So, it's that time of the year again (well every 2 years actually), where all the wooden boat fanatics in Australia go nuts and descend on our idyllic island for the Australian Wooden Boat Festival.

It's a stunning affair, with a who's who in the wooden boat world showing up. Believe it or not, we cram quarter of a million visitors into Hobart to witness and share in the event - and it's growing every time! People come from all over the world, and I believe it's the biggest boat show on the planet solely for wooden boats - nice!!

2019 was no exception, and I think it was the best yet but that may be because we saw the AWBF from a completely different perspective this time around. That's because we finally had our own wooden boat.

Holding our breath

It started with submitting an EOI (expression of interest) way back last year, where a fairly extensive form had to be filled in that detailed the history and features of Ubique. Next came the photos, with care taken to get her best angle - or so the submission guidelines said. Now this may sound like a bit of pomp and pageantry but it's actually needed. That's because numbers are strictly limited - mainly because there's simply not enough space in Hobart for all the boats. But that still means there are 550 wooden boats, with a lot of boats being turned away.

That means the fine people at the AWBF (hey Paul!!) have to sift through literally thousands of submissions, and get to choose the cream of the crop for our viewing delight - hence why you need to put in a good submission to get a place.
Thankfully Ubi's beautiful lines, fine pedigree and beautiful build quality meant we could sigh in relief as we received the email confirming she had indeed qualified for the AWBF for a 5th time (she was there in 2007, 2009, 2011, 2017).

Actually, Meesh and I went to the Festival in 2017 looking for Lyle Hess boats, and I remember seeing Ubique - although she was hard to get to, being pontooned off 3 other BCCs. It was also hard to know who to speak to about Ubique, as it wasn't apparent who owned her, and we didn't feel comfortable boarding other people's boats to 'enquire within'. Based on this experience I was determined that in 2019 I was going to make it very easy for people to get on board and have a look around - something we never got a chance to do. But more on that later.

I was impressed that with 3 or 4 weeks till the big event a professional email arrived with a very considered 'handbook' explaining every aspect of the Festival. From mooring procedures, to the Parade of Sail, through to finding water and provisions, the guys at the AWBF appeared to have thought of everything. The Festival has been running for 25 years though, so I guess they've had time to perfect the planning!

The Festival is split over 4 days in early February, and thanks to the lovely people at MyState Bank the whole event is free to attend, and very reasonable to register as a 'Boat Afloat' - the name given to boats that will be exhibiting like us!!
I think we paid a rego fee of around $70, and got way more in return in our goody bag. More on that one later too!

Now as the big day approached we had some planning to do. The event starts on a Thursday, and thankfully for me I own the company I work for, so getting time off meant only having to have a sly word with the good looking boss (me) to secure the necessary 'work permits' to bunk off work for 2 days. Thursday is pretty special for the AWBF, as that's the day all the boats must be in port, and the vast majority participate in the truly spectacular Parade of Sail en-route. This is where tiny wooden dinghies sail alongside impressively huge tall ships down the Derwent (from the infamous Sydney to Hobart race) to arrive in the stunning port of Hobart.

A generous gift

Wooden boat rigging guru Brion Toss and Pops P helming Ubique up the Channel towards Hobart
Wooden boat rigging guru Brion Toss (right) and Pops P (left) helming Ubique up the Channel towards Hobart

We were planning to be in the Parade but something very lucky happened. I got a phone call out of the blue asking whether I owned a Lyle Hess BCC, as world famous rigger, Brion Toss (hey Brion!!), was keen to hitch a lift to the AWBF in a BCC. Of course, no person in their right mind would turn down that offer, so 6am saw me pull up outside Brion's hotel to help the hobbling American (he had just broken his ankle) find a seat in my car.

50m minutes later and we were throwing the lines, and Ubique slowly slipped from her berth around 7am with not a breath of wind. But this is Tassie, and it's bang in the roaring forties, so by the time (3 hours later) when we hit the Derwent it was blowing 25 and gusting 30. Ubi had full canvas up and she was screaming. My dad rarely gets the chance to be on board (as I work too much) so between him and Brion I managed to escape helming for a very rare day off!

Brion made the trip especially valuable - not just from his wickedly sharp humour but because he had heard of our weather helm woes. This was only the 2nd time we had sailed Ubi since the new bowsprit, so you can imagine I was keen to get Brion's opinion. He was incredibly generous.

Having sailed with Lin and Larry Pardey many times, and having been on more BCCs than I can imagine, his comments were going to be gold. They didn't disappoint, and I will detail his comments for fixing weather helm in another article. Suffice to say I can't thank Brion enough for the 2 or 3 hours on Thursday, and then another 2 hr personalised consultancy on Friday to help us cure the weather helm issue once and for all. I think I got the best deal out of the barter exchange!

Blown away

Now, where was I - oh yes... the Parade of Sail.
As Brion was due to talk at 2pm we had to drop him off, but our prime berth for the Festival was in the beautiful, iconic Consititution Dock, and unfortunately for us the lifting bridge was not due to open for another 1.5 hrs. Never mind, race radio would send a Zodiac, and so Brion was bundled across Ubi's lifelines in 30 knots of wind into a severely bobbing rib with all the grace of a ballerina - kinda. No harm befell him, and he made it safely ashore.

You can check out Brion's amusing and generous article on the AWBF here:
briontoss.com/index.php/2019/03/20/the-least-likely-festival-in-the-world/

Next up was berthing. By now some of you eagle-eyed readers will be aware our berth back in Kettering is on the tight/complex side to say the least, so I wasn't particularly concerned about berthing her at Con Dock. We had lucked out with our position, and I put this down to Ubi's fantastic construction, but we were in a prime spot alongside Mawson's Pavilion beam to the dock (which is rare when space is at a premium). This meant that people could get an amazing view of Ubique, and it was very easy to get on board and explore her.

What surprised me most about berthing though was the crowds. Literally thousands of people were dockside watching a few hundred wooden boats continuously stream into the Festival. With the spectacular sight of the lifting bridge being opened, we slowly motored into Con Dock to shouts of 'keep to port!!" - reference to the fact that Ubique's mast was taller than the canting bridge which doesn't open fully. So with inches to spare on our port bulwarks, we squeezed the mast tip just feet from the bridge to starboard and we were in!!

A few short bursts of prop walk, and more than a few friendly hands were outstretched to grab our lines. I didn't have time to be nervous, but I guess our seamanship was on display to thousands. Thankfully all the hard berthing in Kettering meant everything went perfectly, and Ubique kisses the dockside gently.
20 minutes of securing her lines and installing the rubbing board and we were made fast!

Some BCCs at Con Dock (from L to R) -  Friendly Light, April of Cygnet + Ubique. NOTE the huge volumes of people and Gary's beautiful handmade tender

Lyle Hess and BCC fans were in for a treat at the AWBF, as we had no less than 7 wooden BCCs exhibiting:

  • 24' - Periplus
  • 24' - Heather Belle
  • 26' - Sally
  • 28' - Friendly Light (hey Gus!!!)
  • 28' - April of Cygnet (hey Gary!!)
  • 32' - Aziza, Ubique's sister ship (hey Val !!)
  • 32' - Ubique

Gus brought his beautiful 28' BCC down from the big North Island (the mainland :o), and the rest were local boats. We're very, very lucky to have so many wooden BCCs down in Tassie, with Chris Burke being instrumental in their build  and popularity (he built Ubique and Aziza).

Wave after wave

From the moment we berthed the boat the questions started. I was amazed at how much interest and respect these boats demanded - even from non-boaties. But after chatting (and thanking) our willing, and new found berthing crew I traipsed off barefoot in the heat to register. As our berth was right in the thick of the AWBF action, I found the event 'office' marquee only 20m away and duly gave our (and Ubi's) details to a very friendly bunch of ladies.

Goody bag in hand I sauntered back to the boat, soaking in the atmosphere created by 20,000 people milling around Hobart's Waterfront. It sounds like a lot people (and it was) but somehow it wasn't claustrophobic, with plenty opportunities to find a wee spot to yourself to explore. I hardly got back on board before Archie (my son) declared himself temporary 'captain in charge of the goody bag' and tore in. Paper flying, he was on the hunt. He eventually found his booty in the shape of the lovely metal commemorative plaque which already had a place earmarked in our saloon - just below the four other plaques from previous years.

Alongside the silverware, was the obligatory pamphlets, AWBF stubby holder (which came in handy), and of course our descriptive sign - which all Boats Afloat carry. This is the coreflut mounted information that gives passers by the chance to read a bit about your boat without needing to chat. It has the boat's dimensions, spec, construction, history and description, and it really adds to the event to read each one as you pass.

Some owners choose to make their own sign, giving much more information, and I think considering the volume of questions, we will do something similar next time.

As I mentioned earlier, I was very keen to give people the chance I had wanted 2 years before, so I started engaging people who seemed interested in the boat. To my delight (and theirs) many were thrilled to be given the chance to come on board and explore below decks. We struck up many conversations and friendships, and a common theme was the surprise many had for the amount of space Ubique has below. Even other BCC owners and fans were a bit gobsmacked how much space she has. I think we are lucky for a number of reasons:

  1. Ubique is technically the largest size of BCC (you move to Falmouth Cutters above 32')
  2. that extra 4 feet over the usual 28' boats is all in the centre of the boat where she is the beamiest
  3. with length comes girth (steady on boyo!!) and Ubique is considerably more beamy than even a 28' BCC
  4. there's a huge amount of boat under the water
  5. she has a wider and taller cabin top than most BCCs (I'm around 6' and can easily stand upright)

Wave after wave of visitors came passed the boat over the course of the 4 days. The kids had a great time too, and they're at the age now (10 and 12) where they can fend for themselves. With Hobart being so safe, it was easy to let the kids go explore by themselves, and I think they really appreciated the independence. Personally I think we wrap our kids up in cotton wool far too readily, and this impairs their development.

It was also a great pleasure to get to know my fellow BCCers, in particular Gary, Gus and Jono. Gary owns April, and we had some brilliant chats both during the day and whilst the raucous post-day party was in full swing at the main marquee. The live music was loud and awesome, and I really enjoyed chilling on the boat at night, beer in hand chatting with my dad, Gary and a few mates who had popped down to hang out when it was quieter.

Despite talking to literally hundreds of people (we didn't stop chatting from about 8:30am till 8:30pm) we did find time to squeeze in a walkround and a couple of the talks at the fantastic Wooden Boat Symposium which is organised by the AWBF and occurs at the same time, in the same location. There were also a wide range off smaller speaking events and book signings, which made the whole event feel very well organised.

There really is something for everyone but of course the boats are the stars, and I enjoyed looking at each one of the 550. One of my favourites was still Windward Star, a beautiful home built Herreshoff owned by my new friend John who we have got to know (and respect) over the last year, as the boat is berthed only a few pens up from Ubique at Kettering.

It was also lovely to catch up with our good buddies Chris and Jo who had previously owned Ubique and explore their new, much larger purchase. They were the ones who highly recommended that we put Ubi into the festival, and I would like to thank them for the great advice. We had an absolute blast!!

Niavely I thought that only the Sat and Sun would be busy, but no way. It was pleasantly packed from the minute we got there, until we swung our lines late on Monday - with thousands lining the docks to see us all leave.

5000px wide panorama shot of the AWBF from the decks of Ubique

But the festival can be cruel sometimes, as although Takayna is a 28' BCC, she has a glass hull, so despite our new friend Jono sailing her 1500kms down from Queensland and across the Bass Strait, he couldn't exhibit her - so he had to make do with visiting the BCC mentioned above. To use his own words... "what a hardship", following by a big grin.

As you can probably tell, Meesh, the kids, Indy (now the most photographed border collie ever) and I had an absolutely brilliant time. We met so many lovely, passionate and enthusiastic people that we can't wait to do it all again in 2021. Let's hope we meet you there too!

I must admit I was geniunely sad when Monday arrived but we still had the sail home to look forward to. As we motored out of Constitution Dock and into the Derwent we waved to Chris and Jo in their lovely new 49' boat - called Tere - and set sail.

Looking over our shoulder I could see some familiar shapes bearing down on us. April and Aziza were smashing their way towards us at a fast rates of knots, on their way home to Cygnet and Kettering.

"Pops... crank that winch, we've got a race on our hands", I said.
But that's the subject of another post!!

Dave

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You can check out the AWBF here:
australianwoodenboatfestival.com.au

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