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Forestry and timber stories

Wooden boat spectacular

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Tasmania’s unique wooden boat festival is growing in international stature, and this year there was a decidedly American twist.

It’s one of the island state’s most popular events.

Every second February, the MyState Australian Wooden Boat Festival draws bumper crowds to Hobart’s historic docks to enjoy the biggest collection of wooden boats in the southern hemisphere.

Some 500 beautifully crafted vessels – ranging from ten majestic tall ships to small clinker dinghies – were proudly on display showcasing Tasmania’s rich maritime heritage.

With the four-day event attracting more than 200,000 visitors between February 8 and 11.

“At the last festival about 40 per cent of our visitors were from overseas or the mainland, but this year that number has jumped to 52 per cent,” festival General Manager, Paul Cullen, said.

“People love it because this is a wonderful community event that really highlights such an important part of Tasmania’s history and in such an incredible location. No other city in Australia has a working port right in the heart of the city.

“We are an island people and have been building wooden boats as long as we have been here.”

The festival always has a ‘featured nation’, and this year America was given the honour.

View video to take a tour of the 2019 MyState Australian Wooden Boat Festival

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Watch video on YouTube

A stunning collection of a dozen wooden boats from the US, which were shipped over in two large containers, held centre court at the event.

The replica historic boats included a Catspaw (dinghy), Poulsbo (Puget Sound fishing boat) and Whitehall (a rowing boat that ferried goods from cargo ships docked in New York Harbour).

Accompanying them was a contingent of 31 craftsmen, consisting mostly of alumni from the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding (NWSWB) near Port Townsend, in Washington State.

But it was a little robin egg blue sailing boat (a Haven 12 ½) that drew most attention. It was a special collaboration between master craftsmen from the US and Tasmania.

A team from the NWSWB and local boat builders from The Wooden Boat Centre at Franklin, south of Hobart, had spent weeks together making the beautiful little craft.

And, according to Kaci Cronkhite, who helped organise the US contingent, this joint project highlights how a passion for wooden boats unites people across the world.

“Wooden boats connect us to our history, and join people together through common stories,” Cronkhite explained.

“I think our love for wooden boats comes from a very deep, and very old connection that we have to both nature and the sea, and also to the self-reliance that goes with that.

“From the time people travelled. From the time a tree fell in the water, and we floated on it and travelled to another island we have been compelled to do this.”

Cronkhite is an author, world sailor and proud ‘wooden boat tragic’.

She also spent a decade running the Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival – one of the biggest in the US – and describes the Tasmanian event as “amazing”.

“One thing I have noticed here, and more than at any other festival in the world, is the number of boats over 100 years old,” Cronkhite said.

“There are so many of them, and that is partly because of your Huon Pine, which is such a special, rot resistant wood.

“In fact, one of the biggest things that strikes you about being here is that beautiful smell of Huon Pine as you go onboard these vessels.

“It is the unforgettable smell of Tasmania.”

Cronkhite’s own journey towards wooden boats is quite incredible.

She grew up on a ranch in Oklahoma and did not see the ocean until the age of 21. But by 40, had spent seven years sailing around the world and has now documented these adventures in her new book, When a Cowgirl Goes to Sea.

But it is Cronkhite’s wooden sailboat, Pax, built in Denmark in 1936, that has really captured her imagination.

She even spent years tracking down the history of Pax, which she recounts in her internationally acclaimed book, Finding Pax, and is described as “one woman’s journey for the love of her wooden boat".

It is written with a passion that perhaps only fellow “wooden boat tragics” can fully understand.

“You see it as you walk around the Tasmanian festival, and you feel all these floating bits of love.

“People don’t have these boats to show off. Because of all the love, time and money that we put into these boats, there really is a much deeper connection.

“We see ourselves as stewards of these boats, as keepers of these floating pieces of history.”

View video on Andrew Denman - Tasmanian wooden boat builder

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Watch video on YouTube

Images courtesy of Paul Gilbert - BALLANTYNE Photography and Robert Heazlewood

17 February 2019, Edition 202

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