Classic Boat Rally’s triumph return to Paynesville

Chris Barley sailed from Tasmania, using a variety of ancient instruments, for the Paynesville Classic Boat Rally. Photos: Ben McArthur

Ben McArthur

[Published early March 2024]

“WHAT on earth is that?” was a common phrase heard around the Paynesville coastlines from unassuming day trippers and tourists last weekend.

Indeed, to them, Paynesville would seem a strange place with even stranger boat owners.

The Paynesville Classic Boat Rally returned this year with a spectacular fleet of classic boats; tall ships, to sailing vessels, rowboats and skiffs. If it was older than 25 years, it was probably at Paynesville.

The boats began rocking up intermittently on Friday to prepare for Saturday’s Grand Parade, where 200 ships sailed along the McMillan Strait and into the open waters of Lake Victoria, past crowds of more than 5000.

The weekend also featured music, speakers, performances, exhibitions, and the chance to roam freely around a fleet of the classic boats which were resting on land.

Paynesville Classic Boat Rally President, Peter Medling said this year was a return to the boat rally.

“With the boats, once you put the word out, people just arrive on the day from all over Australia, a lot of Tasmanians have sailed straight here,” he said.

Of all the Tasmanian boats that sailed across Bass Strait, one of the stranger ones belonged to Chris Barley and Jo Naylor, not because it was brightly coloured, absurdly old, or had an impressive history, rather because of the time it took to reach Paynesville.

According to most boating community social media pages, it takes about 40 hours to reach Paynesville from Tasmania by boat, and for most of the competitors, it did.

On a ‘pleasure cruise,’ it might take up to three days, but Chris and Jo’s 1962 ‘Terre’ (Pronounced Ter-rAE) took five days of sailing and an overnight journey to cross the Bass Strait.

Instead of leaving as most did from the northern tip of Tasmania, the Terre left from Bruny Island, a southern point near Hobart.

“The journey was uneventful, other than some gusts of winds, which would have been from the (Tuesday) storms a week ago. We got hit by a 45-knot gust (83 km/h), which knocked us down and put the winch in the water,” Chris said.

Their boat is a restoration piece, purchased by necessity six years ago after Chris sold the old one to customers who offered to buy it outright when he ran a boat charter company in Tasmania along the D’Entrecasteaux Channel.

With the new money, one of Chris’s first purchases was this boat and the materials needed to fix it. There is hardly a functional section that Chris didn’t touch or fix up in some way.

Only the interior is mostly the same apart from new cushions and a table which Chris and Jo prize so much that they protect it with a white cloth.

The interior is where meals are prepared. Under a bland beige fabric on the kitchen bench is a fridge about a metre and a half high and a metre wide filled with loose food items, which will become simple meals for a short voyage like this. It had lamb chops, tinned corn, fresh vegetables, salads, wraps, yoghurt, nuts and chia.

“The most challenging part of staying on a boat is cooking for other people because if you bring the wrong thing, then there isn’t anywhere else you can go,” he said.

The meals are prepared in the oven and with a 560-litre water tank compartment that is stored in the engine room.

This may seem like a generous amount of water for a five-day trip for three people, but it’s easy to forget that a 10-minute shower uses about 200 litres of water. And so onboard the Terre, a ‘shower’ uses at most five litres and consists of dipping a face cloth into hot water and wiping oneself down.

But unlike some luxurious hotel, Chris and Jo pride themselves on having an authentic, or as close to authentic, experience similar to how it would be to travel before digital technology.

“I think technology makes us lose touch with what we’re doing. It separates us too much from the activity,” Chris said.

Sometimes, “reconnecting” with the activity means using instruments not part of the 1962 design and have nowadays been scientifically undermined. One example is the Fitzroy Storm Glass, an 18th-century gadget that was supposed to predict weather events by drawing patterns from crystals, which as one internet commenter (accurately) put it “is less accurate than looking out the window”. Or the outdated sextant, an 18th-century piece of machinery used for navigation.

Another sign of this is a recurring bell sequence which rings every half hour. Seven bells rang at 12pm and eight bells at 12.30pm. But only one bell when the time ticked to 1pm.

That was an old system created before watches were commonplace, where to mark the time of someone on ‘watch’ (typically four hours), an extra bell rang every half an hour and when eight bells rang, the shift changed.

But that system hasn’t been used for centuries and possibly never in Paynesville.

Although Chris does have access to modern nautical instruments such as BOM measurements, GPS, and an autopilot system that reads the environment better than a human can, he prefers using older things.

“I think it’s all very modern, but technology can fail, and if ours did, we would be able to navigate, and it might not even affect us.”

Indeed, that was the general attitude from participants at the Paynesville Classic Boat Rally.

A novelty boat on display at the Paynesville Classic Boat Rally.

Chris peering through the sextant. Photos: Ben McArthur

The Fridge compartment is loosely filled

The Fitzroy Storm Glass, an 18th century gadget used to try and predict weather events.

Chris Barley and Jo Naylor made the five day journey across Bass Strait for the Paynesville Boat Rally.

Sleeping quarters on board the Terre.

Chris cleaning the ship

The engine room.