Sunshine Coast father-son duo steer boat from landfill to ‘floating school bus’ for Vanuatu

A dilapidated boat that was taking up too much space in the backyard took a Sunshine Coast father-son duo on a ship repurposing trip by “floating school bus”.

The boat had been sitting at the back of their Yandina workshop for years, “growing plants and taking on water”.

But owner Dean Frith and his son Beau said sending it to landfill was not an option.

A small boat with weeds and trash sits in front of a green mesh fence on the grass.
The boat was full of weeds and falling apart.(Provided: Beau Frith)

The couple, who were originally boat builders, initially considered either breaking it up and getting rid of it or turning it into a working boat and selling it.

Then Dean had another idea.

“[Dad] was just like, ‘Hey listen, we really believe in recycling and try to do whatever we can to reuse something…instead of cutting it up and throwing it away, other people could get a lot more out of it. usefulness,’” Beau said.

A close up of the inside of a small boat with the floor all muddy and broken up.
The couple decided to reuse the dilapidated boat instead of sending it to landfill.(Provided: Beau Frith)

The floating school bus project

Beau said the boat would be used to pick up school children from the surrounding islands and take them to boarding school on Aore Island.

But the work underway – dubbed the Floating School Bus Project – will also have benefits for the wider community.

It will also provide better access to travel through stream systems and other remote areas.

“The fact [is] that they can bring volunteers from the main island to the school as well as building materials and other things they might need on the island.

A man in a gray t-shirt, black pants, bends over using an electric sander inside a small boat, wears green headphones.
It will take the duo more than two years to complete the project. (Provided: Beau Frith)

He said the school’s current boat was slower, more suited to carrying large objects and was “in a bit of a state”.

“It definitely needs a bit of work to be able to get it back to the point where it’s airworthy again,” Beau said.

Vanuatu ‘puts in your blood’

A bearded young man and an older, bald man with a long gray beard stand in front of a small boat, arms around each other, smiling.
Beau and Dean Frith will donate the boat to a community in Vanuatu.(Provided: Beau Frith)

Dean said he volunteered at the boarding school four years ago with another group from the Sunshine Coast who regularly visited Vanuatu.

He hasn’t been back since, but said the place and the people hold a special place in his heart.

“Once you’re there, it gets in your blood. The people are so lovely. They’re extremely shy people,” Dean said.

a man drives a tractor while others watch in the ditch behind him
Mr. Frith assisted the resident when he was in Vanuatu in 2018 and is looking forward to returning.(Provided: Dean Frith)

The trader said sharing these skills with the island community has a huge impact.

“You can show them how to concrete, or put in roofing screws or build a boat – you show them, and they learn so fast, it’s life changing,” he said.

Sending a boat by boat

Beau said the boat – which he likened to an “ute” on the water – would be loaded into a shipping container when complete.

But that won’t be the only item shipped.

“A lot of what we love to do [is] try to give back as much as we can,” Beau said.

The close-up of the interior of a small boat under repair.
Mr. Frith says there will be room in the shipping container for other supplies, including clothing.(Provided: Beau Frith)

He said building materials, clothing or any other useful items would be loaded so the container would not be half empty.

But he said the finished product could still be a year away.

A bearded young man in a gray t-shirt, stained black jeans stands with his arms akimbo, next to a bald, bearded man looking at the hull of the boat.
The couple have slowly restored the boat over the past 18 months.(Provided: Beau Frith)

“We’re just working it down by just using spare materials and things we have, but winter is always a good time for us because it’s our slowest time.”

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