(the maiden voyage of Flying Tadpole II)

Our version of Phil Bolger's light schooner started life as a cardboard model flagship for Star Wars figures, and then spent the next nine months sitting in the kitchen exerting its magic on everyone who came into our home.

It wasn't our intention to build it...we were thinking in both smaller and more conventional terms. In fact when we built our Bolger Nymph (Instant Boats), we looked in the back of the book and decided only nuts or mad romantics would build such an odd boat.

kids growing legsBut then the model undermined our sanity and the children grew legs, until we admitted we were both nuts and mad romantics, and built her.

Our attitude was always highly focussed, but not on boatbuilding or racing. We'd started building in January 1991. By December 1991, only the basic hull and spars were finished. So just after Christmas we entered Flying Tadpole II in the 1992 Milang-Goolwa race, four weeks away.

The purpose? Nothing to do with racing, just get the boat on the water early in 1992 rather than late in 1993, or 2001 or whenever. It wasn't that she'd been hard to build - other things, like earning money, got in the way.

The race entry was followed by a panic of fairing and painting and sanding, commissioning of sails and a basic trailer, and construction of bits and pieces. It all came together...sort of.

Two days before the race, she made it out of the shed and onto our back lawn with her masts in and the ropework started, looking spectacular even without her sails. And without her floorboards. And without half her fittings. And without a lightboard, a tiller, a painted rudder stock and the rest.

building frenzyRegistration and race numbers went on to her hull and carpet onto her trailer amid a frenzied cloud of sawdust, planings and broken drill bits.

The race was on a Sunday. The Saturday, intended for lake trials, dawned through a continuing dense fog of sawdust and choice epithets. But by 4.00 pm she was on her trailer, with her floorboards sort of finished, some more permanently than others, her rigging set up in a manner of speaking not generally used in polite company, her sails tied on if not inspected too closely, and on her way to Milang and the Lake.

Flying Tadpole II was launched in the early evening. Her ancient British Seagull motor fired first go, and she nosed through a crowded anchorage into a reed bed to haul up reefed sails and put the motor well cover on. Then out onto the Lake.

Just in case you're wondering, our combined experience with this rig and hull size was zero, and we soon found that the schooner is a very different kind of boat. But we were doing quite well in the chop and stiff breeze, we thought.

spring waterThree or four tacks later, though, we beheld a motor well cover minus its fastenings, and the fuel container, and various other items, floating in the stern compartment amidst a gay postcard scene of geysers and mud springs and submersible outboard motors. A rapid retreat to shore followed.

Come 6am on race day, and more desperate woodworking to secure the motor well cover in the otherwise silent Sunday streets of Mt Barker.

outboard with teethThe full crew of five managed to gather and get the boat back into the water a bare ten minutes before the start. But we still had to motor somewhere out of the way, anchor, get the motor well cover back on and the sails up, let the helmsman sit on the hot outboard exhaust then check the burn marks, and find the start line (there were all these other boats in the way...)

All the other boats in the way turned out to be the next race division, and by the cunning strategy of following them, we found the start a mere 15 minutes after our own division had left.

gentle zephyrHeigh ho and through the start we went with all plain sail up, into what felt like a raging gale but was only a gentle 27 knot sea breeze blowing dead foul, onto the square waves, and up a vertical learning curve. Cowardly suggestions that perhaps we might heave to and reef were all voted down. No-one wished to release their death-like grip on whatever was keeping them in the boat.

Displaying a total lack of racing nous, we tried to combine a direct course across the lake with keeping out of everyone else's way. So two and a half hours later we found ourselves still on the lake, three miles off course on an eight mile leg, being scrutinised by the local water police.

On the way, we'd finally become inured to the sight of water running alongside the lee deck; developed prehensile toes; realised very early on that we needed extra blocks in the running rigging, or a different rigging setup, alternatively arms like gorillas, or bionic gloves, or all of the above; had only two major domestic arguments in the stern cockpit; watched with horror the fir masts chew up and spit out the cedar mast wedges; and seen most of the fleet totally disappear around the corner. We'd been pursued by anxious rescue craft on some tacks, waited for by others on other tacks, and constantly shadowed by spotter aircraft which clearly could not believe what they were spotting.


We eventually found the gate we were meant to be steering for, and took a mere five tacks to get through it. From then on we were in relatively protected waters, still learning fast (fear concentrates the mind dramatically). But it was difficult to make too many more mistakes through the narrows. We had even stopped worrying each time the lee deck run agroundwent under-the mad scramble up the weather deck and attempts to throw the sheets overboard had become purely reflexive. We even passed the odd boat.

And we only ran aground twice.

We reached the finish line with 400+ starters in front of us and 7 or 8 behind. It had taken us 7 hours and at least 30 miles to run the course, but we had made it, without disaster or disqualification. As we crossed the line, it occurred to us that we were potential future race winners!

| (and if you don't believe that, then check this out!) | Went better the other way | Light Schooner home page| sailing tips |More sagas |