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.’


Vintage Seasalter Sees the Southern Seas

Seasalter is a village in the Canterbury District of Kent in England. It lies between Whitstable and Faversham, facing the Isle of Sheppey across the estuary of the River Swale.  Seasalter is also the name of an Australian classic yacht built to a Thomas Harrison Butler design by J.P. Clausen and Sons at Birkenhead South Australia.  She was launched in 1937. She is the largest of Butler’s designs ever built and is considered the Queen of all the vessels presently registered or known about by the Harrison Butler Association of the UK.

Her construction was solid, with a massive piece of 18”x16” (460x400mm) jarrah for her keel, four garboard planks of 1¼” (32mm) jarrah and hull planking of 1¼” (32mm) Huon pine. Her frames were steam-bent turpentine 2 ½”x1½” (60x40mm) on 10” (255mm) centres, all copper fastened. She has two massive full length stringers on each side, through-bolted on every second frame. Floors are 4” (100mm) thick and are alternated with mighty cast metal floors also through-bolted to planking and frames.

This heavy construction has ensured her longevity for the past 80 years’ worth of adventures, voyaging, disasters and resurrections.

Her first adventure was as an Adelaide Harbour Patrol vessel during the Second World War, when she was provided with two soldiers, two rifles and a box of grenades stored on deck! In 1946 she changed hands and her beautiful ketch rig was removed along with the graceful raised house, converting her to a bald headed cutter. In this guise she contested the 1949 Sydney to Hobart yacht race, coming 6th from 9 other finishers after several retirements. She had begun a racing career that was to stretch ahead for the next thirty five years, firstly in South Australian waters and later in Victoria. She sailed at various times under the burgees of the Royal South Australian Yacht Club, the Royal Brighton Yacht Club and the Sandringham Yacht Club. At one time she was prepared for a nonstop world circumnavigation but after two false starts, the plan was abandoned.

In the 1980’s she was bought by a New Zealander who sailed her to Tonga and Fiji and subsequently lived aboard her in the Bay of Islands, NZ. In 2007 there was a ferocious storm which broke her moorings and Seasalter was washed up onto a rocky shore. She was sorely damaged and the vessel was offered to the present owner as a wreck.

Thirty months of full time work amounting to almost 14,000 hours and many thousands of dollars saved this classic yacht from the funeral pyre.

The work included replacement of the entire deck structure including beams, carlins and bulwarks; replacement of 140 steel bolts with handmade bronze ones; reconstruction of the elegant raised house; replacement with newly cast bronze floors, hanging knees, chainplates, rigging toggles, gammon and cranse irons, deck plates and cowl vents; the design and implementation as near original to the rig with which she was launched; new sails; a new interior; new wiring and motor.

Seasalter was relaunched in December 2015, just before Christmas.  On January 9th, 2016, she went for her first sail in the Russell Boating Club’s Tall Ships Race. In February she went on a shakedown cruise to Gisbourne and return and on the 9th of May cleared from New Zealand for her first big cruise in twenty five years.

From Opua, NZ to Noumea, New Caledonia and on to to Cairns, suffering 55 knots and a knockdown.  Thence to Thursday Island, across the blistering Gulf of Carpentaria to Darwin; down the Kimberly and Pilbara coasts to Exmouth; around the corner of North West Cape and down to Dirk Hartog Island to join in the celebrations for the 400-year anniversary of the landing of Dirk Hartog on October 25th 1616; onwards then, down the Western Australian coast to Geraldton and Fremantle and around the famed Cape Leeuwin to Albany. From here she sailed directly for the Southern coast of Tasmania and approached Hobart from the South.

Seasalter is here just in time for the Festival- so come down and see this beautiful and historic classic in all her glory!

The classic 1937 Harrison Butler ketch Seasalter