At the end of the year two thousand,
I was given a school science project. I had a year to complete
it. Well, eleven months later, nothing had happened. I knew I
was going to make a boat from the beginning, but my chances were
looking pretty slim. I had built a couple of boats before, one
successful, one unsuccesful. Anyway, I decided to write down a
few ideas about the dreamboats I wanted to build, as well as what
I had read about cruising dinghys, that is dinghys for weirdo’s,
dinghy’s that you could sleep in, I loved the idea.
With a week and a half to go I
realised the boat I was going to build would have to be fairly
ordinary. So I found a spare five minutes and drew up some sketches
of an eight-foot by four-foot, by two-foot punt (a boat with a
flat bottom), with a full deck and narrow four-foot cockpit/foot
well that was self-draining. It had a two-foot by two-foot hatch
in between the bow and the cockpit, so two people could have a
cozy night's sleep below deck - there was a longitudinal bulkhead
between the two berths, so as not to be too cozy. The boat’s
mast was to be hard against one side of the boat, it looked strange
but from what I had heard it would work just as well because the
boat's bottom was flat and could handle a bit of asymmetry.
Somehow it got built in four and
a half hours worth of weeknights, and I even managed a take it
for a quick and hopefully last sail. I did pretty well in the
assignment which helped my comfortable last place in my science
class. The boat lay around the yard at home getting in the way
and killing the grass for about another month. Our neighbours
called it 'Double Coffin'. I called it 'Cruising Dinghy' for the
assignment, but the name that everyone could agree on became,
'Little Shitter', ‘ shitter’ because that’s
the international nautical term for a shit boat and ‘little’
because it was about 16 times smaller than any other shitter we
had ever seen.
A couple of weeks before Christmas
2001, I was on the phone with my sailing mate, Brad Phillips,
and I said, half dreaming, "We should have a cruise up the
Hawksburry River." Brad sounded enthusiastic and replied:
"Yeah, do ya wanna?"
"Shit yeah! But what should
we go on?" I asked.
"We could take ya 'Shitter',"
he replied sarcastically.
But it then occurred to us that
the shitter could be quite fun, it was also be easy to get there
So it was done. The morning before
we left, we were still worried about our parents not letting us
go, but in the end, it was confirmed, because Brad had ten years
experience racing in the manly juniors ,Flying Elevens and 12
foot skiffs as well as anything he could get a ride on. Brad had
also done a lot of camping and heaps of outdoor stuff. I had raced
for the last few years in dinghies, as well a little bit of cruising
and a couple of ocean races. We just kept telling our parents
this and they eventually let us, and also I had already bought
four days food with my mums money, so she had to let us go.
It was not until that morning,
that we started to pack our gear and organise the boat. The mast
was from an old windsurfer; the sail was a flat piece of Taiwan
tarp; the boom was the whisker pole from our family's Columbia
27; and the centreboard, rudder and hatch were carved out that
morning with the circular saw. We took air mattresses for buoyancy
as well as for sleeping on, and we brought a small tent, just
DAY ONE, 18th December.
My mum delivered the boat and us
to Bobbin Head, on Cowan creek. As we were about to leave, she
told us to put our lifejackets on (the bulky ones you put on when
you abandon ship). I laughed at her, and she replied sternly,
"Ah, excuse me, James Francis, you put them on, or you don't
go." So we put them on, sailed around the first bend, then
took them off and stuffed them under the aft end of the cockpit.
We then noticed our next problem
- a 2.5-knot current was going to be against us until dark and
we also had fifteen knots of breeze against us. Trying to sail
to windward with a sail that has no shape in it is bad enough,
but when you have 2.5-knots of tide pushing on your centreboard
it is impossible. We would have to paddle. We made it easier by
going close to all the points we had to round, because the tide
took the bends wide, but it was still extremely tiring. We found
it hard to eat or drink, because if we stopped paddling we would
just get washed backwards.
Oysters made it too difficult to
go ashore, but at about 2 pm we anchored to have a break. Brad
opened the hatch to pull out the food bag, instead he ended up
pulling out everything we had brought and reported that there
were forty litres of water in there. I knew where it was coming
in, because I had tried to fix it the day before. I just wished
I had been a little less stingy with the fibre glass.
I sat down on the back of the boat
peacefully nibbling away at a block of cooking chocolate and some
Oreo biscuits, while Brad bailed out the water by the twenty litre
bucketful. Bailing on this boat was not as easy as it may have
sounded, because you have to climb down into the tiny cabin and
clamber back out with each bucketful.
"Well done Brad".
We got under way again and about
an hour later we came to a point that we just couldn't get around.
We paddled as hard as we could and still couldn't make any progress.
This went on for another ten minutes. I was tired from paddling
for the last three hours and I was beginning to get frustrated.
I jumped ashore with the bow rope to pull the boat around the
oyster-covered rocks. I started swearing and getting angry when
I couldn't pull the boat by this one rock. Brad was laughing at
me, because I'm normally not a very serious person and he thought
I was joking. I then blew my fuse and pulled the boat really hard
into the rock, putting a big split across the bow! Oh well, at
least the boat was around the point.
Brad apologised to me after he
saw what he made me do (it was all his fault). I began to get
my humour again. It was now beginning to rain, so we decided to
stop in a quiet bay with only a houseboat moored in it. We picked
up a public mooring and decided to have a laugh. Both of us climbed
into the wet cabin and left a tiny crack in the hatch to watch
the crew of the houseboat lined up along the deck, stunned at
how we could possibly have fitted into the minute space below
the deck of an eight foot boat.
After that was over, we tried to
dry our leak with metho, which was hard because the water was
coming in while we were doing it, then fix it with silicon, but
the repair (obviously) wasn't perfect.
Afterwards we made our way for
Cottage Point where we intended on staying the night. It was a
nice stopover with a marina and kiosk and was filled with luxury
cruisers and proper boatmen. We arrived there at 10:30, completely
buggered from hours of paddling. We picked up a mooring and cooked
burritos for dinner on our metho stove. We noticed that we had
way too much water in the boat, even to consider staying on it.
But I was still keen to sleep on it, I said to Brad “the
fact that it leaks doesn’t matter, we’ll be sleeping
on blow-up mattresses so we’ll just float up as the water
He replied “But a couple
of hours into the night we won’t be able to float any higher.
We might drown”.
I accepted this and suggested
we could sleep on the deck but I think he wanted to get a good
night sleep or something. So we thought we might squat on the
seemingly vacant houseboat next to us, but we changed our minds
when I noticed a figure moving in the dark cabin. So we paddled
ashore and pulled our boat up on the slipway and carried the soaking
tent up the hill and pitched it (sort of) on the first bit of
ground we could find. It was eleven thirty. We were zombies.
DAY TWO, 19th December.
We were awoken at 6 o'clock by
cars brushing against the side of our tent. It turned out we had
camped on the edge of the driveway to the kiosk. We quickly de-rigged
the tent in a gap between the traffic before we were seen and
ran back to the boat and were under way within five minutes.
We had the wind and tide with us,
taking us to the mouth of Cowan Creek. By 9:30 we had travelled
as far as we had over the whole of yesterday. Amazingly the tide
and wind turned to our advantage when we arrived there and made
a course up the Hawksburry River. Going past that junction of
the rivers enabled us to look straight out to sea, and we experienced
waves up to about a metre. The boat handled very impressively.
Our progress was looking good, as we had only been sailing for
three hours and we had sailed ten miles.
We stopped for lunch at Brooklyn.
We were a little out of place, when we walked around in this luxury
marina and hotel complex. We were covered in sweat and mud, and
the upper class boatmen found the 'Shitter' a real laugh for some
After lunch we continued on up
the Hawksburry River with about twenty knots of wind behind us
and three knots of current against us. I guess our speed over
ground would have been between four and five knots. We were very
happy with this. We found it great sailing. We filled the cockpit
up with all our food and clothes, put the front hatch in place
and spread my sleeping bag across the whole deck, like a picnic
rug to dry. Brad pulled his sleeping bag up the mast and set it
as a spinnaker to dry. We were flying!
To add to the picnic scene, we
had the metho stove on all afternoon, constantly making noodles
and hot chocolates, the downfall was when the stove fell over
and burnt the side of my sleeping bag. Later that afternoon I
drifted off to sleep while steering. This sent us straight to
shore and I was awoken by the centre board snapping in half on
a rock. The centre board is essential for sailing as it allows
you to sail forwards rather than side ways. Oh well.
At about 7 o'clock we stopped
at Bar Point for dinner, just as it was getting dark. After dinner
we decided to press on even further in the darkness. We now had
the tide with us, so we paddled another three miles, but in the
complete darkness, without a torch or compass or map that we could
read, we simply could not work out where we were, which was a
problem since we were somewhere near the junction of the Hawksburry
river and Berowra creek , and we could not afford to take the
wrong turn off.
We decided to play it safe, therefore
we paddled back to the one light we could see at Bar Point. This
meant paddling against the tide and we did not arrive there until
11:00. We were buggered again.
Having pitched the soaking tent
on the public wharf, we were ready to collapse, when a local hillbilly
came down and helped us move our tent along the shore to a piece
of grass on the bottom of his property. He said goodnight and
told us what to do if we had any problems with the local red belly
Everything in our tent was soaking
and completely stank. We were also camped on a sloping hill, which
meant we could not easily get a good rest. Throughout the night
I kept on catching myself steering with my hand on an imaginary
tiller, but I reassured myself of reality by touching the tent
wall. I never really slept that night. Brad must have been having
similar problems, because he started shaking me to say we were
DAY THREE, 20th December.
We slept in until 7 o'clock (Brad
did) and found a tractor parked two metres beside our tent. A
closer inspection revealed that the tractor had circumnavigated
our tent. Twice! We got back under way and had breakfast and drank
the final drop from our two litre water bottles that had lasted
us since the morning before - pity that we wouldn't be able to
drink anything till the afternoon and it was a scorcher of a day.
We worked out a good way to overcome
our tiredness for the final ten miles of our cruise up Berowra
Creek. We kind-of ran a watch system, like on yachts - one person
steered for an hour, while the other slept on the foredeck. When
it was changeover time we bailed out the cabin.
At about 2 o'clock we reached the end of our cruise. We had slipped
along with five knots of breeze behind us for the last six hours.
Just as we were about to get off the boat, I dropped my mobile
phone in the water, but a bit of metho brought it back to life.
On the way home in my mums car she refused to turn the air conditioning
on despite the 38 degree temperature, she said we had to open
the windows because the smell was too overwhelming.
A couple of weeks later we showed our photos to Brad’s mum.
She didn’t believe that we went up the Hawksburry in that
“You didn’t go up the
Hawksburry in that thing! Bradley Philips. You lied to me. You
said you were using a proper sailboat with a cabin”.
“nah, I didn’t lie
to you mum”.
“James, I think you are
very irresponsible, I never would have let Brad go with you if
I’d seen that boat”.
“that’s why we didn’t
show it to you Mrs Philips”.
In early January the following year, Dad was talking about taking
some garden rubbish to the tip, he was talking about borrowing
my uncles bow trailer. I wasn’t really taking any notice
of what he was saying. On the Saturday I came home from the sailing
club for lunch and I found that dad had overcome the problem of
not owning a bow trailer. He had the shitter upside down on our
boat trailer. He cut the bottom off the shitter and filled the
boat up with rubbish. Sort of like a disposable box trailer.
This story was extremely funny to Brad
and myself, because it was true. We were both involved so we found
it funny that everything that could have possible gone wrong did.
I'm a little worried that this story won't be as funny to somebody
that was involved.
The intended audience is people who are boating fanatics simply
because they will find the story interesting as it was such an
unconventional cruise. But hopefully it could still be enjoyed