My 5.6 metre Shark Cat.

My 5.6 metre Shark Cat.

Back in 1977 and at the age of 26 years old I made the decision to abandon my secure job of ten years as a gasket cutter and die maker with Queensland Gaskets and become a commercial fisherman. My big plan was to catch enough fish hand lining to pay my board while living with my Mum and Dad who owned a house overlooking the ocean at Dickey Beach Caloundra. Hand lining is just that, a very basic wooden spool with some fishing line wrapped around it. I had already taken out a commercial fishing licence which allowed me to catch and sell almost anything and everything and only cost about $25.00 from the Department of Primary Industries. I had owned a 14 foot tinnie but had upgraded to an 18 foot Shark Cat a few years earlier. This is the story of how I obtained my 18 foot Shark Cat which would go on to play such a major part in my life.

I had been taking an interest in a new powered catamaran which was being built at the Gold Coast by a fisherman by the name of Bruce Harris. These boats were called Shark Cats and with the safety of twin motors, self draining floor, soft riding and stable at rest they appeared to have all the qualities which appealed to me. 

Dad regularly played lawns bowls. One of Dad’s best bowling mates was a guy by the name of Olly Harris who as it turned out was the father of Bruce Harris. Dad had a word to Olly who had a word with Bruce who said to give him a ring. I rang Bruce who greeted me like a long lost friend. Bruce I said “I’m interested in buying one of your 16 foot Shark Cats”. “Mate” said Bruce, “You don’t want the 16 footer I have a new 18 footer in the mould, I’ll give you a call when it’s ready and we’ll take it for its first spin” A few months later Bruce called me and I drove down early morning from Brisbane with my friend Jack McGrath to where Bruce was building his Shark Cats on the Gold Coast.

Jack had had boats all his life and owned a 17c Haines Hunter at the time which was a legendary good sea boat.      

It was the first time I had meet Bruce but he greeted us as if we had been friends for years and said “ She’s not quite ready yet, come on over to my place for some breakfast and by the time we get back It will be ready to go” 

After breakfast with Bruce’s family we drove back to the factory where the gleaming new 18 ft Shark Cat was on the trailer and appeared very much ready for the water however someone had taken the tow vehicle somewhere. Bruce suggested we use my my HR Holden Wagon to tow the rig the short distance around to Bruce’s home which was on the canal and had its own boat ramp. My Wagon had three speed manual transmission with an unsynchronized first gear which normally requires stopping to select first gear. Another method was double clutching while revving the engine to match the first gear transmission speed. Having to slow at an intersection and with the weight of the boat behind us I doubled clutched into first gear rather than stop the small queue of following traffic. Bruce was impressed how well and seamlessly I had achieved the double clutching technique while I thought to myself ‘phew, what luck I did not grate the gears in front of Bruce Harris. This was only a little seemingly meaningless thing but Bruce had that glint in his eye and I was happy that I had done well. While my skill at double clutching was not always that polished I was not too bad at reversing a boat trailer so with a bit of luck and a little confidence I managed to reverse the rig along the long narrow drive way past Bruce’s house and down his boat ramp. Bruce climbed aboard the Cat and reversed this spanking brand new 18 foot Shark Cat off the trailer and berthed alongside his nearby pontoon where Jack and myself stepped aboard.

Bruce gave us our first bit of advice when driving a Cat “always use your outside motor when manoeuvring at low speeds”.   

Bruce’s flagship model was his 23 footer which when he wasn’t building them he was racing them in ocean power boat races where he was quickly building a reputation for winning whenever the conditions were rough to frighting.

Once clear of the canal Bruce wasted no time in gunning the twin 75hp Johnson outboards, these were the ‘tricked up’ Stinger models which revved higher and produced a little more power than the standard model. The Stingers literally sang as we enjoyed an armchair like ride while we raced through the calm protected Broad waters towards the notorious Southport Bar. We rounded the southern tip of South Stradbroke Island (no rock walls back then) and turned north-east to follow the channel out to the outer Bar.

This bought back pleasant memories as we raced along close to the outside beach, ten years earlier I belonged to the ‘Seagulls’ fishing club. I alone would ask to be let off on South Stradbroke Island while the rest of the club fished in the broad water overnight in their Seagull Outboard powered row boats. I would walk across the Island and spend the night alone fishing along this very stretch of beach. I loved those nights. It seemed that I was the only person left on planet Earth and I would often make a camp fire on the beach around midnight and throw a freshly caught fish on the coals, once cooked the skin and scales would peel off leaving me with a meal fit for a king.

Bruce slowed to an idle which abruptly awoken me from my little day dream of the past. We were nearing the outer Bar and it was blowing a stiff south easterly. Out here there were huge ocean swells pounding the entire length of the outer break. The waves ahead of us were standing up way higher than our boat was long and you could hear them thundering as they crashed down and mercilessly churned up the sand on the outer sand bank which we were now close to and about to cross. Jack and I were standing up clinging on to the grab rails and I turned to Bruce who was sitting down at the wheel and appeared as cool as a cucumber. With my heart racing I said to Bruce “we do not really have to go outside”. Bruce never said a word but looked up at me with that glint in his eye and the smallest of smiles for he had spied that little lull in the swells which he had been waiting for. With no time for me to take another breath Bruce had those Stingers singing again as we crashed across a number of smaller unbroken swells on the outer sand bank and quickly motored into safer deeper offshore water where we easily climbed up and over the next set of big swells which completely blocked our view of the land behind us. Once out in the open ocean, as rough as it was, Bruce ran the Cat in every direction. Slow or fast the ‘little’ 5.6 metre Shark Cat performed absolutely brilliantly.

It was soon time to return back inside to the protected broad waters. But this meant crossing that maelstrom of the outer bar again. As we approached that outer bank a giant set of swells were forming behind us. Bruce slowed the cat and allowed the largest of these giant swells to pass under us. I thought to myself he’s doing the correct thing here which would be to closely follow the largest swell in and when it broke on the sand bank just ride the broken water in over the bank, no worries right! But Bruce had a trick up his sleeve. As that huge swell stood up like a mountain as it neared the shallow water in front of us he opened the throttles on those Stingers and the Cat effortlessly climbed up the back of that swell. It felt like we were atop a lamp post and going to be obliterated as we were about to tip over the edge of this wave which must have had a face on it like a cliff. Just at the crucial tipping point when we would had been annihilated in an salty watery grave Bruce wrenched back on the throttles and ‘STOPPED’ the boat. The wave broke with the boat suspended on its crest and we came down ever so gently in a deafening roar of thundering foaming surf. Before we even had time to think ‘what now’ the throttles were wide open again and we raced through the broken churned up water adjacent to the outer banks. Bruce had somehow managed to tame a seaway which would have had the power and authority to wipe out a large fishing trawler.            

We were quickly in the calm broad water again where Bruce offered me the wheel, I powered up to a lazy 18 knots or so but for some reason it wasn’t long before we were racing along at breakneck speed again. There was Bruce sitting in the back seat with that smile, a bit wider this time, on his face and that glint in his eye again, he had an arm over the stern where he was tickling up the throttle cables to give me a thill.

Back at the factory I confirmed my order for an 18 foot Shark Cat and a little while later Jack also ordered one for himself.  

Now 35 years later this little boat has weathered everything that Mother Nature and the sea has been able to dish out. I think back to that day on the Southport Bar with Bruce Harris and realize that the day not only demonstrated the Shark Cat’s sea kindliness but also showed Bruce’s extraordinary ability and seamanship and the confidence he had in his own designed and built power catamarans. Bruce processes that extremely rare talent where one very special man, boat and sea all come together as one. 

Richard Freeman.


Below; Bruce Harris (starboard) at the helm of one of his renowned Shark Cats on the notorious Southport Bar.

(These images which I have treasured for a lot of years were given to me by Bruce Harris.)

Alone at Sea with Humpback Whales.

Alone at sea with Sharks.

Alone at Sea with my Dolphins.

The Wreck of the ‘’SS Dickey”.

Alone at Sea with my Gannets.

Alone at Sea with my Fairy Prions.

Alone at Sea with my Albatross.

Alone at Sea with Jellies and Stingers.

Alone at Sea with my Giant Petrels.

Alone at Sea with my Storm Petrels.

Alone at Sea with my Terns.

Alone at Sea with Jaegers and Skuas.

Alone at Sea with the Shearwaters.

My 5.6 metre Shark Cat.

Weather at Sea.