The Wee Barkie was launched on 26 November, 1977 at the boat yard of Mr Bruce McKay in Bundaberg. He had built the boat for himself, choosing the design based on a Colin Archer pilot cutter with a pinch of Maurice Griffiths and Harrison Butler. The plans were drawn up by the naval architect, Wilf O’Kell who was well known for his ferro-cement designs. Bruce chose Crow’s Ash (Flindersiae australis) for the carvel planked hull as it was readily available at the time, durable and strong and easy to bend when steamed. For the frames he chose Spotted Gum (Corymbia citriodora subsp. variegata), the stern post was of Ti Tree (Leptospermum lanigerum) and then gaff-rigged mast was of Oregon (Douglas -fir).
He also made a lovely 6’6” clinker dinghy for the boat from a design of William Atkin and being a Scot, named it, his “Wee Barkie”. However the name stuck and the big boat was soon named, “Wee Barkie” too. He later lost the dinghy in the Torres Strait but from his description, it was probably a “Peter Dink” design. For several years he and his wife sailed the Queensland coast in the right season, with only a compass, chart and lead line and no radio or any other aids. Every night he’d drop the main gaff from the cockpit, run the boat aground when need be and lay her on the side that favoured the kerosene stove. He sailed extensively in North Queensland, to Lizard Island and the Torres Strait and although he had an Old’s single cylinder petrol engine at the time, he rarely used it and where possible, sailed up to a mooring. He sold the boat in 1984 and later built a larger boat called the “Lone Gull” which was junk rigged and when I contacted him in September, 2008, although in his 80’s, he was building a wooden boat with a steam engine!
The new owner, Stephen Clode took the boat by semi-trailer to Port Adelaide where she was registered as a ship on 17 October, 1984 (Official Number 851247). He later sailed her to Sydney and converted the mast to a stepped, fractional rig alloy mast, using some of the old mast as the bowsprit and installed a Fleming self-steering gear, a Hydralign three blade feathering propeller, an Achilles rubber dinghy, sea anchor, storm jib and trysail and an 8 H.P. 2 cylinder Kubota diesel. He sold her on 1 October, 2001 in Sydney to Desmond Last who sold her in May 2005 to Paul Ridden, who sailed her to Newport, Queensland where my wife and I bought her on 8 December, 2005.
I have had her repainted inside and out, changed the galley, improved the berths (now three doubles) installed a new 3 cylinder 15 hp Kubota diesel, a Lowrance GPS system and new furling gib and Weems and Plath gimballed oil lamps internally. She has a full keel, drawing 1.4 m, length 8.2 m, and maximum breadth 2.60 m. The keel has 27 cwt of lead and the displacement is 4 tons, 4 cwt. The original bowsprit was an eight inch wide tapered flat plank with a guard rail around it. When I bought the boat, it had the original lead line in it as well as a heavy duty life-boat vortex bilge pump. Originally there was no cockpit; just a flat deck. She has seven self-tailing Danish Andersen winches and running back-stays.
Under motor she cruises at six knots and the maximum speed under sail I have done is 7.2 knots down a wave with two reefs in the main in 40 knots. She performs best in strong winds and although not a fast boat by modern standards, she is designed as with all Colin Archer pilot cutters, to get you home safely. As my great-grandfather, Edward Gulbransen, from Christiana (now Oslo), Norway was a seaman, I am proud to sail a boat that he would have recognised as a sturdy Norwegian work boat.