A 16 foot Sharpie
On this date on any other year, Mike Rowe would have been sitting at his Sister-in-Law’s table, preparing to eat a huge birthday feast. Birthdays didn’t do much for him, and neither did that sort of socializing. Therefore, he was content to be sitting under a tree on the beach of a particular island in the southern half of Moreton Bay, (Queensland, Australia) with only himself as company. Recent events had changed his life, but not necessarily for the worse!
Many people dreamed of tropical island paradises – but this place suited Mike. He had grown up on the shores of Moreton Bay, and although most of his working life had been spent adjacent to other waters, he had never lost his love for the friendly bay over which he now gazed.
Yes, things had changed in his own world, but the small waves, swaying mangroves, perching Shags and patient Gulls were just as he remembered them forty years ago. On the days when his mood was serene, he was able to filter out the sight and sounds of jet skis and the enormous, planing powerboats. The best days were the rough ones – he loved the grey skies and the blustery winds which kept the fuel guzzling polluters at home, yet gave the sailing and paddling boats their best rides.
But today was a smooth water day. Mike’s beachcruising dinghy drew only four inches, and he had insulated himself from the powerboats by hunting up an inlet which was laced with extensive shallows. The entrance to this place tested his pilotage to a mild degree, but going aground was no problem when stepping over the side into ankle-deep water was all it took to free the boat. He often went ashore on Sandy Island just to enjoy the thrill of standing on an island which would disappear with every high tide.
He prepared his lunch on a stove powered by white spirit. Many times in the past he had been disorganised in this (every!) area, but the lessons learned from uncomfortable trips had pushed him into making a proper galley box. When he finally got around to making the galley box, it had embarrassed him to discover that the whole exercise took only one afternoon, and one day of intermittent painting.
The galley box was made from marine plywood off-cuts from his workshop, and had been put together with epoxy/glass seams. To prevent water entry, the lid overlapped the sides with a deep lip and was strapped down with shock cord. Rope handles at each end of the box eased lifting, and facilitated secure stowage inside the boat. In his present little cruiser, the galley box did double duty, being used also as a rowing seat.
Plastic plates aren’t much fun, and Mike now used normal china plates, bowls, and a non-stick frying pan/wok. Stainless steel cutlery proved easy to keep clean, and empty coffee jars provided sealed storage for pasta, rice, grains and other dry goods. Mostly, Mike used canned food for convenience, having discovered that the good quality brands were wholesome and apparently nutritious. Very occasionally he carried a small ice box, but the simplicity of his dry galley arrangement meant that most of his liquid was consumed at room temperature!
Now Mike had read some articles in Australian Amateur Boatbuilder written by some know-it-all called Lillistone. Mike distrusted the word of most self-proclaimed experts, but this bloke had a few ideas with which he agreed – most particularly, the one about the superiority of small boats. Quick to build, cheap to own, easy to launch and retrieve, providing adventure in areas where larger boats could not travel.
Looking to his right, Mike studied the lines of his 16 foot sharpie. She was drawn up on the beach with an inflatable roller under each end, and a three part tackle leading from her bow eye to the base of a tree above the tide line. The third roller which he had used while rolling the boat up the beach was now providing him with an excellent pillow.
The sharpie had taken less than one hundred hours to build, and yet the materials and construction were of the highest quality. Hollow, free-standing masts were light enough to be removed with one hand – yet they set over one hundred square feet of sail. Total materials cost for the entire boat (less sails) had been well under fifteen hundred dollars. Modern construction techniques suggested that she would last a hundred years, with care
The plan for the evening was for an unobtrusive camp, sleeping in the boat under a tarp. The main mast was leaning aft at a sharp angle, supported at a decent height over the stern by the tiny mizzen mast. None of the tenting required special equipment, and Mike had even used the mainsail as a tarp on one occasion; mostly he used a cheap polytarp from K-Mart. Inside the tented volume, he slung a simple “no-see-um” net to keep the mozzies and sandflies at bay. When Mike left the next morning, there would be no evidence of him having been there.
Like most of us, Mike was a flawed individual – he preached the virtues of light and simple boats, but as he drifted off into an afternoon sleep, his mind was on a selection of larger vessels. John Welsford had just published a design called “Swaggie”, and she ignited desires in Mike’s simple mind which just would not go away. This go-anywhere cruiser, complete with a Chinese-lug rig, could be sailed from inside by a one-person crew. Her eighteen foot length meant that marina berthing costs would be minimal, yet her voluminous hull should provide ample space for extended cruising. Maybe he would write an article for the next issue of Australian Amateur Boatbuilder magazine…….