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Wilson Tunnel Hull

Vessel Number: HV000672
Date: 1950
Previous Owner: Barry Watkins ,
Vessel Dimensions: 5.82 m × 5.6 m × 1.99 m × 0.35 m (19.1 ft × 18.37 ft × 6.53 ft × 1.15 ft)
Classification:Vessels and fittings
The Wilson Tunnel hull fishing boat was built by Joe Wilson around 1958 at his yard near Mandurah. It is an example of a unique style of boat, developed by a local boat builder for use in the productive Peel Harvey estuary. It is one of two in a museum collection and one of three known to exist from the many that were made by the builders. It is now in the collection of the Mandurah Community Museum.
DescriptionThe Wilson Tunnel Hull fishing boat was built for Cyril Renfrey as a replacement for a different style of craft lost in a storm on the estuary in 1958. After the loss of the boat Barry Watkins and his colleague Cyril Renfrey drove up the Harvey Estuary to where boat-builder Joe Wilson lived with his brother Fard and had his boatshed. Joe had one of his tunnel-hulled boats on the moulds which he was building for his personal use. These were shallow draft open boats specifically created for the region by Wilson. In a variation on his previous tunnel-sterned fisherman's launch Joe was making this boat slightly fuller in the bow which he hoped might improve its performance.

Joe Wilson agreed to complete this boat and sell it to Barry Watkins. It was also experimental in that it was finished powered by a single cylinder 5 HP Penta diesel engine, where all the previous launches had been petrol powered. To cope with the extra weight and vibration of the diesel engine Joe added extra grown knees to the engine bed structure which are not evident in the other extant versions of the boat. The original diesel engine is in Barry Watkins' storage unit and he is keen for it to be reunited with the boat in the museum. It is a batten seam carvel planked hull.

With this new boat Barry Watkins returned to fishing for himself and at age 20 felt confident enough in his future to ask Ron Harper's step-daughter Lorraine to marry him. They subsequently built a house alongside Cyril and Myrtle Renfrey, and had two sons and a daughter. Both the boys are still active in the fishing industry, operating crayfishing boats out of Mandurah.

The move into the crayfishing industry was expensive and the initial capital was raised by towing the tunnel-sterned launch up to Shark Bay for five successive winters, from May through September. The dual-axled trailer/jinker used for this is still extant as well.

Whilst in Shark Bay Barry Watkins fished for whiting and mullet which were processed up there by Planet Fisheries operated by the Pensabene family. Barry believes the Mandurah fishermen were more efficient than the local Shark Bay fishermen, with the 80 years’ experience of netting in the Peel Harvey Estuary behind them, and consequently put extra pressure on the fish stocks of the area. After five consecutive years they were 'discouraged' from returning.

With the extra money earned from the five years up at Shark Bay Barry Watkins had a small plank crayfishing boat built by the Sambraillo Bros, near the site of the current Oyster Beds Restaurant at East Fremantle. He continued using the tunnel-sterned launch for catching mullet in the Peel Harvey Estuary for crayfish bait and eventually handed the boat over to his two sons when they became teenagers. They fished with it until they also joined the crayfishing industry.

The boat then stood for some years in their backyard at Rockford St Mandurah until Barry and Lorraine built their new home in Greenfields, Mandurah. Barry gave the boat away to a person who in turn passed it on to Les Penny.

Les Penny was a 65 year old semi-retired boat builder living on the banks of the Serpentine River at Nairns, just upriver from where the Serpentine opens into the Peel Estuary. On acquiring the Watkins' boat he added additional cross supports, removed the gunnels and put a skin of fibreglass mat over the hull; hoping to extend the useful life of the vessel.

It was then seen by a Mandurah Community Museum volunteer who was researching the fishing industry in the region. When first approached about donating the boat Les Penny still had plans to do something with the boat, but a few month later he decided that donating the boat to the Museum was the best option. The boat was then transported to the museum where it is presently stored in a garage at the rear of the complex. The museum intends to make this boat the centrepiece of a gallery devoted to the history of the local fishing industry.

Barry "Tiger" Watkins
Barry Watkins was born on 19th September, 1939 at Midland Junction At age 5 he started primary school at Mandurah where he was living with his mother and step-father Cyril "Cirrie" Renfrey. Cirrie Renfrey was part of a well-established Mandurah fishing family, brother to Lionel "Bluey" Renfrey, and son of Sam Renfrey. As well as being a successful fisherman Sam Renfrey had skippered the famous Mandurah vessel CANOPUS and taken parties of the Perth establishment - Governors, Premiers, Cabinet ministers, Judges etc - on fishing trips out to James Service Reef. Sam Renfrey was also a keen sailor and participated in the Perth sailing scene in his own yacht.

After completing primary school under headmaster Mr Good, Barry Watkins attended high school at Pinjarra, travelling by bus every day with the other Mandurah children. Soon after his 14th birthdayarry left school and went fishing with his step-father Cirrie Renfrey. When Barry was about 17 or 18 years old they purchased a second-hand Joe Wilson built boat from a fellow Mandurah fisherman Ron harper and went fishing on his own. In the days of rowing and sail, fishermen on the Peel Harvey Estuary found that two boats were more successful than one in putting a net around a school of fish in the shallow water. Consequently fishermen often went into a loose partnership with another and shared the returns on their joint catch. Cyril Renfrey and Ron Harper operated together in this way.

Barry Watkins was a promising footballer in the local league and his nickname "Tiger" comes from this activity. At age of 72 many older people in Mandurah still refer to him as Tiger Watkins. When he was 18, probably in the 1958 season, Barry was invited to play for South Fremantle in the Western Australian Football league. It was on a Saturday, while he was away playing football in Perth, that a squall ripped through Mandurah sinking his boat and one other on their moorings just inside the bar. They had been fishing for prawns in the previous days and the boats had been left on their moorings with their booms and nets raised up alongside the mast. It was the added windage of these nets, coupled with the tide holding the boats broadside to the wind, that caused them to capsize and sink, presumably still attached to their moorings. Barry and his stepfather searched for the boat, dragging grapples through the area for some days without success, before finally deciding that they would have to get him another boat. (A year later Barry's boat resurfaced and was dragged ashore, cleaned out and put back into service. Even the motor was restarted. The other boat was never seen again.)

Prepared from material supplied by Michael McGhie Mandurah Community Museum volunteer.

Vessel Details
Deck layout:open/foredeck
Deck material and construction:timber planked
Hull material and construction:batten seam
Hull material and construction:timber
Hull shape:monohull
Hull shape:plumb transomvertical transom
Hull shape:round bottom
Motor propulsion:motor vesselMV
Motor propulsion:petrol

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