Thornleigh at sea

Thornleigh has an interesting maritime history.

During the war, Thornleigh played its part in exporting fish to the mainland to feed the troops. There wasn’t a fishing hole on the reef that Phil Dignam didn’t know. Deep sea fishing was in Carl Dignam’s blood. He was an extraordinary boatman – he literally became part of the boat and even in the heaviest seas remained at ease and piloted the B Centauriso that she was always settled, never putting a foot wrong.

Thornleigh sported an array of big boats, little boats, rowing boats and sailing boats. Phil Dignam’s motor launch Tremoloplied the lagoon and brought flying boat passengers to shore. She is resting safely under cover on the farm.

Four of the old dinghies are still in the boatshed awaiting restoration. Two are sister ships and lovely rowing boats – the blue trimmed Petronellawas Philippa Dignam’s, the green trimmed Paw Paw was Patricia’s. Carl’s little one-man dinghy is there, and there is a beautiful clinker hull sailing boat build by Jim Fitzgerald.

Jim Whistler’s Wideawakewith Carl Dignam’s B Centauri behind her

Thornleigh’s boatshed and slipway was a busy place. The Island’s big boats were on and off the slips for their regular health checks. Phil Dignam’s Noddywith her little Stuart diesel engine lived in front of the boatshed and pottered along at six knots fishing all around the lagoon and the Island. In calm weather she would go all the way to the Pyramid, although that took a while. Carl Dignam’s B Centaurigot there faster, roaring along at 20 knots at full clip with a massive GM diesel under the bonnet. She was a magnificent sea boat, able to handle the worst conditions with ease.

Phil Dignam working on the Noddy, with B Centauri lying in front. Phil’s dachshund Mullygrubber maintains watch in the foreground.

These days the boatshed and slipway area are quieter places. Their historic value is recognised in the Island’s heritage list. The boatshed has been restored, the big cradle has been moved back into place onto the slipway area and the slipway winch has a new housing to protect it from the elements.

The restored cradle (foreground) and protected winch (background)