Bill cast off his moorings and set sail for the river Styx on 28th September 2021.

Bill built and sailed three yachts during his career and remarkably they were all off the same design plan. He was friends with and inspired by Harry Newton-Scott who built the “New Silver Gull” during World War 2 on the banks of Port Hacking River. Bill would have met the Newton-Scotts after, they Harry and Oceana, returned from their epic world cruise which started from Hobart in 1946 and finished in Sydney in 1959? Harry was a well-known Sydney sailor of his time and fairly charismatic. Bill was very impressed with Harry, not only for designing and building his own cruising yacht from scratch but also with the fact that Harry and “Oce” had proved the design and seaworthiness of the “Gull” by sailing her for thirty odd thousand miles around the Pacific including most of N.Z., the West coast of America and Canada, Hawaii and many South Pacific Islands. I guess Harry became a mentor for Bill as Harry later entrusted him with the plans of the “Gull” which Bill put to good use by building another three vessels, two of ferro-cement and one of steel, all carrying the signature Wishbone Ketch rig and the Cod’s head Mackerel tail hull. This rig has 5 working sails, 4 of which have wishbone booms and can be sailed with all 5 set. Sail area is reduced in stronger conditions simply by furling whole sails starting with the main trysail. None of the sails are large area so they’re easy to handle for a small crew. The wishbone booms are all self-tacking which simplifies handling further.

Bill named his first yacht “Warneta”. He built her in the yard of his service station garage at King Lake Vic. Starting in 1966 and launching in Melbourne 1973. I think Harry and Oce were there for the launching as they are the first entries in “Warneta’s” guest book. He spent the next 6 years cruising Australia’s East coast from Melbourne to Cairns making many new friends including myself when we met in Coffs Harbour in 1978.

Looking back on things now 43 years after our first meeting I can see that Bill played a similar role in my life as Harry Newton-Scott played in his. Soon after meeting I crewed for Bill on “Warneta” on a Coffs Yacht club outing to the island of my dreams, Lord Howe. The sea conditions out and back were far from ideal and I got quite seasick but Bill was a lot worse. Despite that he managed with a small plastic bucket tied around his neck to do all the trigonometric calculations required to get a “fix” from his celestial sextant sights. After 2 days of sickness I came good and felt like I could sail on forever but the voyage was over too soon.

 My wife Kerrie and I became better acquainted with Bill and his partner Sue Reed over the next 12 months at the end of which Bill had us convinced, well me at least, that we could build our own yacht and sail the oceans. We found Bill to be good company with a wonderful sense of humour and a deep social conscience. He was never big on words, except when spinning one of his favourite yarns and even then he would masterfully leave a lot to the listener’s imagination. We also had many philosophical and political discussions. He could always clearly see where the governments of the day were going wrong. He must have thought that I really needed to build my own boat because he eventually suggested building two new yachts together, one for him and Sue and one for us, this time in steel. I said how long will it take and he said a couple of years. Bill was a diesel mechanic by trade and had a good understanding of mechanical engineering as well as having already two successful yacht builds under his belt so it sounded too good to refuse. I think he felt the natural need to pass on his knowledge and experience to the younger generation and he had no children of his own.

Anyway, we agreed to the project, it was something we could do at home on a rural block with power and a shed. I helped Bill build the equipment we would need first such as a guillotine and a steel plate rolling machine. He had a great aptitude for working through mechanical problems and making parts instead of buying them. Anything to keep from disturbing the moths in his wallet some would say but it was also about the satisfaction of D.I.Y.

It wasn’t until Kerrie and I had sold our house and business in Coffs Harbour, bought a more suitable bush block close to a good river launch site, built a shed and house, that we began to discover another of Bill’s many qualities. Manyana, I never heard him use the word, probably wasn’t in his vocabulary, he just embodied it. It was 9 years later, and after many urging phone calls from us when he finally pulled up stumps in Melbourne to venture North again. Kerrie and I caught the train to Melbourne and sailed back to the Macleay River aboard “Wishbone” Bills second ferro wishbone ketch. It was a great sail as Kerrie and I managed to keep the mal-de-mer at bay but poor Bill and Sue and Sue’s cat suffered dreadfully. You could tell when it wasn’t well as its normally pink nose would match its white coat. Bill showed his sailing skills in Eden by sailing alongside and tying up at the trawler’s wharf when we couldn’t start the engine due to flat battery. This was done under the pressure of a barrage of abuse from trawler captains already tied up. This was one of Bill’s finest qualities, he was unflappable under pressure.

It was now 1991 and before getting started on building another two yachts we thought it a good idea to do one last sail to LHI taking the kids this time just to make sure that this was the design we wanted. It was a great trip even though he miscalculated the mischievous ocean currents. On the dawning of the third day we were straining our eyes to the East searching for Mount Gower when Kerrie whose watch it was looked back to the West and spotted a different looking cloud which was soon confirmed as the island we had luckily missed in the night. It took us all day to beat back against wind and current.

Soon after returning to the Macleay we finally made an assault on the stack of steel that had been lying on my shed floor for 9 years. This was the hardest part, getting started but Bill coached us through it with ease. He taught me that steel is a great building medium once you learn a few of the tricks needed to make it do what you want. The home-made plate roller was the key to getting a beautifully curved hull once we had set up the frames and “faired” them using a timber batten to get the natural curved lines.

Bill spent his retirement years happily building his last yacht “Wishbone 2” at his own pace which gradually got slower as he got older. This didn’t worry him a bit as it gave him more time to think about it, which is what he loved. He and Sue Lived on ”Wishbone 1” in the river for the first couple of years of the build then bought a house in the local village of Stuart’s Point where they enjoyed becoming locals and making many friends who will all miss his open approach to life and his wicked sense of humour.

Against many predictions he finally launched “Wishbone 2” in 2012? At the age of 85. This was no mean feat in itself as it was all DIY with no cranes involved. Just a home-built trailer for the 6 km trip to the local launch ramp and the help of local farmers tractors. Bill never got to sail her much as he had a minor stroke which limited his agility before he could embark on any long cruises. I think he was a builder at heart, so he got immense satisfaction on finishing the project and seeing it in the water. I think he also got satisfaction from passing his skills and knowhow onto me and I am sincerely grateful for that.

In true Bill Golder style, I fancy he will still be haggling with the ferryman Charon over the fare across the River Styx. Hopefully by the time this goes to print they will have it sorted. Which reminds me of when Bill went to buy some extra steel for the build from the merchant in Coffs Harbour. When quoted the price Bill said “Now listen here my good man, if you think you can put one over me think again. Both my parents were in the Iron and Steel business” This was said with such a poker face that the merchant had to enquire what their actual business was, at which Bill risked a grin and said “Well my Mum used to iron and Dad used to steal!” The guy got such a kick out of that he gave Bill a discount. I think the ferryman may have required a few more of Bill’s skills but still an easy mark!

Andrew Seccombe