Re­flec­tions

Last month’s col­umn ex­plored the dan­ger New Zealand faces in los­ing its tra­di­tional tim­ber boat­build­ing skills – they’re not be­ing passed onto the next gen­er­a­tion. For a na­tion renowned for its hands-on, prac­ti­cal skills, how has this hap­pened?

Boating NZ - - Contents - BY JOHN MAC­FAR­LANE

A her­itage fac­ing ex­tinc­tion

There are sev­eral rea­sons, not least is that the cur­rent gen­er­a­tion of par­ents gen­er­ally aren’t do­ing any­thing like the amount of DIY their own par­ents did. Three to four decades ago the sight of a hull-and-deck be­ing fin­ished off at home was com­mon­place, as were own­ers car­ry­ing out ma­jor home ex­ten­sions and main­tain­ing their own cars.

To­day’s par­ents rarely tackle these DIY projects and so their chil­dren don’t have role mod­els from whom to learn these prac­ti­cal skills first-hand.

This trend’s ag­gra­vated by a school­ing sys­tem which over the past few decades has en­cour­aged stu­dents to favour univer­sity rather than a trade. A com­pli­cat­ing fac­tor is many schools are strug­gling to re­cruit tech­nol­ogy teach­ers to teach prac­ti­cal skills, a con­cern as most tech­nol­ogy teach­ers are now aged over 50.

An­other re­lated in­flu­ence can be traced back to 1992 when the Na­tional Gov­ern­ment re­placed the 1983 Ap­pren­tice­ship Act – a time-based, fairly reg­i­mented ap­pren­tice­ship sys­tem – with the In­dus­try Train­ing Act, a more flex­i­ble, in­dus­try-led ap­pren­tice­ship sys­tem.

There’s still de­bate over the suc­cess of this change: un­ques­tion­ably, while the cur­rent sys­tem works well in train­ing spe­cial­ist skills for sub-in­dus­tries, it has lim­i­ta­tions with re­gard to gen­eral skills.

For ex­am­ple, a boat­build­ing ap­pren­tice un­der the old sys­tem would have been taught every­thing from loft­ing to build­ing, through to launch­ing a boat, in­clud­ing build­ing its in­te­rior, in­stalling en­gine(s) and other on­board sys­tems. These days, a boat­build­ing ap­pren­tice might only be trained in one spe­cific skill, such as lay­ing up GRP, gel coat pol­ish­ing or in­stalling fit­tings.

Of course, the is­sue of teach­ing spe­cialised, seg­mented knowl­edge as op­posed to a solid ground­ing in all as­pects of a par­tic­u­lar trade isn’t unique to boat­build­ing; na­tion­ally the trend is to­wards spe­cialised sub-trades.

Many busi­nesses find it more prof­itable to train some­one over a few months to per­form one spe­cial­ist skill and have them per­form­ing at full speed, rather than train some­one for four years be­fore they’re fully op­er­a­tional.

A more mo­bile, less loyal work­force has only re­in­forced this trend – why spend four years train­ing an ap­pren­tice only to lose them to an­other com­pany? Many com­pa­nies have ceased ap­pren­tice­ships for this rea­son.

Sadly, this ap­proach, while seem­ingly more prof­itable in the short term, in­evitably leads to a low­er­ing of skill lev­els which has mas­sive long-term costs.

Tak­ing this thought fur­ther, ex­am­ples of tak­ing short-term gains re­gard­less of any long-term cost is en­demic in pol­i­tics, busi­ness, build­ing, con­struc­tion, fi­nance, health, the planet and its en­vi­ron­ment. Given that, it’s hardly sur­pris­ing ap­pren­tice train­ing has taken a back seat in many in­dus­tries.

Bring­ing these thoughts back to tra­di­tional tim­ber boat­build­ing, this in­dus­try’s reached a cross­roads. Should tim­ber boat en­thu­si­asts ac­cept this in­dus­try is a di­nosaur and let it go, or should this cross­roads be treated as an op­por­tu­nity to change course?

If the New Zealand marine in­dus­try is happy to see tra­di­tional tim­ber boat­build­ing die out, noth­ing dif­fer­ent is re­quired be­cause that’s hap­pen­ing right now. But if we’re to save tra­di­tional tim­ber boat­build­ing as a vi­able trade for the fu­ture, the is­sue needs to be ad­dressed in a co­her­ent, in­te­grated man­ner. We need to in­crease the mar­ket for tra­di­tional tim­ber boat­build­ing. In short, mul­ti­ply or die.

The fact that there are thriv­ing tra­di­tional tim­ber boat­build­ing cen­tres in Ho­bart (Aus­tralia), Port Townsend (USA) and South-west Eng­land shows what can be done.

Pic­ture for a mo­ment a vi­sion of what Auck­land could of­fer tim­ber boat en­thu­si­asts within a decade. It’s 2029. Auck­land’s rapidly de­vel­op­ing a world­wide rep­u­ta­tion as an ex­cel­lent place to own, use, build and re­store wooden boats, or to learn tra­di­tional tim­ber boat­build­ing.

A fleet of sev­eral hun­dred tra­di­tional tim­ber boats – power

...if we’re to save tra­di­tional tim­ber boat­build­ing as a vi­able trade for the fu­ture, the is­sue needs to be ad­dressed...

and sail – are in reg­u­lar use on the Waitem­ata Har­bour and Hau­raki Gulf. There are rac­ing and cruis­ing events through­out the year, pro­moted and or­gan­ised through so­phis­ti­cated, elec­tronic so­cial me­dia.

This is sup­ported by an or­gan­ised, struc­tured sys­tem to re­cruit chil­dren, teenagers and adults to ex­pe­ri­ence clas­sic boat­ing. Thanks to this, the myth that yacht­ing’s only for rich peo­ple is chang­ing and peo­ple are re­al­is­ing any­one in­ter­ested in clas­sic boat­ing can be in­volved for no more in­put than their time and en­ergy.

Much of the clas­sic boat fleet is main­tained from a work­ing water­front yard within Westhaven Ma­rina, staffed by pro­fes­sional boat­builders and their ap­pren­tices. This yard’s open to pub­lic view­ing. Up­stairs, ap­pren­tices are be­ing trained in tra­di­tional tim­ber boat­build­ing and there are reg­u­lar block cour­ses in these skills for both local and over­seas stu­dents. There’s a fleet of clas­sic tim­ber boats moored in an ad­ja­cent ma­rina.

A big­ger boat­yard is lo­cated in an in­dus­trial area for larger, more ex­ten­sive tim­ber boat restora­tions and new builds. Some of the projects within this yard have been shipped here from over­seas. Al­lied in­dus­tries for tra­di­tional boats – metal cast­ing, spar mak­ers, sail­mak­ers, engi­neers, rig­gers and a tim­ber mill – are set up lo­cally.

A ded­i­cated team ac­tively seeks over­seas restora­tion projects and ar­ranges the ship­ping of the boats to and from New Zealand to make it as pain­less as pos­si­ble for their own­ers.

Auck­land hosts two flag­ship events to pro­mote and sup­port tra­di­tional tim­ber boats. The first is an an­nual clas­sic yacht sail­ing re­gatta, which has be­come part of a world cir­cuit and at­tracts a strong local fleet with solid over­seas sup­port.

The other is a bi­en­nial (ev­ery two years) tim­ber boat fes­ti­val, which fills the viaduct with more than 300 tra­di­tional tim­ber boats, from square-rigged ships to dinghies and every­thing in-be­tween.

Be­sides the boat dis­plays, the fes­ti­val of­fers tech­ni­cal sem­i­nars and hands-on work­shops about tim­ber boats and the skills to build, re­store and main­tain them.

A marine mu­seum ad­ja­cent to the Viaduct hosts a spe­cial dis­play of New Zealand’s mar­itime his­tory.

These on­go­ing pro­mo­tions have lifted the vis­i­bil­ity of tim­ber boats and in­creased their value. Own­ing a tim­ber boat, even restor­ing one, is seen as a vi­able al­ter­na­tive to pur­chas­ing a new im­ported GRP boat.

AN IM­POS­SI­BLE VI­SION?

Not at all. While cre­at­ing this vi­sion from scratch would be an im­pos­si­ble un­der­tak­ing, most of the in­di­vid­ual com­po­nents within this vi­sion al­ready ex­ist right here in Auck­land:

The boats – the Clas­sic Yacht As­so­ci­a­tion (CYA) cur­rently has around 260 clas­sic tim­ber boats on its reg­is­ter and there are many oth­ers not on that reg­is­ter which would qual­ify. Many of these boats have a fas­ci­nat­ing and doc­u­mented his­tory

The peo­ple – be­sides a mas­sive pool of knowl­edge­able, ex­pe­ri­enced and pas­sion­ate own­ers and sailors, Auck­land’s blessed with a num­ber of world-class tim­ber boat­builders and other as­so­ci­ated marine trades

The train­ing – as men­tioned last month, the New Zealand Tra­di­tional Boat­build­ing School has been run­ning since 2006

The or­gan­i­sa­tion – the CYA has a cur­rent mem­ber­ship in ex­cess of 300 and is closely as­so­ci­ated with the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron (RNZYS)

The his­tory – for a rel­a­tively young coun­try, New Zealand has an in­cred­i­bly rich and di­verse mar­itime his­tory that’s been ex­ten­sively re­searched and doc­u­mented

The lo­ca­tion – the Hau­raki Gulf, one of the worlds’ great sail­ing play­grounds, is right on the doorstep of the Waitem­ata Har­bour. Al­lied to this, within walk­ing dis­tance of each other is the Viaduct, the Percy Voss Yard (more on this next month), the New Zealand Na­tional Mar­itime Mu­seum, Westhaven Ma­rina, the CYA and the RNZYS

The events – the CYA al­ready runs a full pro­gramme of clas­sic boat events, power and sail, plus an an­nual sail­ing re­gatta. There are two other an­nual re­gat­tas in­clud­ing the Auck­land An­niver­sary Re­gatta, which has been run­ning since 1840. With a lit­tle plan­ning, a bi­en­nial tim­ber boat fes­ti­val could slot nicely be­tween these ex­ist­ing events

The local mar­ket – ab­so­lutely in­te­gral to this vi­sion is an or­gan­ised sys­tem to re­cruit the younger gen­er­a­tion, who will be needed to take over the ex­ist­ing fleet of clas­sic boats. Re­cruit­ing is a num­bers game: ex­pose enough young­sters to clas­sic boats and those with the pas­sion to be­come the next gen­er­a­tion of own­ers, crews and boat­builders can be iden­ti­fied, men­tored and trained

The over­seas mar­ket – the clas­sic tim­ber boat move­ment is world-wide. The bi­en­nial Aus­tralian Tim­ber Boat Fes­ti­val in Ho­bart (more on this next month) has 225,000 at­ten­dees over four days, half of whom come from out of Tas­ma­nia or from over­seas.

Auck­land is blessed hav­ing many of the in­di­vid­ual com­po­nents of this vi­sion al­ready in place – what’s lack­ing is the mas­ter plan to as­sem­ble them into a co­her­ent sys­tem to fu­ture­proof tra­di­tional tim­ber boat­build­ing. BNZ

RIGHT Rawhiti back on the wa­ter af­ter her restora­tion.

BE­LOW One of the most re­cent restora­tions – Ariki.

ABOVE Legacy tech­nol­ogy needs legacy skills to main­tain it.

BE­LOW Clas­sics in full cry.

RIGHT An­other crit­i­cal skill in dan­ger of disappearing – caulk­ing the old hulls.

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