The 20th anniversary of the Davistown Putt Putt Regatta is almost upon us. In preparation for the big day, take a look at the meaning and history behind this event and ones like it, and learn about the seafaring history of the Brisbane Water area.
Regattas and Putt-Putts
What exactly is a putt-putt and how does it regatta?
According to Dictionary.com, the word “regatta” stems from an Italian word meaning “a contest, or fight”. The sleek gondolas of Venice were the first boats to use the term in relation to boat races.
Can you imagine gondolas ‘speeding’ around the canals of Venice to see who could go the fastest? These days, ‘regatta’ is used to describe a series of boat races, typically (but not strictly) involving non motorised vessels.
The putt-putt boat of the popular Davistown Regatta is traditionally a 14 to 18-foot wooden boat. It is propelled by a 2-10 horsepower inboard engine of the Simplex, Clay or Blaxland/Chapman varieties. Originally petrol run, these days we also see putt-putts that utilise diesel engines.
It can be hard to track down information about the exact history of the putt-putt vessel, as it seems to be a uniquely Australian term, purely based on the charming sound its engine makes as it runs.
The putt putt is a boat of simpler days. Even with the rise of jet-skis and speedboats, many enjoy the old-fashioned feel and slower pace of the putt putt. In the Central Coast’s Brisbane Water area, there are over two dozen putt-putts to be seen hanging off their moorings. On Friday afternoons, whatever the weather, a crew of local scallywags can be seen joyously (but slowly) putting around.
Step back in time: The early days of Brisbane Water
The Davistown Putt-Putt and Wooden Boats Regatta is a celebration of Brisbane Water’s rich history of boating and shipbuilding, which stems from the earliest days of European settlement, when water-based transport and trade was integral to survival.
The first English settler in Brisbane Water, James Webb, was a shipwright. He helped establish the Brisbane Water shipping industry, which was one of the largest in NSW for many years.
Many other settlers followed in Webb’s footsteps. As the Central Coast had ample timber, food supplies and shells (which were crushed to to make the lime used in mortar), there was a demand for boats to transport all manner of goods.
Brisbane Water shipyards began popping up in great numbers, producing cutters, schooners and sloops. Back in those days, many ships were lost at sea so there was always need for replacement vessels.
One well-known local figure was a man named Jonathan Piper. A prominent shipbuilder, he resided in Kincumber and assembled 24 beautiful schooners and ketches over his lifetime. Piper contributed to the community by mentoring other locals in the trade of shipbuilding. His shipyard ran from 1844 until his death in 1879. Take a walk around Kincumber and you may stumble across a memorial erected in Jonathan Piper’s honour.
Perhaps the most famous of the area’s shipwrights came from the Davis family (who Davistown was named for). Ben Davis began his career in 1848, with a 28-ton ketch called Venus. He continued to build over 49 vessels until his death in 1883. This may not seem like a huge number, but consider how almost everything was created by hand in those days, while also having to contend with the challenges of being an Australian Early Settler.
Ben’s descendants continued to build vessels where ever there was timber to craft them for many years. Rock Davis, the ‘Shipbuilder of Blackwall’ was perhaps the most recognised of the Davis shipwrights, clocking in at over 168 ships. His shipyard was run for 10 years after his death by another Davis man.
Seafaring has been an intrinsic way of life to those in the Brisbane Water area since settlements began in the 1800s.
Until Rip Bridge was built to connect the land surrounding Booker Bay and Daleys Point in 1974, much of the land surrounding Brisbane Water was water access only. Ferries travelling from the area to Gosford and Woy Woy were relied on to access food and enable trade..
For decades, residents eagerly awaited the ferry for Post and Newspapers. On Thursdays, going to the Gosford Market to stock up on supplies required a ferry trip. When community members died, the ferry service was responsible for transporting them to Gosford for burial.
In 1921, Kincumber Growers’ Ferries came into being, transporting produce from farmers in the area to be sold and transported to cities. All these ferries were important for survival and social connection for the people who lived in the area.
The Davistown Regatta
From the early 20th century, boat builders and owners competed in regattas to see whose putt-putt was fastest or who could row the quickest.
The story goes that in around 1996, a group of boating addicts decided it was time to revitalise Brisbane Water’s extensive boating history. The community pulled together and used all their manpower to organise the first annual Davistown Putt-Putt Regatta. From humble beginnings, this event has since become the biggest boat regatta of its kind on the east coast. Organisers say The Davistown Putt Putt Regatta & Wooden Boat Festival attracts a huge amount of quality putt putts, some of which travel from interstate to take part.
This year, more than 10,000 spectators are expected to turn up to watch the sleek wooden boats on show. Some mariners choose themes for their boat and come in fancy dress as Vikings, pirates or gondoliers. The day is full of vivacity and colour, and has generated an increased recognition of the beauty Davistown and surrounding areas.
The notorious Grand Parade from Davistown to Woy Woy is the event of the day. A Putt-Putt challenge race is also held for those who think their putt can out-putt the rest, with both diesel and petrol categories.
Other categories to score a prize in include:
- Best Dressed Crew
- Most Original Putt-Putt
- Best Novelty Boat and Crew
- Best Open Putt-Putt
- Best Gentleman’s Launch
- Best Half Cabin Putt-Putt
- Best Wooden Boat-Non Putt-Putt.
In 2018, the Grand Parade will have a special guest to head the show. A highly respected member of the Sydney Heritage Fleet named Protex will be leading the procession in its watery march. She and some of her Sydney Heritage friends will join the show to help celebrate the 20th anniversary, indulging spectators in a “sail past” in the morning.
If that isn’t enough to convince you to come to the party, there will be close to 100 stalls and live entertainment on shore throughout the day.
Originally a local event, the Davistown Putt Putt Regatta now attracts people from up and down the NSW coast. Options for driving, bussing and ferrying are all available to get to Davistown.
If you’re driving from Sydney, turn off the M1 onto the A49 and follow the A49 until you get the right turn to Avoca Drive. From there, watch out for the right turn onto Davistown Rd.
If you’re driving down from Newcastle, the fastest route is to stay on the M1 until the Pacific Highway turnoff toward Ourimbah, which you can follow until it joins onto the aforementioned A49, (from there follow the same directions as above).
To arrive on public transport, catch a train to Gosford, walk to William St Mall bus stop (about a 10-minute walk from the station) and catch the 63 bus straight to Davistown.
Perhaps the most suitable option for the day is the Woy Woy ferry. The Woy Woy Wharf is a 5-minute stroll from the Woy Woy train station. If driving, you can find a place to park nearby and enjoy the ride all the way to Davistown. Why not start the day with a maritime theme of your own? Check out the timetable here.
What Else is Going On?
While you’re in the Brisbane Water area, there’s a bunch of other cool stuff to see and do.
- Head out for a walk in Brisbane Water National Park and have a look at the sacred Aboriginal rock carvings.
- Enjoy a tipple at the boutique “Distillery Botanica” in Erina. They specialise in gin and cold brew coffee liqueur and have magnificent gardens to explore after you taste.
- Book a 30-minute tour at the Norah Head Lighthouse and get to know the local shipwrecks and learn about the life of a lighthouse keeper.
- If you’re having a day with the kids, head to Treetop Adventure Park in Wyong Creek and explore from on high. There are zip lines and climbing challenges to keep all ages entertained.
- Intimate and packed with character, Cinema Paradiso in Ettalong is truly a gem. Head out to a movie to unwind after all the festivities .
After the event, top off your day of Maritime fun with a feed at Mingara. We have dining options to suit the whole family!
For more info on the Davistown Putt Putt Regatta, have a look at these links: