Audi Hamilton Island Race Week - Ruby Charlotte, the first pearling lugger to contest the regatta, turns so many heads and generates so much interest on the dock that her owners have laminated fact sheets chronicling the boat’s colourful history ready to whip out for curious passersby.
Weighing the equivalent of 25 Audi A1s and the oldest boat competing at Race Week, the gaff rigged remnant from Australia’s pearling heyday is a far cry from the modern lightweight IRC racers.
Built in 1957 in the Brisbane River from spotted gum and Oregon, the 52 footer was originally called Nadine. She worked as a Thursday Island pearling lugger for 14 years until she was forced into early retirement by the cultured pearl industry.
A Torres Strait owner bought Nadine and renamed her after his two daughters, Ruby and Charlotte. After a decade working as a cargo boat and for pearl diving she was sold to the Cairns Maritime Museum where she deteriorated and eventually sank while tied to the pile moorings in Trinity Inlet, Cairns.
Current owners John and Liz Hinkling bought Ruby Charlotte in 1991 and gave her a brief refit before sailing back to their home on Middle Percy Island, south of Mackay, where the boat was put to work hauling cargo to Mackay and back every three months to restock the family’s supplies.
The Hinklings would head off with buckets of island honey and goat skins to sell at the markets and return with fuel, wheat, rice and other essential stores that couldn’t be made or grown on the island. Her strangest cargo during that period was a long wheeled based Landrover.
In 2001 the Hinklings gave Ruby Charlotte a complete makeover, hauling her out of the water for four months to be recaulked and refastened. The masts and rig were fully refurbished and her interior gutted and refitted as an elegant cruising boat.
The only gaff rigged boat contesting Australia’s premier keelboat regatta is racing in the Non Spinnaker Division for Hamilton Island Yacht Club.
The Hinklings, who now live on Dent Island just across the passage from Hamilton Island, are very happy the 2011 Race Week is the windiest in years given they have 35 tonne of boat to push through the water and the Whitsunday Islands’ notorious fast moving tide. So far they’ve hit a top speed of 9.2 knots.
Among all the white hulled production and other cruising boats, the wide double master with its classic lines and many odd shaped tan coloured Dacron sails, designed to mirror the look of the old tanned cloth sails, is a magnet to the eye.
Ruby Charlotte might not be taking home any spoils in the shape of a regatta trophy, in fact she’s currently bottom of the results pile, but the grand lugger that has seen more than five decades of service is without a doubt the pearl of the Audi Hamilton Island Race Week fleet. Audi Hamilton Island Race Week website