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Along the Cooks River near Steel Park in Sydney’s inner west there is an abundance of litter available to engineer sailing craft to fit any brief. This simple skimmer was literally thrown together in 10 minutes and sailed happily out into the river and set of towards the airport and Botany Bay.

A simple well-balanced boat employing a sand and water filled bottle as ballast and hull. A wind rudder (the white foam) is situated over the bow area to assist in pushing her straight. Apart from this there was a wide plywood deck and some bits of a paddle ski (or something?) that gave her some interesting ‘skimming’ qualities as she moved over the water.

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With most of the hull sailing below the waterline this was pretty much a sailing submarine. This would have to be the biggest flotsam boat created to date. And not the prettiest as if that were ever an objective. The first launch was off a  rocky point where the fishermen are. But it kept getting caught in some sort of eddy from the exiting Cooks River and messing with the fishing lines. Fearing being stabbed in the eye and gutted by a fisherman I moved over to the beach for a second launch. Where she happily pushed out into the bay and the gloomy horizon of the day for these fantastic shots.


There was not going to be any tacking this day with an on shore wind into a horseshoe beach. But not worried about this minor detail and fighting off the sense of futility I commenced to put this tall ship together. I gave it a few test sail of the rocks. But not able to send it out I turned it over to these two fellas who seemed surprisingly interested to push it around while swimming.

This was the second boat on the Cooks River on this day and was even more satisfying than the first. By setting the rudder to about 1130 and adding an extended sail from the starboard I was able to get this quickly produced vessel of scrounged rubbish to actually tack across the wind. The extended sail kept swinging the bow out away from shore with a burst of inertia sustained by the weight of the keel that pushed out across the wind each time. I launched a Styrofoam boat from the shore into an onshore wind and got it to tack its way down the coast even gaining against the wind as it went until further along it was well of the shore.

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Boat ‘34’ took about 5 minutes to scrounge the bits along the shore of the Cooks River and push it together. The river was flowing swiftly but in the opposite direction to a stiff breeze running just off the side I was on. The result was the hypnotizing slow motion effect of the boat not just running bow against the current but holding almost dead level!  Though pointing up river the boat very slightly moved away from the shore and ultimately crossed the river sailing against the current and moving slowly side wards. It looks as though it is stationary until you see the debris in the water shooting from bow to stern and the wake ripple coming of the stern. If you watch the movie take special note of my sons excitement regarding my achievement.

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Its been a while between boats but managed to throw this clunker together over the Easter weekend at a cracking Autumn day down at Yarra Bay. Followed by a swim. No great new triumphs of technology to reference here. But she sailed well and zigzagged out beyond sight quite quickly. Zigzagging as the rudder setting and sail alignment competed for dominance. Named by my son for the number of snags I hit in trying to put it together.

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A ramshackle tub cobbled together from slim pickings along the beach next to the airport. The final design was the result of add hoc efforts to correct shortcomings. The name was the suggestion of a boy walking along the beach with his dad. The first test sail here in the shallows saw her topple over and a second bottle of sand was tied from the hull. As well as a little outrigger added to support the ‘left leaning.’ A sail was added to the outrigger to compensate for drag produced.  She was launched from the point to a great deal of commentary and technical input from the flock of fishermen sitting around the rocks. The outrigger sail worked a bit too well and had the effect of swinging the nose around to the starboard until the wind caught the nose sail. The overall effect was to align the timber tied below to about 3 o clock and cause her to tack across the wind and clear the runway point of the airport. The Coke can and red plastic spade were to provide a better visual contact from further out but also provided some additional sail surface.


This clunky tanker was thrown together very quickly. A low centre of gravity with mid mounted foam raising the deck. A bucket sail combination with a cylindrical mainsail and a side mounted directional sail on the bow. An additional flat sail was added to the main sail to pull this lug through the water. She sailed surprisingly well, albeit to an onshore breeze that meant launching her into the chop of the point, that was handled admirably and a short sail back to shore. And no it didn’t sail backwards.

All there is to say about this self-righting number is that the coloured plastic components made for great pictures against the sky and the decomposing concrete head wall at the end of Yarra Bay. The foam was tied over the hull instead of wedged between the hull and ballast bottle.  This resulted in a submarine sailing style. That seemed to stabilize the craft if only slowing her down a little. Overall she set of true and confidently cut out into Botany Bay.


As a result of recent extreme rainfalls great areas of parkland and streets adjoining the Cooks River of the Inner West of Sydney have been inundated to record levels. Flood Cat is an assemblage of detritus selected from the long flotsam lines that marked the extent of the high water.  One interesting component was parts of some sort of Chinese shrine that had been dislodged someplace by the flood and washed up here in the park. I employed a skimmer design for lack of keel material on hand. This was a spontaneous effort so I did not even have a knife to work with. A crude and fast operation. The most interesting outcome was that the tidal flow was running down stream but the breeze was pushing upstream. So it sailed well cutting a noticeable directional wake and covered allot of water but little actual ground. A bigger sail would have cancelled this out and seen it sail upstream successfully.

Mellow because its yellow and Flying V because the keel is a V drink bottle and a reference to the Gibson Flying V guitar. Self-righting flotsam boats with a sand and water filled keel was one revelation. But adding a glass bottle instead of plastic takes it up a notch, being heavier, serving the purpose better. Glass bottles are a scarce material for a flotsam boat as obviously most that find their way into the sea sink. Somebody has to drink enough of the contents to create buoyancy and recap the bottle before it goes overboard. Which means glass bottles on the beach are either accidentally lost overboard or the result of obsessive-compulsive litterers. In a similar vein rudders are more difficult to come by, as they need to be fine flat and dense. Fine flat and dense things tend to sink when they fall overboard. The rudder on this boat is a piece of angle bar that was unscrewed from a piece of ply that it hitched to shore on. It fitted pretty snugly over the rectilinear timber hull. I used a bit of flotsam and rope as a sled to collect bits for this one, on this grey day it must have looked like a scene from ‘The Road.’ You can see in these pictures that the aluminum can rudder made way for the angle bar rudder by launch time. The handle of the detergent bottle strapped to the bow is an air rudder helping pull the bow forward. How did she sail? Well there was a slow consistent breeze but now real wake off the bow to talk of at launch. I think the sail was set a little to far back causing her to stall at times. So to tell the truth she was doing as much drifting as sailing out.        

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sailing flotsam sculpture

1. Blue Steel ready to sail

sailing flotsam sculpture

2. Bow view

sailing flotsam sculpture

3. Port view.

sailing flotsam sculpture

4. Into the Cooks River.

sailing flotsam sculpture

5. Bon voyage

This little vessel was thrown together in 5 minutes from debris washed up along the shore of Cahill Park on the Cooks River. Without even a pocket knife on hand the styrofoam hull was shaped on the rocks and a shard of slate pushed into the foam as a keel/ rudder.  The fairly mid mounted take away food lid sail meant a feather was added to the bow to help pull the bow around in the wind. The lid sail was simply held in place by sticks sharpened on the rocks and pushed into the foam. The little Smurf holding his balls up was just for style points.

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flotsam rubbish sailing boat

1. The makings of T Bone

flotsam rubbish sailing boat

2. T Bone test flight.

flotsam rubbish sailing boat

3. Starboard.

flotsam rubbish sailing boat

4. Port

flotsam rubbish sailing boat

5. Stern.

flotsam rubbish sailing boat

6. Bon Voyage

T Bone was an experiment to see if lifting the sail clear and high of the water surface would be more effective in capturing the breeze. The answer is who knows as while this was an intriguing sculpture that cast a pleasing reflection it was a failed sailing vessel. It set out very well and accelerated to a high speed straight away. But I had set an aggressive port rudder to cut her across the wind to the heads. I underestimated the effect of the vertical plank hull and each time she sped up the blue plastic rudder pulled to port and the blade hull dug in. Resulting in a more of less sideways sailing position. There was also to much buoyancy to far back meaning more of the front half of the hull was in the water trying to turn her backwards. Oh well. She was still upright and heading to the heads of Botany Bay when I left but more like a crab than a Marlin.

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