– Ted Smithman (Son of Henry Herbert Smithman who was Senior Keeper at Sisters Island 1927 – 1929)
I was allowed a lot of freedom there [Sisters Island ]. I would find a broad flat chunk of log and sit on it and explore the coast of the whole island. Mum worried but Dad seemed to trust us not to do anything really stupid.
I must say that when we had been there only a few months, Stan (my brother) and I did do something really stupid. Our only rowboat stayed in the boathouse all the time when not in use. There was an inclined set of rails leading down to the water and a hand cranked windlass with which to winch it up and down. The heavy boat sat in a wheeled cradle and the whole set up was heavy.
We figured it was not too hard to get it down the slipway so we opened the door and very quietly and slowly, we both hung onto the large iron handle as it rotated and down went the whole rig until the boat floated. So far, so good. We loosened the painter and off we were sailing. Mum and Dad ran out to see their sons and heirs go drifting past with the tide! We were not too worried until something in Dad’s voice told us we might be in trouble.
As we fitted one oar in an oar lock, we drifted quickly past the big rock and by the time we had the second oar in action, we were a quarter mile away. We were not very big and the oars seemed clumsy and heavy but we had to get back!
We made it back to the main rocks and Dad took over as soon as he could reach the boat. I do not think we got any corporal punishment but we both realized how serious it might have turned out. And, besides, Mum was crying! Very seldom saw that and it affected Stan and me.
I recall another incident with the boat. The hand cranked windlass had no brake on it. One day when the boat was being let down the small railway (which was on a pretty steep incline) someone’s hand slipped off the large iron handle and away went the boat down the hill. (You could not grab the handle when it was spinning round or it would break your wrist.)
Unfortunately, the boat had not been tied to the wheeled cradle and away it floated. Disaster! Our only link to the rest of the world (apart from the fog horn in an extreme emergency) was drifting away.
Stored in the boat house, above the windless, was an old leaky doubled ended row boat. No time was lost in cutting it down and launching it. While Ted bailed, Dad rowed after our good boat. Fortunately they caught up with it before the boat they were in filled up. After that the boats painter was always tied to the wheeled cradle.