GM’s Log – July 2017

It’s pretty chilly here in Hobart now, with a dusting of snow on the mountain most days. It reminds us that this is the time for repairs and maintenance and preparation for the coming season. It’s not exactly tropical here in the AWBF office in the Salamanca Arts Centre, but there’s plenty of work to do, preparing grant applications and sponsorship proposals and writing endless reports to ensure that we have the financial resources to produce another great festival in 2019. The Tasmanian Government has made a welcome commitment to support three festivals (2017, 2019 and 2021), but that amounts to just around half what we need to produce the event. The rest comes from corporate sponsorship, exhibitors and organisations like the Australian National Maritime Museum. Each of these contributors must be looked after to ensure that they receive a satisfactory return on investment and continue to support the Australian Wooden Boat Festival into the future. This will be the subject of a short presentation at the next AWBF Member’s Meeting on Monday 7 August 2017.

That meeting will be the final one for our long-serving Treasurer Peter Benson, who has donated 13 years of professional financial guidance and stewardship. Peter has guided the festival through some rough patches over the years and his qualifications as a senior chartered accountant have been invaluable. I know that when I joined the organisation in 2011, it didn’t take long to work out that nothing got past Peter’s eagle eye in the day-to-day accounts or the monthly financial reports. ‘Purser Pete’, as he’s affectionately known, could spot a fuzzy figure in a balance sheet faster that a hungry seagull spots a sardine in the water. I learned that my budget forecasts would be checked and adjusted and checked again to see that we weren’t spending money we didn’t have. I came to have huge respect for Peter’s acumen and head for business. I’m pleased to say that we developed a great partnership and I’m indebted to him for teaching me things about tax law and corporate governance that I never suspected I didn’t know. I will miss Pete’s bombshell visits to the office and the sound advice he’s given me over the last six years. Peter is off to enjoy his love of adventure travel and sailing and he’s earned every minute of his retirement.

We’ll also be taking advantage of our ‘off year’ to accept a warm invitation from our friends at the Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival in September. Chairman Steve Knight and myself will travel to Seattle to attend the festival, with a two-part job to do. First, we’ll be scouting for boats, boat owners and influencers who can help us promote the participation of the United States as our guest nation in 2019. Our two nations have far more in common than that which separates us, and the culture of wooden boats is strong there. Many American enthusiasts have been to the Hobart festival and have returned home singing its praises. Now it’s time for us to go there and spread the word even further. The second part of the job is scouting for new inspiration and ideas. The Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival has a great reputation for authenticity and hands-on wooden boat activities. We’re looking for good ideas that we can bring back to the AWBF to enrich that part of our program. We’ll be joined in Port Townsend by AWBF members travelling independently, including Cathy Hawkins, Joy Phillips and Mike Ponsonby. It’s an Aussie invasion, but they did invite us!

– Paul Cullen, General Manager AWBF, Inc.

Seacrest – It Started with a Log

If you own a wooden boat (or if you used to own a boat and you’re all better now), this little story might ring a bell:

Once upon a time there was a log.  It was a very nice log of celery top pine and along with a slightly smaller log, it was donated by the clever people at Hydrowood, who are reclaiming valuable boat-building timber from the Tasmanian highland lakes.  Here at the AWBF, someone said ‘Hey, free wood! Those logs would make a great boat, wouldn’t they?’  So the log was milled by local wooden boat enthusiast Dave Golding and the lovely clean timber was brought to the Wooden Boat Centre at Franklin.

But of course if the timber was ever to be anything more than a stack of wood, we would need a team of boat builders to knock it into shape. We were lucky to find a team of six student shipwrights and their instructor who were willing to come out all the way out from Holland to build our boat.  Well, they needed somewhere to stay and somewhere to build the boat, so the kind people in the town of Franklin helped to find them places to live and the Wooden Boat Centre gave them a workshop to build the boat in.

Sure, the air fares and the accommodation and the tools and the extra materials and the transport all cost a few dollars, but hey, it was free wood and volunteer labour, right?

And then one day, it was done! We had a beautiful Dutch-design sailboat called a BM16m2 and it was christened ‘Seacrest’.  We hired a truck and a crane (oh, we had to build a cradle for it to sit in)  and then we shipped it up to the MyState Australian Wooden Boat Festival, where it was a big hit and everyone admired it.


In fact one man, a retired rock lobster fisherman from Victoria named Gerhard Wilmink, liked it so much that he pointed it out to his partner, Cherie.  ‘Look, that’s a lovely boat and it’s up for auction today and I bet it will go for a good price and wouldn’t the grandchildren love it?’ (If you have ever watched a patient partner listen to the ravings of a wooden boat lover, you can imagine the eye-rolling and the resigned expression).  Gerhard bid carefully in a lively auction and soon the boat was his!

But, of course it would need a final coat or two of varnish, so it was back to the Wooden Boat Centre for a little more loving, while Gerhard sorted out a  a very sturdy twin-axle trailer to transport the boat back to Apollo Bay in Victoria (and yes, the fares on the Spirit of Tasmania can make your eyes water).  Soon, it was ready to go.  But as it happened, the boat and the trailer were a little too much for Gerhard’s car, so he had to go out and buy a new truck to tow it.

Which is the story of how a couple of free logs turned into Seacrest, a Cinderella of a sailboat, ready for the warmer weather and some excited grand-kids to go sailing.

Of course, we are teasing a little.  The project that built the Seacrest was a wonderful example of international cooperation and the community of wooden boats. Gerhard Wilmink is a highly respected skipper and a repeat visitor to the Australian Wooden Boat Festival.  His previous boat, the 50′ rock lobster boat Johanna Cherie, was built by renowned shipwright Gary Stewart at Port Fairy, Victoria.  The Johanna Cherie is still in the industry, operating out of Currie on King Island.  Gerhard and Cherie have become welcome friends in the community at Franklin, Tasmania.  Many thanks to photographers Rob Oates, Daryl Peebles and Barbara Murphy for their contributions.


Wooden Boats in Port!

In the spirit of fact-finding journalism, AWBF General Manager Paul Cullen found himself recently in the northern Portuguese city of Oporto.  Rumour had it, wooden boats and wooden barrels still play an active role in that city’s thriving industry – making and shipping the famous ruby-red wine called ‘Port’.  Sure enough, both uses of the native European oak are still to be found in this impressive riverfront city close to the sea.

These barolos, or Douro River boats, were purpose-built for the challenging job of transporting the 600-kilo wooden barrels full of port wine from the distant vineyards in the steep mountainous interior.  The river was treacherous, with whirlpools, floods, rapids and constantly shifting sandbars.  The typical apégadas (open woodwork structure) allowed the skilled boatmen to control the flat bottom boats with a long oar known as an espadela.  Heavily laden with extremely valuable cargo, these nimble barges required as many as 12 crew to control them and many sailors lost their lives in the 300-year history of the port wine trade. Overtaken by safer rail and road transport, the timber craft are now popular tourist attractions and compete each year in a regatta on the Douro.

Though wine had been made in the hills of northern Portugal since Roman times, it was not until the late 1600s that English merchants began to export rich, strong red wines from the dry hillsides of the Douro River.  The river runs for almost 900 kilometres and forms part of the border between Spain and Portugal, but it is the section around Pinhao, around 125 km upstream from Porto that houses the finest quintas, or wine-making estates.  The distinctive rich flavour (and powerful punch) of port wine comes from the practice of adding pure alcohol before the wine has finished fermenting, leaving it naturally sweet and strong.  The wine is then aged for many years in either 600-litre barriques or massive wooden vats containing up to 20,000 litres.  The art of cooperage is alive and well in Porto, where companies like Taylor’s maintain traditional cooper’s workshops and magnificent cellars, open for public tours.

The cellars stretch for miles under the steep escarpments on the Vila Nova de Gaia, where many millions of litres of fortified wine slumber for decades until they are blended and judged ready for release.  Unlike red wine production, the barrels are not discarded after a season or two.  They are carefully scraped, refinished and returned to service.  Some of them are hundreds of years old.  ‘The smell in these ancient cellars is enough to intoxicate all by itself,’ Cullen says. ‘A man could die happy in there.’