Catch the classics up close this weekend

Join us 13-15 April 2018 to celebrate the beauty and diversity of Australia’s heritage vessels and meet their craftspeople at the Classic & Wooden Boat Festival. Image: The 2016 Classic & Wooden Boat Festival / ANMM.

Join us this weekend to celebrate the beauty and diversity of Australia’s heritage vessels and meet their craftspeople at the Classic & Wooden Boat Festival. Image: The 2016 Classic & Wooden Boat Festival / ANMM.

Classic & Wooden Boat Festival 2018

The much anticipated Classic and Wooden Boat Festival is on at the Australian National Maritime Museum, Darling Harbour in just a few days, starting Friday 13th April and winding up on Sunday afternoon, 15th April. It’s a huge display of vessels, along with food and trade stalls as well as family-friendly entertainment, throughout the three days. Some of Australia’s most outstanding and prominent craft are coming once again to show off their style and elegance, while highlighting the craftsmanship that goes into maintaining these vessels.

SY Ena and Hurrica V will be centre stage. Both were built by WM Ford boatbuilders and have undergone multimillion-dollar rebuilding and restoration projects. They exemplify classic Edwardian elegance, reflecting their original status as gentlemen’s yachts, one of steam and one with sails.

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Floating art galleries of Madura

Helmsman's 'pilothouse', perahu selerek, Pasean, Madura

Helmsman’s ‘pilothouse’, perahu selerek, Pasean, Madura. Jeffrey Mellefont 2015

Recent maritime research in the big archipelagic nation next door – Indonesia – reveals an explosion of creative expression among some traditional fishing communities that are turning hard-working, everyday timber vessels into floating art galleries. They’re combining older decorative traditions – usually linked to religious beliefs, ritual and magic – with modern influences from popular culture, and sometimes adding a dash of political or social commentary as well.

The brightest and most striking examples were observed on Madura, an island that lies just off north-east Java. A notable resurgence of the decorative arts was clearly under way there.

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AUSTRALIA II, the winged keel and more

Australia II has become one of the nation’s most recognisable vessels, thanks to that extraordinary America’s Cup win in 1983. Almost everyone knows about its winged keel that seemed to make it unbeatable. The keel completely spooked the Americans who tried many moves off the water to avoid having to race against Australia II.   However there was much more to the boat than just that keel, because its peculiar advantages allowed other subtle changes to be made that further helped Australia II to dominate many races. Designer Ben Lexcen had trialled endplates and other similar features on rudders, centreboards and keels at different times in his career, starting with a Moth class dinghy in the late 1950s, and then the break-through 18-foot skiff  Taipan in 1959. The focus of his efforts was to reduce the drag and loss of efficiency from tip vortices off these appendages. These experiments met with mixed success but when he returned to the idea again in the 12 metre class, he developed the concept from a different direction.

Twelve metres are designed to detailed rule for their allowed dimensions. They are heavy boats for their length, with a considerable amount of ballast. The draft restrictions and large volume of the hull result in a shallow depth keel, with a poor aspect ratio and poor efficiency. The wings on the keel helped to reduce these inefficiencies in a similar way to the endplates he had experimented with, but he was able to make another bold step in lateral thinking. Rather than just realising the improvements to drag, Lexcen could see other advantages at the same time, and this was characteristic of his ability to think around many things at once.

Two comparison keels

These two half models in the ANMM collection show a comparison of a conventional 12 metre Australia (1977 and 1980) above with Australia II below.

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Son of a Shipwright

I’m Sydney University Museum Studies student Dimity Kasz, and with Courtney, I am completing an internship here at the Maritime Museum. We’re registering the Lake Collection of shipwrights’ tools. Registering a collection includes accessioning, cataloguing, cleaning, and photographing the objects so they can live happily inside the museum with a full catalogue record to their name.

Selection of shipwright tools

A selection of the Lake shipwright tools. ANMM Collection

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Musical Mallets – the sing song sounds of caulking tools

What on earth is caulking? This is just one of many ‘What the…?’ moments I had when I first delved into the world of shipwright’s tools as part of my internship experience at the Australian National Maritime Museum. I’m a student at The University of Sydney  working toward my Master of Museum Studies degree and with fellow intern Dimity Kasz – for our recent internship project at the museum we have registered the Lake collection of shipwright’s tools. This collection of several hundred tools were owned by father and son Alfred and Bernard Lake date from around 1890 to 1950.

Registering a collection involves researching the objects and their context, cataloguing them and recording details such as general description, dimensions, markings and interesting features and assigning each object with a unique identifying number and collection record. To our surprise, we found this to be a very interesting set of tools, many of which were hand-made, passed from father to son.

But what exactly is caulking? Continue reading

HMB Endeavour stripped bare

On 3 June HMB Endeavour headed to dry-dock for scheduled maintenance, and now as we have reached the halfway point in her docking, all is proceeding well. For the last week or so, a team of contractors have been removing the antifouling paint from the ship’s bottom and after nearly 20 years, we are back to bare timber.

HMB Endeavour replica (front) and James Craig (background) in the Captain Cook Graving Dock at Garden Island, Sydney.

HMB Endeavour replica (front) and James Craig (background) in the Captain Cook Graving Dock at Garden Island, Sydney.

A bi-product of the stripping has been dust and grit and the poor old ship looks a little under the weather. Over the next four or five days the topsides will be sanded and oiled and the underwater areas will be primed and repainted. Continue reading

Billy Barnett, Master Shipwright of Sydney Harbour

It seems that some skills take more than a lifetime to gain – they have to be inherited, in the blood. This is certainly the case with many boat builders and none more so than Bill Barnett, one of Sydney Harbour’s finest wooden boat builders and the man who designed, built and raced his 18-footer Myra Too to glory in 1951.

The Australian National Maritime Museum has recently been assisting with a project to build a replica of Barnett’s Myra Too, however the success of this yacht in Barnett’s expert hands forms only a small chapter in a life full of achievement on and off the water.

Bill Barnett, crew member of the 1967 America’s Cup challenger DAME PATTIE, c 1967. Copyright. ANMM Collection Gift from Graeme Andrews

Bill Barnett, crew member of the 1967 America’s Cup challenger DAME PATTIE, c 1967. Copyright. ANMM Collection Gift from Graeme Andrews

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Bringing a champion back to life

18 footer MYRA TOO on Sydney Harbour, c 1951. William Hall ANMM Collection 00013522

18 footer MYRA TOO on Sydney Harbour, c 1951. William Hall ANMM Collection 00013522

Meet Myra Too. In 1951 this vessel dominated Sydney sailing news headlines, and for a time was unbeatable in the hotly challenged 18 footer sailing competitions in Sydney Harbour.

Extract from the Sydney Morning Herald, 25 February 1951 page 10.

Extract from the Sydney Morning Herald, 25 February 1951 page 10.

Designed and built by Sydney shipwright and sailing identity Billy Barnett, Myra Too entered the 18 footer racing scene and won the state, national and world championship in 1951. As a nation of sporting enthusiasts, Myra Too challenges our best athletes for sheer success. Sailing for the Sydney Flying Squadron, Myra Too beat back a number of strong New Zealand and interstate competitors to take the third of its trio of titles. Continue reading

Australia’s first watercraft – Tales from ‘100 Stories’

Dugout canoe with sail

Annie Karrakayn, Ida Ninganga, Isaac Walayungkuma, Yanyuwa and Garrawa, Rra-alwanyimara, dugout canoe, 1988 Paperbark tree, 496 x 60am (length x bredth)

Yolngu country, eastern Arnhem Land, and the wet season is slowly seeping into the land. Three men haul a dampened sheet of stringy bark from a smouldering fire that carries the scent of the bush. Carefully, they push one end of the heated bark through a narrow gap between two sturdy branches driven almost parallel into the ground. Like wet, pliable leather, the warm and supple end folds upwards, and the sides come together dripping moisture at the base. The men then bind the top of the branches together tightly and, using a sharp blade, make a long angled cut, forward and down to the bottom tip of the folded end of the bark. Holes are pierced along the raw edge and fingers deftly thread fine, damp bark strips to sew the sides together. The prominent bow of a derrka has been created, and a canoe unique to Australia has begun to form, built with knowledge and skills that are thousands of years old. Continue reading

Happy 100th birthday Carl Halvorsen

Today is the 100th birthday of one of the museum’s oldest friends – in several senses. Happy birthday to Carl Halvorsen, of the famous Halvorsen boatbuilding dynasty.

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Luxury yacht, Hiawatha 1938. ANMM Lars and Harold Halvorsen Collection

The Halvorsen name is best known for the elegant pleasure cruisers that the family designed and built in their Sydney boatyards, and for the fleet of Halvorsen hire boats that operated on Pittwater and the Hawkesbury River for many decades, providing happy holiday memories for countless families.

Carl Halvorsen was born on 9 July 1912 in Helle, Norway, into a line of shipwrights and seafarers. He migrated to Australia 1924 with his father Lars, mother Bergithe, four brothers and two sisters. All of them went to work in the family boatbuilding business that would become synonymous with quality and style, producing countless yachts, cruisers and work boats over many decades, including hundreds of military craft during WW2.

Archive photo of Carl Halvorsen with goup of glamorous ladies on board a luxury cruiser

Carl Halvorsen famously marketed his luxury motor cruisers to Hollywood celebrities in the USA. ANMM Lars and Harold Halvorsen Collection

Carl’s working life was spent with the firm, including a period marketing its luxury motor cruisers to Hollywood celebrities in the USA. He married Glenagh Brown and enjoyed a long happy family life with their daughter Verity. At the age of 76 he hand-crafted the masts and spars for the museum’s historic yacht Kathleen Gillett, a Norwegian design that was in the first-ever Sydney Hobart race in 1945, and was restored as Norway’s Bicentennial Gift to Australia in 1988. Carl was a successful yacht racer who skippered 5.5s well into his 90s, after winning RPAYC’s Division 1 series aged 89.

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Plan cruiser, Pollyanna 1933. ANMM Lars and Harold Halvorsen Collection

This great Norwegian boatbuilding family’s heritage – and that of its centenarian, Carl Halvorsen – is preserved at the museum in the Lars and Harold Halvorsen Collection, named after Carl’s father and elder brother. This collection contains a treasure trove of design drawings and photographs of the family’s enormous Australian output, as well as shipwright tools and other memorabilia. The family story was told in our 2004-05 museum exhibition Dream Boats and Work Boats – the Halvorsen Story.

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Carl Halvorsen (right) with his siblings at opening of Halvorsen exhibition, 2004

– Jeffrey Mellefont, Publications manager

Canoe building in Sydney

Last Wednesday’s fine weather had everyone out enjoying it if they could. For me and 10 others, it was perfect for nawi construction. We were building more tied-bark canoes, probably the first ones to be built on the shores of Sydney Harbour in well over a century.

I was down at Blackwattle Bay, working with an all Indigenous group made up of  members from Tribal Warrior Association’s Youth Mentor Group, their CEO Shane Phillips, and from National Parks and Wildlife Service NSW, Dean Kelly, Aboriginal Cultural Liaison Officer, three of his team and Elder Uncle Keith from La Perouse.

This was another step in the museum’s commitment to working with and supporting Indigenous communities. For me, it was an opportunity to learn from the group and to share the knowledge of building nawis that I’ve built up over the past 12 months. There is still a lot that is not known about the craft and has to be discovered by practical experience.

The bark was already there – my previous blog about my Bateman’s Bay adventure tells that story – so we started with an introduction, just talking about the bark. The most important thing is to understand the life and spirit captured in the bark; it’s a living part of the tree. The capillaries that carry the nutrients, created by leaves, form the fibres and strength of the bark we were going to use. It has life that we can put into our nawi.

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A fire is lit to heat up the bark

We then got into the practical side. We cleaned off the loose bark, stripped the ends down to make them thinner for folding, pulled long strips off for ties, set up a fire, shaped some wooden pegs… there was something for everyone to work on.

We laid the first end of the bark over the fire within 40 minutes of starting, and 20 minutes later the heat was doing its job. So the folding team took their sides as the sheet was removed.

Hands on each side we grabbed the edges and folded it in and then back on itself. Another person at the front kept things aligned and got the middle ready to take its final crease, while the ‘lasso man’ tightened the rope to secure it all in place. On with the rope, then back off as we realigned the folds, then a final heave and we had an end in place, rising up as it should!

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We begin to tie the second end of the canoe.

Next, a blueberry ash peg was hammered through, holding the folds in place as strips of bark were lashed around to complete the process. We then turned the bark, heated it over the fire and did it all again, this time for the cameras. SBS and ABC had each sent a crew to capture the action.

Watching over the process was Redfern’s Police liaison officer, he had come down to see what the boys were up to, and staff from the museum had come across as well to see what these projects I have been doing actually involve.

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Tying the ends of the bark canoe

The final step was to fit a support structure, to push the sides out and give it a bit more shape and strength. Afterwards the TV crew interviewed us, keen to hear what everyone thought of the process.

We formed the ends on the second bark and called it a day. We were happy to have got this far, and in good shape to finish the second canoe in the coming days.  A big tidy up followed, nawi building seems to develop a lot of loose material – dead bark, strips off the inside of the bark, leaves and twigs off branches, firewood. All signs of productive activity and the restoration of a significant cultural activity – nawi building on Sydney Harbour.

David Payne
Curator, Australian Register of Historic Vessels

The Nawi conference is only a few weeks away! Over two days 31 May – 1 June, people from all over Australia will gather to explore Australia’s indigenous watercraft though a series of talks, demonstrations and performance. You can register on our website.

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Complete bark canoe on top of car