During the COVID pandemic, Melbourne, Australia’s second largest city, was second to none when it came to lockdowns. From March 2020 to October 2021, the city endured six lockdowns for a total of 262 days, more days by far than any other city on Earth. In the midst of the pandemic, Gary Hardy realized the looming threat of another long spell of being homebound could be put to good use as a compelling argument to build another boat.

Photographs courtesy of Gary and Anne Hardy

There wasn’t much room in the shed for building the 15′-long Skerry. When the weather permitted, the hull could be rolled out on a dolly and set on sawhorses, where there is fresh air and a lot more elbow room.

He had been retired for a few years and could do with his time pretty much as he wished, and what he wished to do was build another boat. That required a negotiation with his wife, Anne. The 17′ plywood kayak he had built before retiring had taken over their home’s lounge room, and when Gary finished the project he had to take out a window to move the kayak out of the house. Anne was reluctant to have another boat built on a diagonal across a room meant for relaxing, and the two agreed on something much smaller: a cradle boat. Gary bought the plans for Chesapeake Light Craft’s 7′ 9″ Eastport pram and scaled it down to bunk a grandchild. Christened SEA PUP, it has remained unused as no grandchildren are yet in the works.

Working outdoors in the Australian sunshine often provided good lighting for work on the Skerry. Gary has a cordless drill, but sometimes a vintage hand-cranked drill is the right tool for the job.

When Gary foresaw another lockdown coming, he once again entered negotiations with Anne about building yet another boat. This time it was Chesapeake Light Craft’s Skerry, a 15′ double-ender for oar and sail. “I argued that building a boat was an important mental health measure.” To up the ante even further he put the Skerry kit on his pointedly specific Christmas and December birthday wish lists. He also placed the order.

DERRY was launched after SEA PUP, an Eastport pram scaled down and equipped with rockers to serve as a cradle boat for an as-yet nonexistent grandchild. The Hardy’s cat, Maggie, is a rescue like their dog Ozzie, but that shared background doesn’t make them good friends. Maggie bosses him mercilessly.

Gary didn’t get to build the Skerry in the lounge. The project was relegated to the shed, and he had to sell his Mirror dinghy to make room. It was a tight fit. “Somehow, either my shed was smaller or the Skerry bigger than I anticipated, but I managed.” The lockdown he had seen coming did indeed happen, and Melburnians once again spent most of their time at home. For Gary, “building during lockdown was a blessing and kept me sane and happy.” Building a boat in cramped quarters required some gymnastics, adding to the mental health measures some physical benefits: “Squeezing round the edges to build that boat was extremely good for stretching and flexibility.” After the hull was finished, he put the Skerry on a dolly so he could move it out of the shed during fair weather and work on it in the garden.

Getting away from Maggie may be one of the pleasures Ozzie takes in boating. Flat water and a light breeze are to his liking.

Gary christened the finished boat DERRY, his mother’s maiden name. It was what his father called his mother since their courtship, when he gave her a book he had inscribed “for Derry is my darling.”

Ozzie took in the scene while Anne, Gary’s wife, took to the oars. The cart used to get DERRY to the water rests on the stern.

Gary has been pleased with the Skerry’s performance: “a real delight to sail and row.” And Anne “loves it, much more than any of the boats I have owned in the past.” Gary added side benches in the bow to provide a comfortable spot for Anne to be while sailing. With the boat’s two rowing stations they can also row together; “a nice companionable activity.”

Anne has also taken to sailing DERRY. Ozzie, taking a snooze in his yellow PFD (bottom center), seemed a bit indifferent to it.

Ozzie, the couple’s two-year-old Australian Cattle Dog, is Gary’s other sailing companion. “A key characteristic of this breed is an extraordinary level of loyalty. Ozzie is profoundly miserable if I go out sailing without him. Australian Cattle Dogs are also extremely good at communicating how they are feeling. He has an unerring way of letting me know he will go with whatever we are doing because he is a good, loyal dog, but he may be very, very unhappy about it.” While getting doused with spray while DERRY was beating to windward, Ozzie glared at Gary through eyes narrowed with reproach.

With DERRY beginning to heel, Ozzie wasn’t in the mood for napping.

Gary then devised a dodger to shelter Ozzie. After making a prototype from a poly tarp, he sewed up a canvas version to be supported by a curved PVC pipe anchored in the forward oarlock sockets. “Ozzie certainly approves of the enhancement, and I have found it is very cozy to snug down behind it for a morning coffee. If I can persuade Ozzie to move over.”

As the breeze freshens and the spray began to fly, Ozzie hunkers down. His PFD is just below the mast and his glaring eye is visible by Gary’s kneecap.

Gary made several other additions to the Skerry, which were inspired by articles in Small Boats: a Paddook, a Norwegian tiller keeper, a Spinnaker for rowers, cord-wrapped oarlocks for the sculling station, one of those nifty mainsheet cam-cleat things that fit into the oarlock socket, and even a bed frame made from Ikea bed slats.

The dodger Gary made for Ozzie’s comfort got a good looking over by Maggie.

Gary has entered DERRY for next February’s Tawe Nunnagah 2023, a raid that runs over nine days and 140 nautical miles up the east coast of Tasmania—what he describes as “a fantastic but wild stretch of water.” If all goes well, he’ll finish in Hobart in time for the Hobart Wooden Boat Festival.

The dodger keeps Ozzie out of the wind and spray and makes sailing a bit more tolerable.

While DERRY is getting put to use frequently and has a busy post-pandemic future lined up, the cradle boat SEA PUP gathers dust. “My children have so far studiously avoided taking the hint of the cradle boat, and SEA PUP is still waiting for her crew. But Anne and I live in hope.”

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