It is pretty clear now that we are facing over-subscription for water berths by as much as 40%, as expressions of interest for Boats Ashore closed on 17 October 2016. This is higher than it has ever been, reflecting the growing national and international awareness of the Australian Wooden Boat Festival. Some people might think that is a good problem to have, but in some respects that’s really not the case. We are not in the business of disappointing wooden boat owners – quite the reverse!
The Wooden Boat Festival, now in its 23rd year and about to present its 12th event, is in some ways the victim of its own success. The number of applications has continued to grow at a rapid pace, while the number of berths available on the Hobart waterfront has actually reduced. New developments on Franklin Wharf, Macquarie One and Elizabeth Street Pier are very welcome but they do come at a cost. We have less berths to offer in 2017 than we had in 2015, and that number was down from 2013. It’s an infrastructure problem that will have to be addressed, but we’ll need help to solve it.
At the same time the festival has grown into an international fixture among the boating community and a major tourism draw card for Tasmania. With 220,000 visitors to the last event, the festival is now the largest wooden boat festival in the Southern Hemisphere. Any boat owner who misses out on a berth will understandably be very disappointed, we know that. The problem is, however, is that we simply can’t fit everybody in. Whilst we would love to be able to accept everyone, space prevents us from doing so; so we have introduced a selection process. We have to have a fair and responsible way of rating the boats. We put that in the hands of a very experienced and independent selection panel. They rate each boat against a set of written criteria. Boats can score points for presentation, history, design and representation of its type.
The number of boats in each type seeking a berth determines the cut-off score, and the selection panel rates only the boat, not the owner. This year, we have had more than 60 expressions of interest from owners who have never attended the Wooden Boat Festival before. That’s very encouraging for the future and the renewal of the festival, but it also means that some loyal veterans might be asked stand aside for one event to make room for new boats. We are not an exclusive club – we’re trying to present a great selection of boats at every festival.
The Board of the Australian Wooden Boat Festival has been considering alternatives to try and increase the on-water capacity of the event, perhaps by extending the festival site to another location such as Kangaroo Bay, or constructing a temporary marina. However, these alternatives require considerable investment, well beyond our means. We face a real challenge producing a large event that remains entirely free to the public. We have great support from all sections of the community, including government, business and volunteers and we work hard to make every bit of it count. Unfortunately that doesn’t leave anything over for major infrastructure projects.
We urge owners able to display their boats ashore, on a cradle or trailer to consider this option, as there are plenty of spaces available across a large site. Boats Ashore registrations remain open until 12 December 2016 and can be accessed on the festival website at www.australianwoodenboatfestival.com.au/get-involved/register-your-boat/boats-ashore
Chairman, AWBF Inc.