For small craft tragics like your correspondent the Tasmanian Wooden Boat Festival was a fascinating four days.
They may be minnows compared to the 214ft square rigger from England, the Tenacious, which was the largest of the 450 vessels attending the MyState Australian Wooden Boat Festival during the February 10-13, 2017 but there was plenty of plywood skiffs, carvel cockleshells and dorys to die for. Indeed, the inspirer of many a small boat voyage, Mr Arthur Ransome himself, would have surely tipped his peaked cap at this wee armada. The next best thing was members of the Arthur Ransome Society who were there, giving out leaflets to inspire a new generation of small boat voyagers (www.arthur-ransome-austars.weebly.com)
Along the busy quays at Hobart where an estimated 220,000 folk thronged, were many examples from Tasmania’s long history of boat building using the famed local woods – Huon pine, Celery Top Pine and King Billy Pine. These and less illustrious varieties of eucalypt and others had been shaped into small motor boats, yachts and rowing craft. An estimated 100 or so boats came from interstate and a large Dutch contingent of 40 sailors brought 20ft mini sailing barges known as Tjotters. These were made of oak with leeboards for the shallow coastal waters used by that famous seafaring race, the Frieslanders of the North Sea to transport everyday items such as animals and other farm produce amid the shifting sandbanks. Their flagship for the Tassie visit was rather more glamorous, the Dutch King’s sloop Oranje. The 26ft yacht, a Regenboog 56, took on a local Derwent Class sloop Gnome in a match race that the visitors won but honours were shared in the Customs House bar afterwards.
Prettiest small craft in the festival, on my reckoning, went to the canoe Yawl Echo, a shapely 15ft blinker built plywood design by George Holmes. The Techo cockpit has enough room for storing overnight gear – just add a boom tent.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so with this in mind, my pick of the prettiest small craft in the festival went to the canoe yawl Echo, a shapely 15ft clinker built plywood design by George Holmes and built by Pete Turner for owner Robert Hylton of South Australia in 2010. Her hull is 6mm ply, glassed inside and out. The deck is rosewood and her spars were recycled, along with most of the fittings, apart from some hand-made items. The gaff rig and roller furler genoa looked ideal for coastal cruising on her home waters of the Murray delta and the Coorong, the latter where the 1976 movie Storm Boy was filmed. The lifting keel allowed her to easily take the ground or gunkhole among the wetlands of the Coorong. Tall coamings kept the cockpit dry and the hardwood flooring looked ideal for rolling out a swag, with a boom cover for weather protection. Sturdy rowlocks and thick gunwales around them meant she would be a good rower as well.
Nearby on a trailer sat a familiar looking 20ft sloop because I’d nearly bought a similar one, designed by the famous John Welsford. Among micro cruising people Welsford is a bit of legend and the prolific New Zealand designer has penned many kinds of small craft, including ocean going varieties. This Tasmanian yacht was built in clinker plywood by owner David Ridgers in 2012 and is a modified version of Welsford’s open decked 17ft Pathfinder. Another plywood beauty with what looked like a gleaming two-part urethane paint job was the Sapphire 17 designed by Swallow Boats in Wales and built by Denman Marine Melbourne. This company builds a range based on Swallows called Bayraiders. Some I believe have water ballast. Small boats with cabins often look dumpy so instead the Sapphire came with a large canvas dodger which is a good night-time shelter with the addition of boom tarp.
Restoration was a major theme at the festival so it was good to see a Tamar dinghy that dated back to 1971. The lines of this 12 footer were drawn by a 17-year old Launceston draftsman Graham Titmus for building in plywood. About 200 of these sail training, racing and utility style dinghies were built in Tasmania from the 1950’s onwards and in 2014 Graeme Nichols lovingly restored this one. I’d also lovingly restored a dinghy in 2014, the most prolific international design of all utility dinghies the 11ft Mirror, one of more than 70,000 built, so was keen to find some examples at the festival. Unable to find a Mirror I settled for a look at some similar ones such as the Heron, another Jack Holt design. My own Mirror dates back to 1969 but for those seeking a new wooden one, there’s some good news, as Drive Marine in Sydney hopes to have Mirror kits finalised this year, according to boss Dave Giddings: “Yeah, we’re working on them but the first built was too wide, so once we get that sorted out with the ISAF we should be ready to sell them maybe later this year”. Giddings, along with Ian Phillips of BoatCraft Pacific gave instruction on kit building a the festival’s Shipwrights’ Village.
This Tasmanian yacht was built in clinker plywood by owner David Ridgers in 2012 and is a modified version of Welsford's open decked 17ft Pathfinder.
Taking shelter from the squalls coming off Mount Wellington, I chanced into the cosy tent of the Living Boat Trust and found that this organisation had brought more than a mere tent, they’d also taken a fleet of small craft that included both sailing and rowing skiffs from their base in the famed Huon Valley. The fleet was known as a raid, which is a small craft sailing and rowing regatta that originated in Europe and usually done with open decked wooden boats. My homeland of Scotland was a pioneering nation in this due to its long maritime history and the bloody encounters of Viking raids. From these origins various vessels have evolved including the St Ayles skiffs. These are four oared replicas of the original Scottish Fair Isle skiff and designed locally by Australian Iain Oughtred.
Encouraging the use of small wooden craft and celebrating their heritage are just some of the aims of the vibrant Living Boat Trust (LBT) members whose shed is nestled beside the Huon River in Franklin, an hour south of Hobart. Coinciding with the bi-annual wooden boat festival, LBT’s raid flotilla arrives during the opening parade of sail in Hobart. This year 100 sailors and 30 vessels took part in the raid, ranging in size from 27ft whale boats to tiny wooden skulling skiffs. Next door to the LBT shed is the larger Wooden Boat Centre, an old tin shed with an illustrious history of producing both boats and qualified apprentices. Began in 1991 by South Australian John Young, the centre has been the focal point for a new generation of boat builders. Staff have a wide variety of skills in wood, fabrication, glassfibre and engineering which has allowed the organisation to produce qualified craftsmen. Vessels up to 30ft have been built and many more restored.
Latest out of the Wooden Boat Centre shed was the Seacrest, a Dutch designed BM16m2, commonly called a sixteen squared. In Holland sail area was taxed at one time up to a limit of 17m, so these sloops were rigged just under the limit. Built by a group of Dutch trainees in the final year of their three year apprenticeship under supervision from their towering instructor Bert van Baar the sloop reflects Australia’s diverse maritime heritage and early explorers. The sloop was auctioned near the Shipwrights’ Village at the festival. The BM16m2 was made of King Billy Pine and Celery Top Pine, which was reclaimed from beneath a lake formed by the damming in 1986 of the Pieman River in Tasmania’s highlands. The standing trees were harvested by the company Hydrowood, who discovered the largest quantity of environmentally friendly speciality Tasmanian timber found in years. These included some of Tasmania’s rarest and most sought after timbers such as huon, blackwood, sassafras, western beach and eucalypt varieties. Recovering it is a complex process that involves using high powered sonar to identify tree species then special diggers that plunge down through the tree’s canopy to pull it out by the roots. Huon, along with the Celery Top Pine and King Billy Pine, are the popular materials used in local boat building. Fallen Huon logs were found to be intact by early settlers, who soon realised their tough properties that withstood rot and marine worm, yet the yellow buttery wood was workable. But it didn’t take long for the eager settlers to nearly exhaust the species.
CELEBRATING THE WEST SYSTEM
The symposium held during the festival brought a brains trust of specialists to the event. The relevance of wood in modern boats was a key theme, so Eric Blake’s presentation on 20 years of cold moulded construction at the Brooklyn Boat Yard was very much on-message. The American yard has used the West epoxy construction method since 1979. Interestingly it was deemed more prudent to build the tall ship Tenacious from wood rather than steel which says a lot for the West Epoxy system used, a popular construction method on large and small vessels. So much so, that its inventor, Meade Gudgeon was made the first honorary member of the MyState Australian Wooden Boat Festival this year. Used widely on vessels large and small, including my own refurbished Mirror dinghy, the West system impregnates wood to create a tough yet flexible material. This is further enhanced by vacuum bagging the lamination which pressurises the curing. The Brooklyn yard is currently doing an 18 month project to build a 91ft yacht using this construction, with carbon reinforcements used in specific high load areas.
Some of the 450 boats at the MyState Australian Wooden Boat Festival 2017.
THE PARADE OF SAIL TO FINISH
The show ended with a display of grandeur by both large and small vessels that sailed off down the Derwent River, led by the majestic tall ships with crew on the yard arms, while darting in between were the swallows, and without a swallow as we all know a summer is incomplete.
The Arthur Ransome Society of Australia and New Zealand
Epoxy Works Magazine
Hydrowood reclaims submergedTasmanian trees
Living Boat Trust
Maritime Museum of Tasmania (Hobart)
Marine Safety Tasmania
Wooden Boat Centre Tasmania