HMAS Winbah


Winbah, another Halvorsen’s vessel, was constructed in 1936 for Harold Percival Christmas, owner of the later Toomeree.  She was the last boat built by Lars Halvorsen, the founder of the Halvorsen boat building industry. (481)  Just after Winbah was launched in September 1936, Lars Halvorsen died and Percy Christmas assisted the young Halvorsen family.  


Winbah was 62 feet (18.90m) in length with a 15 foot (4.57m) beam and a 4 foot (1.22m) draught.  She included two complete decks giving full headroom throughout, yet the effect of height had been ‘subdued’ by the use of ‘restrained streamlining’.  She was described as having a feel of spaciousness and light.  


Mrs P Christmas with launching bottle in hand about to christen Winbah.  A D Walker is in the centre with Harold Christmas and Lars Halvorsen on the right. (482)


Large windows surrounded the bridge-deck giving the helmsman uninterrupted vision in any direction.  She included an owner’s state room aft that occupied the full width of the vessel, two guest staterooms with separate toilet rooms for the owner and guests.  A large dining saloon paneled in Japanese oak was included with an adjacent galley forward of the bridge deck.  A cabin for crew provided in the bow. (483)


She was powered by two 105hp six cylinder Gray marine petrol engines giving a speed of 12 miles (19.2km) per hour.  Spotted gum was chosen for her stem, keelson, keel and frames with 1½ inch (38mm) New Zealand kauri planking.  Decking was 1½ inch (38mm) Queensland beech.  Despite her size, it was said she could be sailed by one person.  


Winbah on Sydney Harbour. (484)


Winbah’s palatial bridge-deck. (485)


Winbah’s dining saloon. (486)


Winbah was requisitioned by the Navy on 22 September 1941.  Christmas valued her at £5,000.  Lloyds for the Navy valued her at £5,500.


As with his other vessel Toomeree, Christmas was concerned he had heard nothing from the Navy regarding compensation for Winbah, and wrote at the end of February 1942, to the Secretary of the Department of the Navy.  He was told the issue of hire or purchase was under consideration.  He asked for progress payments at £33 per month for each vessel which was agreed by the Navy.


The Director of Engineering (Naval) recommended purchase for a much reduced value at just £3,000.  The purchase was passed to the Contract Board and onto Mr Tennant for negotiation with Christmas.  Tennant informed Christmas of the Navy’s value of just £3,250.  There was no disclosure by Tennant of the Lloyd’s higher value of £5,500.  Christmas withdrew his earlier offer of £5,000 and put forward an offer of just £4,200.  The Contract Board approved the purchase at £4,200 and a week later, the Navy had acquired Winbah for a bargain sum.


By early November, Winbah was recommended for service at Darwin with Nereus and Marlean and was commissioned on 23 November 1941 under command of Commissioned Officer from Warrant Rank RANR(S) Eric S MacPherson. (487)  Macpherson was replaced by Lieutenant RANVR Rex G Callaway on 18 February 1942.  He was replaced by Lieutenant RANVR John P Newey on 25 May 1942.


HMAS Winbah. (488)


Winbah was fitted with one .303 Vickers machine gun mounted aft (however the Navy’s ‘Ship Index Cards’ record she was fitted with two, presumably with the second mounted on the fore deck), with depth charges on the stern.  She was also fitted with the anti-submarine ASDIC ‘134’ equipment. (489)


According to a memorial plaque unveiled in 1992, Winbah served in Darwin during the first Japanese air raid on 19 February 1942. (490)  But for the same reasons provided above for Marlean, it seems unlikely she was ever in Darwin, given Winbah was in Sydney during the Battle of Sydney Harbour. (491)  Unless together with Marlean, she had been rushed back from Darwin, which is highly improbable.


Like other vessels of the Hollywood Fleet, following the Battle of Sydney Harbour, Winbah continued regular patrol duties at Sydney, Port Kembla and Newcastle. (492)


By December 1944, HMAS Winbah was in Sydney where she remained ‘alongside’ the wharf awaiting replacement engines.  The engines were finally installed in July with further maintenance work in August.  Her stores were returned in late August and she was ‘paid off’ on 1 September 1945.  She had sailed 5,294 miles (8,470km) since she had been commissioned in November 1941. (493)


On 20 September 1945, Winbah was offered back to Harold Christmas for the sum of £2,750.  Christmas declined the offer whereupon the vessel was auctioned with a collection of other vessels.  Winbah was purchased on 27 October 1945 (494) by Fred Harris of Centennial Park, owner of the destroyed Steady Hour.  The purchase price was £2,850.  


On 20 September 1949, Harris Registered a vessel in the Port of Sydney section of the Register of British Ships under the name of Steady Hour.  A review of the registration identifies the vessel was constructed by Carl Halvorsen in 1936 and to be of 59 feet, 6 inches – the same dimensions and date of construction as Winbah. (495)


Fred Harris had found his new replacement Steady Hour on which he took the salute at the Royal Motor Yacht Club at Rose Bay in September 1947.  Harris died in September 1954 and the vessels remained with his family until it was sold to George Frederick Cratchley of Newport in 1958.


Nothing is known of her since.  HMAS Winbah is not included in the Navy’s ‘Ship Histories’.

481 Svensen, R., The Halvorsen Story, p.63, and Register

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

483 The International Power Boat and Aquatic Monthly - Aug. 1936, p.10

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

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

486 The International Power Boat and Aquatic Monthly – November 1936, p.25

487 AWM 78, 418/1 - Sydney Log

488 AWM Photograph 302015

489 RAN Sea Power Centre - Australia, Ship Index Cards, HMAS Winbah


491 NAA: MP1049/5, 2026/21/79: Midget Submarine Attack on Sydney Harbour., p.32

492 NAA: AWM78, 418/1: Sydney Log

493 NAA: AWM78, 369/1: HMAS Winbah: Reports of Proceedings

494 RAN Sea Power Centre - Australia: Ship Histories, HMAS Winbah

495 Register of British Ships, Microfilm C2/15 held by ANMM, Registration No. 191179, 16 in 1949