My, how 12 months can fly away! It’s that long since the last wooden boat festival and that long to the next one, so it’s a good time to start thinking about how you might like to be involved. Interested in helping to plan the next one? Want to be an AWBF volunteer? How about bringing your own boat to the festival or exhibiting your business or organisation? Come along to a free information session that will give you the answers to most questions and give you a chance to ask your own. It’s at the Waterside Pavilion at Mawson Place, Hobart on Friday 2 February at 5:30 pm.
Our long-serving Dock Master, Ross Barnett, is a man who knows a thing or two about wooden boats. He’d restored enough of them, God knows, and there probably isn’t a piner’s punt in Tasmania he’s not on first-name terms with. So when he decided that his beloved Maori Lass needed a polish up for her 70th birthday (this is not the beloved Mrs. B, you understand, but a 30’ compact offshore cruiser built in Hobart in 1948), he should have known what he was in for. Roscoe did know enough to enlist the services of master shipwright Terry Lean to ‘replace a few ribs under and astern of the engine and give it a lick of paint around the topsides. Six weeks, eight at the most.’
We know, dear reader, we know. You have already laid your head to one side and adopted a knowing look. Stand by, they’re going to lift Maori Lass out of the water and put her into the Gardners Bay shed once occupied by the fabled Wilson Brothers, creators of Varg and many other superb Tasmanian boats. Terry Lean will be in charge, assisted by Captain Crusty (aka Ross Barnett) in the part-time project to complete the tune-up.
Terry has the runs on the board, having worked on the restoration of the Kathleen Gillett (now in pride of place at the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney) and the Jock Muir boat Lahara. Trained at Halvorsen and Gowland, he was shipwright and charge hand for Halvorsen Boats at Bobbin Head, then for Beashel’s in Pittwater before moving to Tasmania and taking up the position of principal tutor and boat builder at the Wooden Boat Centre on the shores of the Franklin River. Terry, who is also a qualified marine surveyor, continues to practice his traditional trade, with many notable boats to his credit.
Maori Lass was designed by HE Cox and built by fellow New Zealander Ron Andrewartha with the help of his two sons, Tom and Bob. The two Kiwi gentlemen took Mrs Trewartha’s advice and christened the boat with an appropriate name. Built from Tasmanian blue gum keel and ribs with celery top pine planking, she was designed for true ocean sailing. The boat has proved herself well up to that task, having spent considerable time in Sydney, the Great Barrier Reef, Darwin and around the world via Singapore, the Suez Canal, Panama Canal and across the Pacific.
We caught up with Ross here in the AWBF office recently to see how things were going:
AWBF: So, Roscoe, having started the re-fit back in September, how is that 6 week project coming along?
RB: Have you seen the state of those ribs? It’s like a jungle in there! Christmas. We should be done by Christmas. Well, soon after Christmas, anyway.
AWBF: That’s OK, Roscoe, but the next festival is just 13 months away. Do you reckon you’ll be clear by then? We need our Dock Master back, after all.
RB: Leave it with me. (walks away with a limp where his wallet used to be)
Wooden ships played a critical role in the history of early European expansion, simply because ships capable of crossing oceans with passengers and cargo were unlikely to be made of anything else. It was, in fact, the high technology of the day that made it possible to stay at sea for many months, if water and food could be replenished along the way. We are now passing through some notable anniversaries marking two, three and even four hundred years since the Age of Exploration. The 200th anniversary of the First Fleet took Australia by storm in 1988, in 2017 we celebrated the 400th anniversary of Dutchman Dirk Hertog’s landing in Western Australia and earlier this year, our own commemoration of 375 years since Abel Tasman’s visit to the island that would one day bear his name.
The early journeys most likely to attract attention in the next two years will be the 250th anniversary of Cook’s First Voyage (1768-1770) which charted the coast of New Zealand and the East Coast of Australia, and the 400th anniversary of the voyage of the Mayflower, which carried early colonists from Plymouth, England to Massachusetts in 1620. Celebrations are already planned on both sides of the Atlantic to mark this historic occasion.
The Mayflower was a three masted, square-rigged ship of a design based on the Dutch fluyt, or cargo ship. She was probably launched in Harwich, England around 1605 and was already ageing when she was chartered by a group of religious zealots to carry them from England to found a settlement in the New World. The Mayflower had already made scores of merchant voyages in the wool and wine trade and would have travelled heavily armed against foreign navies and pirates.
While there is much confusion around later ships that carried the same name, the passenger list was reasonably accurate by the standards of the day. The names of the English and Dutch Protestants were carefully listed, the names of the officers and crew less so. About 130 people undertook an extremely uncomfortable voyage against prevailing North Atlantic gales in September 1620. Already plagued by port delays, meagre rations and the loss of their escort ship Speedwell, Mayflower was severely damaged by storm during the crossing, but limped into shelter at Cape Cod near what is now Provincetown, Massachusetts after a hellish two-month passage. The ship was repaired and returned to England in May, 1621 though by that time many of the colonists and crew had already died of malnutrition, cold and disease. Mayflower never returned to America and was broken up a few years later at Rotherhithe.
More than 20 million Americans make the proud claim that ‘their ancestors came over on the Mayflower’. Though this qualification has been loosely interpreted over the generations, there is no doubt that this wooden ship laid the foundation for the British and Dutch establishment on the east coast of North America that eventually led to the foundation of the United States.
Plans for the upcoming celebrations in 2020 can be found at Mayflower400uk.org . There is an interesting video tour of the replica ship Mayflower II at The Art of Travel on YouTube and a charming British Pathé documentary clip of her 1956 launch here.