“Is it so nice as all that?” asked the Mole shyly, though he was quite prepared to believe it as he leant back in his seat and surveyed the cushions, the oars, the rowlocks, and all the fascinating fittings, and felt the boat sway lightly under him. “Nice? It’s the only thing,” said the Water Rat solemnly as he leant forward for his stroke. “Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.” Kenneth Grahame, The Wind In The Willows
Like “dear … old Ratty”, I have a love of boats, particularly handmade timber ones. It started in childhood when a mate of Dad’s – ‘Snow’ – loaned us a wooden boat and we spent hundreds of happy hours aboard her on the local rivers. If there’s a nicer vessel than a handmade timber boat I don’t know what it could be.
Alongside a huge glossy cruise ship, tough little tugs, car carrying and naval vessels, wooden boats were a major attraction at Fremantle Port’s Maritime Day 2022. A flotilla of handmade vessels were on show, some static, others motoring or sailing.
There were those built and owned by members of the Amateur Boat Builders Association and the Old Gaffers Association, alongside commercially made timber boats.
The common characteristic among boat builders is how happy they are, in spite of many admitting the hours of maintenance mean little free time. There’s a joy in these bespoke beauties, whether you’re actively involved or an admirer.
At their booth in the passenger terminal, members of the Amateur Boat Builders’ Association (ABBA) were offering free plans to anyone with a yen to build their own craft and open to discussing the labour of love involved.
Andrew Minto said an advantage of a boat you built yourself was knowing its potential weak spots.
“You know the places where you might have put in a little less effort,” he laughed.
On the tarmac outside, ABBA member Ed Essers – who came to Australia from The Netherlands at age five – was happy to discuss his passion alongside his Catspaw (or Cat’s Paw) dinghy tender.
The Catspaw design is by Joel White – based on the Herreshoff Columbia dinghy (carpentersboatshop.org; artisanboatworks.com) – and may remind some readers of the boats immortalised in the Swallows and Amazons children’s book series.
“My grandfather was a fisherman,” Ed said, adding it was something that came down through the family’s DNA.
Ed made his first boat when he was six years old, using corrugated iron sheets he bent and joined, treated with tar and dragged down to the Canning River.
“It’s not a new passion,” he said, smiling.
Near Ed’s tender was Jim Black’s Wee Birlinn, modelled after a Viking longboat (the Gaelic word for longboat is Birlinn, while Wee reflects the scaled down size).
Maritime Day is a celebration of the port, shipping and boating as well as offering information and opportunities from a host of related walks of life and career paths, including the Royal Australian Navy, Border Force, naval cadets and emergency services.
Children dressed as pirates, mermaids and princesses wallowed in exploring and the volunteers of St Pat’s put on a catwalk show of various eras of vintage fashion, from flapper dresses to wartime pilots and beyond.
Naval ship tours, harbour rides and tug manoeuvres demonstrated the working port to the beat of drumming performances from Herne Hill Primary School, the music of the WA Police Pipe Band, the Navy band and local choirs. There was a chance to experience the life of a ship’s pilot thanks to virtual reality, check out model boat displays and see the port’s history in photographs.
Story and photographs © Danielle Berryman 2022
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