When former Cairns yacht broker Mike McEvoy purchased Tallarook in 1995, he had no idea what surprises the boat had in store for him, reports Lulu Roseman.
The story is about how one man’s passion for a 90ft former naval minesweeper allowed him to plot a different course and create a stunning cruising yacht in the process.
It’s hard to believe that the beautifully presented craft moored on Dickson Inlet in Port Douglas was once destined for a quick and environmentally friendly disposal. Its fortunes changed when the boat’s unique hull shape was revealed and became the deciding factor in her survival.
“The boat was in a very dilapidated state when I brought her back from Bowen. It needed to go up on the hardstand so I could determine why it was leaking so much. The hull was badly damaged and I needed to make a decision what to do. A shipwright offered to repair the hull for $10,000, so we agreed to start work,” McEvoy says.
It was only after the pair slipped the boat that they noticed it had a wine glass hull instead of the more traditional shape typical of most old warships.
“It was at that time that I started falling in love with the boat and felt compelled to save her. The costs blew out and $100,000 later we were still working on it.”
What followed was an eight-month restoration project to prepare the boat to resume work as a deep-sea fishing trawler. But it was not to be. Inspired one night by a photograph, and after a glass or two of fine red wine on his veranda, McEvoy became convinced that Tallarook should be a sailing boat. Out came the pencil and paper and he started designing a yacht with a bow sprit.
“The following day after I had that epiphany, I went down to the shipyard with a chainsaw and chopped the top half of the boat off. That way I couldn’t change my mind. My wife, Chris, thought I was crazy,” he says.
McEvoy’s vision was to customise the boat for cruising and reef charters. He engaged rigging expert Peter Greig, naval architect Geoff Glanville and surveyor Max Whitten, and stage two of the project kicked off in August 1996 at Norship Boatyard in Cairns.
“We started designing keels, masts and displacements. The draft also became a high priority. There were many lively discussions about what weight we needed on the bottom to support a decent-sized rig. We chose a keel measuring 12 metres with 15 tonnes of ballast that would stiffen the hull and give the boat stability.”
While flicking through some sailing magazines, he stumbled across an 85ft rig for sale complete with hydraulic furlers, deck winches and big head sails from North Sails.
“A guy in Sydney had installed this amazing rig on a steel catamaran being used for harbour cruises. It didn’t work so after a year he took it off and stored it at Noakes Boatyard in North Sydney. It was too good to be true so I snapped it up.
“That gave us a new lease of life. Peter could not believe our luck when it arrived with a police escort. It was so exciting and perfect for the boat because it was so strong and heavy.”
With the rig in place, the boat moved to Island Point Slipway, Port Douglas, for a complete overhaul of the deck area and cabin. The interior was completely empty apart from the gearbox and engine. The decks were rough and there were no bullwarks.
With a few ideas in mind and conscious of aesthetics, McEvoy designed the cabin layout himself and with the help of local shipwright took three years to complete. The coach house was built nearby at Mossman using local timbers and imported mahogany.
“I learnt some very expensive lessons along the way. In retrospect, the main saloon is too small and we should have increased it by five or six square metres. The kitchen looks great. However, it wasn’t designed with the practical cook in mind.”
Four years later after the boat was launched in 2001, an accident caused irreversible damage to the engine which led to an 18-month engine room refit.
“We replaced the old five ton engine with a much lighter version that only weighed a ton and has twice the horsepower. The bonus was a new 15 square metre cabin where the old engine sat.
“The boat is still evolving and everyone from the crew to the local fisherman has an opinion about the end result. In the short term, we’re planning two additional state rooms and a rear coach house,” he adds.
The current incarnation of Tallarook is a far cry from her early days as a General Purpose Vessel (G.P.V.). Built in 1946 by the Royal Australian Navy at Garden Island in Sydney and originally designed for cable laying and maritime transport, she was decommissioned in 1969 and converted into a fishing trawler.
“My wife got really interested in the boat’s history and we travelled to Tasmania to met Jim Hursey, the boat’s first private owner. Back in the late ’60s and early ’70s, it was the first big fishing boat in Tasmania,” McEvoy says.
“It also did the mail route from Hobart to Melbourne. Jim would take it out in 80 knots of wind because otherwise he would lose his run. He often travelled at maximum speed of 13 knots. He now owns a fleet of fishing boats, far bigger than Tallarook, but says she is still his favourite boat. He still has the bronze plaque when she was launched by the Navy.”
As one of the last known remaining boats of its design and construction, it is of great historical and cultural value. It is currently being assessed for inclusion on the National Maritime Museum's Australian Register of Historic Vessels in recognition of its significant maritime history.
“The aim is to build a national picture of historic boats and their designers, builders and owners from around Australia. We also want to create a greater awareness of their connections with their communities both past and present, and encourage their preservation and use,” says David Payne, curator of the Register.
Once in the water, the boat has earned her keep by doing day and overnight charters to Low Isles, Tongue Reef and the outer islands.
“Everybody that comes out on the boat falls in love with it,” confirms McEvoy. “We limit our guests to 25 for day trips. The experience is more like going sailing with your friends. It’s a very relaxed environment and there is plenty of room to sprawl out.”
If conditions are right, the engine stays off and guests can help the crew sail or take the wheel. Once anchored on the reef, there’s diving and snorkelling followed by a delicious BBQ lunch.
“Down the track, we would love to do more cruising and live aboard permanently. I thought we would have done a world trip by the time our kids had grown up and the oldest is now 27.
“Our eldest son is getting more involved in the running of the boat. The business itself is not as important to us as a family as the boat is and it’s something we all love.
“The kids weren’t as keen when they had to clean bilges, but now they are thinking about taking it for trips around the Greek Islands. I’d love to sail to Thailand and even run trips from Phuket to Burma, or work out of the Greek Islands for three months a year. There are loads of opportunities for the future.”
Film stars onboard
The boat has attracted its fair share of attention from visiting Hollywood stars. Late last year Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey graced the decks during the filming of Fools Gold.
By far the most humble guest who chartered Tallarook was Matrix star Keanu Reeves, choosing her over a multi-million-dollar superyacht, while staying at exclusive Double Island.
McEvoy says he had no idea who Reeves was among the group who included his mates and movie stuntmen, until wife Chris pointed him out.
“It was one of the only times during that first season that she wanted to come out on a trip,” he grins.
“I watched him unsuccessfully position some bait on a hook. I thought, wow, here’s this guy who goes whoosh and swoosh in his action films and he couldn’t even bait a hook. I showed him and also taught him how to dive and fish. At the end of the day, he is a very down-to-earth guy.”
He requested some wine and all that was on board was a modest bottle of Jacobs Creek which he happily drank.
“It was only later that I discovered he is a wine connoisseur and back on the island he had been enjoying a selection of some of the world’s finest wines with nothing less than $400 a bottle.”
Owner Mike McEvoy explains:
We thought a lot about the engine and explored many brands and decided on the Cummins because it just had the right fit. It was the right size with the right horsepower of 400. That was actually de-rated to 335. The 400 was more a private rating and 335 is more suitable for commercial use. It was a low-revving engine so we could sit on 18,000 revs all day if we wanted to. This gave us maximum horsepower so it was one of the most economical. Fully computerised to tell you how many litres of fuel you were using per hour, it was the best size and weight and bolted straight on to our existing shaft and it has been a fabulous engine ever since.
While we were doing that we thought we might as well get a few other jobs out of the way so we moved everything out of the old engine room back into this miniature engine room. That was quite a lot of work as there were hydraulic systems, bilge systems, gensets and batteries. We had to empty the whole room full of wiring and that was a huge job. Then we thought it needed a bow-thruster so we might as well do that while the boat’s up on the hard stand as she is a devil to park.