Two things compelled me to return to Tasmania sooner than I’d expected: one, my good friend and photographer Dee Kramer, who told me about the Australian Wooden Boat Festival, and two, of course the festival itself. “It’s only held once every two years Andy and the king of Holland will be attending”…
The Australian Wooden Boat Festival 2017
It was a while since I’d been in Hobart – my favourite city in Australia – and I was reminded how super-duper it can be. The sky was dreary, as it typically is in these nether regions, however Hobart Wharf was packed. There were boats of all shapes and sizes, a plethora of worldly flags, sizzling food, eager onlookers and musicians revelling in front of Mount Wellington, which loomed handsomely in the background.
Better still, the place was full of smiling, eager faces and I must have passed a story every two feet or so. There were vessels that had sailed far and wide, steam engine and boat building demonstrations/workshops, private parties bobbing gently on the Tasman Sea and nautical memorabilia wedged into seaside pockets. The place had such a convivial atmosphere that I found it hard to suppress a big, stupid smile.
I had also arrived during a particularly good year, as the 2017 festival was celebrating 375 years since Dutchman Abel Tasman reached Tasmania’s shores. It was a Dutch-themed party and eight traditional Dutch boats were set to join the 500 already on show.
Among the vessels was a small boat built with allegedly 500-year-old celery top pine that was salvaged from a Hydro Tasmania dam. A group of visiting Dutch students built the boat at the Wooden Boat Centre at Franklin in Tasmania’s Huon Valley.
The most conspicuous ships in attendance, however, were the Tenacious – which travelled all the way from the UK and is the largest wooden ship built there in the last 100 years; and the James Craig – an outrageously fine iron-hulled barque built in 1874. Amazingly, in 1932 the James Craig was sunk after a particularly feisty fisherman blasted a gaping hole in her stern. She was dredged and her restoration began in 1972.
There were undoubtedly many more boats and guests in attendance with colourful tales to tell. Just one of these was sailing legend Peter Mounsey, who, at 88 years of age and with 70 years of global, nautical adventures under his belt, sailed across Bass Strait for the event. In the 1950s, Mounsey and his wife Lesley became the first Australian couple to sail around the world.
Unfortunately I didn’t meet Mounsey or anyone else with a legendary tale to tell, and the king of Holland didn’t attend. However just being there was a memorable experience – the smell of fresh food mixed with the briny sea, seeing the colourful collision of history and culture and a lady drift past Mount Wellington playing a piano. Hobart really knows how to put on a party.
I’ll be back.
A few boat festival facts
- The biennial Australian Wooden Boat Festival is the largest of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere. It typically runs over four days (this year Feb 10th – 13th) and takes place in Hobart’s Sullivans Cove.
- Many of the boats take passengers for a whirl out to sea.
- The festival started in 1994 and attendance has more than doubled over the last ten years.
- The Tasmanian Government has just committed $2.25 million to the event, backing the next two festivals.
- The event also celebrates Tasmania’s food, wine and history.
Have you been to Hobart’s Australian Wooden Boat Festival? Would you like to go now?