Sails : Sails 26 June July 2014
down the rhumbline 079 F or more than 20 years, from around the early 1970s through to the late 1990s, whenever I went down to Hobart to cover the Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, I made a ritual of walking along to Waterman’s Dock to look at the May Queen. Retired after 105 years of hard work, as the years passed by, the old trading ketch just seemed to be rotting away, the masts, even the bowsprit, removed. Then, one year she was gone. I learned later that the Hobart Ports Corporation, which had carried out some restoration work, had passed ownership to the May Queen Trust. An ambitious plan was underway for the restoration of what was the last afloat of the dozens of trading ketches that plied the D’Entrecasteaux Channel, the Derwent and Huon Rivers and southern coastal waters in the 19th and 20th centuries. Through the tireless drive and skills of members of the Trust, May Queen has been restored to life, holding pride of place in Hobart’s historic Constitution Dock. She is of national significance as the oldest surviving example of a sailing cargo vessel in Australia, and international significance as the third- oldest wooden cargo vessel of her type still afloat. I have had a personal interest in May Queen since the late 1940s when, as a 17-year-old, I had the privilege of sailing aboard on a working trip from Hobart, down the D’Entrecasteaux Channel to Raminea, upstream from Dover on the Esperance River. The May Queen carried domestic goods for the timber workers and their families at this tiny timber town, returning laden with sawn timber from Chesterman’s mill. As we were packing up to move down from Sydney to Hobart five years ago, I found several black and white negatives taken on that voyage including one of me at the wheel, looking as if I was soon to follow in the wake of the great tall ships skipper, adventurer and author Alan Villiers. May Queen traded the coast for a remarkable 106 years and has been awarded World Ship Trust Maritime Heritage, joining such famous vessels as the Cutty Sark and Great Britain. Apart from her remarkable longevity, May Queen’s story also highlights many aspects of early Tasmanian craftsmanship and life in colonial times. May Queen’s story has been told in an excellent book SV May Queen – a Grand Survivor written jointly by Hobart researchers and authors Rex Kerrison and Richard Johnson at the behest of the May Queen Trust. Sir Guy Green AC, KBE, CVO, former Governor of Tasmania, launched the book at the Derwent Sailing Squadron, packed with nearly 200 supporters of Tasmania’s maritime heritage, eager to buy the book. May Queen is typical of the strongly-built, flatly-rounded or flat-bottomed, barge-like vessels, mostly ketch rigged, that were built throughout Australia during the 19th and 20th centuries, but only a handful remain intact. May Queen was built at Franklin by William Thorpe in 1867, using locally grown blue gum for the keel, frames and much of the planking. The decking was New Zealand kauri and Tasmanian celery top pine while her masts and spars were made from imported Oregon pine (Douglas fir). Her overall length is 20.5m (66-ft) and beam 5.4m (18-ft). Fitted with a retractable centreboard she has a shallow draft of only 1.5m (5-ft), which allowed her to negotiate the shallow reaches of the rivers that fed into the D’Entrecasteaux Channel and the Huon River While I can still recall vividly that voyage under sail on the May Queen to Raminea back in the late 1940s, I did not realise until reading SV May Queen – a Grand Survivor what a remarkable history she has had as a working vessel for more than a century. During her working life she sank twice and was successfully refloated, was involved in several collisions, including one with a whale as big as the ketch herself, ran aground a few times, became the centre of a piracy charge and, most famously, was the champion of the Royal Hobart Regatta, winning the trading ketches race 14 times between 1868 and 1954. Over her working life, May Queen had several owners, the most notable being the Chesterman family and their timber company who owned her, apart for a short break, from 1874 to 1954. The Chestermans have since played a significant role in her restoration and upkeep through the May Queen Trust. May Queen is a living example of a bygone age and the authors have treated her as a living being. Starting from the early days of her working life, charting her voyages and telling the stories of her owners, her masters, her unplanned escapades, of her near- death (“give her a proper sea burial” was one suggestion) and her amazing recuperation, and of the groups and individuals who played significant roles in making her such an outstanding exhibit on Hobart’s waterfront. SV May Queen – a Grand Survivor is a fine book, meticulously researched and presented with a wonderful insight of life aboard a Tasmanian trading ketch and into the pioneering lives of communities along the shores of the D’Entrecasteaux Channel and the Huon Valley. It contains many historic photos as well as anecdotes and profiles of the many Tasmanians who have been involved over near 150 years in the history of this grand survivor. Copies of SV May Queen – a Grand Survivor, published by Forty Degree South, can be purchased from the May Queen Trust, PO Box 1062, Sandy Bay, Tasmania 7006 at a normal price of $48.95 plus postage. Peter CamPbell reminisces on sailing aboard the historic trading ketch May Queen nearly seven decades ago. GRAND SuRVIVOR A GrAnd Queen A 17-year-old Peter Campbell at the helm of the May Queen, circa 1947, with the main picture taken from the eight-foot bowsprit.
Sails 25 April May 2014
Sails 27 August September 2014