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One word. One enterprise. Two models

by John Curnow, Global Editor, Powerboat.World 7 Dec 2023 21:00 UTC
The Kooyong 28 Walkaround has definitely made it all the way North to Sydney! © The Wooden Boatshop

Passion. There's your word. It pervades everything in this place as much as it is the motivating driver for the team that work there. Funny thing was, it happened to be the very first thing that was said after the recording had stopped. For sure it was a statement in and of itself, but the intent was to highlight that it is what is integral to the building and using of boats, and pretty much for life as a whole, too.

Now I was fortunate enough to be close by Sorrento's famous The Wooden Boatshop, and so that would be the enterprise that we last spoke about back in February of this year. We were in Hobart back then, and ahead of my latest on site viewing I had had my curiosity piqued by learning that this Mornington Peninsula-centric organisation had just sent a brand new Kooyong 28 up North to Sydney's Pittwater. Interestingly, that too is another peninsula...

So the Kooyong is one of the two models in question here (of the many they make), and the other is the brilliant, and certainly semi-customisable Deal Island 50. There are two of the latter in construction right now at the ever-evolving The Wooden Boatshop. One is in final sort of fitout, and then other is a way off, but they are both upright and looking like the majestic craft they are. Just add water.

Apart from the grand, and quite the industrial art item that is the very new and expansive dry stacker, The Wooden Boatshop now does just about everything in-house, which is not only about ensuring quality, but also a reflection of the Covid/Supply Chain times we have experienced. All of the major categories are done in house, whether it's paint, upholstery, covers, plumbing, electrical (bar 240V AC), engineering, design, and naval architecture.

Of course, not only does that help with controlling the space (and lead/delivery times), it also aids in customisation. No two boats from here are what you might call identical. There are always tweaks and quirks to meet a customer's requirements, as well as evolution to meet real-world experience. Some examples might be that the 50 now has a slightly fuller bow and longer overhang of the coachhouse roof.

Not about the tennis, a train station, the Pinot, or the Chardy...

Until the arrival of the new 55, the Kooyong 28 is their latest model. To date, all have been the centre console/fixed awning walkaround variation on the theme that also includes a runabout and the open launch. I liked it from the get go, but had not seen one until this last trip. It is all in the simplicity, which merges harmoniously with ye olde worldy look and feel. Add in the compact head, shallow draft and brisk pace, along with the amenity of the open transom, and it is a compelling equation.

Tim Phillips OAM is the Doyen of the scene, a fountain of knowledge, and always a delight to speak with. Never be put off by the beanie full of sawdust, or that piercing glare through ever-evaluating eyes, for a wry smile is just a handshake and jovial quip away.

Enquiry for the Kooyong 28 extends all the way up to Noosa Heads, to which Phillips says, "It's a great boat for Australia in terms of ease, shallow draft, and really good handling. If you wanted to go offshore, in calm conditions you could easily get out of Noosa Heads. We've been making them for three or four years. The first one was a prototype and we tested it before we pushed the button to go into production. It's a classic boat with a lot of appeal for boaters in the modern era."

"It's got a lot of space in it, with seating up in the bow to have a chat, or drinks and BBQ down in the stern, and the access for swimming is unparalleled."

So then if you look at it, there are certain parts of the U.S.A. that have similar conditions to Sorrento and its environs; often wind, waves, tide, even bars and other navigational hazards. It's fantastic to see The Wooden Boatshop from humble old Sorrento, expanding further and further. There have been Couta Boat events going up to Sydney, but does Phillips think there could be an American aspect come to pass for The Wooden Boatshop's creations?

"Well, I think there's an aspect for them anywhere that people want a recreational boat that's easy to own, and has a classic aesthetic. It really is no more maintenance owning one of these boats than owning a fibreglass boat, but it's got a lot more appeal, with the laid deck, timber appearance, self-draining cockpit, wooden coamings and the battens for the T-Top."

"Also, the outboards make it very manoeuvrable, also reliable, and there's the possibility of joystick control. The Kooyong ticks a whole heap of boxes for only a moderate expense. You can catch a fish in the boat, haul it in because you're level with the water, clean your fish there and have the blood and guts in the cockpit and just wash it out with a hose or a few buckets because the whole stern of the boat's open."

Christmas for everyone

The Wooden Boatshop is not just at Sorrento now (also Queenscliff), and there are Kooyongs in build now at that facility that could be yours 'just a whisker after the Christmas period', as Phillips puts it. That's pretty appealing. The videos are great, but if you can, get personal with one, for there is a certain feeling you only get after embracing the tactile stimuli.

Deal Island is a very special place to both Phillips and I for our own, and different, yet distinctly similar reasons. The Wooden Boatshop have completed two Deal Island 50s to date, with Hulls #3 and #4 in build now. These latter two have an open 'crew cabin' going back under the helm, but the single Volvo-Penta D13, large alternator, open plan, crayfish well style is common to them all. These craft take a bit over a year to complete.

Plans for the new 55 are nearly completion, and Phillips is justifiably proud of what will become the largest vessel in the range. "It is going to be a full double cabin with a second en suite bathroom, so it will be great for going away with two couples, and should tick quite a lot of boxes. As you know, these style of boats are the real deal. No reaching into the freezer and getting a packet of frozen prawns out on board a Wooden Boatshop launch!"

The 55's name is still under consideration, but Furneaux or Kent may get a look in. We will just have to wait and see. Now there may a longer lead time with these vessels, but the one thing that really comes clear to me, is that there's no shortage of people looking to get into this kind of boating, which we definitely saw evidence of in Hobart at the Australian Wooden Boat Festival.

Part of the developments highlighted at the beginning include engineering, and all the prop shafts are done in house, and the screws come from Veem, which is another great Aussie brand. Interestingly, Veem have recently partnered with Sharrow. "We've had a look at them, and it looks excellent. We'll be tapping into that for the next for the next boat for sure, and I'd be really interested to see if we can get a pair for the Kooyong because we're actually looking at putting a little bit less power on the Kooyong and putting high thrust, counter-rotating props on them. The current 115 Yamahas both spin the same way, but the new 90s being counter rotating with the Sharrow props would probably be really good."


The 'South Channel Fort', as you may like to consider The Wooden Boatshop, certainly has all guns blazing these days. As Phillips' states, "We've got a workforce that's hard to expand down here and a business envelope that's hard to increase beyond the current size. We'll never be a mass producer of boats, but if we can build three or four boats a year, we'd be very happy with that. We could even make it five or six if the Kooyongs take off."

Currently there are eight craft in build, which is the most they have ever done, and in the heydays of the Couta Boats they were at four, so it is quite the achievement. "Add in that some of them are quite big boats - pair of 50s, pair of 44s, along with a pair of Kooyongs, and it's been pretty solid the last 18 months to two years."

The market still debates whether you want to go fast or slow, and The Wooden Boatshop actually has offerings in both spaces, so how does Phillips see it all? "With our bigger boats we're only really talking about a cruising speed of 15 to 20 knots. We're not going much beyond 20 knots. On the Deal 50s, we've tuned the 13 litre Volvos back from 1000 to 800hp. Top speed comes back from 27 to 23 knots, which is fine, given our operating window. The Efficient 44s utilise the 11 litre Volvo for the same sorts of reasons - longer range and lower noise."

Importantly, the 50 burns just 40lph at 15 knots, which turns into something like a 900nm range. If that's not outright class smashing, then it would have to be in with the leaders. Drop back into full displacement mode in the 9-12knot bracket and the news just gets better.

"Going down to an island or across the Bight, well 9 or 10 knots is very comfortable... BBQ on, and a glass of red wine over dinner is all very civilised. It's getting the mindset away from those 20-knot runs, only to then have to find a fish and chip shop at the end of the day. Our fish and chip shop is under us!"

"It's really nice to get a bag of mussels, or a bag of oysters and chuck them in the cray well before a cruise. Then every night you can shuck half a dozen oysters, or steam a kilo of mussels. It's what we go away for," said Phillips in closing.

Not two, but three

So we might have snuck down the road the Blairgowrie Yacht Squadron, where the latest Efficient 44 lives, and what a delight it is. Like nearly all Wooden Boatshop craft, this one gets used a lot, all year round. Now just to remind everyone, The Wooden Boatshop vessels are synonymous with Diesel main, including large and additional alternator for the house bank, but no genset. Peace and quiet reigns supreme. Diesel oven and cooktop are the go, and never forget the wood burner, which still gets raised eyebrows from me on a wooden boat, of course. This latest one has a magic flue, courtesy of the artisans that are now part of The Wooden Boatshop team.

General Manager, Wayne Parr, must just about be a part of every boat that has left the famous sheds. As we surveyed the simple wonder of Hull #3 of this series (Francesca), we discussed the distinctly local focus and flavour that defines The Wooden Boatshop vessels. #4 of the 44 is literally gunwale to gunwale with #3 of the 50s, and as we have seen, boats are exiting the facility at a noticeable clip.

So just how does it all come about? "Sailing the Couta Boats is certainly the origin of it, but many have decided they want to have BBQs down at Point Nepean, or overnight at Queenscliff. Dayboating, with comfort, and then also being able to take extended family or friends for a jaunt, as well. The Peninsula is very busy now, so getting away from the crowds is a huge drawcard too," said Parr.

"It's expanded further with Tim doing his magnificent trips, and then also the migration to the AWBF. People read about and want to be a part of it. This is why the bigger boats have become so popular. The 55 will certainly take privacy and comfort to another level, but simplicity will remain a hallmark, as we like things to be clean and uncomplicated."

"Building something that has a simple look is often complicated," said Parr. In fact, to me the glorious Southern Rock may very well be the epitome of that very point, and if you have been fortunate enough to be on her, then you'll already be nodding your head. Things in the right place is by design, not accident.

"We also plan for obsolescence by ensuring you can rewire when new tech comes out, rather than having rip half the boat apart." Case in point, a lot of switch gear is hidden from view to ensure that classic, no-frills aesthetic is first and foremost, but still remains unbelievably accessible. Another example would be the John Deere powerplants in some of the displacement models. They're just the modern iteration of the venerable old Lehman. Gets the job with next to no fuss...

"We love the raw materials, the brass, the bronze, the copper, and of course, wood. Wherever we can, we just like to use base materials. Yeah, there's a distinct natural aesthetic in all of them. We try to steer away from stainless wherever we can. There's a great traditional look in all of that with the white paint, and not too much heavy varnish."

"People love being on the water, and these boats are homely, too. For sure you have fridges on so forth, but you can go off grid if that's your thing. It's all about the maximisation of your leisure time. These boats are off grid, even when they're on the moorings. The fridges are running and you've got your cold drinks and snacks all stocked up. Simply swim out to the boat and away you go.

"These are lifestyle boats, and with everything being so busy, a lot of our clientele just want to come off the accelerator, and enjoy the journey as much as the destination. You see more when you're going slowly, and sometimes it is not about going that far, either. You take in things like dolphins and birds, whales and fish, let alone any interesting weather."

"Tim's cruising newsletters have certainly kicked it off, but you know, one person buys a boat, takes some friends out, and then they're hooked. In this way, the Kooyong seems to be a great entry point for first time boaters. Definitely The Wooden Boatshop enjoys a very loyal following.

"People also love the process of having their boat built, too. It's not just something popped out of a mould. I find people do enjoy dealing with The Wooden Boatshop and following the progress of their boat. Apart from the places you have mentioned, I think the Kooyong could also do really well on the Swan River in Perth, or the Gippsland Lakes, even Port Stephens. You hop on, and off you go for an adventure."

"There's definitely something about owning a beautiful object that your friends see and go, 'Oh, I want one of them!' They are special, and we put a lot into ensuring that is the case. We do have an extensive range of craft, and with the Kooyong, we have something that is so very flexible, and around these parts, there's nothing else quite like it. We like the open nature, the deck chairs with leather socks, planked deck, exposed ribs, and enjoyment aspect of it all. Do lunch or go fishing. Tow an array of fun craft, or anchor up and pass out for a spell. Great boating right there," said Parr in closing.

OK. Today you will find that the website has an abundance of material from right across the globe, and if you cannot find something, just try the search button right up the top of the landing page, above our logo. If you cannot find what you want or wish to want to add to that, then please make contact with us via email.

Finally. Please look after yourselves,

John Curnow
Global Editor, Powerboat.World

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