Regular WBA contributor Roderick Smith recounts his experiences at the 2013 Goolwa Wooden Boat Festival.
This was my fifth, and was the largest and best, helped by good weather: the notorious Goolwa chop was present on both afternoons, but faded for the evening, and so sleeping aboard was peaceful. There were about 250 boats, of all sizes and styles. Some are rally regulars, but many I had not seen before.
A week in advance: many of the large river-cruising launches in the 10-15 m class crossed the lake when the moment was opportune, rather than wait to last minute and not cross at all.
Thurs.21.2: A small fleet of boats had assembled at Wellington on Wednesday night, to cross in the company of PS Marion playing 'mother duck': PV Amphibious (composite hull), PV Flender Himmel (metal hull, completed c2001), PS James Maiden (originally based in Echuca, now based in Wentworth), MV Champion Ruby (a houseboat), MV Kaworra (a Halvorsen), MV Argus (a restored 1930s-style cruising launch), MV Jessie II (which really does work when not at WBA events). With a favourable weather report, the fleet was out of Wellington before first light for the river section; first light came as we hit the the relatively-sheltered section in the channel markers to Point Pomanda. Land astern, we hit the main 30 km lake crossing on gentle chop: quite manageable, and easy cruising. The light was good: we were never out of sight of distant hills. Fleet speed was 10 km/h, with Flender Himmel leading; I was holding the throttle back to keep fleet speed; James Maiden was well back. As we passed Point Sturt, an goal had been achieved, but the adventure was not yet over. It is still only relative shelter to Clayton Bay. I went around an island just for fun, and to let James Maiden catch up. I was expecting another Tennessee (MV Moonshine, based in Robinvale) to meet us (it had crossed 2 years earlier), but after launching at Goolwa, it didn't venture out. Instead, MV Pompoota (a former Murray Bridge milk boat) was in wait, with three paddleboats following. The whole fleet tucked into Clayton Bay jetty to relax and gloat, and wait for the further trio: PS Oscar W, PS William Randell and PV Killawarra (metal hull). We set forth in a happy mood for the final stage, with a tv crew in a tinny running ahead of the boats inline abreast; the scenes appeared on national tv. We tied up in various places at Goolwa for the night.
Fri.22.2: This was boaties day. Some locals came down for a free view, without a crowd. Perhaps half the fleet assembled through the day, and this was the time for boats to wander and swap news and gossip. I spent the morning heading to Tauwitchere lock, but was on a low tide, and even shallow-draft Jessie II ran out of water just past the Murray mouth. I didn't wait for the tide, but headed back to Goolwa to chat with old friends and new.
Sat.23.2: The rest of the boats came in, helped by jetty-based marshalls making sure that all used their allocated spot, and water-based marshalls in zodiacs, capable of nudging boats into a congested mooring. The result was impressive, and the crowds came. It was all go-go-hectic from then on. I never got near the crowd entertainment (music tent, bar, food stalls), and photographed trains only from my deck, looking over other boats. I took out many guests for the grand parade, but got lost with 30 other boats in the marshalling area, and we all missed it. My reverse gear stripped, and I had to nudge in very gently with lots of deckies fending, and people on all surrounding boats fending and taking a line.
Sun.24.2: Much the same as Saturday. I was an hour late to the WBA breakfast at Armfield Slip, but did catch up with most SA & Vic. members briefly. I don't know if Goolwa is the second largest wooden-boat festival in Australia. It certainly has variety: mum dad & the kids would have had plenty to entertain. Boats came in many sizes, with PS Marion and PS Oscar W providing short cruises past the rally site and various marinas, medium size former ferries, river cruisers, vintage speedboats, putt putts, yachts. A highlight of Goolwa is 'Rough & ready': contestants are given a standard kit of plywood sheets, some framing material, stitching material and Sikaflex filler. On Saturday, they have to build a boat within a time limit. On Sunday they have to voyage out to a buoy and back without sinking: row one way, sail the other. It is amazing the variety of design possible: canoes, shaped dinghies, flat scows. This year, the guest of honour was Griff Rhys Jones from the UK tv series 'Three men in a boat'. He crossed the lake on Marion, spoke at the formal opening, and competed in Rough & ready. On Saturday night, there was an impressive fireworks display from the bridge: just about every moored boat was hosting a party aboard, and with a good view.
The Sunday grand parade is at 16.00, and concludes the event, most boats head back to their home marina. Monday morning was almost back to normal at the docks. Marion left at first light to cross the lake again, with a gaggle of river cruisers fleeting. I wasn't pushing my luck twice, and got a lift back to Riverglen Marina to collect my car and trailer, and retrieved at Goolwa.
Photos by Roderick Smith: