Wreck creates a life passion

BOAT BUILDING: Don Parke working on his replica version of the famous yacht America which won the America’s Cup in 1851.
BOAT BUILDING: Don Parke working on his replica version of the famous yacht America which won the America’s Cup in 1851. Rob Williams

SOMETHING special happened to Don Parke when he first laid a hand on the wreck of the SS Maheno.

Mr Parke was just a boy when the Maheno washed up on Fraser Island in 1935, but the effect the experience had on him lives on after 77 years.

It was after seeing the giant ship wreck that Mr Parke's father built a couple of canoes for him, and his fascination with boats began.

He started building small sailboats from the age of 14, gradually working his way up to much bigger powered cruisers and sailing catamarans.

Rheumatoid arthritis has slowed him down over the last couple of decades - but it hasn't stopped him and he has now hand built more than 50 boats.

With wife of 30 years Trisha joining in the fun, Mr Parke is rebuilding some classic boats - the latest based on an America's Cup winner. He plans to dedicate it to his home town. The 10m schooner - currently under construction in the Parke family's backyard - is a replica of the vessel that took out the inaugural America's Cup.

"We are going to call this one, The Hammer of Ipswich," Mr Parke said. "She is going to represent the city of Ipswich wherever she goes."

While building the sail boat by hand will be a labour of love for Mr and Mrs Parke that will take several months, its completion will represent a ticket to freedom.

They plan to sail the vessel around Moreton Bay, living on board for several days at a time.

"I hate the word, 'retire'," the 84-year-old said. "I detest anything that stops me trying to achieve what I want to achieve."

Mrs Parke, a talented wood worker in her own right, is currently recovering from illness in hospital, but will play an important role in the completion of the schooner, as she has done on previous projects.

In recent years, the couple has also completed a replica of a 5m canoe made from plywood and teak that is based on a classic design by American builder Rushton Ugo in 1890.

The canoe was placed on display in the Ipswich Library four years ago, where it won an award in the DIY Dream competition.

Best of all, Mr Parke said the Ugo was a dream to travel in.

"As far as I know there is nothing like the Ugo anywhere in the southern hemisphere," he said.

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