Where Have All the Ferries Gone?

Where have all the ferries gone?

Preana skipper and Tasmanian polymath Sam Yousofi writes:

For the past decade, I have been dreaming of starting a river cruise and ferry service on the Derwent River.  It all started at the end of my first day in command of the old ferry Emmalisa.  I fell in love with the idea and being an academic pedant, I embarked on analysing various business models from every conceivable angle.

For a whole week, during the summer of 2008, I sat in front of T42, ordered coffee and observed the many cruise operators while recording their movements and passenger numbers.   Seven days and sixty-nine cups of coffee later I had the necessary data.

There were fourteen vessels offering a variety of services:

Peppermint Bay, Excella, Cartela, Wonderer, Commodore, Emmalisa, Regent Star, Jeremiah Ryan (Incat Hull No. 1), Windeward Bound, Lady Nelson, The Wild Thing and the two water taxis.

Ferries like the MV Cartela were once common on the River Derwent

Between them there were 168 scheduled departures per week plus the unscheduled runs by the water taxis.  Around 80% of departures carried sufficient number of passengers to cover the operating costs and turn a profit.  The profit margins were at times modest and at other times very good.

Since each vessel operated in a specific market niche, their product offerings were not in direct competition and there were no price wars.  Regent Star offered a ferry service between Bellerive and Brooke Street Pier every morning and afternoon with a dozen regular customers who purchased a book of 10 tickets for the week.  This period may well represent the most prosperous time for river cruise operations in the recent history of Hobart.

The rowing ferry Admiral is Tasmania’s oldest boat

A decade later, as we approach 2018, only four vessels remain.  Two of them are occasionally operated by volunteers on a non-profit basis. There are only a dozen or so scheduled departures per week and many trips do not carry sufficient passenger numbers to cover the costs.

The question we need to ask is; why did we lose all that waterfront business even though, due to the magic of MONA, the number of tourists have tripled since 2008?

My observations and analysis lead to the following conclusion:

Most tourists coming to Hobart are weekend visitors from the mainland.  They arrive on Friday evening, take the airport bus to their hotels, check-in, have dinner and many have an early night to rest sufficiently before the anticipated excitements of the next day.

After breakfast on Saturday morning, they stroll past Sullivan’s Cove to Salamanca Market, that they have heard about so much, and spend two hours trying to figure out what exactly is so special about it. This is followed by a stroll back to the spanking new Brooke Street Pier and a wait to board the ferry to MONA.

The ferry trip to MONA doubles as a quasi-river-cruise itself.  The rest of the day is spent on immersing in art appreciation until they feel they have earned the bragging right for having done so. The ferry trip back to Sullivan’s Cove is another quasi-river-cruise.  Many will regard two quasi-anything as the full thing.  Arrival in Sullivan’s Cove will be either during the dark in winter or during sea breeze and choppy waters in summer, both making a river cruise an unattractive option.

Sunday morning is sleep-in time to recover from previous night’s (perhaps excessive) wining and dining followed by a hurried dash to the airport to fly out.

With the duopoly the Salamanca Market and MONA hold on the visitor’s available time, no other tourist attraction will get a chance to make an honest dollar from the influx of weekend tourists.

MONA has no doubt contributed significantly to Tasmania by attracting fame and fortune to Hobart and driving its tourism industry.  Let us hope that it continues to grow and scale even greater heights in the future.  However, just as a rising sun obscures the stars, it will be inevitable that MONA will continue to shift the focus of tourism activity away from other more traditional attractions such as river cruises, Port Arthur, The Air Walk, Richmond Village, Mount Wellington and yes, dare I say it, proposed Cable Car.

Those who plan new tourism ventures and attractions for Hobart will be well advised not to use the total number of visitors as a statistical basis for their calculations.  For planning purposes, tourism statistics should be adjusted for the Market/MONA effect on the activity pattern of week-end visitors.

Tourist attractions go in and out of fashion and a myopic focus on MONA will not serve the strategic interests of Tasmanian Tourism.  One solution is to leverage the MONA factor by providing incentives to weekend tourists to stay one more day.  This could be in the form of discounted accommodation for Thursday and Sunday nights or a rebate for Thursday and Monday flights.   With access to tourists for one extra day, ferries will soon return to the Derwent, paving the way for regular public transport on the river.

As for the cruise ship visitors, their patrons have even less available time than the weekenders.  I remember the last conversation I had with a retired American couple who had just stepped off a visiting cruise ship.  It went something like this:

Me: Hello, welcome to Hobart.  Could I interest you in a river cruise on one of the most beautiful boats in Australia; The Steam Yacht Preana build in 1896?

Husband: Don’t be silly.  We just got off a boat five minutes ago.  Why should we get into another boat?  Now, how do we get to this MONA thing?

Me (pointing): I am afraid you must board that boat there to get to MONA.

As they walked away I heard the wife saying: “Honey, the paint job on that boat makes it look like your old hunting shorts!”

Sam Yousofi

Captain, Steam Yacht Preana

Australian National Maritime Museum Supports Symposium

Chris Palmer (l.) and Steve Knight (r.) visit the Australian National Maritime Museum, Sydney

Chairman Steve Knight and board member Chris Palmer were in Sydney recently for a visit to the Australian National Maritime Museum (ANMM).  They met with Museum director Kevin Sumption to discuss the organisation’s continuing support for the International Wooden Boat Symposium.  The symposium will be presented in Hobart as part of AWBF 2019, from 9-10 February.  Convenor Mike Ponsonby is assembling a stellar cast of presenters from Tasmania, mainland Australia and overseas. A notable catch just confirmed is Jon Wilson, founder of the internationally-regarded magazine WoodenBoat.  Since 1974, Jon has been a leader in the movement that recognises the construction and restoration of wooden boats as deeply meaningful to many people around the world.

‘The Australian National Maritime Museum’s support for the Symposium makes it possible for us to bring profoundly influential designers, authors, sailors and speakers to Hobart during the AWBF,’ said festival general manager Paul Cullen. ‘Without their commitment, and that of the University of Tasmania, we could not afford to present these outstanding talents in one place.  The Symposium contributes to the essential backbone of the event – our belief that the culture of wooden boats is important and deserves to be acknowledged and preserved.  That we can offer the Symposium as a free public event is just fabulous and we mean to keep it that way for as long as we can’.

Steve gets ‘hands-on’ with the heavy machinery

The ANMM sponsorship not only provides for bringing overseas visitors to Australia, but the museum also supplies some of the leading experts in the world in maritime archaeology, history, Aboriginal watercraft and other fields as speakers.

While in Sydney, Steve and Chris were treated to an escorted tour of the site, including a special visit to two historic vessels awaiting restoration, the steam tug Waratah (1902)and the ex-Sydney ferry Kanangra(1912).  They reported that the scale of the machinery in these two vessels, and the enormous task of restoring them made it clear why Australia needs a national maritime museum to preserve these magnificent ships.

Awaiting restoration: 1912 Sydney ferry Kanangra and 1902 steam tug Waratah

Editor’s Note:

Our thanks to Alan Stannard for the following correction to this article –

The name of the site undertaken as a tour is the Sydney Heritage Fleet Shipyard, operated by the Sydney Heritage Fleet at Rozelle Bay, Port Jackson.  Of the two vessels shown, only the Kanangra awaits restoration. The other, Waratah, has just finished her annual refit and has since returned to service as a registered commercial vessel.

Most of the work undertaken at the SHF shipyard to service and repair the other “Fleet” vessels is carried out by Fleet volunteers. I commend you and other readers to the web site of the Sydney Heritage Fleet, shf.org.au to visit the SHF at Wharf 7, Pyrmont and the Shipyard at Rozelle Bay on a Tue, Thur or Sat.

Vale Meade Gougeon

Farewell to our respected friend Meade Gougeon, who passed away peacefully at his home, surrounded by his family, on Sunday, August 27, 2017.

“I’ve been involved in wooden boat festivals for quite a long time now, including about 15 years of running the skills demonstrations at the WoodenBoat Show in Mystic, Connecticut. I’ve been to Brest twice, and I’ve been attending the Port Townsend festival since 1979, plus numerous other shows and festivals here and there. In general, I would say the Hobart festival stacks up most favorably against the best of them. I saw American and European designers represented from the early 20th century right up to now, in staggering variety, with no one influence dominating. That is a great, great strength of the Hobart festival, and I believe the International Wooden Boat Symposium reinforces it.“ Meade Gougeon (USA) leading sailor and designer

In 2017, Meade became the first Honorary Life Member of the Australian Wooden Boat Festival Inc. as a mark of our respect and gratitude for his encouragement and support. In 2015, at the age of 76, Meade travelled all the way from his home in Bay City, Michigan to Hobart to attend the Festival. He was the keynote speaker at the International Wooden Boat Symposium that year and delighted everyone he met with his undiminished enthusiasm for wood as a high-tech building material and for the international world of wooden boat design.

Meade, with his brothers Joel and Jan, founded the company that pioneered the use of epoxy glues and laminate timber for building boats in 1969. Their radical composite structures brought elegant boat construction within the reach of thousands of owners who could not afford the traditional service of professional shipwrights. Meade was an avid and successful sailor, on the water and on the frozen surface of the North American lakes. He co-authored The Gougeon Brothers on Boat Construction, which has remained a standard reference book since it was first published in 1979. The West System is the well-known brand of the employee-owned company that continues to supply innovative products to the professional and amateur boat builder.