It was around 1975 when Dad decided to sell his first boat as it was a bit big for the dams and lakes in our area and was also a bit hard to handle for just one person and us elder kids were on the brink of going off to boarding school etc.
In place of this boat he decided to build a Sunburst dingy but in the meantime he acquired a kitset Optimist which he put together over the winter. He never put seats in or anything fancy but it was a nice (if tiny) one child boat into which some adults could squeeze themselves. It sailed like a landlubbers dream.
We had a lot of fun with this boat with some notable adventures but the best was the day he decided that we would go for a picnic with the boat club members to the Falls dam. This was an irrigation dam built by the gold miners originally and used all summer by local farmers so it payed to get in early before the water level dropped too much.
We were up bright and early on the day and my brother (about 13 at the time) went off first with another member and a sunburst to get in an early sail before lunch. We packed the car with picnic stuff and headed out to hopefully arrive for morning tea.
It was getting warm by the time we reached the turnoff and the dust was bad on the way in but there was a pleasantly overcast sky that kept the heat down and it never looked like rain.
The edge of the dam was stony so those going for a swim wore gymshoes into the water and some never took them off. There was a place for the boats to launch and soon there were four small boats sailing about.
One of the first was the optimist because it was easy to handle and Dad took off in that for a quick sail before lunch. It only took about 20 minutes to get from one end to the other so he did a couple of laps in a nice warm breeze and then headed back to the shore. And looked at the rocks....
After sailing up and down a couple of times, he decided that the best way in without damaging his new paintwork was to throw his bow line to us on the bank. That was all very well but the rope was a bit short, his throwing skills were being interfered with by the sail and mast and stays etc and he was having difficulty keeping the boat in one place. The next happening was very fast! He stood up sideways in the boat and, whilst holding on to the mast, threw the rope again, lost his balance and went over backwards, boat and all.
He came up spluttering, managed to catch the boat before it sailed off without him and dragged it to the bank. Problem solved!
Having shed his wet clothes and been revived by a hot cup of tea, he was reduced to spending the rest of the day in his bathing suit while Mum made a sort of clothes line out of a spare rope to dry things off.
It was just after this that my brother came in with the friend and his boat needing a little attention from the medicine chest and the washing line.
They had been practising gibes down the far end of the dam and had got a little too enthusiastic. (For those who don't sail - a gibe is where the sail and boom are forced suddenly to the other side by turning the rudder hard over. You have to be quick in smaller boats to avoid capsizing.) The gibe had been initiated and it was my brother's job to leap across the boat, avoid the boom en route, and then grab the rope holding the front sail and lean out as far as possible using said rope to stop falling out.
This time he missed! And flew right out of the boat which promptly performed a sort of violent curved dance and was just saved from capsize by the friend letting go the sheet (the line that you hold the sail and boom with). This dumped all the wind out of the sail but he neglected to duck fast enough and was caught by the boom as it came back across. It left a massive bruise on his face and a long scratch.
We patched them up and fed them lunch and more hot tea.
Lunchtime came for all and the various boats were moored for an hour.
After lunch Dad went out in the optimist again and, still wary of those rocks, he got my brother to push him off and away. What we didn't know was that about three yards off the bank there was an underwater cliff, so he took three big steps in just over ankle deep water and then disappeared. He had already been reduced to a bathing suit so no damage was done but it certainly made for heaps of laughter.
After this, the rest of the afternoon went smoothly until it was my turn in the boat. By this time, being in the boat meant sitting in about 6 inches of warm water because the wind had come up a little and wavelets were splashing water in and there was no seat (Dad did rectify this at home later and gave us a seat at least). I had a good time trying out this and that but had great difficulty getting back to the bank. (I was a very new sailor at this time) Every time I turned to go in, the front of the boat tried to play submarine and another foot of water would come in for me to bale out. I thought I might have to land on the far side at one point and then walk the boat home.
I did finally figure it out and, somewhat gratefully made my way back to the landing place. The bank inhabitants said I looked really funny going up and down because all they could see was the sail and my head, the rest being lost in the waves.
|My dad circa 1975|
|Dad, cousin Andrew and brother Phil after an accident at Macandrew Bay in the new Sunburst|
|The boat club at the West Eweburn|
The three photos don't directly link to the story but they do show some of us as we were at the time. The photo of the three drowned rats doesn't do justice to the amount of wet and mud they collected. Dad should have known better - my brother never could steer properly! The main difference between the Falls dam and this one is the trees. There are none at the Falls so we mostly went here instead. The yacht with the cabin was our original boat built by Dad and a friend in an old shop. The other two are Sunbursts, the one in front being the one from the Falls story.