We discovered the real stars of the 2016 Classic and Wooden Boat Festival

Jessica Watson
Posted April 19 2016

Sydney rolled out lovely autumn weather last weekend, the many layers of varnish shining in the sun at the National Maritime Museum’s Classic and Wooden Boat Festival. I had assumed that it would be the classic and wooden vessels that would be the stars of the festival, but I quickly discovered that the owners outshone their perfectly maintained boats. The owners generously brought their pride and joys from around the harbor — and a few from further afield — to share them, their knowledge and their passion with fellow wooden boat enthusiasts.

While there was absolutely no shortage of lovely boats, the 116ft Edwardian style steam yacht Ena could easily be considered the most grand.

Merrin and Dougal Maple-Brown were a perfect example of star boat owners who consider their boat an “investment soulfully”. Their boat Kelpie is one of Australia’s oldest yachts, a 30ft spotted gum beauty with elegant lines. Merrin grew up sailing but it was early memories of her grandfather working with wood that really inspired her.

Then she met her partner Dougal. ‘He liked old things and I liked wooden things and we got together and got an old wooden thing,’ Merrin told me.

The gorgeous Kelpie, Merrin, Dougal and Honor Maple-Brown. Honor was clearly comfortable on the water, happily scrambling out and perching on the bowsprit.

They “met” Kelpie at a previous museum wooden boat festival.

‘When we came to do the first trial sail I’d just given birth to our baby Honor, and I was breastfeeding on the helm, on the tiller.’

Despite having none of the hallmarks of a typical family boat, it was very important to Merrin and Dougal that their kids felt at home on the boat.

‘They’ll be the first people washing her down. And it’s lovely to see them be so proud today, welcoming people on board. They don’t really know; they talk about her steamed ribs and pork belly. They really don’t have much clue but they’re trying and they care.’

Merrin tells me that the family baby is like a ‘hooligan onboard because she is very comfortable as she’s spent so much time onboard’.

And Merrin assures me Kelpie isn’t slow around a race course, although I’m told the boat’s at her best in 15 knots of wind.

‘Don’t ask her to get out of bed in under 10 knots.’

A few of the wooden yachts moored on the darling harbor docks, shadowed by the museum’s resident navy destroyer HMAS Vampire, a boat that curator of historic vessels David Payne believes is classic in its own way.

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