The vessels collection comprises 25 large and small vessels linked to South Australia’s maritime history. Most of these are in dry dock or storage. The oldest complete vessel in the collection Nelcebee was shipped in parts from Scotland in 1883 while the more recent vessels were still in use in 2000. The collection includes small craft such as surfboats, surf skis, fishing cutters, sharpies, dinghies, lifeboats, punts, canoes and a naval whaler, and large craft such as the steam tug Yelta (on water), the wooden ketch Annie Watt, and the iron hulled diesel ketch Nelcebee. The collection showcases the craft of South Australian boat builders and includes some fine examples of vessels with specific connections to South Australia such as the ketches that transported cargo over the shallow waters of the Gulf.
The collection includes examples of the ketches that were so integral to South Australias’s maritime history. Ketches evolved in South Australia to suit local conditions. Their shallow draft was ideal for the shallow bays of regional ports. For over 100 years this collection of small craft known as ‘the mosquito fleet’ plied South Australia’s waters, doing the work of present day land rigs and bulk cargo handling vessels. More than in any other state, this form of coastal shipping played a lasting and vital role in linking outlying rural areas to urban centres.
The collection includes one of Australia’s most significant historic vessels. The coastal trader Nelcebee, launched in 1883, worked until the 1980s.It is the oldest powered ship in Australia and has had a longer, continual association with South Australia than any other vessel.
Within the collection is the James Hardy collection – sailing vessels associated with one of the state’s and Australia’s most accomplished sailors. Hardy was a world champion sailor, dual Olympian, Admiral’s Cup victor and three times America’s Cup challenger. The Museum holds the first sail boat built by Hardy when he was a 14 years old (Nocroo) in 1947 and Tintara, the sharpie Hardy built for the Olympic trials in Melbourne in 1956. The collection also includes the 505 sailing dinghy Black Bottle which Hardy sailed to victory in during the International 505 championship off the coast at Brighton, South Australia in 1966.
Several of the vessels were constructed and maintained in the boat building yards that hugged the Port River from the 19th century. These vessels demonstrate the finely honed skills of traditional wooden boat builders who passed on skills from generation to generation. Many of these vessels worked or were moored in Port Adelaide and are some of the last physical remnants of a once thriving commercial port.
The collection includes examples of sailing craft from different eras providing insights into how maritime technology evolved and changed. Certain forms of sail technology were refined or popularised in South Australia. Lightweight sharpies with shallow drafts were suitable for South Australia’s gulf waters and were embraced with enthusiasm after the Sunny South sail race tragedy off Glenelg in 1932. The collection includes examples of both Sharpies and Herons – lightweight sail dinghies that were particularly popular in this state. Surf skis and surf life boats help tell the story of beach culture and life saving clubs in South Australia.