HOME OF THE LADY DENMAN - Local history isn't always about the big story - the everyday story of life in the early development of the region can be a fascinating, entertaining and educational journey.

14 May 2014

Jarkan Yachts

kanga Another chapter of the maritime history in the Jervis Bay region comes to a close.
Kanga Birtles long regarded as one of Australia’s leading fibreglass boat builders, founded in 1976, owner and operator of Jarkan Yachts has retired and closed his business after 38 years.

No fan fair, no celebration of a life’s work, just a quiet closure that typifies the man.

Following in the footsteps of local boat builders from the 18th and 19th century, like the Dents and the Settree’s, Kanga Birtles chose Huskisson as the place to build his world renowned range of yachts.

Kanga Birtles is a name synonymous with Australian yachting – personally sailing in every major east coast regatta including 16 Sydney Hobart races. He has won Trans Tasman double handed events, and placed second in the 1988 round Australia race. In 1991 he became the fastest Australian to circumnavigate the world, placing fifth in the BOC Challenge single-handed yacht race, and in 1998 set the record for fastest non-stop circumnavigation of Australia.

a-39-pic-1-244x300 Jarkan Yachts has manufactured an amazing variety of boats, small and large pleasure yachts, round the world racing yachts, the unique solar sailor catamaran, house boats, dive boats, whale watching catamarans, one with whale viewing windows below the waterline and the largest vessel built at Jarkan, the 100 passenger sailing catamaran the “Passions of Paradise”, that was designed to cruise to the reef out of Cairns. Kanga has always stayed in pace with the latest innovations and in some cases been a head of his time.

solar_sailor Jarkan custom yachts have circled the globe, and competed with distinction in Australian and international regattas. The key focus of Jarkan was the manufacture of seaworthy true ocean going yachts regardless of size.

One of his more unique projects, the Solar Sailor

Just after starting Aurora no. 3 and Passions, and with the fifth 46 hull in the mould the Xmas bushfires burnt out his factory, destroying the moulds for the 10, the deck mould for the 46, the J24 moulds that we had started to build again and all the 12.5 moulds. A 38 was in the yard and also ruined.
This was a devastating time for Kanga, but he came through and kept going.

The recession.
When the recession hit in 1988 Kanga realised that Jarkan would not be building as many boats in the future.
Trying to compete with international manufacturers over recent years with lower manufacturing costs, has seen a dramatic downturn in the Australian boat building industry. passions of paradise


My association with Kanga

When i first moved to the south coast Kanga was operating out of a factory in Nowra. Wanting a break from my own trade, and having some fibreglass experience I approached Kanga about getting a job on more than one occasion, he always said the same thing,,,come back another day…we will be starting a new boat soon and there might be something then, it never happened.
But many years later and back in my trade as a designer and sign manufacturer, I received a call from Kanga, who by then had moved to Woollamia, that led to a long association doing designs and signs on many boats, the largest project for me was the ‘Passion of Paradise” as mentioned earlier.
Jan-2010-Rumdoodle Craftsmen
Building a yacht is a fascinating process to see, stating from a timber structure to form the plug, then the moulds right through to the finely crafted timber finishes that gave every boat a unique signature, the skill of the various craftsmen involved in all parts of the project under the watchful eye of Kanga made Jarkan yachts one of the respected builders of yachts in Australia.

 passions-of-paradise-2 Reminiscent of the early days.
The day a new boat was launched caused a lot of fascination, especially some of Kangas larger vessels, reminiscent of the early days when a Dent or Settree vessel was launched, crowds of people would come to the waters edge to watch the process.
For Kanga and his crew the day started early, with the factory away from the water at Woollamia there was a complicated process to go through, every yacht had it’s challenges, the height and width of some of the vessels caused different problems, slowly crawling along the road from the factory to the Woollamia Boat Ramp was a nervous time for the owners, Kangas crew and especially Kanga. The process of lifting many months of work from a low loader via a huge crane, the boat precariously hanging and slowly swinging in the air across the rocks until it touched down and settled into the water, you would see the nervous faces change to big smiles mixed with relief.

Kanga can now concentrate on what he loves most, sailing, I’m sure there will be many more fascinating adventures for this mariner ahead.

Kangas last vessel was a 45ft catamaran house boat, powered by electric motors with solar panels for charging.


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