Thursday 8 April 2010

Sabots at Mooloolaba. (Wednesday)

There on Mooloolaba beach this morning was a sabot and I had a flashback. A sabot, to Netherlanders is the ubiquitous wooden clog, footwear of the poor and web footed, borrowed to name a tiny sailing dinghy of similar shape, six feet long four feet wide.

Way back in 1948, marine plywood was almost unprocurable, as was petrol until Bob Menzies ended rationing but for some reason, three years on, plywood was still reserved for the military. So, Dad and I used Masonite to build my Sabot.

Mum sewed up sails from unbleached calico and she was ready for the water. In truth she should never have been allowed anywhere near water. She had no floatation, the sails worked only down wind and the Masonite soon began to swell and soften around the joints, threatening to let go their screws, glue having given up after a few day out.

However, with my mate Lindsay Opie, grandson of Dame Mary Gilmore and inheritor of some of her genes, I took off on an adventure few parents would have allowed even then, with no life jackets, no communication and no experience.
We stuffed food, a saucepan, one box of Redheads, two sleeping bags and a tiny tent into the bow and set off from where the family was holidaying at Tuggerawong, to circumnavigate Tuggerah Lakes.

Prevailing winds there are either N Easters or S Easters. So as we had a NE wind, we went south, camping the first night on what is really a delta of the Ourimbah Creek, lit our camp fire, cooked spuds and fish we had caught on the way and slept. Next day, we intended to go cross wind to Long Jetty, but a stiff south westerly hit and we were blown north east towards The Entrance, unable to turn into the wind to get the sails down. I wrestled with the mainsheet and tiller while Lindsay bailed frantically as each following wave dumped serious amounts of water over the stern.

Opposite the Entance itself, we began to hit sandbars that threatened to rip the centreboard out of the hull. We were too busy to lift it out, so we crunched into each sandbar, lifted by the next wave and were thrown forward until we were blown ashore at North Entrance right where a high sand blow used to be. It was later flattened to form the road to Toukley, but then it presented us with hours of fun, tobogganing down its face on sheets of iron left by previous tobogganers. The hot south westerly howled for three days, so we stayed, swam, fished and one day walked all the way to my Uncle Frank’s house at Shelley Beach for something to do, buying a few groceries on the way back.

Gales eventually blow themselves out as did that one, so we headed north and almost came to grief again. We misjudged clearance under Toukley bridge and after jamming the mast in its timbers, we swim her out to unstep the mast. Then, once clear of the bridge, we continued north, spending all day running aground on shoals that cover about three quarters of Budgewoi Lake, stopping to eat when hungry and swim when hot, pulling ashore at Gorokan in the late afternoon, the best camp site of the trip. The picture below shows the new bridge and the waterfront where we came ashore, then with trees down to the water, clean and minus the pelicans and what they leave behind.

With no houses in sight, we pitched our tent under the she oaks, lit our fire and had dinner of canned stew and potatoes followed by a large can of tinned peaches, listening to a gentle breeze whispering through the oak needles. For me, that was heaven and still is, but we were almost out of food and down to our last sixpence. We needed to get back.

Morning produced the perfect wind for the home run but we were hungry, so decided to find a shop to buy bread and headed uphill. Eventually we came to a road and found a house where we asked directions to a bread shop. The kind soul at the door gave us a half loaf, so we toasted it all over the fire and ate the last of our eggs, put out the fire, loaded up and headed home. That was the best sail of the trip and we arrived in time for lunch.

Mum had a photo I wish I could produce here showing her with binoculars, scanning the opposite shore looking for a sail. She said she thought we had drowned but showed no emotion when we turned up. She just threw a few more snags into the pan and fed us.
Our poor sabot was now leaking badly and useful only as firewood. After that one holiday she never sailed again, but I did.

Lindsay joined the navy and that cured his waterlust, but I remain infected, always owning a sail boat and now living aboard Tiziana, my lovely old steel ketch, at the moment writing and reliving memories of beautiful places, wonderful people and the adventures we shared. How good is that!


  1. Your poor mum must have been fretting something fierce. Sounds like a real adventure and well written to boot. So are you saying that pelicans are a bit too messy for your liking?

  2. Pelicans are the Starlifters of Birdsville, beautiful and playful, riding thermals util they are specks above the clouds and they play games too.
    My solar panel attests: 'what that huge beak takes in is balanced by output'. Spooner might have called that a game of 'beak-a-poo'!

  3. What an great adventure for 13/14year old! I truly thought I was there. Loved reading all about the early days on the Central Coasts waterways. Will think of you when I paddle on Ourimbah Creek & across the Lake to The Entrance. Knowing your Mum.... she had great faith & trust in you

  4. Always did wish to have a sailboat small or large. For a time dreamed of building a classic. Actual experience limited to rental craft available in calm bay waters. I imagine that the closest I'll get to ocean sailing now would be to charter a skippered boat and offer to crew in fair conditions. You sir, and your lovely Tizianna, have a fortunate relationship.

    Thanks for the great story that any person that can remember being that fleeting young age -- physically capable but before serious interest in the other gender -- can fondly appreciate.

  5. Thanks Leonie, and QwkDrw, you should save your small change and plan a holiday in our Whitsunday Islands where you can hire what is called a 'bare boat'. Then, after a couple of hours tuition, you are cast adrift, no paid crew requried. Those islands are inside the Barrier Reef, so cyclones aside, you can't get into too much trouble. If you can swim a mile, there are not many islands you could not swim to.
    Hey you guys, a bit disappointed nobody commented on the pelicen spoonerism! No, no, too late now! Luv, me. PS, Gabrielle, maybe I should apply for that job!

  6. I won't comment on the pelican joke as it is too late. The jobs yours I think - now I want to go to the Whitsundays.

  7. If you be the Captain
    What a Lucky Crew
    Cause Nobody Sails Oceans
    Quite Like You
    Beaut Sailee Bort
    White Toppers , Sky Blue
    With Stories on Tap
    From Tale - Teller - YOU

  8. Pity you didn't sail on Lake Macquarie, we could have had a race...
    I was always there doing my thing on a V.J. with my Dad .
    Great way to 'Get Around '

  9. Great story telling and writing. I know none of these places but felt like I had been with you on your adventure. JT


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