Graduation celebration

A former surgeon, and a Boeing 747 airline pilot are two of the eight students graduating from the Wooden Boat School at Franklin in the Huon Valley, Tasmania.

12 February 2023


The Wooden Boat School students come from all parts of Australia and have completed a one-year, hands-on course in boatbuilding. They have built six new vessels and restored two.

“The Wooden Boat School is one of Tasmania’s best kept secrets,” said Peter Schulz, a former airline pilot who sailed his own yacht from Sydney to join the course.  “I know of nothing like it elsewhere in Australia.”

Dr Michael Vaughan gave up his practice as a surgeon to pursue his love of wooden boats. “It is such a privilege to be able to build boats using the best boat-building timbers in the world such as Huon pine, which are only available here in Tasmania,” he said.

“It has been great to get back to normal after Covid disrupted student arrivals from interstate in the previous two years,” said Cody Horgan, chief instructor at the school.


“This year’s cohort has been an extraordinary mix of ages and backgrounds and shows the enthusiasm out there for keeping alive boat-building skills.”

Mr Horgan is a former student at the Wooden Boat School who went on to work interstate, including being responsible for maintenance of the vessels at the National Maritime Museum, Sydney.

“The school is keeping alive, and building on, Tasmania’s wooden-boat-building heritage,” said Mr Horgan.

There have been surprises for some of the students during the year.  Sarah Hodgman, gave up nursing at a Canberra hospital to try her hand at boat building.  Much to her surprise she discovered her skills in fine woodwork, turning out exquisite pieces, including an ornate sea chest with wooden hinges.

Jack Witte, a master craftsman and restorer of heritage buildings, faced challenges: “I have been working with wood since I was 14 years old, but the lack of straight lines in boats has challenged me,” he said.

The final new-build out of the school for the year belongs to Keith Gimbert from northern Queensland. He and his wife Sharon moved to Franklin, Tasmania for three months so Keith could work on the build of his Huon pine Whitehall dinghy alongside students.

“There is nowhere quite like here,” he said. “The access to the woods like Huon pine, and the people with skills is unparalleled.”

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