Classic! Wooden boats resurface in Knysna

CAMERON SEARLE SPEAKS TO SABBEX ABOUT THIS YEAR’S ANTIQUE & CLASSIC BOAT SHOW

How did the idea for a classic boat show come about? 

About seven years ago now, Jock McConnachie organised the first Knysna ‘Wooden Boat’ show to recapture Knysna’s rich boatbuilding history. This was held at the Knysna Yacht Club.

How was the idea first received when he first ‘took it to market’? 

I believe I attended the first Wooden Boat show and can only speak for myself, when I say I was captivated by ‘Perserverence’, a steamboat from the Wilderness area. It was stunning in every respect; gleaming brass pipes everywhere and a brass plaque that read:

“I am the captain of this ship. My wife said so.”

Knysna is quite well-known for its vintage cars (ie the show). Is there similarly  a core of classic boat enthusiasts? Are they typically the same people? 

I presume that the core enthusiast of classic boats is similar to that of classic cars, however the classic car market is far larger than that of classic boats in South Africa. The appreciation of ‘retro’ across many market segments is rapidly broadening this enthusiast base. I get so many appreciative gestures and weird hand signals in my 1934 wooden dayboat from teenagers on their fathers’ enormously powerful, plastic speedboats.

What about classic boat builders?  You yourself have started tinkering? Apparently you’ve now sold three so it’s more than a hobby? 

There are some very talented wooden boatbuilders in Knysna; either trained in the U.K. or apprentices in the well known Thesen or Lucky Bean boat shops here in Knysna. I started just five years ago with my first speedboat, bought in Sedgefield, but I feel like I should have been doing this much earlier in my life.

I recently sold my ‘third restoration’ to a lovely couple in St Francis Bay, but I can’t part with the first two boats that I completed. This ignores the dory I finished and rowboats that have changed hands along the way. I now do wooden boat ‘renovations’ for people who become friends through the process.

Is this the start of a Knysna classic boat empire? 

Knysna is well and truly on the map for her catamaran sailboat companies producing a world class product! These are classic boats in their own right.

 Getting back to the show, what is the main objective? 

From my personal experience, the objective is to awaken the pure passion for classic wooden craft that lies dormant in many of us. And thereby protect and care for the wooden boats that were built by talented people from plans in overseas magazines or from their own imagination. Working with rare wood is an experience for the senses. The smell of varnish is right up there too!

Are there any people you’d like to single out who helped pull it together?

Jock, for his initiative in starting the wooden boat show and my mate, Tony Berbridge, who owns a Thames skiff.

More or less how many boats will be on show and how is it laid out? 

We usually collect 20 plus boats; positioned on the lawn in front of the Turbine Hotel with several more on the jetty in front of Tapas in Thesen Harbour Town. We’re not very tech savy, but there is a Knysna Wooden Boat Facebook page.

What about add-on attractions?  Will we be able to get a beer too? 

What’s a Boatshow without beer and commemorative ‘nautical’ cap to take home? Yes, there are four restaurants in the close vicinity and Boatshow merchandise, clothing and sail bags on sale. Proceeds this year go to the hardworking ‘Knysna Basin Project’ team, guardians of the rare Knysna Seahorse and our beautiful estuary.

Knysna has a wooden boat history. Is this history coming full circle? 

I believe we may just be turning the corner from the complete demise of Knysna’s wooden boats; not until we have a dedicated Classic Boat Museum and a vibrant restoration business in the Industrial area, will I be convinced these boats won’t go the same way as the rhino.

Do you foresee the show growing into something much bigger? Knysna is already a boat building hub for quality catamarans, so is there potential for more than just classic boats? 

Knysna has the potential to host the largest Boatshow weekend in South Africa. Whether we realize this potential rests with only a few people.

Tell us a bit about your own classic boat? Presumably it will be on show too? 

Halcyon, a 5 metre, wooden launch was built at the Heads by Cyril Noble in 1934. She has a well documented history in the town and owes her current existence to Maurice de Rosemond, who recovered just a shell of a boat, having been planked in local yellowwood. I met his wife at last year’s show. These boats all come with family, one of the best features of this hobby.

Your all-time favourite boat?  If you were a Gupta which one would you build / buy? 

A plus 34 foot, pre-war Ditchburn or Greavette; Canadian built masterpieces, worth their weight in gold with not a single corrupt plank in them.

Do you see classic boats coming back into fashion, as per other retro trends? 

Classic boats and the word ‘fashion’ are diametric opposites; I hope they are never just a fashion. But I know what you mean. Unfortunately the perceived work involved and the prohibitive cost of a new-build wooden classic, prevent most people from owning one. However discovering a ‘barn find’ is like treasure hunting, it will never go out of fashion!

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