Way back in the early 70s I built a boat in the front yard of my house. I have been mad about boats for as long as I can remember, way back to when I was a toddler playing in the gutter near my home. As I grew older I was inspired by the sailing qualities of Chinese Junks and I had read of Western style vessels fitted with junk rig. There were no plans available so I decided to design and build my own. As a Marine Engineer, I had studied Naval Architecture and I had picked up quite a bit of knowledge of boat building. My first real boat was a 12 foot plywood dinghy with junk rig. It sailed well and was a lot of fun. ” Shiralee”, an old Australian word referring to a swagman’s bed roll, and meaning both a home and a burden, was to be 30 feet long and built from Ferrocement. A lot of “Ferro” boats were being built around the 70s and is to my mind an excellent way to build a strong, long lasting boat. “Shiralee” is still active in Queensland’s Moreton Bay area. However, building this way is time consuming, with well over 10,000 wire ties all done by hand. There is also over half a mile of 1/4 inch steel rod to mould into the shape of a boat.
First, I built a scale model to check that the balance was correct and that the boat would be stable and also sail well. The model was a great success. It demonstrated that the boat would sail straight without constant attention to steering, in fact it would sail itself, adjusting to wind changes automatically. It was also stable and would right itself after a capsize. It was time to start building for real.
The boat was designed so that the hull up to deck level could be built in my garage. This was where much of the tedious bending and welding of steel rods could be completed out of the weather.
The next step was to move the frame to the front yard so I could finish applying 5 layers of wire mesh. Surprisingly, when this was completed the deck was strong enough to walk on. The cement only needs to keep out water, however it adds much to strength. The mortar used was carefully measured and mixed, it becomes a strong flexible structure after curing for around a month, being kept constantly wet. I hired a team of professional plasterers for an expert job. After 6 hours they were done. Using the knowledge I picked up from the plasterers, I completed the deck and cabin myself.
My children loved being on the deck! I also made the sails, masts and most of the fittings!
Came launching day. 7 tons was almost too much for the crane! We hired a low loader semi trailer for the trip to the water. The local TV station even put us on the news that night!
And, as predicted, “Shiralee” sailed very well. She was easily handled by one person and easily kept up with more conventional boats on most courses. She handled strong winds well and was a joy to sail. I was not able to predict the economic downturn that was about to hit. I was self-employed and soon had to sell my house. We lived on “Shiralee” for a few years until the children became too big and needed more room. That will be the subject of a future blog. How long did it take? Three years! Would I do it again? In a heartbeat!!