Drifting on Gilligan: Re-Mark-able journey ready to begin

A cracking yarn about one man ready to embark on his lifelong dream armed with his houseboat and a hefty supply of braised steak and onions.

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It is very difficult to pinpoint where to start a story about Mark Martin and his houseboat Gilligan.

There’s so much that has Mark has done prior to Gilligan arriving on the scene.

There’s the epic journey ahead for Mark and his houseboat to be captured on YouTube.

There’s the fact that that very same houseboat is a converted caravan.

And there’s plenty of cans of braised steak and onions.

Let’s start at the very beginning perhaps…

Early beginnings on the river

Life began for Mark a year or sixty ago on the family farm at Wynarka.

At around the same time as Mark was born his dad purchased a shack on the river at Bow Hill which meant summers spent in swimmers and the sun.

While the location allowed Mark’s father to “shoot back and check on the sheep anytime he wanted”, it also allowed the family to get adventurous on the water.

“Dad was one of the first to get a speedboat in the area so we started water-skiing,” Mark recalls.

It was perhaps this love of fast things that inspired the next chapters of Mark’s life.

Going Fast

The adventures and scope of Mark’s life would give Forrest Gump a run for his money.

“When I was younger I raced speedway over in England including motorbikes,” Mark says.

“Then I got a drift car and that ended up going to Japan and race drifting in Japan at a place called Ebisu.

“It’s where everyone from Australia goes for a fun week away.”

And when not pushing vehicles to their limit, Mark’s was making a living off of them too, working as a cab driver in Adelaide.

There’s also been stints as a dealer in the casino - he particularly loves Texas Hold Em Poker - and even a comedian.

“I wouldn’t say I was a professional comedian but I worked at Dave Flanagan’s Comedy Cellar for probably 3 years and other places like the Rhino Room,” he says.

“I was just the old angry cabbie so I told taxi stories.”

Gilligan

But now we must meet the other character in this story, the one who is going to help Mark complete his big adventure: the caravan turned houseboat Gilligan.

Gilligan wasn’t Mark’s first houseboat, but the failures of his previous boat led to his purchase as a way to get to where bigger houseboats couldn’t go.

“I had a houseboat about 20 years ago and I got caught with the pontoons being a bit rubbish and having to put new pontoons on which cost me a fair bit of money,” Mark says.

“I wanted something that had aluminium pontoons so I just kept looking around for something small.”

Eventually one came on the market in New South Wales that looked small enough for Mark to handle in bad weather.

After looking at it for a few months Mark took the plunge and got it down to SA.

And then the test came of putting it in the water.

To say that confidence was rock solid would be a bit of an overstatement based on the highly scientific way of looking for leaks.

“The pontoons collected about 30 centimetres of water when it rained and when it wasn’t raining the water stayed in there so no leaks,” Mark says

“So I knew they were pretty good, or at least the front two sections were.”

After an hour or two Gilligan successfully made it out of the water and Mark was ready to spend some more money on it.

The open plan of living of Gilligan featuring a keg full of ‘medicine’ in case there’s anything scary at night. Photo: Kurt Miegel.

Updating the little boat inside and out including solar panels and some mod-cons didn’t come cheap, although the budgeting isn’t fool proof.

“I’ve spent maybe 25 - 28 thousand for improvements on top of the 15 thousand to buy it and get it to SA,” Mark says

“I keep buying things on eBay but forget to price it, but it’s good as long as it keeps floating.”

After some more testing with boat trailers on stand by and some additional welding, Gilligan was ready for it’s first adventure.

YouTube and crossing lakes

It’s probably worth mentioning at this point that Mark is more than adept at documenting the mighty feats of Gilligan.

There’s a Facebook page where people can get live updates and a YouTube channel where he shares everything about the trips he’s on.

“A lot of my mates get pissed off with me promoting my YouTube, you know ‘like and subscribe’,” he says.

“It’s free and if you don’t know how to do it, ask your kids because they’re all on it.

“Most of my mates don’t watch past a minute but when I get past 1000 followers that will stick it up them.”

Between filming and editing each video can take up to 20 - 30 hours of work, which is something Mark enjoys doing whilst drifting along.

“It’s really just a diary for me and so mum can watch it each week and see how I’m going.”

“Maybe when I’m dead and gone a few relations can see how bigger idiot I was,” he says with a chuckle.

That brings us to a new set of videos coming out weekly on Wednesdays which document one trip already undertaken by Mark: crossing Lake Albert and Lake Alexandrina.

Those who have taken to the lakes will know that the waters can at times be testing for craft.

In fact many people called Mark crazy for taking on the challenge in a craft that to put it crudely is a caravan parked atop three pontoons.

But Mark completed the journey and now has something else to add to his trophy cabinet.

“Yeah I’m claiming it – first person to cross Lake Alexandrina and Lake Albert in a caravan.”

If you want to find out more about this expedition, check out the first video below.

The Big Adventure

But now onto the big prize, something that has been a dream of Mark’s for a long time: travelling all the way up the Murray River.

In other words, Mark aims to take Gilligan all the way from Tailem Bend to Lake Mulwala at Yarrawonga in Victoria, a trip of just over 1900 kilometres across three states.

And while he plans to take to the river on Wednesday, there is no set completion date in mind.

“It’ll either be three weeks or three months, it depends how the money goes and depends how the boat goes,” he says.

“Whether it’s in one leg or I need to do two or three separate legs to do it I’m not too sure but in a perfect world I’ll just putt up there.”

While he had been thinking for the last 20 years of taking this trip on when he retired, Mark decided the time was right now.

“In the last eight years or so I’ve had a few mates dying around me and I’m not the fittest guy.”

“I thought I better hurry up and do it before I cark it too.”

There are some plans to stop in at Sturt Reserve to visit Captain Proud - and join in their Wednesday Poker Night - but aside from that there isn’t much booked in.

“When I get upstream and find a spot I like I might stay there for a month and set up camp if it’s a nice scenic beach.”

“Then again I might get three weeks into it and I don’t enjoy it but I’m pretty confident I will.”

When he’s not cruising along there will still be plenty to do.

Mark’s bringing a kayak to tackle some of the smaller branch rivers stemming from the Murray.

“Once I get as far as I can get in the houseboat I might do a couple days in the kayak.”

There’s also his small collection of remote-controlled vehicles to muck around with and of course fishing.

“Hopefully I can catch a few fish, although I’m not too good at fishing so that might be trouble.”

If fish are hard to come by though, there is a hardy stock of braised steak and onions to see Mark through.

“I’ve got enough cans of braised steak and onions in there to last me probably two months so we should be right,” he laughs.

“I’ll just advertise that if you see me along the river and I look a bit skinny, chuck me a can of braised steak and onions!”

Why not you?

It may seem that Mark is taking on something totally out of reach to the average person, but that isn’t how he sees it.

He simply thinks he’s a “fat 60-year-old who probably needs to do a bit of exercise” that is “getting out there and giving it a crack”.

“I think there’d be a few people wishing they could do the same thing … you don’t know until you give it a go.”

So after a life of fast cars he is ready to go drifting in a different way.

“I’ve spent too much money on these other things so we’ll just calm down for a while.”

“I’m getting too old for all that stuff.”

And as a request of Mark’s, there are a few people that need thanking for getting Gilligan ready to go.

“I want to thank Darren Smedley for helping me out a fair bit.

“Michael Cowland from Murray Bridge was my welder, any problems he’d come and help me out.

“And Ki Ki engineering helped with a special pole to help with docking.”

So all things being equal, it will be bon voyage for Mark on Wednesday* as he sets out on a dream trip.

He hopes he can meet some fellow travellers, lose a bit of weight, go off grid, and live off fish and braised steak and onion.

As he says: “Hopefully we’ll bluff our way through it.”


Editor’s note: Mark is still on land thanks to bad weather and the current lockdown. He is hoping to leave before the end of July all going well.