Moonlight is a 12 ft Clinker dinghy planked with Huon Pine and Celery-top Pine ribs. Her primary source of power is her Gaff rig, and she has a small inboard, making her perfect for open dinghy cruising.

I was inspired to build Moonlight after an open dinghy cruising adventure in my mid-teens when a friend and I sailed down the inside of the Freycinet Peninsular in a similar 12 ft clinker dinghy. We camped at Morey’s Bay on the Northern side of Schouten Island for a few days enjoying fishing and trekking all over the islands rugged and striking granite landscapes.

You can watch the video on how she was built, and some of the incredible adventures we have had around the coast of Tasmania and Queensland.

The design is by John Philp, a Tasmanian boat builder who took the time to mentor me through the process. She was originally designed as a scout boat, hence the 2 rowing positions. John went on to build many clinker boats up to 18 ft in length for the Sea Scouts in Tasmania.

Our first open dinghy cruising adventure in the original John Philp dinghy started out well enough. We arrived at the island late afternoon, making landfall at the Eastern end of Schouten Island. We set up the camp, our tent was ex-army, japara cotton. It leaked badly and had no floor. In those days, tents did not come with poles, you had to gather them from the bush. The lack of a floor meant you shared your bed with the ants, and there was always the possibility of a visit from a possum or a snake.

We succeeded in catching fish off the rocky headland to the East, where the granite cliffs intersected sharply with the Tasman Sea which separates Australia from New Zealand. Part of the rites of passage for young men involved a fair bit of alcohol, shared generously around the campfire. At one point I stood to relieve myself, not taking more than a couple of paces from the comfort of the flames.

I didn’t recall there being a creek or pond nearby, so was surprised to hear the trickle of my stream entering water, and quickly realized I was peeing in the fish bucket! More fish to be caught the next day. Bear Mountain is part of the exposed red granite batholith that makes up the geology of the entire Freycinet Peninsula. It is a steep climb to about 400 meters through thick scrub, yielding to incredible views towards the South over a secure anchorage called Hen and Chicken Bay. You could see all the way down to Maria Island.

The weather had settled into a pattern of calm mornings merging into windy afternoons, so when it came time to leave, we concluded it was best to leave early in the morning, before the sunrise so that we could retrace our course back across the Schouten Passage in the calm of the early hours. We struck out before first light, across a glassy sea, with a full moon reflecting the image of the Hazard Mountains on the pristine canvas which was Great Oyster Bay at that time.

It was not until we had been motoring along for an hour or so that it occurred to us that it should have by now been revealing a hint or two of the approaching sunrise. A quick check of Robert’s watch revealed that he had read it in the dark upside down and that we had not left at 6 am, but rather we departed at 12:30 am! A couple of hours later we arrived at the Fisheries, where Robert’s parents had a holiday shack, where we were able to bunk down for the rest of the night. If you are interested in building a dinghy suitable for open dinghy cruising, there are some great plans and resources available here.

Moonlight had remained “nameless” for many years after she was built and by the mid-’90s, she was showing signs of neglect. This had the ingredients of a perfect father and daughter/son project. We set to, scraping back a couple of decades of decaying varnish, and sprucing her up. When she had been relaunched, we entered a wooden boat rally on the Tamar River, which itself is an interesting story.

It was Spring and the day of the opening race for the Beauty Point yacht club. The cannon boomed out across the Tamar valley signalling the start, startling those on the pontoon nearby as we set out on the journey South to the Rosevears pub. There was a significant number of boats on the water ranging from us, the smallest in the fleet, to several bluewater yachts. Coming down past Legana, the channel narrowed and cheese, bickies and wine were stowed away in the face of rising seas and opposing tide.

All hell seemed to break loose as a Southerly Buster hit, belting out powerful gale strength gusts, sufficient to knock half the sailing fleet flat and causing a couple of dismastings. Somehow we made it in our tiny little boat to the pontoon with the rest of the fleet was in various states of pandemonium. Masts rip off, sails are torn, crews battered and bruised. Comically, we were interviewed by the local media on the heaving pontoon, while on hardy soul became wedged in a bosun’s chair trapped halfway up the mast, swinging wildly back and forth in a misguided attempt to free a halyard.

Back in the comfort of a roaring fire at the Rosevears Tavern, many ales were enjoyed and stories of bravery and folly shared to a rollicking crowd whose conversations reached a crescendo that threatened to blow the windows out of the building. Amongst the cacophony, somehow we got advanced notice that Peter (my son) and I had won the prize for the best-prepared boat. “so what’s she named” asked the fearless leader of the rally?

The truth is she had never been named, so I had no idea what to suggest. “That’s ok said Bruce, we will call her Tom-thumb” after a similar boat used by explorers Bass and Flinder to discover the Bass Strait, between mainland Australia and the North Coast of Tasmania. Bruce hustled his way back through the throng of inebriated and soaked to the core sailors, to prepare for the presentation of the trophy ( a conspicuous brass propeller housed in an even more conspicuous glass housing which was my wife’s pride and joy hanging on the wall of our Launceston home for the next 3 years as the event was not repeated for several years for some reason!)

The thought of our beautiful little boat being publicly humiliated with the monica “Tom thumb” was never going to rest very well with me so we held a family huddle where it was proposed and heartily seconded that she should be called Moonlight. It sat really well with all of us, and the picture of having motored up the Western Side of the Freycinet Peninsula in the middle of a moon-lit night is indelibly etched on my mind. this truly was open dinghy cruising at its very best.

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