Friday, November 21, 2008

hydro history

Rotto Bloggo has been shocked back into coherence by a guest post from Old Salt.

OS has previously remarked on singalongs at the Quokka Arms and a book about fish.

This time he's talking ferry fast...

I’ve found in the WA State Library online database a couple of pics of the Rottnest Hydroplane. The Hydroplane was the first attempt at high-speed ferry travel between the mainland and Rottnest. This was circa 1974 when, traditionally, the ferry trip from Fremantle to Rottnest took one hour, and that was the accepted duration of the voyage. Heavy conditions simply made the trip longer.

Interestingly (and this I was not aware of until I found the info in a online wrecks database) the 62.3-foot, 51-ton Rottnest Hydroplane was built in the U.S.A. in 1944 and purchased by the Royal Australian Navy, then subsequently used as a search and rescue vessel by the RAAF. The fact this vessel was a World War II era rescue boat had escaped me.

Other information provided in Jack Loney’s Wrecks of Western Australian Coast is that the Hydroplane ended its career on fire and adrift near the Barrack Street Jetty, on 8 June 1975. It was burnt to the waterline and later sank near the jetty; later the hull was raised and sold for its fittings.

So ended this first chapter of high-speed ferry transport to Rottnest. The next tilt was the Hydroflite. This was an altogether different boat, designed by Perth naval architect Len Randell as a high-speed ferry. The Hydroflite is still in service, though these days it’s a charter boat. In Rottnest terms, travelling on the Hydroflite was the equivalent to walking straight to the business class check-in counter at the airport, then going to the Qantas Club to await departure.

The consumer now of course expects to get to Rottnest in 30 minutes, and pretty much all the ferries doing the run now are designed and built to comfortably maintain the necessary speed.

As for the pictures of the Hydroplane, well, how things have changed. The lines of a ‘crash boat’ can be seen in the exterior shot, though I expect a lot of superstructure was added to convert it to a ferry. The interior shot of skipper at the controls shows a couple of interesting things: firstly, the gauges suggest the engines aren’t running, despite his hand being on the wheel, and the ashtray alongside the compass suggests smoking in the workplace was quite acceptable back then!

Cheers Old Salt. And apologies for the long silence...perhaps we'll even post a new chunk of Rottnest Romance soon...


  1. Good to see you back online David.

    There's been a long history of intensive competition between ferry operators at the Barrack Street jetty, with quite a few 'mystery' occurrences.

    Cheers, Paul

  2. We caught hydroplane. Was great.

  3. Anonymous12:27 PM

    The skipper in your Rottnest Hydroplane photo is my dad Mick Maxfield. Dad skippered the Hydroplane from her recommisioning until her burning.

    Dad is now 79, we still have images of her as an Air Sea Rescue vessel as she was bought, super 8 movie footage in the Swan River before her refit. We often still speak of her and the Rottnest Islander (Old Islander, fairmile b also from the war."

    That old boat flew, 30 knots and the roar of her V12 Detroit Diesel engines could be hear from the beer garden of the Rottnest Pub as she left the harbour in Fremantle and opened them up.

    Tony Maxfield,
    Woodvale Perth

  4. My favourite ride to Rottnest in 74 as a 15yo in heavy seas standing on the bridge looking down at the passengers as they threw up and looking out of the Kent clear view at 5m waves, thanks Mick for lifetime memory and we'll skippered.

    Gary Cargill
    Tapping Perth

  5. One more thing,I grew up in Maylands and remember seeing the burnt out hull at the Maylands shipyard.