My first boat that spring was a disaster. The weather was still cold and wet and I had realised that the glue would take longer to set, so had clamped up a test piece which took the best part of the day to harden, and left the vacuum pump running, but when the bag was removed, the glue had not set and the veneer had lifted. It appeared that in cold weather (and Victoria has its fair share) that the whole assembly would have to be heated, so I set to and made a crude oven out of old galvanised iron, raised it up on bricks and lit a fire under it. Fortunately there was plenty of fire wood around the place that needed clearing up. This time the test piece and the moulding were ready in a very short time, and it appeared that, with the heat, the glue had thinned out and impregnated right through the veneers and completely sealed them.
This was great as it meant that I could use much slower acting hardeners with the glue in the summer and could handle much bigger boats and lay-ups.
Every thing seemed to be happening at once now. Several months before I had sent in an application to patent my moulds. Now a letter turned up from the patents office in Canberra stating that I had been granted a patents-pending status together with a rather large bill to cover the finalising of the patent. This was a problem as I didn't have enough money now to cover it, but by now my father was more sympathetic towards my boats, and lent me the money.
Soon after a taxi drove up the driveway and a man came over and introduced himself as Geoff Smith from Launceston. He had seen one of the dinghies and would like to be my Tasmanian agent. He saw the two that were finished and said, "I'll have them and six more before Christmas".
He explained that there were lots of remote lakes with good fishing and, as few people had trailers, a boat that was light enough to go on top of a car should be very popular over there. How right he was! His next order was for ten.
A young local farm boy had come around looking for casual farm work and was asking for two shillings an hour. He could come three mornings a week, so he became my glue spreader and handyman.
I had made a crude glue spreading machine which worked quite well, doing a better job than a brush and cutting down the time as well. I also made a small timber saw bench for cutting the veneer strips instead of having to use a knife.
A few days after I hired the boy, a young chap arrived on a "Bantam" motor bike and announced that he had come to work for me. This was news to me! I had never seen the fellow before.
He told me that his name was Geoff Baker, and he had just completed his accountancy exams, but what he really wanted was to build boats and would be quite happy to work for an apprentice's wage. He was from Brighton and sailed at the Brighton Yacht Club.
I thought that this was a little crazy. He couldn't come from Brighton each day, but to him that was no problem. He would be happy to camp in the hay shed if necessary. There was one condition though - I was to allow him three months off each March to go whaling at Carnarvon in WA.
I did check up on his story and found it all to be true, and his offer was too good to refuse. So I had my second employee. More about Geoff later.
We were really in business now, but it did cause some other headaches. Firstly we only had an outside toilet and that had to be emptied weekly into a prepared pit, and now my father stated that if I wanted to employ people, the now bi-weekly emptying was my problem.
Another problem was water. There was one tank at the house and another on a shed, and we needed water with which to wash us and the glue machine. Water was running low so we had to carry water up from the dam for our own use. Talking about water, the house tank got so low that year that the level was below the tap and Dad was resorting to climbing on the stand and lowering a Billy on a rope. He thought there was something solid in there so, on climbing into the tank found a dead possum. We thought that the water had tasted a little off.
Just after Christmas that year I turned twenty-one, and treated myself to a weekend trip to Sydney. I had never been further afield than the Gippsland lakes before, and Sydney seemed to be the centre of the sailing world to me.
I had heard of prawns but never tasted or even seen one before. I just had to try them at the hotel at dinner that night. When the waitress served them, I picked up my knife and fork and had trouble shelling them, and couldn't understand why people were staring at me. It took quite a while to work out that you picked them up in your fingers. I figured that I still had a lot to learn. That Saturday afternoon I went on the ferry that followed the eighteen footers I had heard so much about. I wasn't disappointed. It was a wild affair on board. There were bookies on board yelling out their odds and the crowd were screaming out advice and booing. Sydney certainly seemed to be the sailing capital of the world.
Just when everything seemed to be going so well, another problem would pop up. Our veneers had been coming from "Gibbs Bright", in Melbourne and we had only been ordering 1000 sq ft at a time (enough for 3boats). Now I was informed that no more would be available.
One other problem we had was communication. We had no telephone. The PMG had told us that it would be twelve months or more before we could be connected, and we would have to put in our own three poles to take it up to the house, so I had either to write letters or ride my bike up to the local post office, and this often meant waiting quite some time to have your turn.
Our veneer supply was a real problem, and I decided to take the trip in to Melbourne to see what could be done. I was received with little enthusiasm in Gibbs Bright office, and was bluntly told that, "We are an English-owned firm and in future all veneers from our mills will be sent direct to England and if any is required in Australia it can be indented from there."
I asked how much would that cost and was told around five pence a foot. (We had been paying two pence.) I couldn't believe the arrogance of English firms!
Next I went to the only other supplier of veneers in Melbourne Romke, who supplied furniture veneers, but they were too thin 1/32" and 1/64'' which was useless for us. During our conversation the manager came out of his office to see what the problem was. His reply, "Oh that's no problem. I know a mill in Daisy plains up in NSW. They will sell you all the best grade 'coachwood' that you need. Just wait and I'll get you their address." I will be forever grateful to that gentleman and I never even thought to ask his name.
We duly received our veneer, a crate of over five thousand square feet and enough for another twenty boats. It came by rail, and the freight was seventeen shillings for NSW rail and twenty two shillings on Victorian rail. The veneer was first class, and the cost just one and a half pence a square foot.
This was the horse and cart that was used to pick up our veneer,
and later used to take boats to the rail siding when shipping interstate.
I did eventually forgive that horse, and he eventually became quite a pet,
and took a liking to our lunch time sandwiches.
It seemed that even my father was becoming interested in our boats as he offered to go up with the horse and cart and pick up the half ton crate from the rail siding.
I had designed two more boats, a ten foot car top and a twelve footer, and we took on two more staff. We were also building a very pretty little light weight fourteen footer, designed by Bill Osborne (Bill had won six consecutive national titles in fourteens) and this was to be the first ever light weight planing hull in that class, it changed the concept of this type of boat forever. We called it the "Venture" class.
That March Geoff Baker rode his Bantam motor bike all the way over to Carnarvon for his whaling season, and I took time off at Easter to take our first "Venture" to Paynesville for their Easter regatta.
The sailing club had an invitation to go to this, their first post war regatta. Yes, it sounded like a great idea! The problem was that no one owned a trailer, and only a few members even owned a car. The solution was to hire a truck and some scaffolding. We stacked the boats three high, and mine being the lightest was on top. We got as far as Rosedale and needed to refuel at a little store with a manual pump browser, and just as we started off a Police patrol pulled us up.
To crew the three boats we needed eleven crew, five had gone in someone's MG, and six on the truck - that was three in front and three on the back of the truck - so what was the problem constable? "You chaps there on the back, you must not cover the number plate!" So I moved over.
I had been to Paynesville many times as a kid. I used to stay with an uncle there on Christmas holidays. "You just go under the rail bridge, and follow the river", I told our driver. We came to the rail bridge and our load was too high to go under, After some discussion with a local who pulled up to help, we were advised that there was no other way around the bridge, so we would have to unload my boat, drive under, and reload on the other side. The crews of fourteen footers were never short on bright ideas!
"Any trains due at this time of day?", we asked our helper. No nothing more due today! It was a lot easier to slide my boat up on to the rail track and reload on the other side, it only took a few minutes. I have often wondered about the possible consequences of that stunt, and just how accurate was the information we were given.
The Paynesville regatta was a great success and I was to return many times at Easter. There was no problem with the bridge going home, as I left my boat with a new owner, and had an order for another.