Apparently there are few wooden boats in regular use in and around Darwin. So said Chris Naden, owner and skipper of the former pearling lugger Streeter during our sunset cruise around the harbour. And he should know. Between the deleterious effects of damp and mould during the Wet, teredo worm and termites, keeping a wooden boat in good repair is a difficult – and expensive - exercise. Gaff-rigged, built in Broome in 1959, Streeter’s working life included time as a fishing boat and she has been beautifully restored for use in the tourist industry.

The Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory has an interesting assortment of wooden boats in its Maritime Gallery, along with an impressive collection of Southeast Asian and indigenous art and crafts, natural history specimens including Sweetheart, a 5.1m “saltie” with a reputation for attacking outboard motors. The display features craft from SE Asia and Pacific Islands - ornately decorated canoes and outriggers, a pearling lugger and a Vietnamese refugee boat. Two other exhibits stood out - a darkened room in which visitors can experience something of the chilling fury of Cyclone Tracy during Christmas Eve in 1974 by listening to an actual sound recording made on the night, and the Defence of Darwin Experience telling of the Japanese bombing of Darwin in 1942.

Although not a wooden boat, we had a fun “cruise” aboard a converted LARC (Lighter, Amphibious, Resupply, Cargo), clanking down Darwin’s main street at a stately 15kph then heading straight into the sea for a run around in the eastern waters of the harbour. Jim even got to drive it! The beaches around Darwin are beautiful and the warm, clear turquoise water is so tempting, it is a great shame that sharks, stingers and crocodiles make it a potentially lethal swimming environment!

From Darwin we travelled south to Adelaide aboard The Ghan, the passenger train that follows the route of the early Afghan cameleers through the heart of Australia, magnificent scenery, fabulous meals and comfortable accommodation – what more could you ask for? Back in chillier climes, we headed to Goolwa. We checked out the waterfront with the steamer Oscar W and the massive barge Dart.

At nearby Clayton Bay, WBASA member Rob Hylton was experimenting with combinations of jib, main and mizzen in Echo, a stretched version of Paul Fisher’s Ethel design; of course we hurried to the ramp at the Clayton Bay Boat Club to get a closer look while helping Rob retrieve the boat.

Dredges were in place as we cruised slooowly past the Murray Mouth in the Spirit of the Coorong; the constant effort involved in maintaining the barrages to separate the freshwater from the salt and keeping the river’s mouth open to the ocean is something to note, as is the ever changing location of the actual exit into the Southern Ocean. Pelicans and other seabirds were abundant, as were playful seals.

Further west, we hunkered down at Cape Jervis and watched the Kangaroo Island ferry ploughing through huge waves and strong blustery winds, deciding to postpone the visit until the weather improved. (It didn’t.)

In Port Augusta we admired the solid timbers of Number Four Barge, built in Mannum in 1880, whose massive skeleton can still be seen in the tidal shallows of the northernmost end of Spencer Gulf.

Continuing southwest-ward to Port Lincoln, we arrived on another wild night with waves crashing over the seawall. We visited the excellent Axel Stenross Maritime Museum, on the waterfront site of the boatbuilding works founded by Finnish seamen Stenross and Frank Laakso, who came to Port Lincoln in 1927 on the SV Olivebank. This small museum is staffed by volunteers and is packed with artefacts such as boat fittings, tools and engines and locally built boats, many scale models, the original living quarters and blacksmith’s shop, Axel’s sea chest and tools. Photos and displays provide historical information on the area’s boating community and the local fishing industry – abalone, shark, oysters and tuna. Several large boats, such as Hecla (1903, 28m), the last wooden coastal trading vessel in SA, are located in the yard. This interesting museum is well worth a visit.

I was quite taken with the helpful step by step guide to building a wooden boat - see photo below.

A little way up the west coast of the Eyre Peninsula is Coffin Bay, which is probably best known for its oysters. The picturesque sheltered bays and estuaries here and at Mt Dutton Bay look like they would provide excellent sailing for small craft and we promised ourselves a return visit with a boat. Timing the visit will be important, as the small town’s population of ~ 200 balloons to over 4,000 during the summer! Huge jetties, even in quite small towns, are now used mainly by recreational fishermen, but attest to the importance of this area as a maritime transport hub in earlier times. The whole west coast of the peninsula is stupendously beautiful, every bay offers stunning views, sweeping vistas of cliffs, surf, beaches and the pounding Southern Ocean. Although there were rumours of whales offshore, we were not lucky enough to see any. Maybe next time.

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