Adventures of Tubby: Hoppalong Bourkie's tale of woe

I’m starting this with a tale of woe and a reminisce of the olden days and the hard learned rules of IOR ocean racing around the Australian coast, along with the associated yacht deliveries to and from the race track. Back then we sailed with masthead rigs and huge overlapping headsails that supplied the bulk of the horsepower when sailing on the breeze and conversely the bulk of the problems if you were caught with too much sail up.  

We had the “Ten Minute Rule” about changing down to a smaller headsail when conditions were threatening to become a little boisterous.  When things started getting marginal, i.e. you could feather the boat through the gusts but still needed the power of a big headsail in the lulls, you’d wait ten minutes before committing to changing down and see what the breeze did during that time. It was a good rule when you had a full crew on board; most of the time.

But, when doing short handed deliveries we had a very different rule, and this was the reason that we seldom ended up in strife away from the race track. That rule, put very simply was “If you have to talk about it, take it off.”  Delivering boats requires a safe passage, not necessarily a fast one and a slightly underpowered boat usually meant that the rig, the boat and the crew were having an easy time of it.

Jump forward 30 years and I should be writing this article while sailing down the NSW east coast in a fresh northerly with a two knot following current under the bum, on a boat stocked with fresh food and crew for the run home from the Barrier Reef to Tassie. The whales are migrating south for the summer and so should Tubby. Instead, I’m limping around the house, the pain of torn ankle ligaments bringing tears to my eyes and that old rule banging around in my head, while Tubby languishes on her mooring on the Brisbane river.

Vic and I had decided to do the 80 odd mile dash from the Wide Bay Bar down to Bribie Island in one day, avoiding an overnight in Mooloolaba and picking up an extra day for the run south to Tubby’s home waters. As the south-easterly built past the 20 knot mark and the sun started drifting into the west I looked up at the full main and the old rule started floating around in my head. “Take it off Bourkey, take it off.” And the beer in the stubby holder beside my comfortable perch in the cockpit along with its close friend, Complacency, settled in to do their worst. 

An hour later the 20 knot forecast had turned into a 35 knot breeze with a metre and a half of uncomfortable slop and the after dark entry into the shallow waters of Bribie Island required the main to be dropped in less than the most salubrious of conditions. As the main flogged its way down to the accompanying pop of the tendon letting go in my ankle, my mind filled with the painful consequences of not following my own rules. 

But, up until this ignominious lament Tubby’s winter Barrier Reef explorations have left us full of smiles, terrific memories and a yen to go again. At the end of the last episode we had arrived at Lady Musgrave Island, still north bound, with various guests slotted in to entertain along the way and we didn’t let the weed grow under the hull.

My daughter Tess joined us first up and boy did she scare the local fauna. A nice little 2 metre reef shark got the fright of his life after Tess spotted him one afternoon while we were having a snorkel around North West Reef. The way she exited the water into the dinghy was something to behold, with both the shark and myself quite startled at the speed of her reaction time.

We cruised back and forth between the islands and reefs in the Capricorn group and the mainland, slowly making our way towards the Whitsundays, with Jimmy Mc Cormack and his mate Deirdre joining us in Mackay for a run out to the Percies and a lunch under the A-Frame on Middle Percy. The decision was made that in keeping with the tradition of Middle Percy we would knock together a Golden Haze name plaque to hang in the A-Frame while we were there. We also dutifully made our contribution to the ongoing upkeep of the island, becoming life members of the Middle Percy Yacht Club. 

The south easterlies were in full swing as you’d expect for this July leg of the adventure and finding the right gunk hole that took into consideration both the breeze and the current/tidal flow made for some interesting anchorages along the way. 

We also started bumping into a growing number of cruising yachties known as the “Shaggers”. This motley bunch of mainly retired humanity was bound for the biggest maritime sing-a-long I’ve ever heard of. Apparently they get together for a party in Bowen around the end of August each year or so, with the proceeds going to a prostate cancer charity. By all accounts just because you’re retired it doesn’t mean you can’t party like you used to! You can Google Shaggers for more info, although you may turn up something a little bluer than this particular party if you’re not careful what you search for.

Our other cruising mates Grant and Anka later joined us for five days of sailing around the Whitsundays.  Their discussion on arrival focused on whether or not to buy a boat and by the time they flew out it was which boat to buy. As their next stop was the Sydney Boat Show there has subsequently been a lot for them to talk about. 

The weeks we had around the Whitsundays have convinced us that next time we’ll be boofing it straight through to Queensland from Tassie as winter on the reef is just too spectacular to waste. The weather, snorkeling, beaches and anchorages combine to create a winter paradise and if you haven’t been, make sure it goes on your bucket list. And if you are into fishing I am told that it’s pretty good too, but I have to admit that the fish stocks are in no threat from us. To date our return on the money invested in fishing gear is approximately $2,000 per kilo!

Tubby did have a couple of months off, once in Rockhampton and the second time she lay on a mooring off Airlie Beach while Vic and I plugged away at various jobs in our other worlds. The Airlie Beach mooring, while very cost effective, did result in a worse dose of guano than we’ve ever suffered before, the shag s—t piled high and poor old Tubby looking very woebegone when we arrived back after six weeks of toil.

A $140 worth of cleaning gear and two days of scrubbing later and the old girl was ready to start her long passage home, via Hammo, the Percies and Lady Musgrave. The water clarity and subsequent snorkeling on Musgrave was spectacular and Vic’s son, Joe and his partner Caitlin, were treated to a swim with the turtles, getting close up and personal with an old feller that didn’t seem to mind in the least being accompanied on a leisurely swim around the coral. 

Sadly, the turtle film footage disappeared with the press of a wrong button by yours truly, although the kids’ response when they heard I’d lost their digital memories was simply that we’d have to go back and film it all again next year.

We made a midnight getaway through the hole in the wall at Lady Musgrave which, given the vagaries of the GPS at the time (I’m blaming the yanks and their middle eastern war mongering) was interesting, although as I explained to Vic, I spend half my life floating around on tugs in narrow channels in the dark, so it was not unduly concerning. The next day we managed to get the kids ashore in Hervey Bay in time for them to make their dinner rendezvous back in Brisbane the following evening. Vic and I then spent a couple of enjoyable days wandering around Urangan, waiting for a new prop for our little Yamaha outboard. The propeller bush had finally let go after years of dutiful service. (I know Hughie, get it serviced before we go next time!)

Speaking of marinas, I have deliberately not given a blow by blow of all our stopovers along the coast, as calling into marinas is not the reason to cruise Queensland. But, I will comment on how the competition for our cruising dollars has resulted in a fabulous effort by all of the marinas on our ports of call to deliver great service with a friendly smile. 

Our recommendation is that any or all of these marinas are worthy of a stop over. Rates range from the low price of Gladstone (about $40 a night) to the very high cost of Hamilton Island ($110 per night). But the consistent theme throughout was that we were accorded every hospitality. Good to excellent restaurants were in abundance and one or two marinas even supplied complimentary courtesy cars for easy access to the local Woolies, while others had vehicles for hire at a cheap rate. 

If there any irritations they were twofold. The first being the different paper work required by each marina. My suggestion to the Australian Marina Industry Association is that they put together a standardised electronic berthing request form for all marinas so that it can be filled in just the once and emailed ahead by visiting yachties. 

And the second was that bloke you come across in every marina. The one that lies in wait and then runs full pelt to get to your berth before you do, so he can grab hold of your mooring line and pull like buggery. And if you don’t toss him a line he’ll get his hands on the boat anywhere he can and pull or push in spite of being advised that we don’t need any help thanks. Finally, convinced that he really is just irritating the hell out of us, he’ll wander off disgusted, still not understanding that we wouldn’t let him pull our stern in because we didn’t want our bow to correspondingly swing out and whack the boat next door. Boat handling is about the control of power, not its indiscriminate use.

See you guys out there this summer, when we finally get Tubby home from the sea.  If you want to see more photos you can go to



Post Script:  Tubby is now back in her berth at the Royals and Bourkey can be seen hobbling around on crutches after having his tendon ends tied back together. Bourkey is not sure what kind of knot the Doc used but it seems to be holding!

JPK August 2023
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