Image: Popeye in earlier days. Commencing at Elder Park, Popeye travels on the River Torrens under Victoria Bridge to the Torrens Weir before turning and gliding back past the Festival Centre, under City Bridge and University Footbridge before docking at the Adelaide Zoo wharf by Albert Bridge.
The first Popeye was built on the banks of the River Torrens by Gordon Watts and launched in 1935.
It was 7.6m long, made of jarrah, and could hold up to 20 people. Captain Watts named the boat after the American cartoon character Popeye the Sailor.
The Popeye became very popular very quickly. As well as being a ferry between Elder Park and the Adelaide Zoo, it could be hired for weddings and other events.
The service expanded to meet demand. In 1948 Watts converted a Glenelg cruise boat for Popeye 2.
The next three boats, Popeye 3 to Popeye 5, were made at Port Adelaide between 1949 and 1951.
They were also jarrah hulled and could hold up to 40 people each.
Watts skippered the boats until March 1962, when the business was sold to Keith and Elma Altmann.
Keith Altmann had been working in petrol stations and did not know much about boats but on his first day as the boat owner he drove a Popeye during the Festival of Arts.
Altmann later expanded operations to include the hiring of more paddle boats on the Torrens. Jolley’s Boathouse near Altmann’s boatshed had 41 of these pleasure craft.
The boats could not be operated all year. Each winter the Adelaide City Council, which leased the boatshed and the right to use the river, would drain the lake and the river over several weeks.
Operations were also affected for nine months in 1967 when the Morphett Street bridge was built and for a similar period, more recently, when a footbridge was being built to the Adelaide Oval.