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Wooden Wonderland: it was woodgrain, varnish and polished brass as far as the eye could see in Hobart for the recent Australian wooden Boat Festival. Peter Campbell joined the 160,000-strong crowd of sailing romantics to witness yachting history come alive.

They call themselves custodians of yachting history. They are the dedicated owners of wooden boats around the nation who have been prepared to pour their time, expertise and money into restoring the classic yachts that graced Australia's waterways a century and more ago.


The first racing yachts sailed in regattas on Sydney Harbour and Hobart's River Derwent back in the 1830s, and while none of that vintage still exist there are fine examples of gaff- rigged, wooden yachts built in the late 1800s and early 1900s still afloat, and indeed, racing. In Tasmania in particular, because of the durability of timbers like Huon Pine, King Billy, Celery Top Pine and Tassie Blue Gum, the wooden boat industry continues today.

The 175th Australia Day Regatta on Sydney Harbour on 26 January attracted just on 50 entries for its special Classic Yachts division, including the little yawl Killala, built in 1898 and the Tasmanian One Design Weene, wonderfully returned to her best by owner Ben Stoner, an antique restorer.

Another Tasmanian One Design, Vanity, has been returned to her home port after being restored in Brisbane by her current 'custodian', Robert Virtue found her in Sydney, her frames and ribs rotting away, her Huon pine planks "held together by the algae in the water at Pittwater." She made a return to racing, after 40 years, in the Crown Series Bellerive Regatta in February.

The extraordinary interest throughout Australia in boats built of timber - gaff-rigged yachts, dinghies, skiffs, even the venerable America's Cup challenger Gretel II, along with fishing trawlers, cray boats and 'couta boats, steam putt-putts, luxurious motor cruisers, the Tasmanian Police boat Vigilant (itself 40 years old) -was underlined at the biennial Australian Wooden Boat Festival in Hobart's historic Constitution Dock and around the waterfront of Sullivans Cove in late February this year.

Gretel II, which challenged for the America's Cup in 1972 (and should have won) and again in 1977. is a classic example of restoration, with a newly laid teak deck, new mast and gleaming stainless steel deck fittings. Her 1977 skipper Gordon Ingate, now 85 but still an active yachtsman, flew down to Hobart twice to be aboard Gretel II, steering her to a line honours win in the Australia Day Green Island Race and back again to be aboard as she took a pride of place at the Wooden Boat Festival.

Old Sydney Hobart racing yachts were there too, including the cutter Westward which won the ocean classic back in 1947 and 1948, and Fare the Well, which raced three times in 1965, 1967 and 1970, a wonderful example of dedication by her current owner.

Not every boat at the Festival had been restored. Among them was the ageing fishing trawler Olive May, but her future is bright as a well-known maxi yacht skipper has bought her as 'his next project' of restoration down the Huon at Kermandie, where he owns an expanding marina and a pub.

More than 160,000 people visited the 2011 Australian Wooden Boat Festival over a perfect late summer long weekend, among them thousands of visitors from interstate and overseas. My advice, if you plan on coming to Hobart for next year's event, is to book your accommodation right now!
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Author:Campbell, Peter
Publication:Offshore Yachting
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Apr 1, 2011
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