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by Ross Lillistone - Esk, Queensland - Australia


The Treasure

The time was 2am, and the shallow water sweeping past Mike Rowe’s shins was transparent silver in the intense moonlight. For miles in every direction, he could see the exposed sand banks and the mangrove trees in almost full colour, such was the brightness of the moon.

As he stood, amazed at the speed of the water flow now that the tide had turned, Mike saw dark flashes in the water as the predators commenced their next tidal duties. The predatory fish were smaller than a person’s foot, but they were only the advance guard – Mike knew well that as the water deepened, so would the size of the hunters increase. Crocodiles concerned him a bit, so he had remained well clear of the fringing mangrove thickets and frequently glanced around him as he stood on the open flats.

Mike and his friend Ian had motored into this estuary just after the top of the tide at 8pm of the previous night – had they waited longer, their path would have been blocked by the oyster rocks further out, which formed a barrier to this isolated place. Having located their target, the pair anchored the little cat-yawl using lines from both the bow and the stern. Positioned securely, they prepared their standard late-night drink and passed a few hours in contemplative discussion.

Normally, their talk would have wandered far and wide over a range of subjects. But tonight they found that they were concentrating solely on the slim and purposeful rowing boat that tugged at the end of the painter running from where it was belayed to a cleat on the stern quarter of the cat-yawl.

For Mike Rowe, the construction of this rowing boat had been a highlight. He had been building full-time for six years when Ian had approached him with a serious commission. What made the proposal so satisfying was that it combined the benefits of building a type of boat he believed in strongly - for a life-long friend.

The plans for the rowing boat came from the board of the late William Atkin. Mike had grown up in a house full of boat books, and the ones which delighted him most were the old “Motor Boating’s Ideal Series”. The series (which dated back to the early part of the twentieth century) contained the work of many designers and writers, but by far the majority of the books Mike saw were filled with the work of William Atkin, and subsequently that of his son, John.

William Atkin came across as being a gentle person, and his written word carried a mixture of salty wholesomeness that Mike had not seen equalled. In many ways, Mike preferred the design work of William’s son John – but when it came to evocative writing, nothing gave him such a feeling of security and fulfilment as the words of William Atkin. (If you haven’t done so already, get hold of a copy of, “Of Yachts and Men” by William Atkin – a wonderful book for both dreamers and realists).

Mike had built the boat in what he believed was the quickest and best way – by carrying out a proper lofting, laying down the lines full-size on sheets of white-painted plywood nailed to the floor, and then constructing the boat over a strongback and station mould.

The rowing boat he built for Ian had been a straightforward piece of building, without any gimmicks. A solid sheet of 12mm plywood (scarphed-up from standard length sheets on the bench) made up the bottom. The topside planking went on in three strakes per side – 6mm plywood glued up in clinker (or lapstrake) fashion. Gunwales were laminated on while the boat was still on the mould, and then she was turned over for installation of frames, thwarts, breasthook, quarter-knees and inwales. A thoroughly wholesome boat.

For those who have never tried rowing in a suitably shaped craft, the process can be a revelation. Instead of rowing being the frustrating chore it is when using a misshapen abomination such as a planing tinnie or an inflatable, rowing a properly designed rowboat is like a magic carpet ride. Attention must be paid to such things as the placement and design of the oarlocks, position of the seats in relation to the oarlocks, and positioning of foot braces. But get those simple things correct, in a properly designed boat, and you are in for some real pleasure.

As the six-metre tide raced into the inlet, Mike made his way back to where his cat-yawl, now starting to lift and bump on the sandy bottom, lay moored. Ian was already awake and was working at lashing the treasure to an arrangement of ropes which were in turn attached to the Atkin rowing boat. The “treasure” was, in fact, a lump of cast iron which had once graced the decks of a sugar barge as a set of bollards. Many decades had passed since the old barge had been abandoned to rot in this isolated creek. All that now remained were a few worm-eaten timers standing black in the moonlight; and the old set of bollards.

Six metre (twenty foot) tides work very effectively as a lifting device, and it wasn’t long before the rowing boat was floating mid-stream with the cast iron bollards hanging below her, unseen in the tropical water. The trip home was made under power, with the treasure ship towing nicely behind the mothership; an armada in modern times. A late breakfast was prepared afloat and, of course, the crew made sure that the treasure was handed over to the relevant authorities…

Simple are the delights of messing about in small boats. How better can one enjoy the pleasures of planning, building, using and maintaining, objects of practical art? The fact that the activities are cheap, health inducing, quiet, non-polluting and pleasurable to the senses, is a fantastic bonus.

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