“The Russians are coming! The Russians are coming!” It seemed a strange headline for a daily newspaper in the far southern reaches of the Tasman sea. From what we heard before we came Hobart as guests of the Australian Wooden Boat Festival (http://www.australianwoodenboatfestival.com.au/), we knew this was going to be a pretty big event for a relatively small place like Tasmania. (total population 500,000)
What we couldn’t appreciate until we were actually part of it was, this would be considered a big event anywhere in the world. A festival ground that stretched for almost a mile along Hobarts harbor front and encompassed 3 huge sheds housing exhibits on boatbuilding, fishing and a marine market place, more than 550 wooden boats, plus a fishing fleet. No entry charge, a substantial children’s park with a full time free circus school among the activities, famous chefs giving seafood cooking demonstrations, it was definitely family friendly. Almost 200,000 visitors arrived, there were so many demonstrations, talks, buskers and boats to look at I almost felt overwhelmed. But soon we began to run into friends we’d met during our voyages to Australia in the 1980’s and 90’s, people we’d worked with when Larry restored a 100 year old Fife racing sloop and I helped manage the 2nd Sydney Wooden Boat Festival 22 years ago.
A dozen different people we’d encountered in far flung cruising ports came by the speakers spot to introduce themselves. And we were made more than welcome on some of the six Lyle Hess wooden cutters that had been built in Tasmania. Then there were the Russians.
For the past two years we’d heard tales of two Russian brothers who had built a replica of what they call A Slavic Wooden ship, one that looked just a tenth century Viking ship. With little money and lots of determination Sinelnik Sergey and his brother took on crew all along their route down the Volga River, through the Black Sea, Mediterreanean Sea, Red Sea and ever east and southward on their 49 foot, very basically outfitted and unusual vessel. They’d charmed people in ports along the coast of Australia and been invited to be guests of the Festival. But they insisted on making it to Tasmania under their own sail power. For three days before the festival, local news broadcasts told of sightings as they sailed south across the notorious Bass Straits and past the various islands north of Tasmania.
We heard of the headwinds and squalls they encountered. Then the winds turned fair. On the second day of the festival, a warm bright Saturday, the crowd of visitors was treated to a delightful view – The Russich came sailing into the festival right at noon. (Though the text of their website is in Russian, you might enjoy seeing some of their photos at – http://www.sinelniki.ru/index.php?id=16&iid=517) Larry and I waited until the next day to wander over to the dock where Russich and crew were besieged with visitors. I was delighted when the handsome tall skipper shouted out, “Are you Lin and Larry? We read your storm book in Russian before we left the Black Sea.” We were welcomed on board, climbed below to see some of the most basic living quarters we could imagine, tidy, organized, dry but cramped. Sinelnik’s joy in his accomplishment was evident, but like so many folks who have reached their goal, there was a bit of sadness there too as he tried with his broken English to talk of “what next.”
Our “what next” right now includes the following story I wrote for the quarterly magazine here at our home island in New Zealand:
Samuel Pepys, Lord High Admiral of the British Navy during the Napoleonic Wars, swore he couldn’t sleep at night. “Why is that,” his adjunct asked. Pepys’ answer, “Damn ships, always trying to sink.” His words echoed in my mind while I waited for container that held my 68th birthday present to arrive in New Zealand.
We’d spent almost five months on the US east coast during the northern summer, work interspersed with play. Each time we came upon a new coastal village, we saw fleets of delicate Herreshoff 12 ½ day-sailor skimming along in the light evening breezes, or sitting on moorings like lovely little seabirds. “Nathaniel Herreshoff designed them in the 1930’s as he passed his 70th birthday,” Larry told me. “He felt a 15 foot lead ballasted keel boat would let him keep sailing right into his 80’s.”  One afternoon, as we were driving along the coast of Maine, we saw half a dozen sitting on trailers in the front yard of a small shipyard and stopped to take a closer look. The local boat builder showed us one, built in 1934 and recently restored to immaculate condition. “Everyone on this coast learns to sail on these boats,” he told us. “There’s more than 400 of the original wood ones still being passed down from generation to generation. Then there’s at least a thousand fiberglass ones built to the exact same lines. Great boat.”
A week later, Larry took me to dinner to celebrate my birthday. “Anything you’d really like as a gift?” he asked as we clinked champagne glasses over a platter of fresh Maine lobster, cockles and cod. To this day, I am not sure if I was joking or serious when I said, “my very own Herreshoff 12 ½.”
At first our schedule on the US east coast wasn’t tight. Idle hands are the devils workshop. Looking at these lovely little boats in rustic boatyards filled up our days, gave us excuses to scout out back water bays and introduced us to interesting characters. Friends we visited along the way told us of adventures they’d had as youngsters on these small, relatively heavily ballasted keel boats (Fifty percent of its total weight is in the lead keel). Short version of this story, just two days before we had to really settle in to a solid work pattern Larry wrote a fat check, gave me a hug and said “Happy Birthday,” and I found myself proud owner of little Felicity, built in 1994, raced extensively in Cape Cod Bay and fitted out for both racing and day-sailing. Getting her from the US east coast, home to New Zealand, took two dozen phone calls. Then our holiday was over, it was time to set to work full time. Boat shows, seminars, book store engagement, I was too busy to think about Felicity, the logic of buying her and where she’d be kept.
Then, six weeks later, exhausted, work done, we flew home to North Cove and reality struck. I sat looking out at our fleet of floating stock, 29 foot Taleisin, Impala the 20 foot trailer sailor we rarely used, two sailing dinghies, a fizz boat, a barge, a pontoon – with Felicity arriving we’d have eight things trying to sink, three needing bailing after heavy rain, five needing scraping and anti-fouling on a regular basis. That’s the problem with a home right next to some of the loveliest waters in the world. It is so easy to collect boats, but far harder to care for them. And, would we actually use this newest addition to our fleet?
Problem one was partially solved by finding a new home for the trailer-sailor. Problem two turned out to be negligible because, to our delight, we found “full equipped” really was a true description of her condition. Felicity came with a full cockpit and sail cover which, due to all the years folks have had to perfect her gear, means we can have her ready to sail in five minutes, home and hosed in about six minutes. The final problem, keeping her lovely bottom smooth and bright, is one we’ll worry about when winter comes. But right now she is such a delight we find ourselves spending more time than usual afloat around Kawau Island.
Hope spring is showing its first bits of fine weather up north, and hope our southern hemisphere friends are getting the rain they need after a very dry summer.
Lin and Larry Pardey
 In the early years of yacht design, waterline length not length on deck was the main measurement used to define a boat.