Shiver me timbers…
The aroma of timbers and the sea.
The sound of people yelling to each other – from the yardarms, from the seats of skiffs, from the wales of yachts as they go about.
The crack of sails filling and the flack of pennants in a stiff breeze…
The sight of tall ships, canvas, yards and yards of ropes.
Of smaller boats with glossy patinas.
Of canoes, kayaks and log and bark boats.
The thought that every single craft has a story to tell.
Of effort, of artistry, of romance.
That’s what the Wooden Boat Festival represents…
Every two years, the Hobart docks are taken over by Australians,
And by Canadians and Irish, French, Scots, Scandinavians and Americans who love the art of building a boat from wood. These people have an innate love of timber and the sea, and they take great pleasure in exhibiting their vessels and their skills. And what’s more, talking about it!
I saw knotted keyrings and bracelets and watched the intricacies of the weaving. I watched hand split and spliced fishing rods being made and held landing nets that sat in one’s hands like a puff of air.
I saw model boats, big boats and giant boats.
I learned that the James Craig has 22 sails and that she is ‘undressed’ at night as a safety precaution on the water because who can see a weather change in the dark? And a ship as big as the James Craig doesn’t want to be caught in full sail in a storm on a black night.
I learned that whilst one ‘battens down the hatches’ as one leaves port, one ‘releases the hatches’ as one approaches port – one to stop the green water filling the hatches at sea. The other to release the stale air of a concluding voyage.
Mostly I loved the faces of the men and women. They are weather-beaten, they are filled to the brim with expression. Their hair is often bleached white by weather. They have creases that can tell stories that would keep one entertained for hours.
There is a uniform – worn denims, white shorts, taupe shorts. Navy polos, white polos, some stripes, lots and lots of faded and worn leather boat-shoes. Not many hats – in defiance of the sun. Unless you are the new generation of midshipmen…
Perhaps I’m biased.
I grew up with boats made of the gloriously fragrant Tasmanian timber called Huon Pine.
I learned to row, sail and fish in wooden dinghies and of course, spent my best times on my grandfather’s motor yacht, ‘Wanderer’. Wooden boats gave me scope for the imagination – daydreaming, testing myself with skills I had learned. So maybe I relive my childhood at each festival.
But I tell you what – I’ll be there again in two years, because reliving one’s childhood, especially one as free and filled with the sea as mine, seems to unlock something elemental in my soul.