ART LEFT OUT IN THE RAIN

The Aus­tralian Wooden Boat Fes­ti­val is a world-class event that will set a sailor’s heart aflut­ter. The theme for 2019 is Amer­i­cana. A Pa­cific cross­ing, any­one?

Cruising World - - Contents - By Al­vah Si­mon

ver the years, I have been to many boat shows, and I’ve en­joyed all of them. From a busi­ness per­spec­tive, they are the per­fect set­ting for marine man­u­fac­tur­ers and re­tail­ers to show­case their wares and in­no­va­tions. From a con­sumer’s point of view, they draw en­thu­si­asts from far and wide into a crit­i­cal mass of kin­dred spir­its. No mat­ter if you are strolling the docks on a beau­ti­ful au­tumn day or crowded into a con­ven­tion cen­ter, shel­tered from a bru­tal Chicago win­ter, the at­mos­phere be­comes one of fun, fan­tasy, in­spi­ra­tion and ed­u­ca­tion. Good things hap­pen.

Un­til vis­it­ing the Aus­tralian Wooden Boat Fes­ti­val last Fe­bru­ary, how­ever, I had never been to a “boat fes­ti­val,” and did not quite un­der­stand the dif­fer­ence. While boat shows are es­sen­tially driven by profit, fes­ti­vals are driven by pas­sion. A boat show is about the fu­ture of yacht­ing; a boat fes­ti­val is about its past. A fo­cus on the fu­ture tends to be in­di­vid­ual, the past col­lec­tive, thus a spe­cial bond seems to de­velop be­tween fes­ti­val par­tic­i­pants. But there is an­other dif­fer­ence: uni­di­rec­tional cel­lu­lose fiber, aka wood. Wooden-boat peo­ple are

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more than mere en­thu­si­asts; they are true be­liev­ers, ad­her­ents to an an­cient re­li­gion. Their flame of faith may have flick­ered his­tor­i­cally, but it has never been ex­tin­guished. Their con­nec­tion to wooden boats and the tried-and-true ways of yore grows be­yond a hobby to be­come a holis­tic life­style in­ter­twined with el­e­ments of rev­er­ence and re­spect.

Thanks to a host of vol­un­teers and per­haps some lo­cal mu­nic­i­pal spon­sor­ship, most fes­ti­vals are free to the pub­lic. The “dis­plays” are mostly the treasured ves­sels of ama­teur wood­en­boat own­ers with no other in­cen­tive to at­tend than the pride of own­er­ship. Some­how, the shared ded­i­ca­tion of pre­serv­ing el­e­gant icons of an age past com­bines with ev­ery sailor’s need for a grand ol’ party to cre­ate a pal­pa­bly friendly at­mos­phere.

There are three ma­jor and many mi­nor fes­ti­vals world­wide. Brest, in France, hosts Europe’s largest ev­ery four years, the next be­ing in 2020. Be­cause of its prox­im­ity to ma­jor Euro­pean ports, this fes­ti­val boasts the at­ten­dance of nu­mer­ous his­toric Tall Ships plus a large com­ple­ment of tra­di­tional recre­ational ves­sels. The docks hold an eclec­tic crowd, the Celtic mu­sic is loud and the food and wine are of the best French stan­dard.

Port Townsend, Wash­ing­ton, which years ago might have been con­sid­ered a hip­pie hold­out in nau­ti­cal terms, has ma­tured into a vi­brant sail­ing town, and is now rec­og­nized as the epi­cen­ter of tra­di­tional boat­ing for the en­tire West Coast. From hum­ble be­gin­nings 40 years ago, the Port Townsend Wooden Boat Fes­ti­val has grown into a worl­drenowned event. With more than 300 ves­sels on dis­play, top-qual­ity mu­sic, food, lec­tures and other fam­ily-friendly events, the an­nual Septem­ber show bus­tles to over­flow­ing. The early suc­cess of the Wooden Boat Fes­ti­val gave birth to the North­west Mar­itime Cen­ter, which has served more than 150,000 stu­dents of all ages in ar­eas such as boat­build­ing, sail­ing, mar­itime safety and com­mu­nity ac­tivism.

And in a gal­axy far, far away, there is the afore­men­tioned Aus­tralian Wooden Boat Fes­ti­val held ev­ery two years in Ho­bart, Tas­ma­nia. Ad­mit­tedly, this is down un­der even by Aus­tralian stan­dards. But dis­tance not­with­stand­ing, with 455 ves­sels fea­tured in its 2017 fes­ti­val, it is cer­tainly the largest “wood only” event and per­haps the largest in any terms. All claims of size aside, the AWBF is a world-class ex­trav­a­ganza. Any sailor with caulk in their seams should make this pil­grim­age at least once in their life­time.

I fi­nally did so and was thrilled with what I found. It all starts with au­then­tic­ity. The Dutch­man Abel Tas­man first laid eyes upon this glo­ri­ous is­land 375 years ago (more on that to come). It lan­guished in Euro­pean terms un­til the Bri­tish es­tab­lished a colony on the banks of the Der­went River in 1803 and named it Ho­bart Town. It is Tas­ma­nia’s re­mote­ness that has made it so sig­nif­i­cant in mar­itime his­tory be­cause, by na­ture, ev­ery­thing hap­pened by ship.

Early set­tlers dis­cov­ered mas­sive groves of trees in the nearby Huon Val­ley. Huon pine (La­garostro­bos franklinii) is one of the old­est liv­ing or­gan­isms on Earth, with one tree cal­cu­lated to be 3,462 years old. It is very slow grow­ing, with a tight grain, and oozes with in­sect-re­pelling oils. It is said that the only thing slower

than the Huon pine’s growth is its de­cay, mak­ing it the per­fect ship-build­ing wood. It gave birth to a mas­sive ship­build­ing in­dus­try, the legacy of which survives to this day.

Ho­bart has re­tained much of its his­tor­i­cally quaint ar­chi­tec­ture. For­tu­nately, old tav­erns fea­ture promi­nently. It is the per­fect stage for cel­e­brat­ing the glo­ri­ous era of sail. The en­tire wa­ter­front be­came a float­ing beauty con­test, sim­ply open to the pub­lic with­out charge. Dozens of mu­si­cal groups ro­tated be­tween strate­gi­cally placed am­pli­fied sta­tions. The smell of eth­nic cui­sine wafted out from rows of food stalls. Wood chips flew at sev­eral boat­build­ing demon­stra­tions next to griz­zled lob­ster­men hand­craft­ing old-fash­ioned lob­ster pots from a na­tive cane. Sem­i­nars in­cluded a host of lo­cal lu­mi­nar­ies as well as in­ter­na­tional speak­ers, such as yacht de­signer Ron Hol­land, au­thor Lin Pardey and pho­tog­ra­pher Ben­jamin Mend­lowitz.

The main docks were dom­i­nated by gar­gan­tuan square rig­gers, such as

Tena­cious, the largest wooden ship built in the United King­dom in over a cen­tury. Af­ter a lit­tle con­tro­versy in­volv­ing a wooden “ship” that ac­tu­ally sits on land and serves as a restau­rant in Dubai, at 213 feet over­all and car­ry­ing 13,000 square feet of can­vas, Tena­cious now holds the of­fi­cial record of be­ing the largest wooden ship afloat. The mid­size square rig­gers and schooners in­cluded Yukon, Wind­ward

Bound, Lady Nel­son and, ar­guably the pret­ti­est of them all, Julie Burgess.

The float­ing docks shim­mered with na­tional flags, burgees and pen­nants. The docks glis­tened with hand-rubbed var­nish and pol­ished brass. My head and heart got turned in ev­ery di­rec­tion. Fash­ion and func­tion were not mu­tu­ally ex­clu­sive; these were sail­ing sculp­tures. They were

art you can leave out in the rain.

Here was the George Luck­man­designed-and-built Terra Linna, circa 1880, the old­est rac­ing yacht afloat in Tas­ma­nia. But by no means is it the old­est de­sign. A replica of the Abo­rig­i­nal cork-weed-and-strip-bark ca­noe, lashed to­gether with over 1,600 feet of hand­made rope, pad­dled by. Its ori­gins reach back an es­ti­mated 42,000 years. It is named Rrala, which means “strong” in the Palawa kani lan­guage. It serves as a hum­bling re­minder that we con­tem­po­rary sailors were not the first on the wa­ter.

Rrala passed un­der the el­e­gant stern of Hol­ger Danske, an Aage Nielsen 41, win­ner of the 1980 New­port Ber­muda Race. I eaves­dropped on the lan­guage of the afi­ciona­dos as they pe­rused the spec­ta­cle and heard ad­jec­tives more fre­quently re­served for wine bot­tles: sassy, sul­try, ro­bust, sup­ple, ap­proach­able …

There were plenty of per­son­al­i­ties to go with these unique ves­sels. On the diminu­tive Cape Stormy, I met the in­domitable 89-year-old Pe­ter Maussey, who in 1953, with his beau­ti­ful wife, Les­ley, be­came the first Aus­tralian cou­ple to cir­cum­nav­i­gate. He is known as the “Mil­lion Mile Man;” be­tween his cruis­ing and yacht de­liv­er­ies of many decades, he has logged up an in­cred­i­ble tally of trips and tales.

The docks were full of long sprits and high spir­its. With close to a quar­ter mil­lion peo­ple in at­ten­dance, shore­side ac­com­mo­da­tions were tight. Prob­lem solved: Bring in the cruise liner Ova­tion

of the Seas, with 5,000 pas­sen­gers treated to a bird’s-eye view of the show be­low, the high­light of which is the Pa­rade of Sail. All the ves­sels gath­ered in the bay in front of Ho­bart and formed an ex­quis­ite sail-by for cheer­ing crowds on the shore.

If you love the sea and all that sails upon it, this cloud of can­vas is al­most a sen­sory over­load.

Each bi­en­nial fes­ti­val cen­ters on a spe­cific theme. This year’s was the cel­e­bra­tion of the 375th an­niver­sary of Tas­man’s fa­mous voy­age. The lo­cal mu­seum cre­ated a com­pre­hen­sive his­tor­i­cal dis­play of Tas­man’s jour­ney re­plete with au­then­tic mem­o­ra­bilia. The Dutch am­bas­sador opened the cer­e­monies. A con­tin­gent of Dutch sailors came over with sev­eral his­tor­i­cal de­signs, such as the 20-foot shoal-draft Tjot­ter class. A team of Dutch boat­builders con­structed a Re­gen­boog (rain­bow)-class boat from old cel­ery-top pine and ul­ti­mately raced against a lo­cal Tas­ma­nian crew in a Gnome-class sloop. Spe­cial Dutch food, mu­sic and clas­sic ves­sels com­pleted the cel­e­bra­tion of that na­tion’s rich mar­itime his­tory.

Why is this im­por­tant to us? Be­cause the theme of the 2019 Aus­tralian Wooden Boat Fes­ti­val is Amer­i­cana! This is an op­por­tu­nity to share our amaz­ingly rich mar­itime her­itage with sailors from around the world and forge spe­cial ties with our an­tipodean broth­ers and sis­ters of the sea. His­to­ri­ans, boat­builders, de­sign­ers, speak­ers, mu­si­cians, au­thors and just plain in­trepid tourists, take note. Here we can show­case and cel­e­brate the grace­ful de­signs of John Alden, Nathanael and L. Fran­cis Her­reshoff, Olin Stephens, Wil­liam Atkin, Philip Rhodes, Wil­liam Tripp and too many more to men­tion. (Who is your fa­vorite?) And what of our mighty Tall Ships and schooners? Oh, Rose­way, you still hold my heart. Amer­ica has a deep and abid­ing con­nec­tion to the sea, and that is so won­der­fully pre­served by our many fine mar­itime mu­se­ums, such as Mystic Sea­port, Maine Mar­itime, Pe­abody Es­sex, New Bed­ford Whaling Mu­seum and so on. Imag­ine the con­tri­bu­tions to this mar­velous event they could make.

Pa­cific cruis­ers can start plan­ning an itin­er­ary now that will land them on Tas­ma­nian shores by Fe­bru­ary 2019. They will find Ho­bart a safe and wel­com­ing har­bor. Af­ter the fes­ti­val, they will ex­pe­ri­ence al­most lim­it­less pris­tine cruis­ing grounds of­fer­ing spec­tac­u­lar ge­og­ra­phy and unique flora and fauna.

My wife, Di­ana, and I stayed aboard the Radford-de­signed, cedar-strip­planked Bin­dawalla cour­tesy of long­time sail­ing friends and cir­cum­nav­i­ga­tors John and De Dee­gan. I so en­joyed be­ing smack in the mid­dle of the ac­tion that I plan to sail our own Roger Henry over there for the next fes­ti­val. I want to be down­wind of all that pine tar and sim­ply soak up all that tra­di­tion.

Upon its con­clu­sion, I hope to ex­plore the wilder south­west coast of Tas­ma­nia, en­joy the in­creas­ingly fa­mous culi­nary de­lights and fine winer­ies, and per­haps sam­ple a wee dram of what has been voted “the best whiskey in the world,” pro­duced in a lit­tle dis­tillery nearby. We are of­ten told that life is a jour­ney, not a des­ti­na­tion. In a sense, the Aus­tralian Wooden Boat Fes­ti­val in Ho­bart is a bit of both.

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With 455 reg­is­tered par­tic­i­pants, the open­ing cer­e­mony, dubbed the “Pa­rade of Sail,” is best de­scribed as a cloud of can­vas rolling into Ho­bart Har­bor.

In the spirit of tra­di­tion for which the fes­ti­val is known, many a boat sports a fig­ure­head (above). The event also boasts the largest wooden ship afloat, Tena­cious, and such Tall Ship icons as James Craig, Yukon, Wind­ward Bound, Lady Nel­son and Julie Burgess.

Con­tribut­ing ed­i­tor Al­vah Si­mon is the au­thor of the crit­i­cally ac­claimed best-seller North to the Night.

The de­sign con­cept of the Abo­rig­i­nal strip-bark ca­noe Rrala reaches back 42,000 years (left). The cast of salty char­ac­ters in­cluded “the Mil­lion Mile Man,” Pe­ter Maussey (above). Many skills were on dis­play, in­clud­ing hand­made lob­ster pots (above right).

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