(colour photographs by Royce Powe and Chris Cleary, text by Chris Cleary).
As we all know, the natural habitat of the Australian Sailfish is the water. On shore is a harsher environment, with threats to finely finished hull surfaces from rigging area grit and passing traffic. And the lift from rigging area to water, and vice versa, is also fraught, both for the boat in the event of an unexpected gust of wind, and for ageing baby boomer backs and knees. The transfer also requires a random passer-by agreeing to be press-ganged into providing the lift.
When I started out in dinghy sailing, most small dinghies were rigged on an old blanket thrown on the ground. The visiting Victorians at the 1971-72 National Titles showed me for the first time the value of a boat cradle, both for transporting the boat on roof racks and for rigging the boat on the beach. Many of the Victorians had the same style of cradle – quite long, and fabricated from metal.
I subsequently built a wooden cradle for my boat.
Over subsequent decades however, the beach dolly has become predominant as both the platform on which to rig a boat and the means by which it is transferred to the water. Made of aluminium or stainless steel, they can be happily immersed in water, making launching and retrieval a one-person job. And, very cleverly, boat dolly and boat can often be wheeled directly on and off a waiting boat trailer. For a craft pre-eminently suited to car-topping like the Sailfish, however, the beach dolly is less attractive – it will take up a prohibitive amount of room in the car.
A brilliantly improvised version of the beach dolly was unveiled to the Sailfish fraternity at the Toronto Amateur Sailing Club 4OAK Regatta in March of this year by Royce Powe. Astoundingly, Royce made the journey south to Lake Macquarie from Yeppoon in Queensland, a 3000 km round trip. He competed in the event in his lovely newly built ‘Woody’. She was rigged and transported to and from the water on Royce’s clever homemade dolly shown below.
As Royce describes, it was made from an old sailboard boom he had in his shed. There is some adjustment available in the overall length of the dolly. A length of alloy tube was used as an axle.
Royce carries ‘Woody’ upside down on roof racks attached to his ute. He throws the dolly in the tray of the ute. The dolly does, however, come apart, which would allow it to be accommodated in a station wagon. For a sedan, the arms of the dolly (the sailboard boom) would probably have to be carried on the roof with the boat.
In no way matching the ingenuity of Royce’s dolly, the cradle I built in the 1970’s has nevertheless given very good service. With the revival of activity in the Sailfish fraternity, I decided to build a new one, slightly remodelled to fit my current car, a Subaru Outback. Brian Carroll has the same vehicle and so used my simple plans to build one of his own. Greg Barwick, who doesn’t have an Outback, also built one for the restored ‘Stanley Crocodile’ to nestle upon.
The cradle plan is shown below. Some dimensions, notably the overall width and the notches for the roof racks on the sides, are specific to the Outback and will need to be altered for other vehicles. A peculiarity of the current Outback model is that the rear roof cross bar is at a slightly lower level than the front one. I wasn’t aware of that initially, so my boat rode a little bow high until I closed the rear notches.
The timber used clearly doesn’t have to be meranti – Brian, I think, used pine.
My battered old cradle is shown below. It has been remodelled since this photograph was taken, and is now seeing service as the cradle for a newly built sailing canoe. Note the notches for mast (port side/on right of picture) and boom (starboard side). Because the end-grain is unsupported, the outer edges of the rear notches have long ago been chipped off.
Two lengths of tubular insulating foam (available from your local big box hardware store) are slit and placed over the V of the cross-pieces. I then cover the foam with carpet tacked to the frame.
This is the new cradle, colour-coordinated with the boat. Note the U-shaped ply reinforcing the mast notch to avoid the problem mentioned above. This is replicated at all four notches. The elliptical plaque (seen just below the chainplate) was required to control splitting in the timber which occurred soon after I got it home. This too was repeated at each end of both sides.
The triangular stiffening at corners is shown below. The brass cleat is one of four used for tying the cradle to the roof racks – not a convenient position but is dictated by the peculiarities of the Outback roof rack design.
In an effort to replicate some of the benefits of a beach dolly, I’ve also fabricated an axle and wheels to strap onto the rear cross-piece of the cradle. It’s not as good as a proper dolly because I’m not so happy to fully immerse it – for a start, it won’t sink – but it gets the boat close to the shoreline and shortens the carry.
This is the underside of the structure:-
A length of galvanised tubing was bolted to timber with U-bolts to serve as an axle. Alloy tubing could also be used. The wheels are 25 cm in diameter, with pneumatic tyres. The timber can be a piece of pine, say 70 mm x 35 mm (I used 90 mmx 45 mm, but it doesn’t need to be that heavy). It was 118 cm long, but this will vary with the width of the cradle built.
This is the top view :-
There are simple wooden cleats that receive the outer portion of the rear cross-piece of the cradle. Shock cord then holds the components together. Note the aluminium strap on opposite sides of both ends of the dolly to prevent it capsizing around the axle when it is awaiting the placement of the cradle. They are then rotated out of the way.
All of this is quite easy to build, but it is nevertheless quite complicated in comparison to the brilliant simplicity of Royce’s wonderful piece of improvisation, which is very light, very strong and very easy to dismantle. Congratulations to him.