I sometimes tell people I “grew up on and around boats,” and it’s true — but I always hasten to add that they should not infer from that any competence or affinity with things nautical.
Nope, sadly, though I like the idea of boats, enjoy looking at them, photographing them and (in ideal conditions) travelling on them, I’m a dyed-in-the-nylon landlubber at heart and could no more sail a boat with any competence than I could pilot an aircraft.
This despite a childhood in which at least five increasingly impressive vessels took shape under our house or in the backyard and were launched a few paces away into Moreton Bay, or down the road a few minutes into the local creek.
I don’t know what sparked my father’s interest in boats — he grew up in rural Victoria and northern Queensland — but he always had a talent for constructing things (our house, for example — even our caravan!) and he worked as a boilermaker constructing big steel ferries, trawlers and working boats. At home, as his skills developed, the boats just got bigger and better.
Unfortunately I don’t have many pictures to share — most came from the pre-digital era and I don’t have a scanner at the moment. There’s surprisingly little online. I did find a couple of old ones in my photo library I must have scanned years ago, including this shot of Dad’s first boat, a small wooden yacht which went nameless:
With Moreton Bay almost literally at our doorstep (actually in the 1974 floods it advanced rather further than that), we kids grew up exploring the nearby islands on holidays, and further north each Easter, when we’d get time off school for trips to Great Keppel Island on the Barrier Reef with our parents after Dad had finished competing in the annual Brisbane to Gladstone Yacht Race, which he took part in “about 14 times”.
By that time Dad had undergone an ideological shift to the stability and speed of multihulls. Monohulls (single-hulled yachts for fellow landlubbers) are beautiful things but life aboard them is seldom on the level. The sale of the yacht was followed by the first of three trimarans, a wooden boat called Genghis Khan, followed by the revolutionary sleek lines and unbelievable speed of the record-breaking Devils 3 and then the dangerously swift Cliffhanger, both constructed of fibreglass, “foam sandwich” and aluminium tubing.
Like my siblings, I can still recall the smell of fibreglass resin, and the TV-disrupting shriek of electric grinders as hulls took form downstairs. Dad was an avid racer. In addition to the Gladstone race each year there was an annual racing season on Moreton Bay when he and his crews (often one or more relatives among them) amassed kilos of not-always-pretty silver trophies (this was the 70s and 80s after all).
But it was the multihull club outings on the Bay, and the tranquil holiday or weekend family cruises that my mother and we kids enjoyed the most. The 308-nautical mile Gladstone race, which kicked off each Good Friday just up the road at Shorncliffe, was another adventure, and not just for Dad and his crew.
After watching the start (the multihulls starting half an hour after the far more numerous and better-known monohulls), we’d hit the road with Mum to drive up the coast, usually spending a night in a motel in a town like Gin Gin, then continue to Gladstone.
In those days the race coincided with a festival in the sleepy (pre-mining boom) town, and each crew would be billeted in the home of a local family. After a few days in town we’d head out to Keppel, where we befriended a family of old-timers living on the quiet (non-resort) side of the isle and had a whole boulder-covered beach to ourselves.
1976 was particularly memorable. We got to Gladstone on Easter Saturday to find the waterfront crowded with excited spectators. To our surprise, Devils 3 was already moored at the jetty, Dad and his crew all smiles; we were used to being there when the boat slipped over the finish line.
“How did you go?” Mum asked. “Oh, we won,” said Dad with his standard modesty. Devils was a revolutionary partnership between Dad and the nautical architect Lex Nicol, who was among the crew. Their winning time, 27 hours, 47 minutes and three seconds, was the race record until 1981.
(Cliffhanger was, perhaps, even more formidable. Dad recalls reaching a speed under sail of 32 knots. Let me put that in layman’s terms: It’s freakin’ fast.)
I credit these childhood encounters with the water and islands for my love of the outdoors and the environment, not to mention the thrill of journeying and adventure. For Dad, of course, the painstaking realisation of a plan, largely independently, was another reward.
But the hard work with boats never ends after they’re launched. They’re never really finished; there’s constant maintenance and an ongoing battle against the predations of barnacles and marine growth.
Dad’s final multihull, a sleek and comfortable cruising catamaran called the Nudgee Budgie…
..that was also an excellent racer (including winning three Gladstone races on handicap and one on “line honours”, meaning getting there fastest), provided years of service to my parents, their family and friends, but as he approached his eighties, Dad thought it wise to pass on that work to someone else before it got too much for him.
It’s an understatement to say that Dad likes to keep busy. The Budgie sold much faster than anticipated — it’s moored not far down Cabbage Tree Creek — and not having a boat for the first time in decades left him at a loose end.
It was barely three months before the screech of grinders and the sparks of welders returned to the backyard:
Time for another ideological shift: from the beauty of sail to the practicality of engine-powered travel. The Deagon Duck (a tongue-in-cheek homage to the ibis, a characteristic water bird in my parents’ suburb) is smaller and easier to maintain than its predecessors, though as Dad’s first foray into the welding of aluminium, was not without its challenges:
Fortunately my brother, an experienced welder, helped out a lot.
Here she is close to completion, seen from the backyard jetty:
The building of the Duck took a little over a year. Not long before completion, Dad turned 80…
..and we enjoyed sharing tales from our childhoods — many pleasant, but a few harrowing — on Dad’s creations during the celebration.
A few months ago, the Duck got its feet wet at last with its launch into Cabbage Tree Creek…
..attended by a large collection of friends and family.
The launch went smoothly and surprisingly quickly. I’ll end with some pictures from the big day. Meanwhile, the fine-tuning continues, but the Duck has been road-tested twice, its maiden voyage, which I shared, a short trip out past Shorncliffe to watch the start of this year’s Gladstone race.
Things move frustratingly slowly here at T.G.T.W., but I hope to share some pictures from that trip here soon!
~ And that’s all the Goat wrote