Ever wondered what happened to Mr Paul Cullen, our previous GM? Well earlier this month he gave us an update!
If you happen to be looking for the world’s oldest apprentice boat-builder, allow me to offer my credentials: I have recently passed the age at which the government considers me an Official Old Guy. I have no experience in boat building whatsoever, but I have signed up for a full-time, year-long Shipwright Level One training course at the Wooden Boat Centre in Franklin, and I couldn’t be more enthusiastic about it. What am I thinking?
Well, if nine years and four festivals at the helm of the Australian Wooden Boat Festival taught me anything, it is that the love of wooden boats is more infectious than Covid-19. A visit to the Franklin Wooden Boat Centre under the direction of recently appointed GM Paul D’Olier was an eye-opener. There is a new sense of direction there, despite the massive economic hit the centre took from the bushfires in 2019. Then came a pandemic which has effectively stopped all income from tourists, something the centre relied upon for much of its operating budget. And yet, I saw a crew of dedicated and inspired shipwrights, students and volunteers keeping the workshop going at full tilt. I saw four traditional wooden boats under construction as well as an impressive 29’ gentleman’s motor launch made using the most modern techniques in timber strip planking and epoxy sheathing. I learned that all of these projects involved the one-year students, to give them experience in both old-school wooden boat building and new technology. As the course description says, this will prepare students for entry level opportunities at boatyards and ship builders in Tasmania and further afield. And of course, this also keeps the Tasmanian tradition of shipwrights and their skills alive into another generation.
So, will I be packing up my roll of chisels and heading off to find a job in the wide world of wooden boats? Well, not exactly. I am a very happy Tasmanian (at least, an Irish blow-in of 25 years standing) and I plan to stay right where I am. If I learn enough to help out with a local build or a restoration sometime in the future, I’ll be happy. In the meantime, the beautiful timbers and elegant toolcraft of traditional boat-building have me more excited than a schoolboy buying new pencils and copybooks.
The Wooden Boat Centre offers a range of short and long courses, ranging from the one-year Shipwright Level One to week-long courses in kayak building and lightweight recreational dinghies. There’s a five-day course that teaches the subtle techniques of making fine oars and paddles – even a one-day course that will teach you the antique skill of making a canvas bucket! Have a look for yourself at www.woodenboatcentre.com/wbcssc.
The Wooden Boat Centre will also be a must see during our Maritime Trail weekend, you might even see PC getting his hands dirty!