A quirky restoration challenge

Brett tries out the hydraulic propulsion system for the first time.

It’s probably one of the more unusual labour-of-love vessel restorations you’re likely to see pottering around Tauranga Harbour this summer.

Brett and Sarah McGrath’s Let-Us-C began life as a rubbish collection barge helping beautify Sydney Harbour for the 2000 Olympics. Even though the Aussies couldn’t quite get it humming it performed an Olympian task, gathering something like 7.5 tonnes of plastic waste over four months.

Then they gave up on it.

“That was it, they never really used it again and it sat decaying,” says Brett, a fifth-generation Tauranga fisherman who’s spent most of his life on the water and acquired his nautical and engineering knowledge ‘old-school’ from his father.

They spotted it lying derelict on Goat Island in Sydney Harbour.

“It was too much of an odd thing to walk away from, and if you didn’t give it a go you’d kick yourself for the rest of your life.”

It was the quirky engineering setup of the barge, driven completely by hydraulics, that fired Brett’s interest.

“I’d never seen a boat set up with just hydraulics instead of shafts, and I was like, ‘that’s a challenge.’ And so we figured it out like big kids’ Lego because we had no instructions.”

It wasn’t just the intellectual demands of the project that drew him to it though. They’ve got every intention of putting it to good use.

“Once we figured out before we bought it what it does we thought that’s a great idea because we’re just sick of rubbish. We didn’t have it when we were kids growing up playing on the beach so I don’t see why my kids should have to have it.”

Two-and-a-half years on from shipping the barge home, during which it took pride of place on Brett and Sarah’s front lawn and crowded out the family’s car-parking space, Brett’s got the whole thing figured out – he’s pretty sure. He’s re-engined it, and rebuilt the novel hydraulic system from scratch.

“It’s run off a little 2D-40 Volvo motor, supplied by Coastline Marine,  and a three-stage hydraulic pump. That runs our propulsion system and conveyor belts.

“We’re starting from scratch so we know everything’s good to go.”

It’s not just rubbish and plastic waste Let-Us-C will be good for, says Brett. It could also be effective tackling Tauranga Harbour’s notorious sea lettuce problem, which helped prompt the name selection.

“We sat around a table, had some beers and threw names in a hat.  We really don’t know what this boat’s going to do so we’re like ‘let us see.’ And it’s also sort of a pun at the lettuce.”

It’s good to have the family front lawn back, now it’s in the water, Sarah says. Not that everything’s plain sailing from now on though.

“I’m just a bit scared now what he’s going to put on there next.”


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