May / June 2019

Australian Wooden Boat Festival 2019

A sense of place on the far side of the world
Waterfront of Hobart

More than 500 boats were displayed on land and in the water at the Australian Wooden Boat Festival in February. The biannual event covers the sprawling waterfront of Hobart, in the island state of Tasmania.

On the morning of February 8 this year, the 60-ton Danish fishing ketch YUKON eased alongside a floating dock in the town of Kettering, in the Australian island state of Tasmania, to collect a load of passengers en route to the Australian Wooden Boat Festival in the nearby city of Hobart. A week or so before traveling from Maine to Tasmania, I had been invited to join this excursion, which would depart Kettering in company with the Bass Strait trading ketch JULIA BURGESS and several other vessels and wend its way out into the D’Entrecastaux Channel into the Derwent River and then north to Hobart, where we would to join the festival-opening parade of sail. 

That invitation was a pleasant surprise. WoodenBoat had published an article about YUKON in 2011, and the vessel, since then, has stuck with me as one of the most impressive restorations we’ve covered. Her owner, David Nash, an Australian, had purchased her for a case of beer while she was lying on the bottom of DragØr Harbor in Copenhagen. Raising and heroic restoration ensued. And during the project, a romance between David and his partner, Ea, blossomed into a family. When we left the young family at the end of that article eight years ago, they were embarking, in YUKON, upon a circumnavigation.

I did not know that YUKON was now based in Tasmania when I began planning my recent trip. But I should not have been surprised: As I had learned when I attended it in 2007, the Australian Wooden Boat Festival is not so much a celebration of local boat types—though there is plenty of that (see page 84)—as it is a gathering of fine boats and vessels from all over the planet. In 2007, the organizers had hosted staff boatbuilders from the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde, Denmark, and transported several reconstructions of Viking-era boats to Hobart for display. In 2011, they brought in a 42' three-masted traditional Japanese boat, along with a crew of eight oarsmen. This year they celebrated the United States by flying in a corps of builders from the Northwest School of Wooden Boat Building in Port Hadlock, Washington, along with a crew of other American artisans and luminaries that included keynote speaker Jon Wilson, this magazine’s founder. The builders, led by the school’s chief instructor, Sean Koomen, built a Joel White–designed Haven 121⁄2 in the months leading up to the festival, and they had this and another partially built one on display.

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