You’ll come a Waltzing Matilda with me

by Paul Day

click thumbnails to enlarge

There comes a time when you need to build a boat. You drive down a road or track and as you crest a rise you see a lake that screams out “ Here I am, come and sail me”.  This is the tale of how and why a 31’ Bolger folding schooner started its life sailing 400 km’s from the sea in one of Australia’s driest cities.


Lake Lefroy with landyacht

Every 10 years or so inland Western Australia gets a “25 year flood”. Great big cyclones come in, one after the other, Out of the Timor Sea via a detour into the Indian Ocean. They dump a few years of rain in days, or even hours. Our annual rainfall is supposed to be 6” but we can get local storms of 6” in 1 hour.  The eastern parts of Western Australia are very flat with ancient river and lake systems that are normally saline and dry.

Brown Lake and a flash flood

After such rains lakes up to 10’ deep can appear overnight and live for 1-2 years. The biggest is Ponton Creek, 250 km’s of swamps, rapids and salty lakes which can flow for 3 months as it drains into Lake Bunderoo on the Nullarbor Plain. The creek gets a salty layer of foam up to 1 metre deep in the wilder parts. The river system was navigated in the floods of 1976 by rubber ducky.

Our local lakes around Kalgoorlie include Kopai, Brown, Red, Gidgee, King Of the West, And our beloved Rowles Lagoon. Most are 1-2 kms across. But Brown Lake is 1.5 by 7 kms and 4WD access only.


I started my search for a boat before we had internet access, so it was magazines only.  Criteria was:

  • 1 Open boat. Reason: When people disappear into a cuddy cabin they tend to get sick, or suffering boredom.

  • 2 Simple to build of course.

  • 3 Suit growing family. The family was 2 adults and four girls when we started. Add 1 more girl before it was finished. Don’t forget they have friends as well.

  • 4 It has to be built in an 18‘ long building space, along with running a small business. No worries.

  • 5 Has to be as narrow as the 4WD for towing, with no protrusions to snag on trees when winding through the bush. 20’ towing length max.

  • 6 $6000 Australian to spend

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All this told me I needed lots of boat. A cat was out as all the designs were too wide. Couldn’t find any tris under 24’. Things were looking grim. We might have to stick with the Hobie14 and only take a few kids at a time.

I’d given up buying magazines as it had cut into the budget and was down to reading them in the newsagents. I spotted a story in ‘Watercraft’ magazine, which featured a photo of a huge long schooner ghosting along with a relaxed crew sprawling around the deck. The caption said “31’ folding schooner”

I thought Hmmm…….., my wife said “Too big . Oh it folds! OK. Two weeks later the plans arrived. Shopping for parts involved finding plywood, glues, and timber by phone and fax, then driving 600 km’s to pick it all up. Just like that.


Since I was ready to build the boat, I had to knock out a few other jobs first., namely a couple of billy carts and a parade float, repair a car or 2 , renovate a bedroom………


The float

I drove the float into the shed (my 4WD is inside the float) and pulled it apart. Before anybody could find a use for the space in the shed I set up the trestles and started marking out the first sheet of ply. Bulkheads came flying out in rapid succession.

The forward hull was simply a case of following the instructions and it turned into a hull in no time. A handy hint: 4 house bricks in a milk crate is perfect for holding up sheets of ply when assembling the hull sides.

It was at this point that I learnt about metric and imperial(s) measuring systems.


clamped bulkheads

I started school with imperial measurements and just as I was getting confused we changed to metric in grade 5. The plans were in Imperial, for which Mr. Bolger apologised, but said the design was a 1973 one and not worth redrawing.

No worries. I soon figured out the feet, inch, eighths, and ignored the little + and – all over the plans. The for’ard hull was built and looked good but not right by the tiniest amounts. At this point the Library found me a copy of Payson's “How to build the new instant boats” and he explained that the + and – was + or – 1/16 “.Oooops.

This explained the unique flare in the bow.

Have you ever heard of Japanese Inches. The little buggers have their graduations in 1/10 Inch. My beautiful new stainless steel metre rule featured this sneaky variation without telling me. It took 4 hours to re-measure the ply sides of the aft hull when I did a re-measure of a couple of spots that didn’t feel right.

The offending part of the rule is now painted over.

After the for’ard hull was built it was primed and hoisted into the rafters of the shed and I started on the spars. This was because my cash flow was not conducive to the boxes of screws needed for the aft hull. The booms and gaffs were done in a day then the search began for suitable mast wood.


Kalgoorlie has 2 salvage yards. They both work on the same principal. As buildings are demolished anything of real value is shipped out to the capital city (Perth) and the rest is sorted and left to rot away due to the absurd prices being asked. I was searching for 4 of 4”x 2” by 15 -16’ long. “Good luck” was the reply at one yard. In all this mess I found 2 of 4”x 2”x 14’ long Douglas fir, almost clear, no cracks. They had been part of a roof frame and were very dry on the outside. With a lot of planing I had just enough wood left to laminate a 3”x 3” mast . The top 1’6” came from an off-cut from a 12 x 2 floor support of an old hotel being renovated. The other 20’ of that beam had been removed by a demolition crew and used in landfill!

The mast was a bit twisted so when I clamped it about 60 clamps were used, all but 30 scrounged from local builders and friends.  Planing and sanding took only one day , but what an enjoyable one it was. Wading barefoot through a thick layer of aromatic shavings is a rare delight for anybody working with wood. I suspect finding wood for anything bigger in this part of the world would be a true challenge. Wood cost for this mast was AUS $40.00. Not too bad.

A week later the man from the “Good Luck” yard rang and said he’d found a couple of sticks in a roof. I arrived to find 2 superb pieces at 16’6” long, not too dry, no splits, no twists. He informed me they would cost AUS $20.00 for the 2 so I paid up and ran for home real quick.

The next mast was to be 14’6” and the wood was easily prepared, glued and clamped the same day . In contrast this one needed only 30 clamps. The finished mast is 2/3 the weight of the main mast yet only 1’6” shorter.

After 10 months of building the cash flow dwindled again and I had to walk into the shed each day and not build boats, but, as if by magic ………

Junebug with sails

I was removing an old shed from a property and when we lifted the roof off there in the crap and rat poo was the distinct shape of a14’ Bolger June Bug and my job was to remove it. For the next month I was able to experiment with alternative glues, Bilge Keels, poly tarp sails( love them), and rudder/tiller arrangements.  The result was a Bilge Keeled, ketch rigged JB with a Thames Barge style sprit sail main, lug mizzen with Boomkin, and the fanciest tiller and seats in town.

The boat, with its expanded seating room was for 4 kids or 2 adults. This made me feel really good about my choice to build the 31 footer.

Poly tarp sails were both easy to make and surprisingly good to sail. A couple of hints:

  • 1. Have plenty of reinforcing around the eyelets.

  • 2. Don’t waste your money on double sided tapes. Use old fashioned contact adhesives, but not the Gel types.


jarrah hinges

Work progressed slowly on the rear hull. Having read a bit about the folding schooners failings in the hinge plate and chine latch areas I started thinking about how to beef it all up. The for hull had had 20mm thick ply plates glued and screwed under the decks and the chine latch area had its scantling doubled.

This was followed through to the aft hull , particularly as the bilge boards would run through this area too The boards were beefed from 12mm to 20 mm. All framing in these areas were increased and extra framing added to the face of the bulkheads. I felt confident that this would increase strength without adding too much weight

The chine logs in the midships area were enlarged to 3” x ¾” over the length of the bilgeboard cases to fit wider latch plates in 3/16” Stainless steel. All through bolts were ½” SS instead of the designed 3/8” galv coachbolts.

jarrah hinges

The transom was another area that received my attention. The designed transom seemed weak in my eyes so the lightly framed 6mm ply was replaced with a solid 1 ¼” Maranti slab recovered from an old security door. It had been the back door of a house, which we’d bought to renovate. Although this is nothing to do with boats I was told that the owner was a retired brothel madam, and very ugly to boot, and that the house had once been a Fire Station in a nearby town.

Just a bit more Kalgoorlie history to add to the boat.

The transom was the only area to be sheathed in Epoxy and cloth. This was a very time consuming exercise and I would dread doing it to the whole boat.  I now felt confident it would be strong enough. In motoring trials it had a short shaft 8hp motor hung off it, as opposed to the recommended 4.5.

The boat would be fine with a 4.5 though as long as you were not it a strong tidal area. I would prefer a long shaft though. (all hail the designer for he knoweth best).

18 months into construction I ran out of ply and money and GLUE.

deck plates

When I purchased the ply the plan was to buy enough for the forward hull with a few spare sheets. By very careful cutting and butt-jointing some of the smaller components I had managed to get most of the rear hull built as well. I needed 2 sheets for the aft bottom to finish the job.

Prices had gone way up and the original supplier wouldn't even ring back, same with my epoxy supplier.

A pine marine ply was ‘available‘ locally, i.e. pay the $110 and get what comes on the truck.

I went back to the boat and worked on stainless and wooden fixings, a couple of 10’ oars, some extra ribs for the floor of the boat. Even some Baltic Pine flooring that I’d rescued from a skip at a local hotel.

This went on for a few months as Christmas approached. When my father in law arrived with the kids Christmas gifts , there in the back of his Ute was a beautiful sheet of ply, Thank you Norman.

He’d gone out to buy 2 but was caught out by the “Special Discount” prices being offered and could only afford 1. As the 2 bottom sheets had to be joined BEFORE fitting to the bottom I now had to watch a sheet of ply slowly twist and buckle and check in the hot dry Kalgoorlie summer.

My version of a solid transom

A friend who would be crew came to the rescue by buying a sheet of the same pine ply and dropping it in my shed whilst I was out.  So that night it was all on for young and old as the bottom went on. The keel and bottom runners had been cut and waiting in the wings for some time. The keel had previously been a doorframe in a house in a nearby town and came to me via the towns tip.

The bottom logs are another story. Part of my job involves cleaning out yards and sheds in rental properties. Every now and then I have to remove broken or discarded furniture. The best of all is the Futon bed, you get a huge bundle of long square or rectangular slats of really well seasoned and springy wood. In Australia they tend to be a wood known to us as Ramon? Normally they are double bed width as a bonus.

Hint - check out the local second hand stores for these babies. I used wood from 2 beds and still have a huge bundle of 1” x 3/4” staves.

Anyway back to the boat.

Before the final coats of paint went on I decided to build the trailer so that I could slip the hull on and off to get it right, without scratching the paint.


Having rung a few trailer manufacturers it was apparent that that a new one would cost more than the boat. The problem with shopping for a secondhand one in Kalgoorlie is that you are nowhere near the sea, i.e. no boat trailers for sale.

Once again my beloved rubbish tip saved the day. Whilst dropping off a load of garden waste I spied an axle with wheels and springs still attached. I had to actually pay on this occasion, $25.00 was a bargain though. The heavy gauge angle was in piles around the yard and whist driving down a track I found a pile of off-cuts that had literally fallen off a speeding truck. The 2 biggest pieces of 4”channel were just the right length for the trailer that I had planned.

All the rollers came from the remains of our old Hobie trailer. I bought a NEW tow hitch. Time to build was 2 ½ days welding and less than $100.00.

And we were rolling.

Meanwhile painting started again. As the boat wasn’t going to be glassed I opted for lots of coats of paint. 2 pink primers, 2 undercoats, and 2 gloss enamels. The finished hull in Sunset red was ready to join and rig.

Funnily, on the launch day photos, the colour of the boat was the colour of the sunset!


Now that the boat was out of the shed and sitting on the trailer in my wife’s carport I had a large space in my shed . In situations like this it important to act quickly. If the wife and kids get a chance to get any jobs in the space I would be doomed. I gave the floor a good clean and unrolled the polytarps that I had to hand.

For the next 2 nights I was in the shed covered in glue and off-cuts creating 3 sails. These were then led lovingly into the house and stacked next to my wife’s most cherished possession, the Janome. She’d agreed to sew them after I completed a list of jobs around the house and a 2 day baby-sit so she could swan off to a conference.

The experiments with the June Bug had paid a dividend as the whole process of cutting, glueing and sewing went very smoothly indeed.


As I began rigging the boat I realized where the cleverness of the designed rig was starting to show. All the rigging was to be 6mm silver rope. I rang around a few marine suppliers and hardware discounters and found that the best price was at my local hardware store. The marine guy tried to convince me that I would have to use 6 mm spectra all round. I explained that the gaff sails were only 65 and 95 square ft with 2 lines each, but he wasn’t sure what a gaff was . He didn’t recognise the word Marconi either, Kids today!

The boat uses 124 metres of 6mm line for the running rigging, and reeflines, and Parrel lines. This left 1 metre on the roll. I would have liked to leave an extra metre on each of the halyards though. It took 2 days to cut, whip, and colour code all the tips of the lines. All the snapshackles were from the hardware store labeled as dog lead snap clips, in chromed bronze. Identical to the marine ones but at 1/3 the price.

It was a real buzz to hoist one sail after another on new lines and get comments from passersby as they realized there was a ruddy great boat in a driveway.

After almost 2 years I was able to step back and look upon this beast that I’d built and start to realize its potential. When you’re at the helm you have to shout to the kids at the bow to give them an instruction. This boat was just like everyday life!

Un-folding sequence


The day of the checklist was here:

  • Hull – check

  • Masts – check

  • Sails - check

  • Rudder and boards – check

  • Trailer – check

  • Lake full of water………….Oh dear.

Remember all those cyclone filled lakes that appeared overnight?  They were all dry except for one, Rowles lagoon.

It is 100km’s of mostly dirt road to the north of Kal. And a fresh water lake to boot.

With friends and family in tow we headed out for the big weekend of sailing. On arriving at the lake everybody got down to the task of lighting fires and putting the billy on, but I was in a hurry. I backed down into the water and shoved the folded boat off into the water. It immediately caught the breeze and swung back into the trailer mudguard and 20 seconds in I had my first hole. This all caught the attention of my fellow campers who now started to gather to WATCH. I explained how we were going to unfold it and explained that they would need to take off their shoes, roll up their trousers and join me in the 10degree water. With a team of 4 we unfolded the boat and the shear size of her became apparent to all.

Rigging on water for the first time was a surreal experience. I counted as many as 11 kids at any one time, oars were going in, out and around, my daughter produced a Cornet, and became a brass band playing “Waltzing Matilda “ of course.

The first “Man overboard” occurred in 6” of water with the bow still ashore. The kid involved just climbed back in and got my cushion wet.

I suppose a bloke would start getting grumpy and snarly at this point, but I reminded myself that this was what I’d built it for.

Rigging  with Band

Sailing the schooner was much like any big dinghy. Just get in and go, but remember how long you are when you need to turn. The Tiller is surprisingly light and responsive and has about 2 –3 degrees of leeway when the wind is up.

Day 1 was sailed with Jib and main in 20 – 25 knots on flat water, with a crew of 3 adults , 3 kids.

Our family were the only ones camping, so the next day saw me and 5 kids with jib, fore and reefed main. Day 3 was superb, same crew with a light breeze, all sails full and bye.

The wind increased over 2 hours to 15 knots. We all had a ball that morning. I found the way to sail was to lay in the bow and let the kids do it all. My 8 year old was the best of the helmswomen, and was even able to steer up onto the beach area we had cleared of rocks whist I bellowed commands to lift boards and lower sails.


This was going to be a challenge due to the fact that there was only my wife and I to accomplish the task. In honesty, I wouldn’t try it again without 2 strong adults, preferably tall. Whilst we could do it there was a high probability of someone slipping and injuring a back or even damaging the boat (heaven forbid) as it was we took 3 tries to get our stance and grip right. Whilst aborting the second attempt the pulley on the traveler/hinge pin dropped into the closing gap between the hulls, forcing them apart and damaging the hinge. I am now working on some kind of side mounted hoist to fold and unfold the boat before launching. Despite the size and weight of the boat I was able to push it onto the trailer without a winch.

******Setting sail – Note size of helmswoman******

Setting sail – Note size of helmswoman


1. I added a slotted inwale to the rear hull. Initially I was concerned about side flexing over the long length of the cockpit. Later I was pleased to see that the inwale was ideal for fitting removable rowlocks and a great handhold for the kids.

2. I built the bilgeboards at ¾” thick instead of the designed ½”. This was due to experience with the rudder blade. The first rudder blade was ½” with 6oz cloth and epoxy on each side. It used absurd amounts of the liquid gold and still had way too much flex. I didn’t even bother to fair it up. The ¾” MDO rudder as built in only 1 hour and feels very stiff. It hit a tree stump after 1 hour of sailing with no damage.

3. The rudder/tiller assembly was changed to a regular tilt up arrangement with a normal tiller. The designed set up didn’t work very well when we tried it on the June Bug and I found pushing and pulling a pole instead of a tiller quite off-putting. The original design was probably intended for when the skipper had to be well for’ard when sailing.


4. Extra ribs of 1”x 3/4” Ramin were added to the rear hull (futon bed slats), 2 between each designed frame. This stiffened the hull sides and floor quite nicely.

5. I made a series of removable floor panels of Baltic Pine floorboards (the Australia Hotel verandah, and the Mt. Lyall hotel top landing). These get stomped on, jumped on , lifted out and used as a picnic table and a camp bed.
They are varnished with a light sprinkle of sand for grip.  One effect is that there is now a huge expanse of varnished wood running the length of the otherwise painted boat.


1. ½” ply for the bottom of both hulls. When I damaged the side of the boat it was so easy to do. I’m very cautious when beaching.

2. Buy all the ply and epoxy when I start and not as I go along (perhaps even the sails)

3. I think you need to build some strong points under the decking of the Bow and Stern to take anchoring and mooring cleats. Possibly some kind of Samson Posts.

4. More clamps! I had 20 of 3”, 8 of 8”, 2 of 24”. You need more 8” and more 24”.


  • 4” power plane

  • 10” hand plane

  • 4” belt sander

  • Handsaw

  • 91/4 powersaw

  • reversible 240v drill

  • reversible 14v drill

  • handdrill

  • carpenters hammer

  • ¾ chisel

  • 3/8 hollow gouge

  • jigsaw

  • mall router (borrowed as required)

  • Hand mitre saw(I was given a power one after almost finishing the boat)

  • 12” drawknife

  • 4” grinder fitted with stone grinding disc

  • 1” putty knife

  • 3”flexible putty knife (little devil)

  • carpenter’s square

  • bevel guage

  • 6” surform

  • 26’tape

  • 1 metre rule

  • 100 litre beer fridge

  • big huge stereo speakers in the shed

If you have any queries please feel free to Email me at:

If you’ve ever sailed, seen or owned a folding schooner I’d love to hear from you. Paul Day AUS3 “Waltzing Matilda” Kalgoorlie Western Australia

P.S. Just as well I built a big boat as daughter number 5 came a long just prior to finishing it.