Just another day on patrol … and meeting Barnesy

By Bernie Webb

Bernie spent many years as a Customs Officer and enjoyed many good times!

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I’m going to take you through a fairly normal day in the life of ACV (Australian Customs Vessel) ‘Edwin Abbott’.

Well, it started off normal, which is more than can be said towards the completion of the shift. No, I don’t have a photographic memory (I wish), but I do have a photocopy of ACV ‘Edwin Abbott’s’ logbook for this particular shift, as it turned into quite a memorable day.

‘Edwin Abbott’, a 12m (42ft) Customs Patrol Vessel, built in Fremantle by Precision Marine in April 1982, home port – Fremantle.

She was based on a Randle 42, a very successful cray boat design, with certain modifications and refinements for use as a Customs Patrol Vessel. She was designated a CG Class (‘Comptroller-General’ Class) vessel and Precision Marine constructed a total of six CG Class vessels for the Australian Customs Service. The five sister vessels were home ported in other Australian capital cities.

ACV ‘HE Neal’ (7m trailable) & ACV ‘Edwin Abbott’ (12m) – both based in Fremantle

In Fremantle we had two crews, each consisting of a Launch Commander and one or two deck hands. We were all Customs Officers first and Launch Crew second. As Launch Commanders, myself and Bob D held a Master V ticket. We ran two shifts, day shift 0700hrs to 1500hrs and afternoon shift 1400hrs to 2200hrs. When one crew was having days off the other crew worked 0800hrs to 1600hrs. So, ‘Edwin Abbott’ was manned every day either from 0800hrs to 1600hrs or 0700hrs to 2200hrs depending on crew days off.

If we had an extended Patrol encompassing more than one day we combined crews and ran up to around 7 day patrols. Our range of operation was from Cape Naturalist in the South to Port Gregory in the North (including the Abrolhos Islands) and everywhere in between.

She was a great vessel, the’Edwin Abbott’, very sea friendly, comfortable, efficient, capable and adaptable from Harbour Patrol vessel to Patrols encompassing a week or so.

Saturday 28 October 1989

0800hrs. Myself and John ‘Bomber’ Wells (sadly now deceased) were the crew on this day. The day started like any other, on board, ‘on air’ (communicated, via Customs UHF Radio, to Customs Fremantle Radio Room to advise we were operational), put the kettle on and started the ‘pre-start checks’. (The ‘pre-start checks’ basically involved checking the level of all fluids in the two Cummins 555 diesel engines, check fuel filters for any sediment and checking the bilges for any leaks from either engine. The bilges (including the Engine Room bilge, forward bilge and aft bilge) were also checked for any visible water and pumped dry if required. Checks finished, enjoy a cup of tea while checking vessel logbook for previous few days to see if any incidents, mishaps or maintenance required – nothing to note except slight leak in Port stern gland.)

0832hrs. As the fuel tanks were getting low, we moved to the Refuelling berth and topped them up with just under 1000 litres.

0900hrs. Departed Refuelling berth, heading out of the Fremantle Fishing Boat Harbour and start heading towards Hillarys Marina to check on the vessels moored there. (This was carried out every two months or so at every marina situated in our area of operation).

0910hrs. Rounded the end of North Mole and set the autopilot on a heading for Hillarys Marina.

1006hrs. Tied up alongside the Marine & Harbours wharf at Hillarys Marina and liaised with the local Marine and Harbours officer before patrolling the Marina, up and down between every floating pontoon, checking for any ‘new’ yachts or anything else out of the ordinary.

1210hrs. Checks all completed, nothing unusual found, we tied up to the Marine &Harbours wharf again and had lunch.

1303hrs. Departed Hillarys Marina, set the autopilot to 183 deg (compass) heading at the seaward end of North Mole.

1410hrs. Back secured alongside our birth in the Marine & Harbours complex, Fremantle Fishing Boat Harbour.

1420hrs. We washed the vessel down and began to investigate the slight leak in the port stern gland (where the port prop-shaft passes through the hull from the engine to the port propellor).

1535hrs. Radio call from ‘Peter 2’ (Customs Patrol Car patrolling the wharf), he requested us to check out a vessel he had spotted acting suspiciously around an overseas ship, ‘Ikan Tamban’, at anchor in Gage Roads.

By the time we were under way, only a few minutes after receiving the information, the vessel in question, a power boat named ‘Hermes’, was already in the Harbour and heading upstream. ‘Peter 2’ followed the vessel as well as could be expected from the shore side.
We raced from the Fishing boat harbour to the entrance to the Swan River and Fremantle Port. On leaving our berth we had called Marine & Harbours on the radio to see if they had any vessels in the Swan River. It turned out they did, ‘PV9’ (Patrol Vessel 9) was patrolling near Blackwall Reach. We spoke via radio direct to ‘PV9’ and asked that they intercept the suspect vessel when they spotted it and hold it until we arrived.

1540hrs. We were now approaching the mouth of the Swan River and Fremantle Port, where there is an 8-knot speed limit. We contacted the FPA (Fremantle Ports Authority)Tower, explained the situation and asked for permission to exceed the speed limit in the Harbour and continue upstream. Permission granted, we raced through the harbour and on up the river at top speed (around 18 knots), blue light flashing. I imagine it would have looked quite impressive at the time and the only time we ever exceeded the speed limit in the river.

1550hrs. ‘PV9’ relayed that they had intercepted the power boat ‘Hermes’.

1559hrs. Alongside ‘Hermes’, I went on board to interview the skipper to ascertain their story. It turned out that he had rock-legend, Jimmy Barnes and some of the ‘Cold Chisel’ band on board letting their hair down after a gig the night before. Jimmy admitted he had been driving when in the vicinity of ‘Ikan Tamban’ and to an observer it would probably look a bit erratic, but they did not approach the ship too closely. Jimmy was just as you might imagine he would be, a bit hyperactive and very jovial. Jimmy signed our visitor book with a statement ‘Sorry about the U turn’. He also commented that we had looked very professional, racing up the river with lights flashing.

1614hrs. With a satisfactory reason for the erratic behaviour of the vessel explained we proceeded back down river at regulation speed!

1648hrs. Back alongside our berth in Marine & Harbours.

Wow just goes to show how an ordinary day on patrol can suddenly morph into the thrill of
a chase then morph again into meeting a rock-legend.

Edwin Abbott now 40 years old – owned by a ‘Marine’ Men’s Shed

And ‘Edwin Abbott’? Well, after some 10 years operating very successfully for the Australian Customs Department, she was sold to new owners, a few times. Now she is owned by a ‘Marine’ Men’s Shed (members, all retired from Marine backgrounds). Last I heard she was moored at Pier 21, right next door to where she was built just over 40 years ago and not far from the WA Water Police complex.

* By Bernie Webb

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