Tuesday, December 27, 2011


It's a pretty boat, but small, almost toy-like. A large islander walks down through the coconut grove and picks up the line from the stingray anchor. He starts to haul it to shore. The rest of his group sit on the sand around the ashes of last night's fire. I walk down and join him on the shoreline.

Boat blo yupla? i ask.

The small craft crunches up onto the sand. I see the mast is a length of three-by-two pine. The boom is the same, and a roughly-sawn piece of ply is lying in the bottom of the boat. It's a centreboard. Another length of construction pine runs cross-wise to strengthen the mast. The tiller is a length of hardwood attached with galvanised screws to the plywood rudder. Most of the fittings are handmade. The pulleys and eyelets for the ropes are all hand-carved from blocks of pine, as are the cleats on the gunwales.

You build this boat? i ask.
Wa, I mekem, he says.
Looks like its from the 50s.
Dis dinghy, i get im down south, dempla bin call im a 'clinker'.
Because of the way those boards overlap?
Wa. I mekem mast and sail, tiller, mekem sailbot.
He points to the centreboard, which still bears the markings of a felt-tip pen.
I suddenly realise this vessel has been built with a specific purpose in mind.
You're going in the raft race?
So this is an entry in the Peninsula Pirates Regatta, an annual raft race from Umagico to the fishing club at Seisia. Well, 'annual' in the sense that it was held for the first time around this time last year, give or take a tide or two.

I've been camped at Seisia for a couple of days now, having come over to the mainland from Thursday Island to cover the race for the paper. Having not seen any of the rafts, this year or last, I was not sure what to expect. In all honesty, I was expecting to see a bunch of empty cans of XXXX Gold tied together with driftnets. Or perhaps a beer-keg outrigger with a beach umbrella for a sail. Or bamboo. Lashings of bamboo. I didn't realise you could use an actual, prefabricated boat as the basis for your 'raft'. I'll be having a word with the scrutineers. What kind of show are they running here?

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