Gone Walkabout.

Title photograph : John Welsford design ‘Walkabout’, Everglades Challenge, photographer unknown.


Taking ‘Long Steps’.

A Sail and Awe post.

If i said to you ‘Walkabout‘ or even ‘Gone Walkabout i wonder what kind of thought or image that the terms might create in your mind.

If you are my age or older you might immediately think of the 1971 film of that name created by Nicholas Roeg : almost dreamlike and hallucinatory, shot in the Australian outback and featuring a young British actress ; Jenny Agutter.   The film is often cited as being controversial for some of it’s themes and scenes , not just the nudity but also the suicide/s and the attempted killing of the 2 children.

Within the film is another theme though and that is of the aboriginal boy, played by David Gullipil, as he ‘goes walkabout‘ in the Australian outback….walking, hunting and just getting by with his deep knowledge , skills and competency in an unforgiving landscape.       Mirriam-Webster has it as “a short period of wandering bush life engaged in by an Australian aborigine as an occasional interruption of regular work often used in the phrase go walkabout “.    It may also have or allude to a more ritual element of going out into the wild and experiencing visions or ‘dreamtime’….in a native Australian context and there are similar concepts in other cultures.

This could almost be a transition post, balanced between the hiking/bushcraft posts and my new series ; Sail and Awe.  As someone who has studied and practiced bushcraft in this country and abroad iv’e absorbed many of the cross-cultural ideas such as ‘walkabout’ although just to say that it has no real place in the kind of bushcraft that i know ; we simply don’t have a large enough wilderness space anywhere in Europe where we could lose ourselves while hunting, foraging and in this country , just making shelter and surviving.    The segue should be obvious here….that we do have a very large wilderness area although it’s the almost unknown one : the crinkly bit that goes right around our shoreline, into every estuary and eventually river.

I often canoe’d around that strangely untouched ‘water margin’ of the UK , canoeing on salt rather than fresh because so many of the UK’s rivers are controlled and dominated by the selfish but powerful fishing lobby : i bet there are few visitors here who realise that fishermen have access to some 99% of all British rivers while canoeists are only officially allowed on 2 %…..but that’s another story !.

The bushcraft segue here is into an area that has been but little explored, while British bushcrafters seem to love their ‘Canadian’ canoes, wrong boat, wrong place mostly, few think about what they might be able to do with a working sailors working boat…..we actually have our own indigenous craft derived closely from older native forms even if today they are in plastic and GRP, just as the more ubiquitous canoe and kayak is today.

The kind of craft i am talking about might look something like a slim, double ended open fishing boat, almost a viking trading ship in miniature – or perhaps more like a craft that crossed over the Atlantic as a ship’s ‘boat’ and then came back this way as a ‘Dory’ as that form was modified and perfected by the Dory-men of Maine and Novia Scotia.  If today you were to look at some of the smaller Drascombe boats or Iain Oughtread’s lovely boats you might see much of that design heritage.

Today though i want to visit another designers work and that is, naturally, Kiwi John Welsford and 2 of his designs that i would say are a very close match with the water-walkabout idea : ‘Walkabout’ itself and more recently ‘Long Steps’. 

In his introduction to his own design ‘Walkabout‘, Kiwi John Welsford picks up on the same theme of adventure and spiritual quest thus : “Walkabout” as in “He’s gone Walkabout” Australian term meaning “a journey undertaken without notice or warning, of no fixed duration, with no particular destination in mind and usually undertaken for reasons of spiritual well being”.     I rather like that notion of a spontaneously taken journey, no particular destination and taken for spiritual well being.

More prosaically it was the actual boat that iv’e used pictures of that turned me on to the whole idea of a more spontaneous and simpler interaction with the sea and the shoreline environment of coast, estuary and river.  The actual boat, i have since found out, is a modified Walkabout design, built in the USA and sailed/rowed in the Everglades Challenge : the modification being that she is longer than the original design by some 12 % according to her builder.


Just recently i got in contact with John Welsford and explained what i was looking for and the kind of things i planned to do, we discussed Walkabout briefly and i have since had some feedback from her builder…aside from Walkabout though John also mentioned his more recent design ‘Long Steps’ , one of which he is building for himself and looks to be a similar concept of boat except that she has a small cuddy up forward.

For the first time in this project i think i have found the boat that would work and just possibly one that is within my capacity to build at home.    I think that the next stage is to get a set of study plans and cost up the project including the building of a shelter to build it under….now all i need to do is sell my current boat to fund the project.

Long Steps.


My new Facebook multi-adventure group here : https://www.facebook.com/groups/1257497434599364

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