Boys’ Own

A contribution from writer Nelson Mews

What middle-aged Perth bloke wouldn’t want the chance to come back as a barefoot boy just messing about in a little boat on the Swan River with his mates, having adventures like Huck and Jim on the mighty Mississippi?

One fabulous February morning this year six veteran sailors, average age just north of 65, set off from East Fremantle on a Boys’ Own expedition to sail as far up the Swan River as they could get in three days.

The idea came from sculptor Tony Jones (creator of the C.Y.O’Connor statue at North Coogee and Eliza, the diving girl, at Crawley among many others). His cavernous studio in O’Connor houses the collection of vintage wooden sailing dinghies he has rescued and restored over the past eighteen years.

Among them is a clutch of Mirror dinghies, the three-metre training craft in which many thousands of young people around the world have learned to sail. Well over 70,000 have been built since first designed by Jack Holt in the U.K. nearly sixty years ago.

Tony sounded out a few old sailing mates and Matt and Bruce from Fremantle and David, Jerome and Ken from Maylands all agreed to have a go.

With their distinctive red sails, the sturdy little dinghies made a striking picture as they glided across Rocky Bay in the lightest of zephyrs, bottle-nosed dolphins rolling leisurely through the little fleet. They followed the river along Blackwall Reach and past Chidley Point where Tony grew up and learned to sail.

From there a long leg took them out past the white sands of Point Walter spit into Freshwater Bay up to Point Resolution and across to the Point Walter Reserve where they hauled the dinghies up the beach and went for a much-needed coffee and stretch of the legs after nearly three hours crouched uncomfortably in a space designed for a lithe young teenager.

The next leg took them through Melville Water and round the point into the shelter of Matilda Bay for a lunch break. Then it was along the Crawley shore, under the Narrows Bridge and in a steadily freshening breeze through Perth Water.

By now nearly all had suffered a ducking or capsize but these little craft are easily recovered, and they sailed on to the Causeway, the first significant obstacle on this epic voyage.

Though in the early days the river was the main highway between Fremantle and Guildford, when it came to bridging the river at Heirrison Island our forebears did not allow for craft with masts taller than 3.2 metres.

The rig on even the diminutive Mirrors is taller than that so our veterans had to come ashore, turn the Mirror dinghies on their sides and carry them through; the same at Claisebrook but from there it was an easy sail to Maylands for the first night and then, the next day, up to the Guildford Road Bridge near where they pitched their tents and camped.

On the last day the more intrepid sailors made their way up towards the head of the Swan Valley, about as far as a little vintage wooden dinghy and a skipper no longer young could go.

Now all safely home again they are already discussing the next Boys’ Own adventure on the Swan Canning Riverpark.