Wooden Boat Event [71]

By Trevor Costa

It all started with a conversation with Dick Johnstone. We were swapping ideas as to the best way to restore his modified Bear Mountain Design wooden sea kayak. This kayak can carry enough gear to supply an army and under sail could be a contender for the Sydney to Hobart, but it’s beginning to show the usual wear and tear from many weekend paddles and several extended expeditions.

Not long into the conversation, both of us realized we didn’t have a clue how to get it back into shape. I started raving about how wooden boat owners need to get together to swap ideas and techniques. Dick said he had often thought along the same lines.

The result was the wooden boat event held on the banks of Lake Burley Griffin on Sunday 20 April 2008. Canberra turned on a fantastic Autumn morning and besides a respectable fleet of wooden sea kayaks and Canadian canoes (Dick had just finished a fine example of a wooden stripper Canadian canoe), we had been lucky enough to snare the interest of the Traditional Boat Squadron of Canberra. Squadron members brought along an assortment of wooden put-puts, rowing skiffs and sailing boats. Included was the magnificent two-masted schooner of the Commodore of the Squadron, Iain Kerr. Iain had bought this vessel in New Zealand and had it shipped over.

Squadron members proved to be as colourful and full of character as their beautifully restored vessels. We were soon swapping stories. It was great to hear of their trips, including an extended journey down the Murray. Chugging down the great river in a restored put-put, camping on board; what a great way to explore a waterway. But not as good as paddling of course.

To join the Traditional Boat Squadron you have to meet certain criteria; your wooden boat’s hull must be of traditional design and/or the engine greater than 30 years old. Well I kind of figure the hard chined Greenland inspired design of my wooden kayak fits the hull criteria and the engine is definitely more than 30 years old. Can’t thank them enough for the support they so generously offered to make the event such a great day.

It wasn’t long before club member Matt Leonard brought out his Greenland paddles and after some shoreline coaching from Nancy Fitzsimmons on the finer points of paddling with a stick, I hit the water. While Matt ran circles around me in his furniture quality Shearwater kayak, I came to the conclusion those Inuits could have done much better with a carbon Mako. But as Matt and Nancy soon demonstrated, it’s much more about technique than strength.

Ultimately, the day served to demonstrate the camaraderie that can exist, if given the opportunity, between the owners and builders of different types of small wooden vessels. The only downside of the day was that everyone was so interested in checking out, and trying out, each others’ boats that the finer points of wooden boat restoration got overlooked. Dick’s kayak still needs work, but at least he now has some inspiration to continue the search for the right technique to finish the job. The day was such a success there is talk of making it an annual event.

A big thanks to all the club members who turned up on the day, including Virginia Buring, Helen Eddy-Costa, Nancy Fitzsimmons, Matt Leonard, John Lipscombe, Margot Todhunter and Terence Uren.