It was 25 years ago that the men of Armfield Slipway developed the first South Australian Wooden Boat Festival at Goolwa Wharf as a means of raising a few much-needed dollars to continue their priceless art of making and restoring wooden boats.
Now, as we prepare for the 14th biennial festival on February 21-22 – a major drawcard on our tourism calendar – these volunteers are still applying their incredible skills, indeed patience, making another wooden boat to be raffled with proceeds helping the festival.
The fundraising method may seem an ordinary exercise, but it really reaches the heart of what their green shed, which draws 20-plus proud men in the chill of the morning on the Murray River’s edge, and the festival is really all about – every-day men discovering a passion for wooden boats and reminding us we cannot let this craft fade.
Armfield member Bob Jennings, an international motoring writer of note, said the festival was a wonderful opportunity for families who may have never been close to a wooden boat to feel this sense of pride that goes into every craft.
“The Wooden Boat Festival is not just a wonderful festival for everyone to enjoy, it is a reminder for people that we are still making wooden boats today,” Bob said.
“They will actually have the opportunity to come in here to the shed during the festival and see first-hand how we make and or restore wooden boats. It is not often that you get to see this ageless craft – one of the oldest in the world – in motion.
“It’s the old tradition of wooden boats; it’s our job to restore them, and keep the wooden maritime tradition going. It’s always been a part of Goolwa, which is important for this town’s history.
“We are currently building an 11ft 6in Guillemot sailing dinghy to raffle for the festival, and we are proud that the Goolwa Rowing Club has taken delivery of a new, 21ft sea-going rowing skiff built by volunteers at Armfield.
“The St Ayles Skiff, built to a world-wide design, is the first in South Australia and the first boat to be completed by Armfield Wooden Boats since it separated from the Alexandrina Council and became an incorporated body in February this year.
“The boat began as a demonstration project by the South Australian Wooden Boat Festival in conjunction with Robert Ayliffe’s Stray Dog Boat Works – the distributor of the St Ayles skiff kits – and Armfield Slip.
“With the festival having become part of the Alexandrina Council it became the owner of the skiff and agreed for the Goolwa Rowing Club to be given custody of the craft. It is another example of sharing the passion for wooden boats.”
Armfield chairman Garry Coombes said his group was about the restoration and maintenance of small wooden boats, and the craft, which had been so much a part of the history of Goolwa and the lower Murray were built using traditional carvel and clinker construction.
“After restoration, the boats are returned to service as living reminders of a past boating era,” Garry said. “In some cases relatively minor plank replacement is required, but often almost complete reconstruction is necessary.
“As well as woodworking skills, the restoration usually involves fitting and machining processes to restore and tune the small engines which are characteristic of the boats of the particular era.
“As important as the restored boats themselves is the passing on of the traditional skills and the use of hand tools which was characteristic of early boat building operations. Volunteers with experience in shipwrighting, cabinet making, woodworking and marine engine fitting and maintenance share their skills and knowledge with other volunteers. Thus skills which could well die out, are preserved.
“Another segment of Armfield operation is the making of small wooden boats using modern materials such as marine ply and epoxy resin glues. Our Guillemot sailing dinghy, which we raffle in conjunction with the Wooden Boat Festival is an example.”
Obviously, it is not just a raffle with a boat as a prize. It is a taste of magnificent tradition at Goolwa, all captured during the South Australian Wooden Boat Festival.
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.