Wooden boat traditions live on in Australia

Sun May 29, 2011 10:58pm EDT
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By Pauline Askin

FRANKLIN, Tasmania, Australia (Reuters Life!) - On the banks of the Huon River, a small Australian boat building school is looking to the past to keep a centuries-old tradition of local boat-building alive, producing unique Tasmanian timber boats that shipwrights hope will last hundreds of years.

The vessels, fashioned with a combination of traditional wooden boat-building skills and a modern shipyard at one of only a handful of wooden boat-building schools in the world, are custom-built to buyer specifications.

In some cases, this means expensive carpets and, in the case of the latest boat, state of the art kitchen appliances.

"There is one school in the United States but this one here in Tassie is the major one, and I think it's the only one in the Southern Hemisphere that produces a large scale vessel as a major project," said John Allport, manager of The Wooden Boat Center Boatbuilding School.

Eager apprentices travel from around the world to learn the art of wooden boat building using traditional hand tools and contemporary power tools to produce a vessel in an economically viable time frame, usually about 12 months.

A rich smell of pine hangs in the misty southern air in the boat shed at Franklin, 48 km (30 miles) southwest of Hobart, the capital of Australia's island state Tasmania.

A shipwright wearing a bib and braces sits on a upturned milk crate at the bow of the boat he's working on, marking the Plimsoll line with his pencil. His student, using a clear garden hose filled with water as a spirit level, calls out the levels to be marked as a sleepy dog keeps an eye on the activity.

"A lot of teaching is with traditional type hand tools and traditional methods of boat building, but in the modern environment it's just too slow," said Allport, a bearded 56-year-old who has been at the school for six years as a manager.   Continued...

<p>A boat is seen at the Wooden Boat Centre Boatbuilding School in Franklin, Tasmania April 17, 2011. REUTERS/Pauline Askin</p>