The Australian Wooden Boat Festival

No one ever falls head-over-heels in love with a fibreglass boat, or a steel hulled vessel, let alone one made of carbon fibre or aluminium. They have their place, to be sure, but they do not come even remotely close to kindling the kind of deep-seated affection that wooden boats inspire.
Those of us who are besotted by wooden boats, stay besotted. It’s a life-long obsession. We lavish on our boats the kind of care and attention that might normally be reserved for a secret and very demanding lover. We delight in their company; we pamper them and we guard them with a jealous ardour.
In February next year, tens of thousands of devotees thus afflicted will descend on Hobart’s picturesque Sullivans Cove. There they will be treated to a wooden boat love-in of truly monumental proportions. I will be among them. I’m going for all three days, from the 11th to the 14th and I intend to see and do absolutely everything.
The Festival has been held every two years since 1994 and each time the bar of public expectation has been well and truly raised. It’s one of the few festivals anywhere that is absolutely free. Anyone and everyone is warmly welcome. This year, the Festival will be twice as big as it was in 2009.
The massive Princes Wharf Number One Shed is to be given over in its entirety to a Maritime Marketplace and a huge display of fully-rigged boats. In the water, in addition to the 500 or more beautiful traditional boats from all around the Australian coast, there will also be some of the world’s most extraordinary wooden vessels.
The Australian  Wooden Boat FestivalAnyone fascinated by the intricacy of shipwright’s joinery will want to have a good look at the beautifully constructed replica of the 17th century Hachoro fishing boat from Yaizu in Japan. This vessel, powered by both sail and oars, will be accompanied by a full crew. She will be the centrepiece in a traditional Japanese fishing village which will include traditional dancers, music and food.
From Indonesia the Festival has commissioned the construction of a Lipa Lipa outrigger sailing canoe, a Sandeq double-outrigger sailing canoe and three scale models of traditional island trading vessels. These will be accompanied by some of the original boat builders who will be demonstrating their craftsmanship in a specially constructed Indonesian Village.
One of the undoubted highlights of the Festival will be the talks given by a special guest, the world’s best-known and most admired small boat designer, Iain Oughtred.
Although Iain grew up in Sydney where he learned to sail, he has spent the past 30 odd years in Scotland where he has earned an international reputation for the quality, style and seaworthiness of his traditional wooden boats. Iain won’t just be speaking. He will also be giving a hands-on demonstration of some of his special boat building techniques.
Australia’s latest and youngest record achieving solo around the world sailor, Jessica Watson, will make a guest appearance thanks to the generosity of MyState Financial, the new naming rights sponsor of the Festival. Jessica will hold a question and answer forum as well as working alongside the young boatbuilders as they prepare their boats for the Quick ‘n’ Dirty race, which is traditionally the closing event of the Festival.
Followers of the Sydney-Hobart Race will recall the name Westward. She was built in Hobart in 1947 by Jock Muir and is the only Tasmanian yacht to have won two Hobarts, in 1947 and 1948. Westward was recently gifted to the Maritime Museum of Hobart by Stan Field who has owned her since 1958. Westward will be alongside at the Festival.
Sullivans Cove – site of the Australian Wooden Boat Festival.
Another extraordinary Tasmanian-built boat, the 34.5m Princess Iluka will be a feature vessel at the Festival. She was launched in 1979 from the Woodbridge yard of the late Ray Kemp. Her hull is Huon Pine and her keel is a single piece of Spotted Gum thought to be 750 years old. At the time of her launching she was considered to be the largest boat ever built of Huon Pine. She was purchased by Robert McVicker in 1999 and over the next several years has been transformed into what is described as a “super luxury yacht”.
Australia’s intrepid maritime adventurer, Don McIntyre will also be there with the replica of an 18th century ship’s boat, the vessel he and a crew recently sailed on a 67-day voyage from Tonga to Timor, replicating the passage made by Captain William Bligh following the infamous mutiny aboard the Bounty in 1789.
One of the Festival highlights for me will be the exhibition featuring the Admiral, the 28ft Huon Pine eight-oared rowing ferry built at Hobart in 1865. I’m looking forward to offering my personal congratulations to everyone who recognised her historic significance and spent so much time and effort in restoring her.
And when I’m not ogling old wooden boats, I shall be indulging in my favourite pastime: eating what is undoubtedly the world’s best seafood. No one does crayfish and scallops better than the Taswegians.
For further details and an up to date programme and general Festival information visit