“It's definitely a lifestyle. You have to make compromises; maybe other people would call them sacrifices, but for us… this is just what we like doing the most. That spirit is quite big in Tasmania, especially in the wooden boat world."


Matt Morris and Iefke van Gogh met on a boat. A very, very large boat.

Bark Europa, a 184ft square rigger, was originally built in 1911. After decades of service as a German light ship, she was brought to the Netherlands in 1986 to be fully restored and repurposed as a sail training ship, travelling around the world and welcoming people from all ages and nationalities as “voyage crew” from 1994.

Matt was a boatswain on Bark Europa, and Iefke joined the crew as a deckhand. They spent every waking moment together from the day they met for three long months, living and working on Bark Europa. When the voyage was over, they decided they weren’t done yet.

“At the end of it, we kind of realized that we wanted to keep seeing each other,” says Iefke. “So Matt spent his whole leave with me in the Netherlands. We lived in my tiny apartment. And then we went back on the boat together. From that time, we haven't spent much time apart.”

For two people born at opposite ends of the planet, Matt and Iefke had a lot in common. They shared a sense of adventure and a love for travel. And they both loved boats. Matt was born in Cygnet, Tasmania, a region with roots firmly planted in wooden boat building. The local community nurtured his enthusiasm, growing up along the banks of the Huon River.

“There's this quiet little shed tucked away in Cygnet. Lots of boat builders go there and hang out, so I’d go there as a kid, messing around with other kids and whatnot. The adults crack a beer and chat and watch the sunset, while the kids are having fun in the water. It's a real community.”


Matt and Iefke spent two and a half years living in a 60m2 apartment in the Netherlands. In 2018 they got married, surrounded by Bark Europa crew members from all over the world. In 2019, they decided to embark on a new adventure: building their own wooden boat.

They considered a few locations around the world. Cornwall looked promising, but they would be starting from scratch, with no friends, no family, no connections. Other locations in Europe proved too dense, too built up, or too populated. Eventually, they decided to come to Tasmania.

“We came down for a visit, to see if we wanted to build the boat here. It was going to be like a scoping tour, but we got settled in pretty quick—starting with the dog. We’ve sailed for years, almost never coming home. This is the first place for both of us where we were like, okay, this could be home for a bit.”

Home was a boat building shed in Glen Huon, up-river from where Matt grew up. They leased part of the shed from a fellow boat enthusiast and lived on the property with their dog Obie, spending seven days a week working on boats—four days a week on their own boat, Tarkine, and three days working in Cygnet doing restoration work and repairs. Everything they earn goes back into their boat, and Iefke says while their way of life is not for everyone, it suits them.

“It's definitely a lifestyle. Matt said it well the other day; we're either time-poor or money-poor with a project like this, but I think we've found a pretty good balance. You have to make compromises; maybe other people would call them sacrifices, but for us… this is just what we like doing the most.”


Matt and Iefke say this lifestyle is something you see a lot in the boat building community. Success isn’t measured in dollars and cents, but in hard work and meaning. It’s a lifestyle they found together on Bark Europa, where they first met, and one they’ve found in Tasmania, too.

“That spirit is quite big in Tasmania, especially in the wooden boat world. It's not about the money. It's not about the status that it gives you. It's purely just a passion for the community and for the work.

“We are building this boat, but there are lots of people that have contributed in different ways. We have a lot of people coming in, other boat builders drop by to check up. We get given a lot of stuff—we got a toilet the other day, we’ve been given sinkers because we need lead. A lot of people give us their advice and their experience. Sometimes we trade labour instead of money. It’s the way the community runs.”

When she’s finished, Matt and Iefke plan to sail Tarkine around the world, starting with a return trip to the Netherlands. They’ve been working on Tarkine for two and a half years now, and they expect there’s at least two more to go. It would be a daunting task for anybody. They’ve never built a boat from scratch before, but their years of experience sailing, their devotion to the craft, and the connections they’ve built in Tasmania have all kept them moving forwards.

“Just don't overthink it,” says Matt. “You know, if you think too much about it, start getting worried, then you talk yourself out of it. You just gotta get started, and just work it out as you go.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if we end up coming back here when we're older. It's a really nice place to be, with a really great community. People here look out for each other.”

Matt & Iefke are featured in partnership with our friends at the Australian Wooden Boat Festival


We worked with southern Tasmanian photographer Dearna Bond for this Tasmanian story.