From the Hobart Mercury
May 16, 2008 12:00am
ONE of the oldest boats still sailing in Tasmania, the Britannia, is back in the water after a major restoration.
A crowd of friends and relatives, including four generations of the family most closely associated with the grand old boat, were at the Kettering re-launching.
As the repainted, refurbished and refitted -- but not yet re-rigged -- Britannia was motored round from the launching slip to its marina berth, it marked the end of an intense 20-month effort by owners Anne Laughton, partner Andrew Clark and their daughter Isabella of Kettering and boatbuilder and shipwright Mike Seeney, of Oyster Cove.
For some onlookers, the re-launching of the 110-year-old Tasmanian-built boat evoked memories stretching back more than 60 years.
Dorothy Davis, now of Snug but formerly of Bruny Island and 86 this year, remembered the Britannia's fishing days when owned by her late husband Alfred and his family.
Her daughter, Elaine Lewis, of Lenah Valley had memories of her father sitting on the stern "puffing on his pipe".
For generations of boating people, the 9.14 metre Britannia was a familiar sight as a fishing boat in southern Tasmanian waters and later moored in front of the Davis property in Quarantine Bay, Bruny Island.
For Alfred and Dorothy's granddaughter Anne Laughton, the "Brit memories" also date back to childhood which she spent largely on Bruny Island.
She said the boat was used for family day outings but "in those days women were never part of the crew" though they were "allowed" to be part of the scallop-splitting team ashore.
Anne and Andrew bought the Britannia from Alfred Davis's estate at Christmas 2000 and for a brief time "wondered what on earth have we done".
"Although she was basically sound there was a huge amount of work just cleaning her up," Anne said.
And though both had experience sailing and being around boats, restoring an old boat was something new and a steep learning curve. It was hauled out in 2001 and made ready, externally only, for the Australian Wooden Boat Festival. Since then, until two years ago, the family has been planning the restoration project that culminated in the re-launching this month.
Anne left her job as a plant nursery assistant to work full time on the boat while Andrew kept the finances going with his commercial brick-laying company (as well as selling his beloved motorbike).
For 14-year-old Isabella, the work on the Britannia has represented more than half her life and she is full of praise for her parents' vision.
For Anne and Andrew the "learning curve" got steeper as the work progressed. The boat was transported to a covered shed on the family's property and work started for a short time under shipwright Terry Lean.
When he went into surveying work, the Britannia restoration was taken over by boatbuilder and shipwright Mike Seeney with Anne as his "apprentice" and Andrew putting in the hours particularly on the engine and overall organisation.Seeney said he had started with the realisation the project would be "a fair old job" but he had never had doubts it would all turn out. "And the family's commitment was great, never stinting on time or money to get the best possible job," he said.
The Britannia was built in 1898 on Flinders Island by Richard Day as a double ender, centreboard freight-carrying and later fishing cutter, with a gaff rig.
It was built of kauri below the waterline and huon pine above and of batten-seam construction. In later years, to accommodate a scallop dredge, the stern was converted to the present counter design.
The boat was bought by the Davis family from Bruny Island in 1910. It was first fished by Murray and Earnest Davis as part of the nearly forgotten couta fleet, mainly in Storm Bay.
It was then that a large huon pine-lined wet well was installed. Later came scallop-fishing days with Earnest and sons Tas (who died in the 1980s) and Alfred Davis.
For its restoration, the boat was stripped inside and out, the wet well painstakingly removed (but the huon pine lining lives on in the new galley table), 40 new laminated oak ribs put in and 11 new floor timbers.
The centreboard has gone and a new keel (made from a huge piece of swamp gum hauled from the river mud near Franklin) laid over the old to give a deeper draught.
After tuition from Seeney, Anne stripped and completely splined the hull and Andrew tuned the 38hp Perkins diesel motor. Down below, in the huge space left by the wet well, bulkheads have been built and sleeping accommodation and a galley, head and tanks installed.
"We set out to make the Brit safe, secure, comfortable for family use and still retain her spirit," said Anne. The boat is expected to be rerigged as a gaff-cutter within weeks.