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New boat, new adventure

Peter Charles on his trimaran; he sailed the first Darwin to Ambon race and at age 72 after the death of his wife and losing everything in the Bundaberg floods, is competing in the 30th anniversary race. Photo: Iain Curry / Sunshine Coast Daily
Peter Charles on his trimaran; he sailed the first Darwin to Ambon race and at age 72 after the death of his wife and losing everything in the Bundaberg floods, is competing in the 30th anniversary race. Photo: Iain Curry / Sunshine Coast Daily Iain Curry

THEY say the cure for all that ails a man is saltwater, whether it be sweat or tears of the sea.

Peter Charles is a saltwater man.

Commando, engineer, builder, tour operator, auctioneer - he has toiled hard in his 72 years.

And he has had to: natural disasters have forced him to start again twice.

After emigrating from England as a "ten-pound Pom" in 1968, he lost everything when Cyclone Tracy hit Darwin in 1974.

Last year, he and his wife of 30 years, May, lost everything they owned in the Bundaberg floods.

And then he lost May when her health took a turn for the worse last October.

After a year of sweat and tears, Peter has turned to the saltwater.

He left Mooloolaba last Thursday, bound for Darwin, to sail in the 30th Darwin to Ambon race.

Peter competed in the first Darwin to Ambon race and estimated he had perhaps done the run 20 times.

But, as his daughter Rachel explained, this race is a little different.

"He's had to draw on every ounce of strength and courage to do this," she said.

Saltwater has always been good to Peter, who has been sailing for 50 years.

When he was 18, he designed and built a 2.4m (8ft) boat to cross the English Channel at its widest point.

The trip earned him 250 pounds from Yamaha, which benefited from the publicity it received for a new kerosene outboard motor, and put desperately needed money in the bank for Peter.

Like all sailors, Peter has tales to tell.

During one trip, he had a craving for a cold beer, and made contact with a passing oil tanker, declaring his need for a beer and any meat he could cook.

The obliging captain pulled up the ship over several miles and had a basket lowered to Peter's little boat containing a carton of orange soft drink, a carton of Toohey's draught, and 1kg of bacon.

"People at sea are just good," he said.

Not all, though.

During a trip across the Indian Ocean from Darwin to Mombasa in 1987, Peter's boat was raided by pirates who stabbed him in the legs.

He drifted for four days before he was picked up by a ship.

Leg problems prompted him to buy a new boat, a trimaran named Wings, for the Darwin to Ambon race.

"The tri is a bit more stable - easier on the legs," he said.

Although Peter has a perfectly good "grandad flat" to stay in with Rachel at Rosemount, he feels more at home sailing on the water.

"It's so peaceful. I think there's the personal achievement you experience getting from A to B," he said.

Peter has no words of wisdom on how to pick yourself up when life has knocked you down.

Recovering after Cyclone Tracy was easy for him.

"When you're young, it's easy to start again," he said.

Recovering from grief and loss at 72 is harder.

But he believes that life is there to be lived.

"You've got to enjoy it," he said.

"You spend a long time dead."



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