMM, Registration No. 316388, No. 55 in 1972.  This Register also records the later purchases by Aston and Donnelly.

420 http://nicholasjcornish.blogspot.com/2012/08/hmas-sea-mist-and-attack-on-sydney.html

421 http://nicholasjcornish.blogspot.com/2012/08/hmas-sea-mist-and-attack-on-sydney.html

422 Personal communication from the owner.