Larrpan


After Tahiti I came back to Australia and returned to Darwin and sold my house in Stuart Park. I then bought the Larrpan from the United Church. The United Church had two very nice looking little vessels: the Warrawee and the Larrpan. The crew were done up in a flannel shirt and the blue collar around here, and stripes across here, and over here. They looked like real little sailors, you know. And Bob Brennan was running them, and they were going bad with them, because they could never keep things going right. They put the water in the wrong hole, like they do with motor-cars and that, and engines were seizing, and propellers were hitting on rocks, that were not soft like wood. All these kinds of things.

And when I came across one in that little Navy shipyard; she had a bent propeller shaft in what they call a hollow heel. The propeller shaft goes back into the taper of that heel, which is a very natty thing in many ways, because you can get right back to your stern gland. But it gives you a lot of weaknesses there. When they hit a rock and bent the tailshaft the wood alongside got busted away, and she was sinking. They got her into Darwin - towed her to Darwin. I think Bob Brennan got her in by the fact that he had a load of empty drums on board, and most of the bungs were in.

Anyhow, I had a look at these, and I thought I wouldn't mind one of them. And I did end up with the one that had had the strained hollow heel, and I had to rebuild it - pull it off and rebuild it. And I struck a Greek who knew that work very well, and we did it. Took me, altogether, three months. And put new shaft in, and instead of putting a stainless steel shaft in, I put a bonded metal shaft. In them days you paid two hundred pounds for a bonded metal shaft; today you'd be paying six or eight hundred I guess.

I also intended to buy the Warrawee. Alan Pothero was going to skipper the boat for me. But he went away with Dr McCutter to get a boat from Brisbane. When they pulled up at Double Island Point, near Tin Can Bay, a storm come up in the night, turned the boat over; he dived in to pull somebody out, hit his skull and died. (One man, named Pearson, got out who might still live in Darwin.) So nothing more could be done. I just came back here and ran the Larrpan.

I bought the
Larrpan '62, I guess. She was sixty feet and could carry forty tons. I had been over on her, of course, but I used to reckon at forty tons even though she had a British registry ticket at thirty-five tons, but that was well under her carrying capacity. She was a wooden vessel, and alright. I enjoyed running her. She's a good sea-boat with a very reliable engine, a Gardner L3 one of the most reliable in the world. (The shipping register for 332748 Larrpan, records that she was built in 1959 at Maryborough, Queensland.)

I continued doing the United Church mission runs but I also took on the Catholic Missions too. Sometimes we did government settlements. Bathhurst Island was about once a fortnight, and the others monthly. It was very good, we ran a very good service. You could say, you'd give them your e.t.a. of half-past eight at Port Keats at the wharf, and I would get there - at maybe eight o'clock I'd be at the fork of the road. I just had to go up and I would p'raps drop the anchor there or stall there for a little while while the tide was making. And I'd go up with the tide. And I would dock at the wharf and get unloaded on the peak of the tide - about three hours to unload by hand. And we used to hoist it out of the hold by derrick, and swing it on to the dock and they would put it up. It would be all carton stuff and bags or piping or timber - something like that, you know - easy to handle by hand.

I usually had five crew, but sometimes I had four, and twice I had two. I would do all the chart work and the navigation. I had automatic pilot. There would be one man on the wheel; if the automatic pilot was on he would be on the wheel but not working the wheel, because you put the wheel out of gear. But he would be keeping a lookout, particularly if it's night. Although you've got an automatic pilot on, and you know you're not going to ram flat strap into an island, you've got to watch for other people. Because there were other people there and two or three of them used to run without lights. They didn't have lights on their craft. Why? Well, I had my suspicions but I didn't voice 'em. I had other ways of looking at it, but they p'raps didn't have them - didn't have the ship wired up, I don't know.

Conditions on my own vessel were no comparison with when as an engineer before the war. When you're at sea in your own, you're on your own. You do it yourself, or it doesn't get done. If you've got a mechanical problem and you can't solve it, you're the bunny. You've got to put a Mayday out and get towed in. Oh yeah, you've got to be resourceful. Like, losing a rudder, for instance; we lost a rudder on Larrpan one time. She was a wooden vessel with what's called a pintle bearing on the bottom; that's a bit of - like a hole in a big wooden skid on the bottom. On the Larrpan it was twelve by fourteen, ironbark. And then, there's a hole in the end of that - the stern end - and in the stern end there's a brass bearing inserted and bolted down with four coach screws; they're screwed into the timber. The coach screws are about ten inches long, or so, and about five-eights thick. That holds the bearing in place. And then you have the pintle, is a short bit of bronze shaft - about two inches thick and about six inches long. And there's three inches go into the bottom, and three inches go into a similar bearing in the rudder. One night going out we happened to clip something. We never knew what it was, just a little bump like that, and the helmsman said: 'She's not answering.' I go and have a look, spin the wheel around, go back to the stern of the ship and look at the quadrant inside the back hatch (stern hatch) but nothing happening. So jump over the side with a mask on and have a look and there's a big black hole under there and there's no rudder there. She'd snapped the rudder bolts off at the top where they come through. They were only half-inch bolts. They were new stainless steel bolts about two months before, but they were the wrong kind of stainless which snap very easy. And once the pintle was gone the boat apparently sprung a bit and let the pintle go, you see.

And then we were there without a rudder and I had a load of kerosene on; about half to be dumped at a point off Cape Dombey for the emergency fuel for the helicopter that was going to the rig, and the other part was aviation stuff for Eddie Connellan to be taken on to Port Keats. And so, what are we going to do for rudder? Everybody's fairly worried and I'd a look around. I had no timber on board. If you've got big baulks of timber - long, say, twenty feet long or twenty-five feet long - you can rig up a jury rudder that you can steer with, without trouble, with a couple of pulley blocks. But we had the jib and the little up and down winch. Righto, we put a drum over that side, just dragging in the water - maybe six or eight inches touching the water. 'Course this was a fairly smooth sea, lucky for us. If it'd been a rough, cross sea we'd've been in trouble. Then we put another drum on the winch and we swung that over the side and fixed the jib in that position, hanging over the side about six feet. And then, when we wanted to turn to that side, we just touched the water slowly with a drum of fuel and it swung her that way. And, immediately we picked it up clean out of the water, this one would pull it around. So, all we do is keep that one in the water a little bit and we steer straight ahead; one man on the winch, one man in the wheelhouse. We came right into port and went on to the buoy.

I went up to the engineering works in Carey Street and told them I wanted a bit of work done, plate work - I'll bring the drawings. Righto. I went back to the ship, measured the rudder and I had some things I wanted to do about that rudder. It didn't have sufficient forward of the turning point, because her steering was rather heavy. 'I'll fix that.' There was plenty of room and it wouldn't touch the propeller. So we did that in the drawing and then made a plywood one, a thin bit of plywood, and took it back there with two dinghies and we put that in there, and saw everything was right. Oh, and we put a hole through it. So when we wanted to change the propeller shafts we didn't have to take the rudder up. We sent it through that hole. Anyhow we went up there and I worked with their engineering staff cutting the bits. I cut the pieces while they cut the plate, welded it all up and it was finished in two days. Took it on board and swung it over the side with a derrick - extension on a derrick to get it over the side - lowered it down in it, pulled it in. Never took the ship away from the buoy.

We then took the stuff to Port Keats and did that round; dropped the fuel off for the chopper boys. And when I got back I got a message: 'Would you come and see me - Carl Aldridge
(the harbourmaster).' Right, I go and see him - well, I'd forgotten all about this other business. When I got there he's very stern-faced and usually he's very friendly to me. And he said: 'Go on, tell me, what did you do?' I said: 'What do you mean, Carl?' 'How did you do it?' They'd been watching see, and I didn't know. They saw no jury rudder gear or anything there; they didn't know. And I said: 'Well, it was no offence.' He said: 'Offence? We could send you along for the whole book.' For bringing a craft in, for all kinds of things - not without a pilot but for without permission, disabled, and all this. He said: 'You should've been towed in.' See, and finally, he laughed over it in the finish. And he said: 'Any time you've got anything like that, let me know. Don't do it,' he said, 'You could get me in a mess.' I said: 'If it ever happened like that, you'd just have to deny it.'

After about seven years I sold the Larrpan
(to Johnny Chadderton 26th August 1968) because I was getting trouble with the blacks a bit; such as the times they brought methylated spirits on board. We had a few things like that. And often they used to go on strike. And they'd have big fights. (The Larrpan sank off Roper River on 2nd September 1979 – Sid thought that the then owners had allowed the deck timbers and caulking to dry out thus allowing water entry. Sid retrieved a porthole – now hanging on his lounge wall - while investigating a salvage attempt.)

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