The story of Gratis

‘A Cruiser’s Dream’

Gratis was not always Gratis

Built by Ken Campbell – Brown in Queensland Australia, she had a previous life, commencing her days as gaff rigged, pilot house spray, ID.­

Her construction commenced on the banks of the Brisbane River in the late ‘70s.

Living on an inland property some distance from the river, this saw Ken taking to the air in his light plane of a weekend in order to see his dream come to fruition.

Over the coming years, his project gradually took shape, until at last ID shone in all her glory.

The difficult and exacting work of moulding her hull of solid glass, over an inch thick at the keel and half inch at the topsides, was done to perfection; whilst his incredible skill with woodworking saw the interior completed with an eye to detail: glossy laminated Oregon beams, traditional tongue and groove ceilings, select Queensland hardwoods throughout. Once inside one could easily believe this was a fine wooden yacht!!

With such fine workmanship which was evident both inside and out, he had every right to feel proud.

Launched in 1982, Ken & Marge sailed forth: in excess of 20 years on the mighty seas saw ID circumnavigate the world not once, but twice. Excitement was not amiss, as she encountered a bommy in the red sea and tussled with a tropical storm in the Coral Sea. Time and again she proved herself, but then, those who know the legendary Sprays would not be surprised.

In the early years of sailing her, Ken made the decision to replace the gaff and rigged her as a Marconi mast head Cutter. Why, you ask? After all, Joshua Slocum sailed his gaff rigged spray around the world! Well yes, but he also ran a mighty lot of sails off his extremely long bowsprit, and he still had to add the aft Yawl mast for balance. The Spray is a fine vessel with any number of rigs: why not take advantage of the easily handled, more powerful rigs available today? (Good’n ya Ken, I say!)


In 2006-7, my lifelong dream of living upon the sea and sailing the world was, as always, prominent in my mind with the desire to be out there becoming ever stronger.

As per usual, I was searching for that ever elusive perfect voyager when I stumbled upon the good book, ‘Alone Around the World’, by Joshua Slocum. I thoroughly enjoyed that biography: both the man and the boat hit a chord and this was the catalyst that saw me commence researching the world of Sprays: the rest is history!

Discovering Bruce Roberts’ book on Sprays, I studied his interpretations in depth, and liking what I saw, started my quest to find the PERFECT – in my eyes, of course – Spray available for purchase.

During late July, early August 2007, an advertisement, “ID for sale”, on Queensland’s Spray Society website caught my eye. Calling Ken, a short discussion – enough to keep my curiosity high – took place and I promptly booked myself on a flight to Mooloolaba.

The August long weekend rapidly came around. Arriving in Mooloolaba late on the Friday night, Ken and I met the following day. A thorough exploration from top to bottom ensued, and liking what I saw we arranged a time for a Sunday trial sail.

Once out on the water, it took just an hour or so to realise that this was a solid, well – built ocean going yacht: sorely in need of a refit after a substantial life at sea, but absolutely what I wanted!!

42’ on deck 14’6” beam, just over a 5 foot draft – great for those shallow anchorages, 18T displacement, solid Fibreglass construction, lots of timber inside, a pilot house for the cold nights and a mast head Cutter rig for power, versatility and simplicity. All that was required now was a handy man – handy with money, that is!

Returning to Adelaide, it was time to come to an agreement on cost. Over the following month or two we haggled until at last we arrived at a price that suited us both, and FINALLY she was mine!!!!


January 2008 rapidly arrived, and with the assistance of four friends, it was time to sail her round to our home port of Adelaide, SA.

That trip was an adventure in itself: taking us 21 days, including a number of interesting breakdowns, with more than one southerly buster on our way south.

It was a busy time the day prior to setting sail, as Gratis was lifted, cleaned and readied for the journey to her new home.

The long awaited departure took place on Jan 6th.

Heading down the east coast saw us play a game of hide and seek with strong unexpected Mid – January cold fronts as they roared through.

Just a day out of Mooloolaba, the arrival of the first had us rapidly – in ID’s terms that was – running into to Coffs harbour for protection. There we remained for two days.

Departing Coffs, another day’s sail had us approaching Sydney

Heads. We couldn’t believe it as a second front howled our way, so into Sydney Harbour and Rushcutters Bay Sailing Club we intrepid mariners headed for a break; only to have the Alternator die before anchoring!!! No alternator, no battery charge: which meant the fridge and other systems running out of puff.

Being a Saturday afternoon, all shops were closed, which meant a two day stop over until the Monday. The part in question was easily replaced, but the grog bill for five thirsty sailors at the CYC could have easily purchased a new engine!!!! 8

Finally, and eagerly I must say, it came time to depart for Eden, a 206nm journey. For the first time, exquisite weather prevailed and we enjoyed a rather pleasant sail south.

Unbelievably, only 19 nautical miles out from Eden, yet another southerly squall arrived: right on the nose and with short lumpy 3-4 metre seas, it made for a long snail paced haul as it took 12 hours to cover the final 12½nm; exhausted and spent, we successfully arrived at our destination, where another break for two days or so resulted.

All required now were favourable Easterly winds, which arrived at last. Twelve days after departing Mooloolaba we five directed the yacht’s bow into the mighty Bass Strait where a strong NE breeze of 20-25Kn was predicted. Initially, all went to plan with a pleasant down – wind run, however, by 4pm we had received a typical Bass Strait welcome of 40+ knots, which endured for most of the night – when else!

Midnight came upon us, and with it the wind veered to more of a northerly than easterly. This heralded the need to gybe – pass the stern through the wind. With a six metre foot on the main sail and an equally long boom to match, to this day I still don’t know how we managed to so without bringing down the rig. In the process, two 8mm stainless eyes were snapped from the mainsail cars; a close call for me as one went zinging straight past my ear and onwards to fall into the deep icy cold briny.

As often occurs with these fronts, the blow was short lived. By morning light, the wind had abated to such an extent the engine was required in order to continue our push westward at a respectable rate. Motoring for some hours, an uneventful period saw our destination of Refuge Cove in sight by late afternoon. Here we remained for two days as yet another southerly buster thundered past.

Departing Refuge Cove, one last breakdown occurred as the propeller shaft coupling bolts sheared off, and saw us making for Apollo Bay with no engine propulsion. For once, the weather was in our favour and forty eight hours later, ID sailed into the bay where we anchored. Luck was with us as we searched for, and found, a local engineer who within his workshop assisted in making the severely required part and repairs. Completed at quite a pace, our departure on the final leg to home base eventuated that evening.

Even this sail wasn’t without ‘excitement’, as the genoa clew ring released during the night, of all times! Good ol’ Murphy was at it again! The sail refurled as much as possible, Yours Truly climbed upon the bow rails, a precarious job at the best of times, where balanced on tip toes I tied a rope around the remaining metre of still viciously flapping genoa.

The remainder of the journey to Adelaide was, thankfully, practically an anti – climax. Twenty one days after the five of us embarked upon our journey, we motored into our berth at the Royal South Australian Yacht Squadron.


Mid – winter 2008, ID was raised from the water and placed upon a hard stand at the squadron for her much required over haul: so commenced the 18 month makeover that gradually transformed her into the Gratis we now know so well.

Early on the decision was made to leave the bulkheads, and therefore the fundamental layout, of the yacht as Ken had created it. The only liberties taken altered the transverse dinette and pilot berth area into the master cabin with an extra – large queen sized bed installed, and the poop deck into a centre cockpit.

Immediately behind the pilot house was large open deck area sitting over the top of the largest Lazarette I have ever seen on a 42 foot boat. Over the years I have had both aft and centre cockpit yachts, and have always preferred the former layout as it provides a usable area and ensures safety from the boom for the helmsman, should an accidental gybe take place: there is nothing worse than receiving a knock on the head from an uncontrolled boom flying across!!!

Altering the open poop deck into a cockpit layout was the second of the major restructuring work to be undertaken. Over the period of a week, Ben (Cutter Marine Services) , a young shipwright at the squadron, and I proceeded to cut the shape of the cockpit in to the stern deck. We built combings and added a stainless tubular frame above the new cockpit area to support covers that would allow it to become a sheltered outdoor area. In conjunction with this, we also reset the companion way entry, moving it from the port side into the centre of the pilot house, which also enabled the installation of a second pilot house bunk with storage room beneath.

This completed our “remodelling” of the external structure and I hope that Ken is not too upset with me!

Now all the various systems on ID were removed: electrics, hydraulics, plumbing, engine, generator, mast and all rigging, ports, hatches, pilot house windows – basically everything!

The exterior sanded, the hull was repainted in French Navy Blue with white cabin sides and gunwales.

By the middle of 2009, the refitting of new port hatches windows and so on had commenced.  Then continued the seemingly endless list of other new pieces: at great expense to the management – remember, I did say you needed to be handy with money!

Finally, it was time to commence work on the interior. Starting with cabling and a new switchboard, this was only the beginning as wiring, lighting, communications, navigation, batteries (1000AH to replace the old gen set), monitoring systems (radar, sonar and so on….), plumbing, toilet, shower and instant gas hot water (luxury!) were either replaced or installed for the first time. New galley – now in a convenient u – shape with built in fridge, gas oven. It all seemed never ending: especially the bills!

Next on the list was the engine room, where a new engine and fuel filtration system were installed.

The hydraulics for the anchor winch were also replaced, whilst under the water line all skin fittings were exchanged for new, and inside all ball valves replaced. To improve our handling and turning circle, the rudder and rudder aperture were rebuilt. At last, the underwater works were completed with the installation of a shiny new four blade adjustable feathering propeller and adjustable pitch: the plus side of this beauty is reduced drag in the water when sailing, especially when low wind speeds exist.

On the 10th of December 2009, finally ready for antifouling, ID was lowered back in to the slipway cradle.

Six days later, on the 16th of December 2009, still far from completed but at least back afloat where she belonged, she quietly returned to the water.

With a deadline to meet, the ten days that followed saw a hive of activity as on deck all rigging was replaced and a mainsail track and traveller fitted. Four new winches were installed in the cockpit, whilst two existing winches were restored and fitted to the mast. The two boom winches for reefing were replaced and one brand new Mainsail ordered then mounted. On the bowsprit, sparkling new sail furlers for the genoa, staysail and twins were attached; complete with spanking new Genoa, Staysail and Twins.

Assistance from the ‘pirates’ – my son Damian and friends –  saw the completion of the cockpit, hatches fitted and so on…….

At last, practically two years from the day of collection, on 26th December 2009, our spray officially became Gratis as her new name and numbers were placed on the transom.

It was then possible for seven pirates, and one unfinished yacht to take to the sea: their destination, Wedge Island in the Spencer Gulf, but that’s a story for another day.

Pictures to come