One boomer’s different life in a very different place

A baby boomer wrote to BoomerCafé last year with a story about her life-long passion for hula hoops. Who wouldn’t print something like that?!? We surely did! But when hula hooper and boomer writer Kathy Gates also told us that she lives in Tasmania, we asked her to tell us about the place and what it’s like to live there. She just did. It’s about boats, boats, and more boats. We enjoyed what she told us; we hope you do too.

Southeast of the ‘mainland’ of Australia and due west of New Zealand is Tasmania It’s Australia’s island state. My hometown, Hobart, is the capital city and owes its existence to a 1798 race between nations to establish a whaling post on the northern edge of the Southern Ocean. The British made it first across the finish line. They brought convicts as well as whaling ships.

Kathy Gates

Kathy Gates

Now, for a few days each year between Christmas and New Year, Hobart is the finish line for another race, one of the greatest, the annual Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race.

I came here for three years. Which was twenty years ago. What struck me when I arrived was the number of boats. Statistics bear that out: Tasmania, per capita, has more boat licenses than any other Australian state which is pretty good when you consider, almost all of Australia’s cities are on the water. Yacht clubs dot foreshores here, but you don’t have to be a ‘yachty’ to feel the nautical vibe. Every day I walk down the hill overlooking the River Derwent and glimpse kayaks, yachts, container ships, research vessels, and cruise liners ploughing the wide waters.

The Mona Roma Ferry.

The Mona Roma Ferry.

Since 2011, almost every visitor to Hobart goes to the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA); the best way to get there is on the Mona Roma ferry. I’ve lost count of the number of friends from my nation and overseas who I’ve accompanied to the museum via the specially fitted out catamaran.

Kathy Gates (right) with friends on the Mona Roma ferry.

Kathy Gates (right) with friends on the Mona Roma ferry.

With adventurous friends, I’ve braved the salt spray on the small tourist boats that speed to Storm Bay, at the mouth of the Derwent. On one particularly rough day it was three hours non-stop on a carnival ride. Pleased to report I was among the few who weren’t seasick. The back of the boat was not a pleasant place to be.

Sail training on the River Derwent in Tasmania.

Sail training on the River Derwent in Tasmania.

Good job I don’t get seasick because another memorable boat ride involved a pilot boat and the Aurora Australis, the Australian Antarctic Division’s icebreaker. The pilot boat was fun, but getting aboard the Aurora by rope ladder was not. The two vessels were moving along together at about seven knots.

Of course it’s not always about speed. ‘Old ladies of the sea,’ like the Lady Nelson and the Windeward Bound, still ply their trade. Instead of cargo they carry party goers and sightseers. The slightest breeze and it’s unfurl the top sail!

Australian wooden boat festival held in Tasmania. (Image credit: Tourism Tasmania and Laki Agnonostis)

Australian wooden boat festival held in Tasmania.
(Image credit: Tourism Tasmania and Laki Agnonostis.)

The Hobart docks are the true heart of the city. In summer, Antarctic-bound vessels are in port, making ready for re-supply missions.

Every second February, Hobart hosts the Australian Wooden Boat Festival. Glorious wooden vessels and their adoring fans crowd the docks: from the giant barque James Craig to indigenous bark canoes. The next festival takes place in February 2017.

If you are a boomer who enjoys mucking about in boats, or even if you just like to watch, then come on down.


  1. Super article. For sure it’s a boaters paradise. I also live in a boater’s paradise, having retired on a small island in southern Thailand. But the boats around me are long-tail Thai fishing boats, squid trawlers, as well as the dive, speed and ferry boats that come with a tourist island.

    I love that you mentioned the Antartic-bound vessels. Aren’t you tempted to jump aboard? Going to Antartica to see the penguins is on my ‘must do’ list and you’ve made me realize that I can get there via Tasmania, not just through ports in South America. Tasmania is now included on my list for my journey to check out the penguins.

    1. There are penguins in Tassie, no need to go all the way to Antarctica! After a trip around Tasman Island at the mouth of the Derwent which was like being inside a washing machine for three hours, don’t think I’d cope with a voyage into the Southern Ocean.

  2. As a born and raised Hobart person, it really made me think how easily locals forget what a boat paradise Hobart actually is.
    Thank you for reminding us Kathy!

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