Ned Trewartha Master Craftsman

Small boat building can be a solitary business. Days, sometimes weeks, pass without the intrusion or interruption of anyone not directly connected with the job in hand. Such splendid isolation suits Ned Trewartha to a tee.
Over the years he has developed an almost Zen-like ability to become so completely immersed in the intricacies of construction that time passes in a kind of self-absorbed reverie in which hunger is largely ignored and the biting cold of a Tasmanian winter is scarcely felt at all.
During my visit to the workshop behind his home at Gordon, a bitterly cold sou’westerly wind was whistling up from Antarctica. Stinging showers of sleet stripped the last of the withered leaves from the maples and raised white caps out on the Channel toward the wooded bulk of Bruny Island.
There was the promise of snow in a bruised and sullen sky. With the barometer hovering close to zero, I was rugged up in a tweed cap and a heavy quilted jacket. My bare hands were blue and my feet felt like blocks of ice, but in Ned’s case a lightweight sweater and a woollen beanie were his only concessions to the cold.
Ned Trewartha Master CraftsmanDuring the winter months he works eight-hour days, but in summer he’s out here in his timber-clad shed, tap-tap-tapping away for at least 10 or 12 hours, day after day until the job is completed. Although he sometimes spends up to 300 hours on a clinker dinghy, the financial rewards are by no means commensurate with all that effort. He works usually on commission and at $12,000 for a 10-footer, he’s never going to grow rich on the proceeds. But that’s beside the point.
Ned Trewartha is doing something he loves and it shows. He is a craftsman, first and foremost and in his case job satisfaction is a personal dividend that clearly transcends mere money.
“It is,” he says without rancour, “a hand-to-mouth existence, but that’s the way I work.”
Ned Trewartha Master CraftsmanAt the moment he’s putting the finishing touches to a lovely Foster 10, a clinker dinghy in King Billy pine. She lies upside-down on trestles inside a humidicrib of plastic sheeting while a fan-forced heater gently circulates warm air to dry her pearl-white paint.
On the workshop floor sits the boat of my dreams, a magnificent 15ft Acorn dinghy designed by Iain Oughtred and beautifully built by Ned in solid Tasmanian timbers. She has full-length King Billy planks and Celery Top ribs, risers and gunwales. Her thwarts are varnished King Billy pine while her floors, backbone, keel, stem and stern posts are all in Huon Pine. Her knees are all book-matched Huon. She is beautiful beyond words and if I had a lazy $20,000 I’d have not the slightest hesitation in buying her.
Ned Trewartha’s outstanding workmanship is so clearly evident in every aspect of the boat that Iain Oughtred fell in love with her at the recent Wooden Boat Festival in Hobart and for a while toyed with the idea of taking her home with him to Scotland. When I asked Iain for a candid assessment of Ned’s work he described him as “one of the rare true artists”.
Ned Trewartha Master Craftsman“His boats have Soul,” he said. “All good boats seem somehow to be more than the sum of their parts and Ned’s especially have a real quality, which sets them apart. They make one think: ‘I want this boat!’
“It seems as if every single piece is shaped from a board, a log, a tree, or a special pile of stored material, which is unique and does not simply come from a timber yard. Many are in fact recycled from other boats and artefacts which have served their purpose, and now live on in a new form.
“Tasmania really does have some of the finest boatbuilding timbers in the world, and although the best of them are now rare, hard to find and expensive, Ned will not hesitate to use the best material for a particular job, in a particular boat, without a thought of the cost.
Ned Trewartha Master Craftsman“I wonder if Ned’s unique and extraordinary boats are truly appreciated for their real value. Certainly, for some of the fortunate owners they are. But I was surprised at the recent Australian Wooden Boat Festival that, out of 130,000 visitors, he did not sell his superb Acorn 15 several hundred times over.
“Such an artist needs, deserves, to be adequately rewarded for the time, and for the skilled work he puts into his creations, so that he is able to continue unrestricted by uncomfortable practical considerations.
Ned Trewartha Master Craftsman“In other times, in more ‘primitive’ cultures, artists and craftsmen were truly respected and ranked high in the social order. Much of their work still lives on and is wondered at, hundreds and even thousands of years after it was done.
“Maybe we can be moving back towards this more enlightened attitude, when it is generally accepted that earning huge amounts of money is not the most important thing: may in fact be a dubious ambition, unfulfilling and not worthy of great respect at all.
“And of course it’s not only the beauty, the craftsmanship in Ned’s boats that commands attention.
“I am full of admiration for his inspired imagination which has such a need to create beautiful things out of bits of dead boats, from off-cuts of fine wood which can become something new, something unimagined and perhaps of straightforward practical use. Each piece is so finely shaped and beautifully finished, even when it’s plainly done just for fun.
“Wee leftover scraps which we would throw in the stove, Ned will likely see something lurking in there which is calling out to be revealed, to be brought to life!”
Ned Trewartha Master CraftsmanIain Oughtred’s ringing endorsement serves to clarify my own belief that Ned Trewartha is indeed a boat builder of rare and exceptional skill. So much so, that his order books should be full for years in advance. No craftsman of his quality should have to rely on a tenuous hand-to-mouth existence.
In the fullness of time, I will commission my own Oughtred/Trewartha masterpiece. In the meantime I will have the undoubted pleasure of dreaming about her and wondering whether I should put her in the water or up on a pedestal. Either way I know she will be greatly admired.


Ned Trewartha Master CraftsmanPostscript: Ned Trewartha is calling for expressions of interest in special dinghy-building Master Classes he plans to conduct in his Gordon workshop. The six-week courses will involve eight-hour days Monday to Friday and may be held twice a year if there is sufficient interest.
The hands-on courses will cover all aspects of dinghy building from lofting to launching. Students willing to pay for the basic cost of materials can own the dinghies they build. In the case of a 10ft clinker dinghy that’s around $3,000. The cost of the six week course will be $3,000 per student with a maximum group of four.
For further details contact