Passage Maker - - Postscript - BY JESS ASH­DOWN


Why take on a pro­ject that is so hard to achieve, like re­fit­ting a steel trawler and trav­el­ing to Antarc­tica or the North­west Pas­sage in the Arc­tic Cir­cle? It was a pro­ject that would take just about all we had. We knew we’d have to work harder than we ever had be­fore—and that we might end up strug­gling and hav­ing to give up the pro­ject al­to­gether. So why did we de­cide to do it?

For me, this pro­ject started with a dream I had when I was six years old of liv­ing and trav­el­ing on a trawler. And for my hus­band, Damien, it stemmed from his love of boats and en­gi­neer­ing. That’s only part of the story, though. We now re­al­ize that by tak­ing on a pro­ject so chal­leng­ing we have be­come more than we thought we could be: self-re­liant, re­silient, fo­cused, and de­ter­mined.

When Damien sug­gested we look

at Brupeg, a big steel trawler stripped out and sit­ting in a yard in Queens­land, Aus­tralia, I thought, “It’s over­whelm­ing and I must be mad to even think of it.” We had been look­ing for a trawler for years and had even looked at some wooden boats be­cause the strength and size we wanted was ex­pen­sive and scarce in this part of the world. Brupeg is a lo­cal boat that we found in Bund­aberg, Queens­land, that had been em­ployed as a work boat for 40 years along the north­ern and east­ern coasts of Aus­tralia. Brupeg was built by Bruce and Peggy Pe­ri­ott (hence, “Bru-Peg”) in Tweed Heads in 1974, as a prawn trawler. The boat sur­vived a pair of cy­clones be­fore end­ing up on its side in the Bur­nett Heads River dur­ing a flood, after two weeks of heavy rain caused by Cy­clone Oswald in 2013.

If we were to re­build a 57-foot boat, we would have to get the hull for next to noth­ing to make it fi­nan­cially vi­able. So, after wait­ing months for the price to come down, Damien and I de­cided to at least go take a look at Brupeg. Be­cause no one else was in­ter­ested, the price ended up at “of­fers.” We drove five hours north from Bris­bane to the boat yard. Through the locked gates of the ma­rina we saw her down the back of the yard in long-term stor­age: blue hull, white cabin, cov­ered in bar­na­cles and grime. We talked to the seller and looked around for a cou­ple of hours. The size of the ves­sel and amount of work it needed was for­mi­da­ble. We drove back talk­ing the en­tire way about what a crazy idea it was, but also how gor­geous the boat was.

Ul­ti­mately we of­fered the seller the scrap value of the hull. This meant that if we couldn’t make it work, we could at least get our money back. The owner took the of­fer straight away, happy to fi­nally be rid of it.

We knew three things when we bought Brupeg: It was the boat we wanted; we would do ev­ery­thing within our means to re­fit her; and fail­ure was a pos­si­bil­ity. Oh, and one more thing, we knew we would have to do it mostly on cash­flow be­cause we didn’t have a lot of money.


We trav­eled up to her only on the week­ends, as it was a nine-hour roundtrip drive. Of­ten we would sleep cov­ered in mos­qui­toes and midges, the heat 95 degrees or more, work­ing all day and into the night. Then we would drive back to Bris­bane on Sun­day in time to get to work on Mon­day morn­ing.

We did this for about a year, then I was di­ag­nosed with a con­di­tion that meant I was out as far as work­ing on the boat went—on doc­tor’s or­ders, I was not al­lowed to lift any­thing, and I couldn’t stand for very long with­out faint­ing.

We re­al­ized how dif­fi­cult a health prob­lem like this could make things. Damien would be do­ing all the work if we con­tin­ued, and it was at least a two-per­son work­load. We had help from fam­ily and friends, but the sched­ule and the lo­ca­tion

Brupeg, well along on her restora­tion to glory.

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