For ten years or thereabouts, on and off, my weekend friend has been building a dinghy. It has been adapted many times to take into account my general gumbiness and to make sure that when we sail it I don't have to follow instructions and I won't be swept overboard or knocked out. For the last six months it has taken up periodic residence in the living room so the boatbuilder can cogitate his next move. Constructed from marine ply and scraps, it has gradually acquired a kind of stumpy elegance.


Today we launched it (in a preliminary sort of way: it's not finished yet) and I relaxed as I was rowed on the Tuross waterways. It did everything its builder hoped – launched without too much difficulty, and skimmed along with minimum effort. Everyone else on the water had a boat with a motor. We had a handcrafted wooden boat, custom built. When a young woman on a passing launch yelled “What is that?” I yelled back “It's a real boat.”


The wooded shores slid by, pelicans gathered in groups, a sea eagle soared overhead, the water lapped, the line of mountains appeared and then disappeared, the mangroves stood amongst their breathers. Everything went smoothly and after two hours we edged our way back to shore. It was time for me to step out nonchalantly. I got one leg out, the boat moved and I fell flat on my back into chilly water. I was however reassured about my usefulness on future boating excursions: “Don't worry. You make perfect ballast.”