Thursday, August 18, 2011

Kid's Adventures - Boatbuilding and Venturing

About eight years ago I wrote this piece as part of article published in the print magazine Australian Amateur Boatbuilder. At the time I felt that kids were having their creativity stifled by over-regulation in a society where concerns about liability and political correctness prevented natural behaviour. We complain about kids spending too much time in front of screens and not getting out into the real world - and yet we sanitise that world to such an extent that the spontaneous, adventurous activities which teach our children to identify (and take) risks have been replaced by artificial forms of entertainment.

It might look irresponsible, but the kids were well trained, carried the required safety gear, and were under supervision at this early stage. The boat in this photo is a home-built Phil Bolger Bee with a 6hp outboard.

Perhaps this philosophy does prevent a few deaths and injuries, but the kids are less likely to learn how to identify, and deal with risk. No matter how regulated our systems become, there will still be plenty of situations faced by us all which involve risk. I would much prefer to have my children exposed to the inevitable dangers of outdoor activity and have them grow up with some appreciation of what needs to be done in order to deal with unexpected challenges.

As Arthur Ransome wrote in the wonderful novel Swallows and Amazons in reference to a father's telegram to his wife regarding their decision to allow their four children to sail and camp independently on a large lake in England, "...BETTER DROWNED THAN DUFFERS IF NOT DUFFERS WONT DROWN..."  The same fictitious father also said to his kids, "Grab a chance and you won't be sorry for a might-have-been"

The boys referred to in the article - my nephew (left) and middle son (right) building a 12ft sailing dinghy

Here is the old article I wrote...

Traveler’s Tales 

Many times I have bemoaned the lack of freedom which has come from regulation. Kids are driven to and from organised activities, the carriage of safety equipment is mandated, and irresponsible behavior can result in litigation. 

Regulation has come at a price, and one of the costs is the lack of freedom which nautical children experience. It is a well-worn line, but things aren’t what they used to be… When I was a kid, school holidays meant being away from the house from dawn until dusk without parental supervision. We were usually on the water, in the water, beside the water, or in the bush. If anything bad had happened, our parents would not have known before nightfall. 

Until recently, I had accepted that my own sons would be victims of this change in society’s attitude to risk, and that I would be seen as a member of one of the last few generations of fortunate, unregulated Australian kids. 

However, I had fallen for the trap of assuming that being subject to regulation is synonymous with having fewer adventures. In fact, it just means having safer adventures for those who want to participate.  

During the recent school holidays, one of my sons and one of my nephews had a “regulated” adventure which made me jealous. They both used wooden boats which were built at home, and they had each taken a large part in the building projects. The six horsepower outboards had been maintained and/or restored by the boys, and their own money had gone into the projects.  

One morning on the way to work, I dropped the two boats and two boys at the Manly boat harbour. Carrying the required safety gear and ground tackle, they traveled north along the coast to the mouth of the Brisbane River, passing inside Fisherman Island.  

Bee, one of the boats used on the trip, with her captain on-board

From there they explored up-river past tugs and cargo ships, stopping to touch the pylons of the massive Gateway Bridge. At Breakfast Creek they tied up at the wharf, bought chips from a vendor, and then set off again. Passing through the centre of the city, the two travelers continued past multi-million dollar houses until arriving at Queensland University. The picture of two young boys passing through all that evidence of wealth played over and over in my mind – their boats had only cost a couple of hundred dollars.  

The journey home was completed without incident, but not without adventure. They telephoned me from the ramp at four o’clock, having been gone for seven and a half hours. Instructions had been complied with and regulations (I hope) followed.  

These boys had earned the privilege of conducting the trip, and it had not been done without experience. I guess that they could have come to harm, but the decision to let them go was based on careful thought and observation. I can well remember the first time they were allowed out in my old sailing dinghy, operating solo under supervision. Even though the boat didn’t have the sailing rig set and the outboard was a mere 3.5hp, I was concerned enough to stand waist deep in the waters of Moreton Bay for over an hour while keeping them under observation. They were much smaller then. 

Time passes fast, I know. The rate at which they have learned has increased with the passage of the months and years, and they are now very competent seamen within the boundaries allowed. I am proud, and I enjoy their company.  

So if you want to free your kids from a screen-based existence, consider buying some plywood and glue, and in the process change them from spectators into participants in life.


  1. looking for plans of boat show in september slash of duckworks and named Water Rat.


  3. Do you know where I can find plans for Bee?