Boy Rows 130 km Solo in OK Dinghy

In 1966 a local boat Noo-Roo (KA194) skippered by D Wells competed in the fourth Australian OK Dinghy sailing championships in Cairns. In January 2014, some 48 years later, 14 year old school boy Tom Robinson rowed Noo-Roo, now simply renamed Roo, on an epic 130km journey from the Western suburbs of Brisbane to Surfers Paradise on Queensland’s famed Gold Coast.

Tom, who took up competitive rowing at school in early 2013, set himself the goal of completing this feat over the summer holidays. Thus, in mid 2013 the search for a suitable boat commenced.

The requirement was for a boat with a standard sliding seat configuration identical to that of the racing shells in which Tom rowed at school. But, unlike those boats, there would need to be watertight space to stow enough provisions, navigation equipment, and clothes to last for the entire trip estimated to take between five and seven days. It would also need to row easily and have a sea-kindly hull for the open waters he would encounter.

There would also need to be enough room in the boat for the oarsman to be able to sleep aboard while anchored at safe havens along the way.

After much unsuccessful on-line searching for a second hand boat it was eventually decided to convert Tom’s dad’s classic timber OK Dinghy. This boat had been given to him by his nephew Mike who had partly restored it after it had been lying in a Brisbane back yard for many years.

It was with some trepidation and a few regrets that Tom and his dad cut into the deck and the main bulkhead of Roo to create a cockpit long enough to sleep in. Both of the remaining fore and aft buoyancy tanks were retained and fitted with hatches to stow the required provisions and an anchor. A slice was taken from the top of the centreboard case so that the sliding seat could be fitted on top of it with an extension to take the stretcher shoes. Finally, a set of “handle bar” riggers from an ancient Sykes (of Geelong) training scull were fitted. Tom already had a good pair of classic Sykes timber oars of similar age to Roo, with which he could row

A setback occurred when some previously undiscovered rot was found in the keelson after Roo’s first outing. Fortunately, boat-builder friend Tony was able to fibreglass the underside of the boat for the full length of the keel. He also helped with fitting out and painting.

Much planning went into choice of an appropriate route and suitable timing for the row considering that tide and wind needed to be taken into account. The route involved roughly 40 km of rowing in the protected waters of the Brisbane River followed by 30 km of open water in central Moreton Bay, and finally, 60 km of sometimes protected and sometimes more open waters of southern Moreton Bay.

A four metre rowing dinghy can be rowed all day by a fit oarsman at a speed of no more than 5 km per hour (3 knots). And this can be achieved only in calm water with no adverse wind or tide. Tom knew that once a head wind got over 10 knots he would make virtually no progress. Tides in the river and the bay can run at up to 2 knots or more so it was imperative that he wasn’t rowing against the tide when it was running at its fastest.







At midday on Thursday 17 January 2014 Tom left his home at Chelmer on the outgoing tide bound for his first overnight stay in the Boat Passage at the mouth of the Brisbane River. The tides were big, the moon was full, and the forecast for moderate south east winds was acceptable.

On his way down the river Tom stopped at his cousin’s yacht Nanok for afternoon tea. Nanok was moored in the lower reaches of the river after its return from a cruise to the Keppel Islands east of Rockhampton. With a stiff easterly blowing and a now adverse tide he did not reach the Boat Passage until dusk at 7 pm. Here he used his headlamp to enable him to see as he cooked his first meal. He then slept under the stars tied up at the Water Police Station where he had been invited to stay.

The following morning, on the advice of seasoned coastal rowers who know that winds are generally lighter early in the morning, our intrepid traveller rose at dawn for his first open water row which would get him to Wellington Point or beyond. Although the ebb tide had helped him out of the river the previous afternoon, his new southerly direction meant that the ebb would now work against him in the afternoon. So it was important that he get as far as possible on the morning flood tide. Leaving at 7 am Tom made Wellington Point, some 12 km away, after a four hour row. With progress on the last part of this segment being hampered by a freshening south east breeze and with the tide about to turn, he decided to spend the night in the sheltered bay at Wellington Point. The night at anchor was uneventful except for the abuse copped from a boatload of drunken fishermen who had taken exception to Tom’s forgetfulness when he looked up at them and blinded them with his headlamp!

In the morning he would wait until the tide was high enough to enable him to walk Roo over a sand spit extending to the north so that he could recommence his journey south.

Again he left early with the objective of reaching his next planned destination, Victoria Point, before wind and tide could hamper his progress. On this third day after a 17 km row he reached an anchorage in the passage between Victoria Point and Coochiemudlo Island where, incidentally, Matthew Flinders had come ashore from the Norfolk in 1799. Tom endeavoured to go further than Coochie that day but found when he reached the open waters of Redland Bay he was no match for the elements.

Tom was up early on day four - he knew it would be a day when he could make really good progress; not only would the morning flood tide help him as it sped down the narrow mangrove-fringed channels ahead but he would also benefit from the predicted northerly winds. He also knew that as he left the open waters of Moreton Bay he would encounter a great deal of boat traffic - including the dreaded jet skis! With oars extending 2 metres each side of his dinghy he would need to be wary of unsuspecting power boat operators. Moreover, he was rowing on a Sunday - the most popular day for recreational boaties.

Tom did make good progress that day eventually tying up mid-afternoon beside a yacht at Couran Cove some 35km from Coochie. Here he met and yarned with a character named Peter who lived aboard a fine wooden double ender yacht. The highlight (lowlight) of the day’s trip was his encounter with a large motor cruiser which forced him out of the marked channel with many loud blasts of its horn. The skipper was an elderly, greying male while the crew consisted of a number of bikini babes who were enjoying the pleasures of the spa on the aft deck.

On the final, fifth day Tom rowed the 24 km down The Broadwater from Couran Cove to the Isle of Capri at Surfers Paradise. Apart from seeing his dad and Uncle Pete who had taken a tinny out to give him a rousing welcome to his ultimate destination, this was an uneventful last stage of the trip.

Over five days and four nights sleeping under the stars Tom had completed his marathon 130 km row. He was as brown as a berry with bloodshot eyes. He slept for most of the next four days.

His OK Dinghy Roo modified with some ancient Sykes fittings had performed well, delivering exactly the outcome he had wished for - an outcome which, for all we know, may be a first for any person   adult or child.



Half of the deck removed                                                 Deck and main bulkhead removed, hatches installed and centreboard case trimmed