When Carl Halvorsen died a day short of his 102nd birthday in August last year it was said he raced with kings and captains of industry and mixed with Hollywood stars, but was best known for his humility and generosity, his abiding friendships and his deep love for family.
It closed another remarkable chapter in Australian boat building history forged in Norway by his grandfather in 1887, made famous on the docks of Ryde, Sydney Harbour by his his father Lars until his death in 1936, and later by Carl and his brothers with 250 boats built for the American, The Netherlands and Australian armed forces during World War II, our first America’s Cup entry Gretel in 1962, a stunning array of Sydney-Hobart winners, and historically Australia’s finest collection of wooden boats ranging from 25ft to the 90-footers in all their splendour.
And this, the imminent first South Australian Wooden Boat Festival since Carl’s passing, will bring a touch of sadness, indeed a reflection of gratitude among the 15 SA Halvorsen owners coming to the event and listed among the 111-strong Australian Halvorsen Club membership.
Among them are John and Karen Judd, of Hindmarsh Island, who bought Sea Vixen, a Halvorsen 36 custom-built and launched in 1960. Inside the magnificent cabin hand-crafted in maple is a plaque listing the custodians; not owners, but custodians, for like the other 1500-or-so of her kind built by Lars Halvorsen & Sons she is no ordinary boat. She is a Halvorsen.
The unquestionably proud history embedded in these wooden boats was not missed by them when they bought Sea Vixen – job number 1142 and named Mar-Jon until 1962 – from her previous Gold Coast owner almost two years ago. The new passion for wooden boats led to Karen offering her project management skills developed in Sydney until moving here 10 years ago to help the amazing team organising this festival.
Her volunteer role on the on-water committee has included making sure the Halvorsen tradition during the festival on the weekend of February 21-22 is recognised – along with that of other hallowed lines. This led to the invitation of special guests, Michael Minogue, who worked for Lars Halvorsen & Sons for more than 20 years, and Tony McKay, who will be representing the Australian Halvorsen Club and will present a technical talk.
“I became involved in the festival as a volunteer because it is absolutely necessary to carry this event with all of its tradition on forever,” Karen said. “It is a great thing for South Australia – it is the largest boat festival with things happening on the water because a lot of others are static. We sail past and many other wonderful things.
“This year we will have paddle steamers coming down – that combination of the wood and the steam. It’s so incredible… we cannot let this festival die, and we must all make sure it stays in Goolwa.
“This will be our fourth SA Wooden Boat Festival, but the first in which we have been involved with an entry. It is just a fun week; it’s great to see so many people in Goolwa with so many coming from afar to be part of the event.
“People get a sense of what our river is about. When you look at the history with wooden boats having brought trade along here which was then put on the trains it is just remarkable.
“The intention is to get a number of paddle steamers from Victoria, and we will try to get them steaming into Goolwa with all of their whistles going at once. And they all sound different so people in the olden days could recognise which paddle steamer was approaching. It will be spectacular.”
The passion for Halvorsen wooden boats runs deep for John and Karen. “They are just classic boat,” Karen said. “They are comfortable, and to me it’s their history more than anything.”
John spoke of how the Halvorsen boats sat so nicely on the water, which was a hint of the degree of quality entertaining aboard the Sea Vixen. Her hull is made of Mahogany, and the cabin exterior features solid Teak.
The boat was originally powered by twin Chrysler V8s, but in 1975 they were replaced by 100 hp diesels – two Volvo MD3s.
The Sea Vixen was trucked from the Gold Coast, which presented its challenges, and since then John has performed some beautiful restoration and new work on her including skilful joinery on the inside cabin decking, and has the Volvos humming nicely during her pleasure cruises along the Murray. “There is never a need to rush our trips,” he said. “This wooden boat is just magnificent.”
If you doubted the uniqueness of this classic craft, the toilet has the “Lars Halvorsen & Sons Sydney” stamp on the inside of the ceramic bowl.
Mind you, the engines are not gold plated like those of one owner in Tasmania. But then, they say all of the memories aboard a Halvorsen are treasured.