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Alma back in the water but “long way” to go with $30K needed for restoration

Brendan Rees

After marking a victorious return to the water, it’s all hands-on deck again for a group of devoted volunteers working to restore the historic Alma Doepel tall ship.

There is still a “long way to go” before the 119-year-old ship in Docklands is ready to sail – with the stepping up of her masts requiring a $30,000 funding effort.    

Restoration director Dr Peter Harris said following a hard-earned break over Christmas, his team was excited to put in a new deck before the masts go up.

“We’ve finished the beams and we’re now faring all those up, smoothing them out so they have nice clean, bends, lines and curves, and we’re getting ready to put the deck on,” he said after the Alma made a grand return to Victoria Harbour last October thanks to the help of a specially engineered crane ship, which lowered her into Victoria Harbour.

“When we did the launch, we just had to make it workable, so we put temporary decking down so we could walk on it safely,” he said.

Dr Harris said his team had sourced 30-year-old timber – which would be recycled into the Alma’s new decking – as the original timber, Queensland white beech, which was used by Fred Doepel to build the ship in 1903, was now unattainable.

 

We’re using what is called a composite deck, it will be laid with two sheets of plywood and then a watertight barrier… then we’re putting the recycled white beech on top of that, so it’ll look exactly like the conventional deck that was there before.

 

“Hopefully, we won’t have nails through it, and hopefully it won’t leak,” he said after water seeped into the Alma in the days after her relaunch into the water.

But Dr Harris said the “good news there is we haven’t run any of the pumps to keep water out – not since two or three weeks before Christmas. It’s all dried up, we’re very happy with that.”

Once the deck goes in, the next milestone will be the raising of three masts with hundreds of metres of rigging wire and other materials expected to cost $30,000.

The team has launched a “mast stepping campaign” on its website, in the hope the public will generously donate so the works can come to fruition.

Members of the public can also “buy a block” for $500 and have their name engraved on a Block Honour Board.

In the meantime, Dr Harris’s other work included fitting out the engine rooms, welding fuel tanks, and putting water tanks in.

“Unfortunately, we need to slow down on the skilled labour side of it while we’ve got our bow thruster unit being built in the UK and is now finished, which they want to ship it out to us.”

“Plus, we’ve got to order the rigging wire for the masts and that’s got an eight-to-10-month delivery time from Europe, so we need to get in early.”

“When Fred Doepel built the ship, he would not have expected it would last more than 20 years.”

“The build that we’re doing at the moment, we’re expecting that will last 50 years at least, it might be 100 but let’s not be too optimistic.”

“The vessel is the oldest wooden ship in Australia and the last surviving coastal trader from the early 1900s, having originally sailed around the coast of Australia, carrying goods like timber, wheat, and jam.” 

A short documentary recently aired on ABC TV which featured Alma’s history and restoration process. Dr Harris, who was among those interviewed for the show, said viewers had since called to make donations and offer up historical artefacts.

“We got very good coverage out of that … it’s all good for Docklands,” he said.

Once the ship is restored, it will be used again for a youth developmental program, helping young people achieve their own goals and ambitions •

To donate visit: almadoepel.com.au/donate-now

Restoration director Dr Peter Harris aboard the Alma Doepel, which will soon have a new deck. Photo: Murray Enders.

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