Iconic tourist favourites of the sea celebrate milestones


Howard Salkow

Senior Journalist

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A unique photo of the Shaolin (left) alongside the Lady Douglas in the inlet. Image: Supplied.

Port Douglas is enjoying two key milestones on its waters this year with the Chinese junk, the Shaolin, and the Lady Douglas paddlewheel river boat respectively celebrating 50 and 30 years of history.

Docked at the Marina, both have long and interesting stories to tell, none more so than the Shaolin, which, along with the Lady Douglas, is owned by Kate Agrums and members of her family.

The Shaolin has twice circumnavigated the world; experienced two cyclones; served as a listening post for the CIA off the coast of China; and has even been subjected to pirates.

It was originally built for a retired US naval officer in 1966 in Hong Kong with the intent to transport and trade rare shells out of the Mariana Islands in Guam. After foregoing her adventures, she sailed to North Queensland in the mid-1980s and is now a popular feature in Port Douglas for locals and visitors.

Kate, who manages both vessels with husband Lucas and brother Flynn Bickford, said they both have sentimental value.

“As kids we hung out on the Shaolin and my father played music on the Lady Douglas,” she said.

The children of both families all play their role and help wherever they can. “It’s a real family affair with six children involved,” she said.

Referring to the milestones, Kate said this is very exciting.

“It’s the iconic significance these two beautiful boats have on Port Douglas. Both are original boats in the Marina from 30 years ago. Shaolin came into Port around the same time the Lady Douglas was built, so they have long and strong history as two of the original boats here in the Marina.

“Both boats are iconic to the port and people remember them and come back year after year to do our cruises again because they love the individuality and history that they both hold. Flynn and I were born here in Port and remember both the boats as we were growing up,” she said.

Kate said her first job was a deckhand on the Shaolin, so they hold significant memories for us and all of the locals.

“Our two families are proud to have these beautiful boats and we are devoted to loving them and looking after them with the love and passion they deserve.” 

Over the years, there have been many highlights and Kate singled out the television coverage the Lady Douglas received with the Queensland Weekender Show and the Morning Show; along with the many famous faces who have enjoyed the voyage over the years.

“But the main highlight was bringing the Shaolin back to Port earlier this year (from Cairns) and reuniting the two.

“Since then we have had many people join us on the Lady Douglas for a croc-spotting river cruise; and enjoying the Shaolin for the authentic Chinese Junk Boat sailing experience,” she said.

Kate observed that both boats seem to appeal to the same people who love the fact that they are owned by a small local family and this positive feedback is definitely a highlight.

And what about the future? “We intend to market the Shaolin as the Port Douglas LOVE BOAT and use it for destination weddings. And use both boats for private charters and parties,” said Kate.

She said future plans include continuing to pour our hearts and souls into these two beautiful boats to keep them maintained and running daily.

“Although we are constantly working on ways to improve the vessels, we like to focus on encouraging the locals to join us on board.

“We always offer great local discounts, whatever the season, as we love having the locals out with us,” she said.

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