The Joys of Boating

The following story is true. Phil from Blessington has given permission to use this story - of several parts, as long as his true name is not revealed. It has previously appeared in the journal of the Victorian Fly Fishers Association.

Over the past decade or two it has become fashionable to fly fish the lakes of the Central Plateau of Tasmania from a boat. Indeed, last summer every second vehicle on the Lake Highway seemed to be a Toyota Landcruiser towing a gleaming Quintrex boat. Boat owners could usually be identified by their pastel shaded Colombia shirts. I have previously described in this newsletter the fascinating herding behaviour of these anglers. Rather than seeking peace and seclusion, they seem to feel uncomfortable if they are not fishing in close proximity to at least several other boats. This herding instinct was particularly noticeable last summer at Little Pine lagoon on the first grey, drizzly day, following a hot bright spell, when invariably thirty or more boats would be found on this water.
But I cannot be too critical, as over the past few years the tales of fly fishers from boats taking huge bags of trout from boats at Arthur's Lake and other waters gradually weakened my resolve to remain a river fisherman. Finally I succumbed and joined the hordes and bought everything but the Columbia shirt. I was assured that the whole system, boat, motor and trailer was absolutely foolproof. So, this was going to be it - the trout and other sundry fish species were not going to stand any chance. This is the story of how it did not quite work out that way.
It was with great pride that I headed out into Port Philip Bay from the Altona boat ramp with a couple of friends on the solo voyage in my new boat. All went well until the late afternoon; we even caught a few flathead. The moment of truth came when I turned the key to restart the motor to move to a new spot and nothing happened. After an hour of tinkering with the motor and a lot of cursing we were no further advanced. Strangely, despite there being a lot of other boats in the vicinity, none of their owners seemed to see our attempts to draw their attention to our plight. This was a phenomenon I was to notice on each future occasion the motor failed. Eventually, after much futile paddling, a benevolent surf skier came to our aid and I suffered the humiliation of having my boat slowly towed by the surf ski back to the boat ramp which I had so proudly left a few hours previously.
There followed three separate visits to two different boat repairers before the fault was found - an indescribably minute fuse concealed in a jumble of wires in the innards of the motor. I was assured that the motor was in perfect order and that I would have no further problems.
Reassured by this advice I headed to Cairn Curran Reservoir on a cold windy winter's day. The motor purred as we powered from the boat ramp at Picnic Point to Treloar's Bay where we fished for a while and then ate lunch. After lunch we completed a drift across the bay but again, try as I might, the motor would not start. Luckily there were two fly fishers in the only other boat in the bay and this time we were able to attract their attention and ask them for help. I suspect that the only reason they heeded our cries for help was to show us the two beautiful trout that they had caught. They certainly were not interested in helping us get back to the boat ramp. When we asked for help we were told in forthright terms that "We're fishing till dark. Can't you make a call on your mobile" as they motored away. As our mobile phone was out of range this advice was decidedly unhelpful. We cursed our luck at the wind blew the boat aground in the muddy shallows. In that bleak position we stayed for well over and hour as we vainly tried to start the motor. Meanwhile our fly fishing friends in the boat drifted here and there about the bay doing exactly what they said they would do "fishing till dark" seemingly oblivious to our plight. We had been unlucky enough to strike a couple of new breed of fly fishers with a take no prisoners philosophy. However, luck was with us as darkness started to fall when on the hundredth attempt, the motor spluttered into life and we managed after a great deal of effort and churning of mud to grind our way out of the flats and into the main lake.
So it was back with the boat from Woodend to the repairer at Preston. This time I was told the problem was definitely fixed. Fortified by this advice I took the boat to Womboyn Inlet in New South Wales in pursuit of the elusive bream. All went well till the last day when a bare kilometre from the jetty the motor failed. Three hours later I was still trying to paddle against the wind back to the jetty. I had plenty of time to ponder the sage words of Dr Johnson, "Being in a boat is like being in prison with a chance of drowning". Whilst drifting in the boat I observed the same phenomenon that I had seen on Port Phillip Bay when I had tried to get help from nearby boats. For some reason, no matter how loudly I shouted and how frantically I waved, the occupants did not seem to notice my attempts to attract their attention. Finally, a charitable soul did tow the boat the six hundred metres to the jetty and I was able to escape with the boat back to Victoria.
Again, I headed down the well worn path from Woodend to Preston. This time I was assured that the agent of the manufacturer had inspected the motor and he had said that the problem was definitely fixed. So there I was back at Cairn Curran Reservoir. This time the motor would not start after the first drift. There was no boat to tow us back this time and my hapless companion and myself had to take it in turns of trudging through the mud pulling a rope towing the boat along a kilometre of shore to the ramp. And of course the next week there I was towing the boat back from Woodend yet again to the Preston.
The next trip was to fish the mayfly hatch at Lake Wendouree. The day was perfect. Grey, humid and drizzly. This was definitely going to be it. I could possibly not miss out on a day like this. I can now assure any boat owner wanting to fish Lake Wendouree in spring that they should check to make sure that they do not attempt to do so during the Ballarat Begonia Festival. After spending the better part of an hour battling through the crowds I found that boat access was barred.
After these protracted "teething" problems I took the boat on the ferry to Tasmania. The motor was finally fixed and I was looking forward to foolproof boating. I was to learn that there is no such thing. It is difficult to know where to start when cataloguing the series of disasters and near calamities which befell me over the next month. The low point was definitely at the aptly named Jonah Bay boat ramp at Arthur's Lake. I had, I must confess had a great deal of difficulty reversing the boat. With the patient assistance of a very stoic Rick Keam I had finally, after a great deal of difficulty managed to reverse the boat down into position to be launched at the ramp. And I remembered (for once) to undo all the clamps and straps and other bits and pieces so that the boat was ready to launch. But then I saw that one wheel of the trailer was off the concrete and decided to move forward and properly align the trailer. As I drove forward I heard a scream from Rick's direction, stopped and got out of the vehicle to investigate only find to my horror that the boat had dropped off the trailer and smashed on to the concrete ramp. Amazingly, beside a small dent on the bottom it was not damaged and with the assistance of some bystanders we finally managed to launch the boat. This was the major of many reversing mishaps.
Over the course of the next month I had many other minor disasters and managed to break or rattle off all tail, stop lights, and indicators and broke off the rear number plate off the trailer and lose the straps, hit numerous rocks and stumps, smashed the navigation light on an overhanging branch and did a bearing on the trailer wheel. I dare not think of the money that I have spent on this boat over the past year. Yes, I did catch fish but I doubt if I landed any more than would have fallen to my rod had I fished from the shore. And so it was that I came to realise the truth of the adage, "The best two days with a boat are the day that you buy it and the day that you sell it". Alas, I have yet to experience the latter exquisite pleasure.
Phil from Blessington

Earlier I recounted the story of some of the more harrowing experiences which I endured in my first year as a fly fishing boat owner. This November when I somewhat stoically towed my boat onto the Spirit of Tasmania I was confident, having a year's experience under my belt, that my boating disasters were behind me. The boat had appeared to be in good working order. After all the lights that had rattled off the boat and trailer on the last trip in Launceston had been replaced before I sailed back to the mainland. And the boat had undergone a full (and expensive) service. True it is that when I recently lent it to a friend the tarpaulin cover had ripped in strong winds on the way down to Lake Purrumbete, but importantly the motor had started for him.
The weather in late November in Tasmania this year was superb. When the second day of the short trip dawned clear and mild my son and I decided to head for a day at Penstock Lagoon. We arrived at a good time at about 10.30 am. The weather was ideal - mild and warm with a light cloud cover and the lagoon was clear. We launched the boat without mishap and after some initial stuttering the motor started. This was going to be it - a copybook start of the day of my dreams. It did not take long for my dream to be shattered. For as my son was returning from having parked the Landcruiser, I turned the wheel on the boat and felt a click and the steering went. I could not believe it, for after the thousands of dollars that I had spent on this boat the steering had failed and I was left adrift in the boat. With great difficulty I managed to paddle my way into shore. My humour was not helped by an angler who had just arrived to launch his boat, asking me how I had gone. It took a great deal of willpower to reply "No good, mate".
We did get back to the ramp and did manage to get the steering repaired (at great cost) in Launceston later in the day. And I was given the now familiar assurance that the boat would be "right this time". Time will tell! Wait for the next instalment.
Phil from Blessington

When will my boating woes end?
Early last year I detailed the horrors of my first season as a novice boat owner fly fishing the lakes of the central highlands of Tasmania. I returned to the mainland with frayed nerves but wiser from the experience and confident that my boating troubles were largely behind me. How naïve I was for, as it eventuated, last years disasters proved to be a mere preview of what was to come.
I booked my boat, the "FU 940" on the Spirit of Tasmania to return for another foray in the highlands this season, but not because by that time I preferred boat fishing as a mode of angling for trout. Far from it, for following the sobering effects of my experiences in the FU 940 last year, I had lost my taste for boating and yearned to do nothing more than return to the peace and solitude of my favourite Tasmanian river. Alas, I made the booking because I had expended a large sum of money purchasing the boat for the specific purpose of using it to fish the Tasmanian lakes and I did not have the stomach to endure the marital flak which would have inevitably followed had I left the boat behind when I went to Tasmania.
So it was that I reluctantly took the boat to Tasmania in late November and left it there to be used by me over my long summer holiday. I did manage a little fishing prior to returning to the mainland. In the December newsletter I wrote what I hoped would be a mere postscript to the original article describing that fishing. For at the very outset, a steering bearing broke just after I launched my boat in the canal at Penstock Lagoon on an otherwise perfect day. I had to abort the day's fishing without troubling the trout with a single cast and take the FU 940 to a boat repairer in Launceston. But, after extensive repairs were carried out, I was assured that all would be well. And so it proved to be on the one solitary day that was left to me to fish on that trip. Now, I hasten to add that I do not blame this repairer, or indeed any of the repairers that have had the misfortune to have the FU 940 in their yards, for the breakdowns which have plagued it. I now realise they, along with myself and sundry passengers are all victims of some sort of curse that has bedevilled the FU 940.
I left the boat in Tasmania at Cressy with Don Urqhuart and returned to the daily slog in Melbourne eagerly looking forward to the Christmas break. The boat would surely have to be functional and trouble free on my return. After all it had been repaired (by yet another repairer) in Tasmania at the end of my trip last season, was fully serviced when I returned to Melbourne and had only been used once thereafter other than on the day the steering went at Penstock. Was it unreasonable to expect that after three visits to various boat repairers for one day's fishing that I might have a few weeks of trouble free boating ahead of me? Unfortunately, events proved that it was.
For the nightmare continued the very first fishing day of my Christmas trip - a perfect boat polaroiding day on the Great Lake - warm with clear blue skies and a north wind. Having endured countless cold and windy days in the highlands over the years I could not believe my good luck. On the way to Brandum's Bay my fishing companion Bruce Amos, who at that stage did not know that he was destined to become one of my serial boat victims, not being used to fly fishing from boats remarked with some prescience "This should be a new experience". And so it proved to be. However, I would wager that it was an experience that Bruce would not care to repeat. The launch of the boat went smoothly and the motor started like clockwork. It was ten o'clock in the morning, there was not a cloud in the sky and we were virtually guaranteed a wonderful day's fishing.
But the curse of the FU 940 struck again. When I went to turn the steering wheel there was no steering. The hydraulic fluid had leaked out of the power steering ram. Those fly fishers who have fished with me over the years have noted my extraordinary calmness in the face of angling adversity but it deserted me on this occasion. I could not believe this had happened to me yet again and I must confess to momentarily losing control of my temper. When my senses returned I realised that there was no alternative but to return to the boat repairer at Launceston. It was only a couple of days before Christmas and I would have no chance of having the boat repairer between Christmas and the new year. Thus, again without troubling the trout with a single cast I towed the FU 940 on the long trip to Launceston. The curse tightened its grip at this stage for on our arrival at the repairer's yard we were told that the boat mechanic had just gone off work as a result of a boat, by coincidence owned by another VFFA member Mike Stevens, falling on and fracturing his foot. The ordinary mechanic would do his best to repair it but they could not guarantee the result.
A few days and a makeshift repair later an increasingly apprehensive Bruce and I once again launched the boat, this time at Penstock Lagoon. And we had a trouble free and pleasant day. Again I thought my boating woes were behind me. However, the next day, once again at Penstock, we were about to launch the boat when I checked the steering. It was gone once again due to the hydraulic fluid leaking out of the ram. Yet again we set off on the well worn track to the boat repairer at Launceston.
Now at this stage counting the repairs and services done in Melbourne, I had enjoyed a bare two days boating from five separate visits to various boat repairers - not a good average by any standards. And Bruce, a mild mannered and uncomplaining fellow was beginning to assume a harrowed look that cried out "What will happen next?" But we did have some good river fishing whilst the boat was being repaired. This made me ponder why it was that I had left the peace, serenity and solitude of rivers and bought this wretched boat.
It is appropriate at this stage that one Randall Trethewie comes into this saga. For it was Randall who was responsible for me buying the boat in the first place. I was happily ensconced in comfortable lodgings close by my favourite river in Tasmania when Randall, who himself originally hailed from Blessington, started calling in to the cottage telling me about the magnificent boat fishing he was having in the highlands. Randall spun tales of huge dun hatches at Arthur's Lake and Penstock Lagoon and big bags of trout. And, he asked what I was doing wasting my time fishing in the rivers for sprats when there was such wonderful fishing to be had in the lakes.
Those who know Randall well will tell you that he is not known for doing things in half measures and so it was with his boat fishing. For Randall owned an impressive fleet of three special purpose boats and separate vehicles for each boat. There was his large punt for use as a polaroiding platform on the western lakes, the zodiac for drift fishing the lower Macquarie and South Esk rivers and the flagship of his fleet, a luxury vessel of a size more suited for marlin fishing than fly fishing for trout, which he used on the bigger lakes such as Arthurs. This boat, due to size and grand appearance, soon became known among the laconic locals of Miena as the "Queen Mary'.
In the end I finally succumbed and agreed to have a day's fishing with Randall in the Queen Mary at Penstock. It was a memorable day not the least due to the road from Poatina being closed due to a bushfire. Randall was quite undeterred and without hesitation imperiously towed the Queen Mary around the barricades, past various police and fire fighters and through the fire. When we finally arrived at Penstock we had a wonderful day. Turbid water had ruined the fishing at Penstock for over a decade but the water was relatively clear, the duns hatched in good numbers and we even caught a few trout. And all of this in the luxury and comfort of the Queen Mary. My determination to stay with the rivers began to waver. Randall was right. What was I doing fishing these humble little streams for stunted trout when there was such wonderful fishing for much bigger fish to be had in the lakes. And so it was that I made the fateful decision I have regretted a thousand times. I bought the FU 940 and joined the pack.
Randall did do me one big favour when the FU 940 was being repaired. By coincidence, Randall, who was unaware of my latest boating problem called in to see the boat repairer and saw my boat there. This was fortuitous as the repairer wanted to replace the whole steering ram unit but could not contact me to get the go ahead. Should he try to repair the ram yet again or replace it? Randall solved this problem by peremptorily issuing the order, "Replace it".
When I arrived at the yard to pick up the boat the following day I was told that the whole unit had been replaced and that the problem was definitely fixed. I must have been overcome by emotion at hearing this news. At least that is the only explanation that I can think of that could explain what then happened. For as I reversed the landcruiser back to line it up with the boat trailer, it stopped suddenly with a loud crash. I had reversed it into the repairer's office causing the interior wall to collapse.
Eventually, we extricated the boat from the yard and were back on the road. It did not take long for the curse to strike again. When we were less fifty yards from the turn off to our shack at Little Pine Lagoon, the left nearside tyre of the landcruiser went flat. About twenty five years ago, in a more carefree time in my life I drove a vehicle around the highlands for a couple of days without a spare tyre. I worked on the theory that it was highly unlikely on the law of averages that it would get another flat tyre in such a short period of time. That theory worked well until another tyre went flat, and the logistical nightmare of leaving the vehicle on the side of the road in the highlands with three wheels and getting the other two tyres to and from a repairer is not one that I cared to repeat. So off we went on what turned out to be akin to search for the Holy Grail - a service station in Hobart that could repair a flat tyre on New Year's Day. Eventually, the following day we did finally get the tyre repaired and the boat performed admirably for the rest of the trip. But my boating woes had not ended.
The highlight of the trip was a seven day stay at Binalong Bay near St. Helen's on the east coast where there was excellent fly fishing for Australian Salmon, particularly in George's Bay. By this time I had been joined by Noel Gladman, one of previous serial victims of the FU 940. At least, unlike Bruce, he could not say he did not know what he getting himself into. Now, Noel is a man who has his own view of how things should be done and when I told him as we were heading into the George's Bay wharf after our first day's fishing that, "If he was ever to wear the life jacket he should wear it when we were going in there" he was reluctant to put it on. Noel did put his life jacket on, for about five seconds and then took it off again. As we approached the boat ramp, a police car ominously pulled in alongside it. A quick look around showed that we were the only boat in the vicinity. A fumbling and panicky Noel struggled to hitch the boat to the trailer as the policeman approached him. Noel was immensely relieved when the policeman asked who was the owner of the boat. Quick as a flash identified me as the owner and then disappeared leaving me to face the music.
A few days later I was able to exact my revenge on Noel although I gave myself a fright in the process. We launched the boat at Binalong Bay and been fishing in the ocean with some success. We started filleting our bag of flathead in the boat but decided that it would be easier if we did this at the shore. I took the boat into what appeared to be a tranquil piece of water by the stunning white sands of the beach at Binalong Bay. Unfortunately what appeared to be a gentle shore break turned out to be quite a large wave which propelled the boat like a surfboard almost up onto the beach, tipping it over and ejecting a startled Noel into the shallows. How I managed to extricate the boat from that situation is a blur but I did, although it had shipped some water and flathead fillets were strewn all over the deck - I found one fillet in the corner of the boat two weeks later.
Now the problem was how was I going to get Noel back in the boat. I was not prepared not risk taking the boat into the shore again and Noel did not appear to be keen to swim out to it. It was difficult over the roar of the waves to communicate with him but I gathered from Noel shaking his fist at me that he preferred to walk the five kilometres back to the boat ramp to coming back on board. As I headed off in the FU 940 back to the ramp, I became aware that the wind had increased dramatically and the seas were quite high and very choppy. My heart sank when I noticed that the back of the boat was almost under the water as a result of the water which it had shipped. I turned on the bilge pumps, pulled the throttle right down to keep the stern up above the water and headed back to the boat ramp thudding and bouncing through the waves. I did make it back and waited until Noel finally arrived in a shaken, bedraggled footsore condition. He was also angry. I was puzzled by Noel's ingratitude. After all he had been able to go boating, catch a lot of fish, have a swim and even do some beachcombing and all on the one day?
Thereafter, the rest of the trip was relatively uneventful. However, I did return to the aptly named Jonah Bay boat ramp at Arthur's Lake with my daughter and Rick Keam, another serial victim of the FU 940. Readers may remember that Rick was present when I managed to drop my boat from the trailer onto the concrete boat ramp when launching it at Jonah Bay last year. This time the launch was relatively uneventful once I ascertained that the reason why the boat would not come off the trailer was due to the straps not being removed. On our return to the ramp, after a rather mediocre day's fishing, I was waiting in the boat near the jetty whilst my daughter Penny retrieved the Landcruiser, when a rather ignorant and discourteous Tasmanian with two dogs in his car took his boat on ahead of me and blocked the ramp. When Penny reversed the trailer down alongside his boat, he reluctantly moved it in a little closer to the jetty and left me with a tight passage through to the trailer. This distraction and the pressure of other boats wanting to use the ramp was enough for me to lose my routine. As I drove the boat onto the trailer and Penny winchched it on, I forgot to tell her to make sure that the ratchet had been secured on the winch strap. Thus to the amusement of about twenty onlookers as she drove forward, the boat fell off the trailer back onto the concrete ramp again. I can vouch for one undoubted quality of the FU 940 - the hull is very tough.
Now I am back in Melbourne with a problem. What should I do with this boat? It is no longer gleaming and brand new but, as you would expect bears the scars of various disasters which have befallen it. I can only sell it for a fraction of what I bought it for. I have no confidence if I ever take it back to Tasmania, or for that matter anywhere, that the nightmares of the past will not be repeated in the future. Who can I blame for this? This is where it all comes back to my friend Randall. Affable, pleasant, gregarious and friendly Randall whose stories seduced me away from my own little piece of angling heaven on the rivers of Tasmania.
For I have received information from an independent witness of unimpeachable integrity, that when I made the disastrous decision to buy the FU 940 Randall himself had amassed a lamentable record of boating horrors. A record that he did not deem necessary to share with me when he was waxing eloquent about the joys of boat fishing.
I learnt that on the maiden voyage of the Queen Mary on the Tamar estuary, Randall was proudly celebrating the event with some friends, oblivious to the fact that at that very time the rising tide was inundating his boat trailer and vehicle at the ramp. And I learnt that Randall had spent a lonely night in the Queen Mary stuck fast on a stump in the middle of Penstock Lagoon. And I was told these stories were only the tip of the iceberg of Randall's boating disasters.
So what is the lesson to be learnt from this litany of boating misery? It is to resist the peer group pressure to get with the mob. If you feel comfortable in the herd then buy a wardrobe full of Colombia shirts, a Quintrex boat, four stroke motor, Toyota Land Cruiser and join the hordes on the tram tracks between Arthur's Lake, Penstock and Little Pine Lagoons. If you are content fishing the small streams for small trout stay there. And rejoice in the peace, solitude and intimacy of the river and forgo the joys of boating.
When, before my first trip my wife told my elderly mother that I was taking my boat to Tasmania, my mother rang back a few hours later. She said was very worried about me taking the boat to Tasmania as Bass Strait was a notoriously treacherous piece of water. In retrospect it may have been better if I tried to sail my boat through the heads and into Bass Strait. Could it have been worse? After all the FU 940 had life jackets, flares and an Epirb, it was insured for its full value and I would probably have been rescued.

Phil from Blessington