Harold Clausen: Tumlaren builder


Harold Clausen, 79, was a mere lad in the early 30s when his father, Peter, was busy building boats. Peter had started in the boat building game in 1925, but had started out on what could be called ships, such as the 60 foot Varna, or the Sea Vogel, also at 60 odd feet.

In those days, Harold had all sorts of jobs around the yard, situated at Largs Bay, to the north west of Adelaide on Gulf St Vincent. Holding the dolly, sweeping up shavings, planing off the hulls, caulking up, anything that he could put his hand to.

“We built three or four Tumlaren that went to Victoria, and we had a couple that stayed here. We used mostly jarrah for the bottom planking, up to the waterline, and then oregon up from there,” he says. “It depended on what the owner wanted to pay for. He could have gold if he wanted it.”

Clausens of course made the spars as well, which Harold says were solid, as hollow spars did not come into the picture until much later. “When we could get good glue they held together. Before that, when we made up the masts for the Sharpies and the 14 footers, we used what we called Russian fish glue. But if they stayed overboard for any length of time they used to fall apart. People would try to lay on the varnish to keep the water out, but it didn’t seem to make much difference. The glue came in flakes, and you just stuck it in the pot and melted it.”

Another solid piece of the Tumlaren that they made on site were the lead keels. “We used to cast the keels there. The mould was put together of four lumps of 12 by 6 timber, hollowed out a bit to the shape, bolted together and lined with asbestos sheet and ‘plumbago’ (which Harold describes as a powder that resists heat). When cool the assembly would be unbolted. “Next time we’d just give it another dose of plumbago, and away we went,” he says. “The keel bolts were cast in too.”

Unfortunately, the Clausens were not photographically inclined, which seems to have been the case with a lot of the old families. Either the cost was prohibitive, or (unlike today) it was merely that the act of taking a photograph did not spring to mind.

“The Tumlarens were very low boats you know, not much room inside, and were built more for racing than cruising. But the funny part about it was that the plans that came out were all in metres. All metric you see. That was a bit strange to us for a start, but once you got into it, that was quite easy.

“You could buy a metric tape anyway in those days. So instead of 12 foot six and half inches you’d just have so many centimetres. It was quite easy after a while. Of course we’d draw them out full size on our loft floor first, and make the temporary moulds from that – all the usual proceedings.”

From the cockpit of a Tumlare, it is evident that the ribs that are visible from there are doubled up, one on top of the other, and I asked Harold about these. “We did that in some places on boats like that, like in the stern, because they were so difficult to bend whole in one piece. So we used to split a rib down the middle on the band saw and bend them in one at a time on top of each other. Where the bend was not so severe, we’d just put them in whole, but with the tumblehome in those boats it was a bit difficult to get the solid piece in, so we’d split them.” But he says that they never glued these two pieces together. “The rivets would go all the way through anyway. All roved inside.”

Harold says that ironically, after years of neglect, Clausen’s original shed is now once again a boat building establishment.