The Deltacraft Recognition 'Manual' by Graeme AndrewsWay back in the early 1970s various Middle Eastern gentlemen decided that the rest of the world should be paying a lot more for the products of their Arabian oil wells. Within a year or two, petrol pump prices went from around 30c per litre to 45c or even 50c.

Afloat, those citizens with floating ‘gas guzzlers’ spent more time in the club bar. The price of used clinker putt-putts began to rise at about the same rate as the decline in the price of large motor yachts.

In November 1973, I suggested, in Australian Seacraft magazine, that it might be time for boat builders to produce a range of boats designed to travel at displacement speeds. The traditionally styled Halvorsen range (around 24ft to 50ft) had been doing just that for 40-odd years.

In the small day-boat and overnight category soon appeared the Kingston 5.80 and the Donning DB550 (18ft). Following them came some clinker-look double-enders with Nordic-looking 24ft hulls and after them came a whole pile of large imported (mostly) GRP motor launches of which the Clipper 34 might be the best remembered, mainly as hire boats from Akuna Bay, Sydney.

The most prolific of the new designs was the Deltacraft Islander and it’s this, in its variations, that I propose to describe.

Donning DB550 (DB18)

This GRP fishing boat and open tender was derived from a design by Ken Beashell with input from Don Brown. In GRP the DB550 offered a low-cost small work boat which could be used as a day-fishing boat, as a club tender and even as a marina yard boat. A tiny day cabin provided storage and sitting headroom over two small bunks. A one cylinder Yanmar pushed the rig along ‘on the smell of an oily rag’ at a timed 6.25 knots (c. 10kph).

Length overall 5.4m (18ft). Cost in November 1973, $4,589.65 ready to run. A tiller steered version was cheaper at $3,200 plus $450 for a suitable trailer.

About 40 Donning DB550s were built before boat builder Steve Leonard  became involved with Don Brown. A partnership was formed to build the Donning Mark 1 which had an enhanced cabin and better accommodation.

Donning Mark 1

This boat had added comfortable half cabin accommodation for two using the same hull and ‘tug-like’ deck moulding of the 550. It was sold as the Deltacraft Diesel and several of these were sold before the partnership was dissolved.

Leonard continued with the project with the boat being sold as the Deltacraft Islander. These units carried the name Islander and a palm tree logo. Deltacraft had been responsible for several high to medium-speed hulls but were soon to concentrate on the various versions of their Islanders. These had a logo of a fish with the letters DB white on black.

Deltacraft Islander Mk 1, all dressed up.Deltacraft Islander Mk 1 (1978-1982)

Price as standard $7,800.

The Deltacraft Islander, still with the basic single cylinder Yanmar, was re-jigged in 1978 as the Deltacraft Mk 1 and 17 were sold during the 1978 Sydney Boatshow. There were several variations – half cabin with open screen, soft top, separate hard top and others variations of both.

The Islander was well-received along the east coast of Australia. The modern construction allowed it to be placed in commercial survey and hire boats could be soon found on the Derwent River, on the broad waters of Port Stephens and the Myall Lakes, on Sydney’s Port Jackson and at various locations as far north as Hervey Bay in Queensland.

Delta-Skelter Mk2 model with guests.The design also allowed single operators to run a boat, almost as a hobby. If one had a hefty trailer and a vehicle with a V8 engine, it was possible to operate a Delta from one’s backyard, thus saving on professional berthing and maintenance costs. This allowed very modest hire fees. Several owners on Port Jackson and Port Stephens used this method.

Privately the Delta could be seen almost everywhere. When I drove around Australia in 1995 I saw several being used as trailer homes. I’ve heard of one that left Cairns and motored around Cape York to Weipa – something in the order of 1,000km. Club members tell of seeing one berthed at one of the offshore Greek Islands but I doubt the passage from Australia was on its own hull.

The Deltacraft Islander was not intended for offshore or even coastal use. It was intended as a modern (1970s) version of the wooden half cabin that had been so popular in estuarine Australia ever since the iconic names of Vinco and Blaxland were emblazoned on 1930s versions under the general descriptor ‘putt putt’.

Lucy, Deltacraft Mk 2 at Koolewong, NSW 2010.An article by Ewan Kennedy about his Mk 1, published in Afloat in August 2007, kicked off considerable interest among owners resulting in formation of a club, details of which might be found at www.tww.id.au/deltacraft

Mark 1 was 5.4m (18ft) by 2.4m (8ft), draft (dry) 457mm (18ins), mass (dry) 544kg. Price 1978 was originally $6,800 and over the years reached $8,400.

About 540 of the model were built and club members have suggested that perhaps most are still in use. Some have been done up as project boats with one, on Pittwater, having more than $20,000 spent on it.

Deltacraft Islander Mk1 at 1978 Sydney Boat Show – 17 sold.Deltacraft Islander Mark 2 (1982-1988)

Price $15,000 originally in basic form but could go to $27,000, in 1988 with all the good gear.

This model represented a complete re-design of the original boat. Western Australian naval architect Phil Curran left nothing of the original while retaining the look and feel. The ‘harbour tug’-style deck moulding was replaced. The cabin lines were improved and the hull given more sheer. The hull was more full and the cockpit had a designed-in hard canopy as standard. The internal volume was about 40 percent greater than the Mk 1. About 140 were sold up to 1988.
Deltacraft DB Mk 1, Ruby, ex 1975 hire boat. 2011.Dimensions: loa 5.7m (18.7ft), beam 2.45m (8ft), draft 45cm, mass 1220kg (820kg trailer version).

By 1988 the economy was going very well and people were being attracted back to fuel-hungry private boats. Sales were down and partners Steve Leonard and John Gale decided to sell Deltacraft as a going concern. The new owner built about 20 boats and then faded away.

Deltacraft Mk 3 Genesis off Patonga, January 2012.

Genesis’ disappearing dinner table, 2012.An article in 2007 in this magazine by Ewan Kennedy, enthused over his Mark 1 Deltacraft. This kicked up considerable interest among owners of the various types. An association was quickly formed with its own web-site, see above.

The two main partners, Steve Leonard and then John Gale, heard the message and decided that there might just be a market for an upgraded Mark 3 Islander.

The first of the new models, Genesis, was released in December last year and by the end of that year the no-longer young builders had three buyers waiting for their boats. The Genesis model has less power and fewer bells and whistles than the dearer Platinum model. There is also an outboard open version for commercial survey as a Hire boat, and a water ballasted version, which is trailerable.

Naval architect Peter McLean had the job of re-creating the Deltacraft Islander, to take it from the ‘advanced’ Putt Putt class to the small family diesel cruiser class. The result is similar in concept to the Halvorsen 24 and 25 cabin cruisers that appeared soon after World War Two and which were the mainstay of the famed Halvorsen drive-yourself fleet for decades.

The new boat can overnight four, or even five close friends. There is a marine head and shower and a caravan-type ’fridge, adequate galley and 1.9m cabin and after headroom. The boat still looks like an Islander but the stiffer lines of the hull reduce the tendency to roll and there is a boarding platform with a transom gate to make access from water or tender more comfortable.

The added one metre makes a great difference.

The new boat has been built to the same standards as were the sturdy and well-proven Islanders of the past. There won’t be as many of this Mark built but those lucky few that get one might well have to consider including them in the list of assets in their will!