by Trevor Gill
There is a sense of calmness and clarity about David Binks that is very reassuring in a boat builder.
David Binks at Brighton Jetty
An enduring quality of modesty belies a lifetime of achievement for the quietly spoken artisan whose career began among boat builders, ship’s chandlers, sailmakers and provisioners of Port Adelaide in the early 1950s. Trusted nameplates like William Russell, Searles, McFarlanes, Porters and Clausen swung above the ebb and flow.
As a boy, David regularly fished off Brighton in a carvel-built timber cutter powered by a single cylinder Chapman Pup motor.
From the age of 10 when he fished with family friend Ambrose Hinton, David developed a passion for boats that soon saw him sailing Cadet Dinghies at the Brighton and Seacliff Yacht Club in a group that included another budding sailor called Jim Hardy.
Schooling at St Peter’s College equipped David with the ability to make a number of career choices. But the call of the sea and a love of working with his hands proved too hard to resist, and he chose an apprenticeship with legendary Port Adelaide boatbuilder J. P. Clausen & Sons, starting at the age of 17.
In the Clausen shed, David worked with traditionalists shaping jarrah keels with an adze, fitting planks of sugar pine, Pacific maple and teak, steam bending ribs of kauri, making decks of plywood and caulking hulls with
The young man quickly learnt the trusted old ways of working with wood. But it was the emerging wonders of fibreglass that propelled David into a new era of boat design and building, and a business that made him a household name among discerning sailors around the world.
In the latter stages of his apprenticeship with J. P. Clausen & Sons, his boss asked David to make the plug of a 15ft clinker fishing boat to be constructed from the new material of fibreglass that had been developed in the United States.
The Lightburn company in Adelaide used the plug as a mould to produce many fibreglass shells that were returned to J. P. Clausen & Sons to be fitted with wooden decks and thwarts.
It was the beginning of a new era.
From the outset, the young boat builder was fascinated with the possibilities of fibreglass and how he could apply his emerging skills in his own business. In 1959, he formed Binks Yacht Constructions initially building wooden speedboats for skiing and racing enthusiasts on the Port River.
In 1960, prominent businessman and yachtsman John Bagshaw encouraged a small group of accomplished Adelaide sailors to try their hands in 505 class racing yachts, a design new to Australia.
David made some of the 505s in moulded plywood and among those who were quickly converted to the potential of these yachts were Jim (later Sir James) Hardy and Fred Neill, both of whom later became famous at the helms of slick keel boats in the Admiral’s Cup and America’s Cup.
David experimented with design and construction of the 505s eventually mastering how to build the yachts in fibreglass – light enough to compete with wood and rigid enough to achieve winning speed in the water.
Again, David was at the forefront of change producing the first fibreglass yacht build in Australia and then perfecting a system of sandwiching a lightweight foam core between two layers of fibreglass, a concept that was embraced by boat builders around the world.
In 1963, one of the Binks fibreglass yachts competed in the World 505 Championships off Long Island Sound in New York. Sailed by Brian Price, the Aussie entry with revolutionary layout and fittings blitzed the field to take out the honours.
The following year, another Binks 505 took out the World Championships off Cork in Ireland. The international yachting community was amazed at the achievement and fully awakened about what was happening in a relatively small boatyard in suburban Adelaide.
As a result, David was awarded a Churchill Fellowship to study boat building overseas – an honour that took him to the United States where he met two people who had a huge impact on his life.
One of those people was Connecticut boat builder Les Goodwin, who pioneered fibreglass boat construction in that country. The second was his daughter, Pamela, who was to become David’s wife and the mother of their two daughters.
Balancing the strength and weight advantages of fibreglass hulls with the beauty of traditional timber features, Binks Yacht Constructions forged an enviable record producing boats in many classes including Flying Dutchman, Fireball, OK Dinghy, Yachting World Cadet, Star and Gwen 12. David also introduced two new international classes to Australia – the 420 and 470.
In 1972, a fire destroyed the Binks factory at Somerton Park, including the precious moulds of boats, many of which had filled export orders. As a result, David turned his hand to designing and building larger yachts, later developing a long association with legendary New Zealand designer Bruce Farr.
In 2008, David retired but retained a half share of the business he developed. Over the years, he had produced thousands of off-the-beach yachts and around 300 deep keel yachts.
His contribution to the industry has been enormous, including 40 continuous years as a Board Member of the Boating Industry Association of SA. He also served many years as a technical advisor to the Australian Marine Industry developing industry standards for pleasure craft.
'Above all, I feel incredibly lucky to have worked in the transition from timber to fibreglass,' David said.
And, with so much experience and so many achievements to his name, are there some words to define what he looks for it a boat?
'It has to be graceful,' he explained. 'And there has to be a sense of individuality in design. Ultimately, you can have a wonderfully designed and built boat, but to make it successful requires seamanship, an ability to understand the sea and its moods.'