Jenn Cole called it a life changing experience… in 2003 hitting a kangaroo just outside of Mount Compass on her way to The Marina Hindmarsh Island to stay on boat with friends.
She sat there shaking in the car, and thinking of another friend, aged 44, who sadly had just died of breast cancer. It was the realisation that life can be so short.
That night, Jenn saw a sign at the marina: “The next kilometer could change your life”. She turned around and saw this little boat for sale.
“I just fell in love with it,” Jenn said. “It was my first wooden boat, a tiny thing called Laura. I had never owned a boat before. I knew nothing about boats. It was one of those weird moments; something you would expect to find in a Reader’s Digest.
“The next day I saw this advert for the SA Wooden Boat Association saying it was having a meeting that night. I rang them, and said ‘I’ve just bought a wooden boat, and I don’t know anything about them’. They said come along to the meeting.
“I did, and I kept going to the meetings because I’d say, ‘look guys, I’ve got this problem; I need to replace this or that’. They would all get together to either do the work or tell me what I had to do. I have since found that very typical of people who own a wooden boat; it’s always about the boat, and I love it.”
Before long Jenn was hooked on wooden boats and was president of the association for a few years.
“Laura was a low cabin cruiser only good enough for two people who knew each other very well,” Jenn said.
“I decided I needed a bigger boat. I went to the Wooden Boat Festival in 2003 and there was Nymph in all her glory… a classic river cruiser 24 ft. long with a 7ft beam, and a hull made from Jarrah. I bought her from Robert Bowering, of Manumn, who found her in a paddock in the Riverland and restored her in 1997.
“This is what wooden boats do to you,” Jenn said. “They bring the imagination out of you and you just have to buy them.
“The thing that attracted me to a wooden boat – and it’s what I still love about them – is that you don’t get on the boat and jam a key in and rip the motor into gear and off you go. With Nymph, there is a time line; you need to get on board, roll up the sides, prepare the boat put the flag up, prime the motor, get everyone on board, get the ropes and so on. All this preparation probably takes you three-quarters of an hour, but that’s the fun of it.
“The maintenance has been a labour of love, but that’s like any boat. It’s why they are called a boat – Bring Out Another Thousand. You work hard and spend money to keep them maintained but everything is worth every cent.
“The guys have helped me with the work on the boat and I have done some. I learnt to strip the engine and make gaskets and how it all worked.
“I grew up on a river at Templestowe, Victoria, and my father (Alan), who was a Navy man, used to take me out in his little runabout. When he passed away (aged 96) I thought it was fitting to buy this boat. He would have loved it, and I know he would be proud of me right now.”
Jenn’s reward was Nymph winning a prize for the best cruiser to eight metres at the 2013 South Australian Wooden Boat Festival at Goolwa Wharf. It was suggested Nymph was built in 1900, but Jenn believes in the 1920s based on old photographs.
She will spend this long weekend doing the usual maintenance thing; painting here and there. It seems a gasket might need replacing, but overall the engine is still humming. It’s an Ailsa Craig engine manufactured in 1929 at the Strand-on-the-Green, Chiswick, in West London, and according to Jenn enough to go putt putt up the river doing 6 knots.
“Cruising up the river in a wooden boat is another era. There is that old worldliness of just taking your time.”
The South Australian Wooden Boat Festival is a significant Alexandrina Council event, and it has engaged the professional event services of jennie bell ink to plan and conduct the 2015 event on its behalf.