All aboard for a battle on Rotto’s high seas
It was as if they had a spirit and will of their own.
Born out of battle and capable of up to 56km/h in their prime, the two wartime patrol boats — the Islander and Triton — were shackled by the regulations that governed their role as the main peacetime passenger ferries to Rottnest Island in the early 1960s.
And it was as if the two thoroughbreds yearned for battle and speed and almost all who crewed them were touched in some way by their spirit to win.
That desire for speed — which the passengers cheered on — led to intense competition on the Rottnest Island run through the 60s and 70s that resulted in alleged arson, two deaths, a mid-river ramming, almost a disaster at the South Mole, a sinking and one boat being burnt to the water line.
Reflecting on those extraordinary times, Harold (Mick) Maxfield, one of the most accomplished engineers and skippers of his day, is emotional as he recalls the passion and love of boats that drove all the players.
“We lived and breathed them,” Mr Maxfield said. “I loved it too much — it came before my family,” he said with some sadness. “I just couldn’t wait to get to work.”
Arriving in Perth in 1965, Mr Maxfield was brother-in-law to Douglas and Norman Hunt who had just bought the legendary Islander from Emmett and Gerry McGann. They had purchased the vessel, a Fairmile patrol boat, in 1948 at the war surplus auctions. Until 1960, it had essentially no competition on the Rotto run.
However, in 1960 Jack Turner purchased the former US Navy air sea rescue boat Triton for the Rottnest run and in 1961, Alan Kitcher launched the twin-hulled Katameraire (Kat).
But before the Triton could start services, she was sunk at her mooring in Fremantle in mysterious circumstances — no charges were ever laid.
And in 1961, the Islander was flooded at her moorings at Barrack Street.
For just over two years, the Triton battled the Islander, which was the fastest ferry, for supremacy with the Kat slowly building a regular client base because it operated every day year-round. Then on March 1, 1963, tragedy struck and the Islander was set alight at Barrack Street.
Jack Turner was found dead from a heart attack in the vessel’s dinghy near the Narrows Bridge but nothing was ever proved.
Just a year later, a new small ferry owned and operated by George Page, the MV Andrew, was involved in a collision with the Kat.