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The West Coast Piner's Punt

Lines sketch of a typical piners punt
 

History

It is thought that the West Coast pining punts, of the same design as this boat, originated in Port Davey some time prior to 1890. Mrs. McCullum, a historian and long time resident of the southern districts, recalls "...the piners built their own boats, they built them short and without a keel so that they turned easily. They were very easy to manoeuvre ...".

They were easily and cheaply built and, properly handled, were fairly safe and reasonably fast with 2 rowers. It is reliably reported that a local piner well known and still living, rowed a punt single handed from his camp in the lower Gordon to Strahan and back each weekend to play football.

Attie Doherty

Alfred "Attie" Doherty, a prolific boat builder on the West Coast, was commissioned by the government of the day to build seven 12' punts for the succour of shipwrecked crews. His daughter, Mrs. lvy Priestly, recalled his pride when he was paid 84 sovereigns for his efforts at the going rate of £1 per boat foot. These boats were left, one at each river along the coast, and it is a matter of conjecture whether any of them ever saved a stranded sailor.

Construction

Most boats were built on a batten instead of a conventional rabbetted keel. This was a suitable length of 3" x 1" timber tapered towards each end and chamfered on the underside to accept the garboard strakes. The snub and transom were attached using natural timber knees screwed or riveted for strength and supporting the ends at the chosen angles. The boat was then set up on a series of short posts in the ground, or securely fastened to the floor if one enjoyed the luxury of a shed. Timber props fastened to a beam overhead secured the horizontal position of the batten, the ends of the "keel" were then wedged up to adjust the required spring which contributed to the manoeuverability of the boat.

After two or three moulds were placed in position and faired up, planking could begin. Planks were usually screwed at the ends and, in some cases, the garboard strakes received similar treatment. The planks were overlapped about 1" and given a generous coat of linseed oil, whiting and red lead.

Once planked, the knees in each corner of the stern tuck were installed, a breast hook fitted to the snub and the ribs steamed and fitted. The stringers or risers and thwarts, which had one or two small knees at each end, were next. This left only the gunwales and false keel which Was fastened along the keel batten between the inner edges of the garboard strakes. The addition of sole flooring (usually 6" x 1/2") lightly nailed to the ribs, finished the job.

Harry Grining

Harry Grining was another boat builder on the West Coast. He owned a boatshed on the wharf at Strahan where, aside from other boats, he built the "Mayfair", a 1930's tourist launch and the fishing boat "Olive" for Teddy McDermott. In what was seen as a radical design, Harry also built a large punt with a tunnel in the stern for use in the rapids of the Gordon River. It was fitted with an inboard motor and named "Helen". She was years before her time, being built in 1938.

Being an innovative builder, Harry also introduced carvel design punts. A number still survive today, they had a rounded tuck and although he still used seven boards each side, these punts were slightly wider and deeper than their clinker built counterparts. They became popular about the beginning of the Second World War when the demand for boat building timber increased.

To satisfy the new demand, there were a number of men working horse teams in the Gordon River area and large quantities of chaff were needed up river. Once the need was recognized, a punt capable of carrying a few extra bags of chaff per trip became a distinct advantage. Harry's punts became sought after and were used extensively throughout the area.

The punts in use

Many are the stories told of the West Coast punts and the men who used them, of transporting sick or injured work mates many miles, rowing day and night to find medical assistance. Almost all of the accidents associated with the punts occurred while they were being towed, especially in a following sea. Many of them had a tendency to overtake the towing boat and, in some cases, have been known to come aboard. A jute bag hung over the stern was sometimes used to eliminate the problem but attention to the length of the towline was just as effective in most cases. The fact is, they were designed for rowing and properly handled, they were superb.

 

Editor's note : This article was taken from the Guild's display boards at the 2003 Wooden Boat Festival. We have lost touch with the author and we would like to acknowledge him or her. Please contact us.

Plan drawing of a typical piners punt

Displayed here is the fourteen foot piner's punt, "Tee Poo Kana", designed by Adrian Dean and built by members of the Wooden Boat Guild of Tasmania.

TeePooKana in her element

The lines drawing below is of the Guild's punt Gordon, an original Strahan punt that was used at one stage by the Forestry Commission.

Perspective lines drawing of Piners Punt Gordon
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This work, including all text and any attached documents and images is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Australia License. Except where a specific author or copyright holder is identified, attibution is to the Wooden Boat Guild of Tasmania, Inc.