Book Review – BOAT by Simon Griffiths

The back cover of Simon Griffiths new book ‘Boat’ tells us that:

‘Simon Griffiths has paced docksides and jetties all over Australia to bring us a stunning salute to the character and craftsmanship of all sorts of boats and boat builders – from old whaling boats to elegant yachts, from fishing dinghies to paddle steamers, rowboats and ferries.’

And he surely has done just that, with a keen photographer’s eye.  With a short text introduction to each chapter, Griffiths lets the pictures do the talking.  His photography is full of light and sunshine, with great attention to small details of carved wood, gleaming brightwork and full sails.  The roll call of boats and characters would seem to say that the author spent a great deal of his time wandering around Hobart – there are many names familiar to fans of the Australian Wooden Boat Festival.  There are features on the St Ayles skiff Taroona, Alan Witt’s sleek Derwent Skiff, the elegant K. Aage Neilsen yacht Holger Danske and many others.  There are interesting choices, too, including what the author speculates may be Australia’s only wooden-hulled police boat, Vigilant, the mighty James Craig and the curiously enduring Emmalisa.  Steam gets a look in too, with Preanna and the SL Huon featuring in excellent photo essays.

When Griffiths moves into wider territory, it’s great to see a profile of Tasmanian boat builder Ned Trewartha and (OK, we’re a little biased about this) an entire chapter devoted to the Australian Wooden Boat Festival.  For fans of the whole gamut of Autralia’s love affair with wooden boats, this pretty little book will be a welcome present for many a special occasion.  The publisher’s decision to go with a matte finish in a book of fine colour photography means that some of the images are less striking than they might have been, if they had been printed with a gloss finish, but there’s no doubt that the range and sheer number of pleasing photographs will make it a fine addition to many a coffee table.

‘Boat’ is published by Penguin Books under its imprint Lantern.  If ordering, you’ll need the ISBN 978-1-921383-40-3, but you will find the book easily in local bookshops including Fuller’s Bookshop and the Hobart Book Shop.  Retail price is just under $40, which makes this solid and cheerful book good value for money.

How’s Your Maritime History?

Our readers often get in touch with us to ask for help from other mariners to fill in blank spots in the record of an historical boat or a notable character in Tasmanian maritime history.  We’re happy to pass along these enquiries and we’re frequently amazed at the depth of knowledge displayed.  Here are two recent enquiries, from Queensland and Victorian readers, hopeful that one of Tasmania’s ‘Old Sea Dogs’ can shed some light on their research.  If you can help, please reply directly to the email addresses they have supplied.

My name is Alan McKay which, as you’d know, is a name synonymous with wooden boats in Hobart. Many of my relatives sailed in the old wooden ketches and of course Harold Charles McKay built many a fine vessel in his lifetime. My father was Bob McKay, a well known figure around the waterfront for many years both as a skipper of the May Queen and a master of several steamers and in his latter years, master of the Marine Board’s landing barge, Kulanda.

I was pleased to read about the restoration of Nancy and the happy fate of the Huon pine launch Tuna, both featured in your newsletter. I have a huge interest in the old vessels of Hobart and am trying to find out about two other vessels: what were their names and what became of them?

The two boats I’m seeking some information on are, firstly, a 20′ – 25’ launch which belonged to Keith Cowles and was used primarily (in the 1960s at least), to convey the quarantine inspector and Commonwealth doctor out to the  multitude of Japanese fishing boats that we saw in Hobart in the 60s and 70s. I did know Keith’s son David but my search has revealed that he died some time ago. Secondly a launch, about the same size, which belonged to one of my relatives, Trevor McKay (brother of C H McKay).  In his later years Trevor lived aboard her, moored on the western side of the old Brooke St Pier. I believe Charles Harold would have built this launch, but I’m not sure. When Trevor died in the late 1960s, the boat was taken by his brother to Prince Of Wales Bay. I never saw her again.

I would really appreciate if one of your readers could shed some light on the fate, or otherwise just the names, of these two vessels.  I can be reached at  by phone on 0412 135 700 or by post to:  Alan McKay, 44 Jessica Blvd. MINYAMA  QLD  4575

TUNA, a 22' motor launch built in 1915

The 100-year old motor launch Nancy was the subject of a recent AWBF article

Kevin James Swallow of Frankston, Victoria writes:

After finding an article in one of your newsletters last years I was put in contact with the owner of L’ Hirondelle which had been an entrant in all your festivals since 2001. The plaques are all still proudly mounted on board. I inspected her in November 2014 and purchased her shortly afterwards. In January 2015 I traveled to Hobart from my home in Victoria and with a friend and his two grandsons, steaming across Bass Strait to Westernport where she is currently berthed.

It was an epic 72 hr journey over 8 days which many said couldn’t be done in such a flat bottomed riverboat. I’m happy to say that it can be done with the right experience and weather selection.  My seven years as a Bass Strait fisherman and another seven years with the Australian Volunteer Coast Guard gave me the required experience, but it was skilled Tasmanian boat builders that gave me the ideal vessel. I am very interested to know more about this boat’s history and would love to hear from previous owners. I can be contacted on mobile 0418 176 053, at P.O. Box 6026 Frankston Vic. 3199 or by email at


231 L'Hirondelle A.Wright B

La Chaloupe – The Mystery of a Lost Boat

A single phone call in Southern Tasmania started a remarkable restoration project, but it took a social visit to the MyState Australian Wooden Boat Festival in 2015 to complete the riddle: Where did the little boat La Chaloupe come from? What did the enigmatic number ’16 6 64’ carved in her transom mean? (…) Continue reading “La Chaloupe – The Mystery of a Lost Boat”