Home' Afloat : AFLOAT March 2016 Contents 54 AFLOAT.com.au March 2016
Legendary wooden boat builder Jeff
Clist died Sunday November 15 in Mona
Vale aged 87.
Jeff Clist took up an apprenticeship
as a shipwright building 70 foot fishing
trawlers for Col Wilde in New Zealand.
His first job was planing the edges of the
long kauri planks used to build the hulls
of these boats. Heavy trying planes used
for this job hardened up Jeff’s physique
and gave him the skills to shape these
The apprentice was required to
keep the shed in a clean and tidy state,
the red lead and white lead mixed up
and the steamer boiler fired up before
the tradesmen arrived for work. After
completing his apprenticeship, Jeff came
to Australia determined to become a boat
builder in his own right.
Jeff found work building boats out of
Malcolm Campbell’s shed at Rose Bay.
Malcolm was a very sturdy hard working
and highly skilled boat builder who
expected the best from his workers. Sadly
Malcolm got badly hurt while working a
mooring barge on his own and had to sell
out. He was a model of an employer who
demonstrated respect for his workers while
insisting on excellence.
Details of how Jeff met and married
the love of his life, Marie, are scant. They
became J & M Clist, Boatbuilders. They
hired a workshed and attached jetty in
Blackwattle Bay. Jeff employed a group
of remarkably skilled men, and one of
whom was Keith Lambert, long time head
of Meadowbank boat building school. He
recalls his time working with Jeff whom
he regarded as a “the master craftsman
of the era”.
Spars in excess of 45 feet could be
worked through the machinery by opening
small sliding windows in either side walls
of Marie’s office.
“Even the paling fence to the street had
a dummy panel. After stopping traffic and
pedestrians the timber could be fed into
the shed and could be tailed out onto the
wharf,” rec alled Lambert.
Clist built Lorita Maria a beautiful Alan
Payne design for Norman Rydge. He went
on to win the Sydney Hobart race in her in
1963. With Lambert he built many Avenger
18 OCTOBER 1928 – 15 NOVEMBER 2015
class day boats as well as a very beautiful
Luders designed boat, the 5.5M Barrenjoey
the first yacht to win Gold for Australia
at an Olympic games. This is on display at
the Australian Maritime Museum.
“ Blackwattle Bay also contained a ship
breakers yard. One time the boys took the
prop off a shaft using explosives ... too
much! Pieces rained down on the street,
the traffic, through our asbestos roof and
splashed all round the bay. Scrap metal
recovery ... nil!,” Lambert said.
“ Timber industry wharves were all
round the bay. Many was the time we would
watch an escaped plank drift our way to
be claimed alongside our wharf. The whole
bay was a hive of activity.”
Jeff and Marie were tireless workers.
He and Marie had an upstairs flat and
often worked well into the night. Marie
also worked a lot in the workshop. The
Avengers were cold moulded, the newly
glued planks being held with steel staples
until the glue dried. Marie’s job was to pull
these out – thousands of them.
Eventually Jeff was forced to abandon
his shed at Johnson’s Bay. He bought a
house in Avalon Parade which had a large,
flat back yard backing on to a park.
He set up a workshop under his house
and was very quickly engaged by the
wooden boating community of Pittwater
to repair all sorts of boats, either on the
water or on various slipways on Pittwater.
He was happy to work with willing owners
who he used as labour also teaching them
as he went. He seemed to know every
fastening in every wooden boat in Pittwater
He had stories about every boat and
owner, but was never heard to say a hard
word about anyone. He was constantly in
demand simply by word of mouth from
satisfied customers. He was custodian of
the magnificent 30 square metre boat the
Larool for the Dusseldorp family.
He worked often with two stalwarts
of Pittwater boatbuilding, David Fox and
Peter Kershaw. Peter Kershaw was the
proprietor of Gonsalves slipway for 10
years and recalls his experience working
with Jeff after his move to Avalon ...
“Jeff’s innate discipline together with
his training, his love of boats and love
of working with timber produced one of
the finest artisan boatbuilders I have had
known. Dove tailed beam ends all the way.
Jeff held no ‘trade secrets’, but shared
his knowledge freely with amateurs and
“As a professional surveyor I have
inspected many timber vessels over the
years. On the rare occasion a Clist built
vessel came on the market I was always
impressed by the way the components
were styled, constructed and fitted,
and the way thought had been given
to ventilation, rot prevention and how
scantlings of various components suited
their projected service.
“ Working with Jeff remains one of the
highlights of my life. He rarely spoke ill
of anyone, generally describing people
as a ‘really great bloke’ or ‘a tremendous
His sayings were famous. “It’s a hole
that a pound of putty won’t fix” ... “In
glue and dust we place our trust” ... “It
was only myself and God that knew about
this mistake, now it’s you, me and God.”
Describing a fibreglass job: “It’s as dry
as a lime burner’s boot.” About a mistake:
“Better to keep quiet and be called a fool
than to speak up and remove all shadow
Jeff’s final large boat, Marie of Myall,
was built in his backyard. Jeff and Marie
intended to cruise her extensively in
their retirement. Alas Jeff’s failing health
prevented that. This masterpiece of boat
building lies at Little Oyster bay marina
south of Hobart, the home of wooden
Jeff’s only surviving relative is the love
of his life and wife, Marie
h Bob Hamilton
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