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Hobart Tasmania, Australian Wooden Boat Festival


What does the St. Lawrence River and the Derwent River in Hobart, Tasmania have in common?


Captain James Cook explored each River, Whaling originally drew seamen and then fishermen to both waterways, the Derwent and the St Lawrence each form the heart and soul of their regions, they can have four seasons in one day, and both share a heritage of wooden boats.

Every July and August in Clayton and Alexandria Bay the Antique and Classic Wooden Boats are celebrated with Boat Shows. St Lawrence Skiffs, Garwood, Hacker Craft and Hutchinson’s line the docks and parade through the village waterways in celebration of the Regions maritime history.

Sixteen thousand five hundred kilometers (just over ten thousand miles) down under, in Hobart Tasmania, they have a similar celebration. However their boat parade of wooden history happens once every two years.

The Australian Wooden Boat Festival held in Hobart is the biggest Maritime event in the Southern Hemisphere.

In Tasmania, you are less likely to see the American made boats, although there are a few, and more likely to come across locally made sailing dinghies, classic tall ships, veteran original trading ships, 19th century cargo ships, steamers and wooden sailing yachts.

This year more than 250-thousand people from Australia and around the globe came to see over 550 boats, during the February 2015 event. Before you start shaking in your winter boots, they aren’t doing ice boating, remember the world is turned upside down and December through March is summer down there. This year’s crowds basked in temperatures of 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit).

Wooden Boat Festival 2015 by Elaine Vedette Tack

In the American wooden boat building tradition, Mahogany is the wood of choice. Locally grown Huon Pine is the pride of Tasmania.

When Tasmania, formerly Van Diemen’s Land, was colonized the explorers discovered ancient tree trunks buried in the mud. The wood was untouched by insects and rot that normally decompose fallen trees. They speculated they had found the solution to the troubles of the wooden ship building business, which was plagued by marine borer and screwworm. In fact Huon Pine turned out to be a boom for Tasmania’s wooden boat building industry. Because the logs were first found in the Huon Rive,r the trees were named Huon. Settlers soon found the strong durable wood throughout the island and in the early 1800s set up logging camps and ship building communities.

Piners, were the men who worked in the wilderness, bringing down Australia’s longest living species. The logs they felled, then made a trip to Tasmania’s ship building communities. In one community in 1822, 131 vessels were built in just 12 years. After World War II the chopping of the Huon Pines slowed and by the 1970’s cutting of green trees was stopped and the use and distribution of already fallen trees is still tightly regulated and controlled. Only three sawmills in the world are licensed to cut green trees. Presently 85 percent of the Huon Pines on the island are protected in the Tasmania Wilderness Region.

Clayton and now Gananoque, have the Antique Boat Museum, with an unrivaled collection of Antique Boats on view for the world to see. Tasmania has its equivalent, the Wooden Boat Centre, just forty minutes’ drive from Hobart, on the banks of the Huon River. The Centre is dedicated to preserving the traditional craft and trade of boat building. Founded in 1990, the Wooden Boat Centre has a small display illustrating the history of Tasmanian boat building. Like the Antique Boat Museum in Upstate New York and Ontario, the Franklin Wooden Boat Centre offers many classes in wooden boat building. It is the one boat building school in the world, where students undertake the building of a full-size, sea going cruising vessel.

The Australian Wooden Boat Festival was started by three Tasmanian’s who told me “we just thought it was a good idea”.

Inspired after visiting the Boat Festival “Fete Maritime,” held every four years in Brest France the three Hobart founders asked the Harbormaster permission to use the docks. After finding sponsors, in 1994 they launched the first of what has become the second largest Wooden Maritime Festival in the world.

Underwritten by the local Government and Sponsors the festival is free to attend.

The event begins with the parade of sails, up the Derwent River into Hobart Harbour. This year sails on majestic tall ships, wooden dinghies and wooden boats of every shape and size filled the River. Thousands of people lined the shores including school children and workers watching the impressive flotilla sail by.

During the weekend there are events for every interest, including children. As one woodworker told me “We like to get them started early”.

Like Clayton’s Wooden Boat Show there is a Maritime Marketplace with stalls to satisfy every sailor. Tasmania is famous for its wine and food and there is no shortage of the edible bounty over the long weekend.

And just when you think you have had enough the Maritime Museum is just steps from the Harbour and Boats. On your way to the Maritime Museum you will pass Mawson’s Hut. A replica of the Hut, Douglas Mawson lived in while exploring and studying Antarctica. Hobart is where he often set sail for the great-unexplored southern continent.

Showcasing the boats and the Maritime history has been an economic boom for Hobart and surrounding Tasmanian communities, pouring an estimated 30 million dollars into local businesses.

Hobart has two official sister cities; L’Aquila in Italy and Yaizu in Japan. Based on our shared wooden boat history, I think the Thousand Islands Region is the perfect “sister” match. And we can find some distant relations; Van Diemen’s Land is where a number of American Patriots (and Pirates) from Jefferson and St. Lawrence Counties were sent,instead of being hanged, after the Patriot’s Rebellion in 1839.


TI Life articles on the Patriot War or the Rebellion of 1837-38 and 1000 Islands links to Tasmania:

Websites for more information contained in this article:

By Elaine Vedette Tack

Elaine is well known in the Thousand Islands for her many volunteer activities, including serving on the board of the Thousand Islands Land Trust.  She is the daughter of Martha and Dan Tack and grew up both at summer camp in Vermont and on the River at her parent’s cottage just outside of Clayton, NY. Elaine’s 14-year broadcast journalism career was spent reporting and anchoring for CBS, ABC and NBC affiliates in Chicago, Cleveland and Las Vegas. Presently she is creating her own Independent Video “storytelling” company. Over the years, she has rented her own special piece of “River Heaven” to call her own.  In August, 2014 Elaine wrote Come and visit the Grenadier Island Country Club… for TI Life.  (You reach this videographer at

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Ray Unseitig
Comment by: Ray Unseitig
Left at: 10:46 PM Sunday, February 15, 2015
What wooden boat fun in Tasmania, here we come...