Sunday, December 20, 2009
‘Elaine’ – 18’ Sydney Regatta Boat
Paul Christian Julius Sproge, a.k.a. Fred Rebell, was unlucky in love, but was more fortunate in using his skills of survival, particularly during his 8,000 miles Pacific crossing from Sydney to San Pedro harbour, California. Setting out on 31st December 1931 he arrived on US soil on 7th January, 1933. Incredibly he had sailed a modified 18’ regatta boat alone with only a makeshift canvass cuddy to protect him from the elements. His toughest time was when his vessel, was nearly capsized in one of several northerly gales during the last 800 miles before reaching the security of the Californian harbour.
Motivations of long-distance sailors vary, but with Rebell, he simply wanted to flee to place of security where he could start life afresh, not for the first time. Unrequited in love with a girl in Perth named ‘Elaine’ he had moved to Eastern Australia and there he sought a bride, Emily Krumin, from his native Latvia whom he duly married, although she carried the baby of another man with whom she had an affair while on passage in the Sydney-bound ship. Needless to say this relationship failed because of continued infidelity on the part of Emily. Highly adaptable and inventive, Rebell, undertook whatever employment he could get or make, including being a bank clerk, stoker, railway construction worker, carpenter, a partner in a damp-proofing business and developing farmland he acquired through an Australian land grant.
After his divorce he sold his land and found himself on the dole during the great world-wide slump, when he could only find a series of very low-paid jobs, but determined to make it to the US, he saved enough to buy a local racing craft which he strengthened by adding intermediate ribs. This boat he would use to sail to the Land of the Free. With little cash to equip his vessel he made his own sextant from a Boy Scout telescope, hacksaw blades and pieces of coloured glass. He even made a tow log by adapting an old alarm clock and fitting it with a line attached to strips of aluminium set into a short length of broom handle to make the rotator.
He named his boat, ‘Elaine’ after the Perth girl who did not respond to his desires and without notifying anybody he sailed out of Sydney harbour for a great adventure - a time alone when he could truly be free from bureaucrats who had plagued his life. On the Ocean he could make up the rules as he went along and his spirits rose after a short spell of seasickness, but he had not bargained on the charms of several young ladies he would meet at various islands along the way. After six turbulent weeks at sea, often lying to improvised sea anchors, and having to repair a split plank with pitch, he thankfully arrived at Yanutha, an island south of Vita Levu in the Fijis. Further on at Suva, he repaired his centreboard that had just about disintegrated, but there he fell in love with a seventeen-year-old. His passion was short-lived and he sailed to Naitamba, where yet again he fell for another girl ‘gentle Betty. After only nine days of bliss exploring island trails with her, he knew things would not work out, and he sailed again. Arriving in Apia, the capital of Somoa, it was not long before he was under the spell of a sixteen-year-old native, Eda, and after an ‘enslavement’ of six weeks, in his own words, he “tore himself away.”
After reaching Christmas Island where he was made welcome by Paul Rougier, a French painter, he listened to his advice to draft a passport for entry to the United States. His homemade passport stated: ‘The bearer of this passport – Fred Rebell – of no allegiance, is travelling from Sydney, Australia, via the Pacific Ocean, United States of America and the Atlantic Ocean to his native town Windau in the country of Latvia. Description of bearer: Sex: Male. Age 46 years. Height 5 ft 8 in. Eyes: Blue. Complexion: Fair. Photograph of Bearer F. Rebell. Dated 3 March, 1932. Signature F. Rebell.’ Rogier signed the passport to verify Rebell’s arrival on 15th August, 1932 and his departure on 25th August, 1932. Nearly ten months after leaving Sydney, Rebell put into Honolulu and with bureaucratic difficulty his passport was finally accepted in Hawaii. There he stayed five weeks basking in public admiration while receiving hospitality. On 3rd November he embarked on the longest leg of his voyage, two thousand-two hundred miles of solitary wintry seas and unrelenting gales causing damage to the pintles and a broken tiller. At one point his boat nearly floundered on account of being flooded when the sea anchor came adrift and he improvised by making the centreboard suffice as a sea anchor.
Fred Rebell wrote an account of his voyage, ‘Escape to the Sea’, published by "Digit
Books" - Brown, Watson Limited, London.
Born: 22nd April, 1886, Windau, Latvia, Russia.
Died: 10th November, 1968.
Blog with information about Fred Rebell