An iconic Derwent Class yacht called “Undine” is undergoing restoration in the hands of the talented team at The Wooden Boat Centre, Tasmania, destined for the racing circuit in time for the Kettering Wooden Boat Rally in February 2024.
According to Cody Horgan, Head Shipwright and Manager of the Wooden Boat Centre (WBC) – Australia’s only wooden boat building school – the project will involve the WBC’s team of four, a couple of ex-students and volunteers over the next six months.
“We officially began 1 June, and we’re aiming to finish by November and have her sailing in December, ready for the Rally in February. Our team will be joined by local volunteers who are passionate about wooden boats, and ex-students, Sarah and John.
“Only the hull and mast remain,” he continues. “We have to recreate everything else and fully re-rig her. There’s a painting and an old set of plans which are hard to follow, but we’re trying.
“The first step is the restoration of the hull, checking to make sure its intact. Then the second phase is the deck and cabin, followed by the rigging and caulking to get it back on the water.”
Whimsically named Undine for the water nymph who could only become human if she was loved by a faithful mortal man, she is D13, built by Don Colbourn of Pirie Street, New Town, for P. and D. Hadlow, and launched 8 November 1948 ahead of the 12th D-class sailing season.
Each D-Class vessel is named after a mythological or literary persona, resulting in a colourful cast of characters: Imp, Pixie, Gnome, Sprite, Mermaid, Peter Pan, Wendy, Pim, Gremlin, Merlin, Janus, Merlin, Titania, and now, Undine.
Abandoned in a berth at Oyster Cove Marina, Undine faced an uncertain future before she was rescued and donated to the Australian Wooden Boat Festival.
“The Festival chose us to restore her as part of the school’s one-year shipwright course, funded by a philanthropist keen to revive the vessel to its former racing glory,” Cody explains.
“There are around seven D-Class boats in Kettering. It’s becoming very popular. We’re thrilled to be adding to the fleet which is appreciated by so many people.”
The Derwent Class (‘Ds’ to those in the know), is the oldest racing class in Australia. The D is a one-design racing yacht designed by naval architect, AC (Arthur Carlyle) Barber in the 1920s for competing on the River Derwent and D’Entrecasteaux Channel, Tasmania.
In his prodigious career, Barber designed RANI, the winner of the first Sydney Hobart yacht race in 1945 and RIPPLE which won the Hobart race of 1953-54, among dozens of other privately owned and commercial craft.
By 1928, there were six D-Class yachts competing in their own regatta, and by 1955, 20 had been built. In the 70s and 80s, the Class was eclipsed by racing yachts built with cheaper materials and methods, and by the 90s not one was racing.
The Class has seen a revival in recent years, led by a small and fiercely dedicated group of owners fascinated by the history and lithe lines of the ‘D’.
Based primarily out of Oyster Cove Marina at Kettering, 30 minutes’ drive south of Hobart, this new generation of wooden boat owners formed a cooperative to purchase, restore, maintain, and race D-Class boats. At least 18 still exist out of the 26 or so built, many of them fully restored.
The skippers and crew stage regular week-day races during the racing season and compete yearly in the ‘Derwent Worlds’, hosted by the Kettering Wooden Boat Rally in even years, and the Australian Wooden Boat Festival in odd years.
In 2024, the Kettering Wooden Boat Rally and Derwent Worlds will be held 10 to 12 Feb, the Hobart Regatta long weekend.
The previous project undertaken by The Wooden Boat Centre was the restoration of the Franklin 29, which made her debut at the 2023 Australian Wooden Boat Festival. Built to a design inspired by the Bristol 27 by UK designer, Andrew Wolstenholme, it was chosen for its blend of heritage looks and modern features, and provided 20 students over two years with training opportunities in the full range of boat building skills.
The as-yet-unnamed Franklin 29 is available for sale and all enquiries should be directed to the Wooden Boat Centre.
The team is currently devoted to their next mission, Undine and there’s a long road ahead, likely involving many late, cold winter nights. Cody and his team are working hard to match the vessel’s original timbers and revive the style and performance of Undine’s pedigree.
“We’re aiming to use like for like,” says Cody, referring to replicating the original in this modern incarnation. “For the hull, we’re using King Billy Pine, and for the cabin, Huon Pine. The deck will be ply and ‘glass, then painted.”
This is where experience and expertise are essential. “We rely on WEST SYSTEM 105 resin and 205m Fast Hardener in the cold for curing in a timely manner,” he states.
“At night, temperatures drop to 4C and a maximum of 17C during the day, depending on the weather. It can be freezing inside the workshop and breezy. So, to ensure quick curing we use the Fast Hardener – and as an added benefit, it makes people work faster too!
“The secret is when you’re working with a lot of people, to make small batches and work efficiently,” he adds.
“We use WEST SYTEM from ATL because their products are a known quantity, they’re consistent. When you use them a lot, you become confident they’re up to the task. And ATL provide technical support when we ask.”
The AWBF is aiming to launch the resurrected Undine to compete for the first time in at least 40 years against other D-class vessels in the Derwent Worlds in February 2024, and the auction her at the close of the Rally.
“If this one is a success, we may be lucky enough to do more in the future,” says Cody. “There are many more out there in need of loving restoration and a second lease of life.”