See Clarence River in a lifeboat

SPENDING days and nights on end confined to a lifeboat from a former Russian cruise ship might not appeal to everyone as an ideal holiday, but members of the McLennan and Leamon families are going to make sure it is an adventure to remember.

They are treating their tour up and down the Clarence River as something akin to a tour of the French canal system and will be stopping at various locations on the river during their stay.

Boat co-owner Neil McLennan, a paraplegic since a motorcycle accident in his teens, said he was hoping to tour all the rivers on the NSW coast.

He said the former lifeboat had a shallow draft, allowing it to get into areas that were once accessible and used regularly for river trade.

Neil, together with twin brother Alan and naval architect Graeme Mugavin, bought the eight-metre vessel from an online auction site about 18 months ago and had the former cast iron Chinese motor replaced with a small Japanese truck motor, and had a number of other renovations made to get the craft seaworthy. They had to add 300 kg of ballast because of the lighter motor now installed.

It has been Christened The James Burke after an 11-year-old boy whose grave is near the McLennan family home in Sydney. James Burke died in 1917 from influenza and his death touched eight-year-old Geoffrey McLennan.

The James Burke’s maiden sea voyage since her refit was from Brisbane to the Clarence River and was an adventure in itself.

Neil and Alan estimated their trip to the Clarence would take two days travelling about six knots, but fighting a headwind and ‘adverse’ conditions, they were on the ocean for three days braced against the back of the vessel to get enough power to keep the tiller steering under control.

But the two experienced seafarers made the trip safely and felt, because the lifeboat is ‘positively buoyant’, there was never any danger.

The lifeboat’s history is a bit of a mystery. Neil said he thought it had been built in the 1960s and had been used at some stage by Whitsunday Island resort developer Keith Williams and was used in the movie Nims Island. But full details of its origins are unknown.

For their Clarence River tour the McLennans and Leamons left the Prince Street wharf in Grafton on Thursday to head upstream to stay on board near Moleville Rocks. They also intend staying with family at Lawrence, at Ulmarra, Maclean and Palmers Island.

From there the boat will be docked in Yamba for more work to be done by Yamba Welding and Engineering in readiness for the next voyage to Lady Musgrave Island.

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