Sunglasses are almost compulsory at the Sydney Boat Show. Acres of gleaming white gelcoat reflecting a cloudless blue sky. A consistent stream of people are coming through the gates and many are headed our way, the Boat Show’s boat building competition is about to begin.
Similar in concept to the Boating Industry Training Organisation’s Marine Trades Challenge it has some interesting rule differences. Contestants are allowed to bring a “single component” to enhance speed of build and promote innovation. The interpretation of this rule sees a range of components, a transom for one team, a clever internal rudder system for another. Stretching the boundaries are teams who bring a fully laminated polyester deck complete with Perspex windscreen to a completely framed up hull structure "It’s a ‘build-a-boat’ not a ‘bring-a-boat’ competition" yells one competitor in disbelief.

Representing New Zealand, as the Marine Trades Challenge champions, are  Glen Vallender, Jeremy Hey and Shannon Hayes from Sounds Boat Paint and Marine and Sam Christiansen from Franklin’s of Waikawa. There is some pressure on the guy’s as the Kiwi’s have won this event the past three years, however they are old hands at this game and look to be well prepared with rolled up templates and their favourite tools. They have spent most of the previous day, with the help of some Sydney taxi drivers, sourcing what probably worked out to be the world’s most expensive sawhorses and planning individual roles within the respective teams to achieve the most efficient build. After a short briefing the 14 teams are into it. It’s good to see the increased number of apprentices involved this year.

Bits of timber and plywood are marked, cut and sometimes tortured into shape. Like the Kiwi event, battery powered tools have been introduced this year and it shows how varied this line of tools is now. Grinders, jigsaws, circular saws, drills and sanders all flat out creating noise and off-cuts.

It’s 30 minutes in and I’m asked to be a judge. I have been trying to avoid this as it reduces the Kiwi cheer squad by half. There’s no escape, I get to look official with a clipboard and join two Aussie boatbuilders. The categories are speed of build, quality of build and performance on the water.

With only 3 sheets of plywood it’s interesting to see the shapes evolving. Some go for quite complex designs resulting in a compromise in workmanship, not to worry, Sika is always a generous supporter and “finger cove” techniques are employed. The Kiwis stick to the tried and true, maximum length, minimum beam, simple lines and quality workmanship. Jeremy and Sam complete the build first. Their boat looks fair and the joints are tight and neat. No smears of sealant seen in this fine display of boatbuilding.

Being open to the public there is now a good size crowd as all the teams finish the build section. Shannon, a Marine Painting apprentice, instantly gains the support of a couple of young Aussie lads by painting flames on the bow. Silver fern flags and a fighting Kiwi transfer complete the Kiwi graphics. One of the Aussies counters this with two blow-up sheep strapped to the deck of his boat, “Never heard that one before mate…Yeah right”. It’s all in good spirits and by the time the organizers have hosted the teams to an energy enhancing lunch I’ve pretty much secured an Aussie team to come to our Picton event.

Jeremy and Sam reinforce the principles of boat design by easily winning the race. Surprisingly, with the size of the lunch and the shape of some of those craft, all the boats finish. Our final instructions, as judges, are to agree on the winners, present our decisions to the organizers and “We will take it from there..” Judging is a difficult task, but amidst several great efforts some stand out. I feel proud of the Kiwi’s and am relieved to find my fellow judges are unanimous in there support of Jeremy and Sam’s boat being the outstanding display of skills.

We’re hosted to a great prize giving that night at the show and although this judge’s lips are sealed the guys are looking forward to celebrating a comprehensive win. Every team wins a prize and, for us, the obligatory sheep are to the fore again. “That’s cool, we’ve done our talking in the comp.” murmurs Sam.

Amongst mumblings of ineligibility, we’re somewhat taken aback when an Aussie team is announced winners. My fellow judges confirm their surprise with the universal language of the ‘shoulder shrug’. Their shock is as big as ours, never mind there are some mighty happy boys from Seawind, whom it will be good to have at our Marine Trades Challenge in 2008. Make a quick mental note to try and warn Graham Henry, Ruth Aitken and the Warriors that if an Aussie says “We’ll take it from there..” chances are they will try to, one way or another.

It’s not going to dampen what has been a fantastic trip, some strengthened friendships, generous hosts, great weather and a well run event.

One last official chore is to pick up a copy of the Boat Show’s excellent daily news publication to read about the event. It’s on the cover and the main story reads “Kiwi’s take competition for the fourth year running”. That’s about as official as we need and we grab several copies each to spread the word, we just won’t tell any one else about the prize giving.
Mike Rose
More images, like those illustrating articles, are in the BYM Photo Gallery
"It’s a ‘build-a-boat’ not a ‘bring-a-boat’ competition" yells one competitor in disbelief.
The kiwis stick to the tried and true.
Judging is a difficult task, but amidst several great efforts some stand out.
The obligatory sheep are to the fore again.
Strengthened friendships, generous hosts, great weather & a well run event.
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