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By Ross Lillistone - Esk, Queensland - Australia


A Little Adventure

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As usual, organization had been the weak link in the lead up to the three-day beachcruising trip planned by Mike Rowe and his friend Ian. This could be partly excused by the fact that they live in regional cities which were four hundred kilometers apart – but the real reason was that things always seemed to be done in a last-minute rush.

Anyway, here they were with the boat loaded and launched and their eyes turned in the direction of their destination, Curtis Island. The time had crept on as launch preparations were completed, and the two were somewhat concerned about the mid afternoon south-easter which was blowing out of the dark and troubled sky. Neither one would have admitted it, but each man was apprehensive about setting off into such an afternoon in a well loaded fifteen-foot sailing dinghy. It is all very well to talk about these trips, but altogether different actually doing them!

Soon the exhilaration of hard sailing and the dowsing with tropical
water sent their spirits soaring, demonstrating just why it is
all worth doing – despite the hardships.

The boat was a nicely proportioned open cruising dinghy of 15ft 2in x 5ft 11in which had a loaded draft of around six inches. She had been used by this pair of armchair adventurers for over twenty-five years, and showed the scars of use, along with the benefits of evolutionary change.

The rig was strong and simple – a Balanced Lug. Mike Rowe had experimented with many different rigs over the years, but had settled on the balanced lug as being a good compromise for this boat. The rig required no stays or standing rigging of any sort, and the short mast just dropped through a hole in the deck to stand in a simple step on the keelson of the boat. The sail itself was quick to raise (and more importantly, to lower) and was particularly suitable for reefing. Being a low aspect ratio, four-sided sail, it had little heeling tendency while still providing plenty of drive – including hard on the wind. Best of all, anything on the rig could be fixed up with chewing gum and a piece of string.

Inside the boat, large buoyancy tanks were built-in under the decks forward and aft, with plenty of volume up high to provide decent righting moment in the event of a swamping. The pair had stowed clothes, sleeping bags, self-inflating mattresses and towels in the buoyancy compartments. It is not a good idea to make buoyancy tanks into stowage volumes, but in this case the crew only placed light-weight gear inside. They were both aware (from past experience) that having dry clothes and bedding was absolutely critical to a successful cruise in an open boat. Something of equal importance which they carried was a mosquito and sand fly proof cover for each of their bed rolls.

A very small outboard motor was mounted off-centre on the transom, but the boat was also equipped with a correctly proportioned set of oars and a set of bronze rowlocks – all of which were tied into the boat with lanyards. Experience had shown that small boats, heavy seas and outboard motors do not always work out well in combination. A good set of rowing gear is a worthwhile investment if you are serious about boating. Forget about paddles except in the very smallest of boats e.g. sailing canoes and kayaks.
Both men wore moisture wicking polyester clothing, spray jackets and pants, and decent lifejackets. All of the mandatory safety equipment was stowed in the boat. But each crew member carried his own favourite bits of safety gear on his body. The boat was fitted with a compass which was mounted on a bulkhead for use as a steering compass, but could be lifted out to be used as a hand bearing compass – by far the most useful function on a small boat.

They pushed off into the threatening weather and felt the thrill of spirited sailing spiced by the slight fear of unfamiliar waters and suspect conditions. Soon the exhilaration of hard sailing and the dowsing with tropical water sent their spirits soaring, demonstrating just why it is all worth doing – despite the hardships. The boat lifted to the steep waves and felt as though she was a living creature. Shouted conversation was punctuated by clouds of spray, and the self-bailers sucked away at the gallons of water which ended up in the bottom of the little craft. Swooping and driving, they watched the oncoming waves and the sweep of rushing water past the lee gunwale, while above them the reddish-brown sail strained against its lashings.

It was almost dark by the time the boat swept around the head of a tree-covered sand spit on the north-western tip of Curtis Island, and coasted into the relative calm of a salt water creek mouth. They spent the first night of their trip sleeping on the beach, each man covered with his own insect netting. The boat tugged gently at her mooring lines with the sail neatly furled in the lazy jacks. Above her masthead they watched shooting stars and an amazing number of man-made satellites hurtle across the celestial dome. A fire, simple food, and a couple of hours of contemplative conversation lead on through the evening until sleep swept all away. Such are the pleasures of beachcruising.

The following two days were filled with sailing across the entire north face of Curtis Island, exploration, hiking, photography, tracking animals, viewing a lighthouse, sitting on the beach admiring the beautiful boat as she sat at anchor…the list goes on…

After three days, the pair made their return journey. In four or five hours they experienced everything from flat calms to a double-reef south-easter and a near grounding on a surf-pounded bar. A motel room for the night provided access to a welcome fresh water shower, and then more talk – mostly about the next trip and the perfect boat.

Now to Mike Rowe’s mind, a little adventure such as this was worth more than money could buy – and yet the equipment necessary is all so very cheap, especially if you build the boat yourself, or buy one second-hand. The commercial world would like to see us all getting our entertainment from resorts, theme parks, T.V., movies, shopping malls and so on. But why not find our own way? Coastal cruising is accessible to most people, the equipment is cheap, regulations are minimal, and if done properly, the dangers are slight.

More columns by Ross Lillistone