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Alma Doepel inspires Docklands’ greatest love story

01 Apr 2010

Alma Doepel inspires Docklands’ greatest love story Image

By Alison Kinkade

Have you ever seen the big blue/silvery looking boat docked at the end of Central Pier? Well don’t bother looking out your window now because unfortunately it last month left for Tasmania. But even if you have seen Platinum, you’re probably not aware that it holds possibly one of Docklands’ greatest love stories.

When researching this story I had planned for it to be an inspirational story about Matt McDonald who, at the young age of 29, had already secured the dream job of captaining a super yacht. But after only 10 minutes onboard Platinum all that changed after learning that Captain Matt had met his wife, Alena Schoner, in Docklands 15 years ago.

At just 14 years of age, both Matt and Alena, began journeying down to the deserted Docklands after becoming involved in a youth sailing program run on the Alma Doepel.

“I met my wife, Alena, working on the boat. We both use to leave school and catch the train to Spencer St and then jump through a few holes in the fences and go along NewQuay to get to the shed. At that stage I think Victoria Harbour was still a car container shipment. That was 14-15 years ago now,” Matt said.

The Alma Doepel, which is currently being restored in Docklands, provided the perfect nest, with its youth sailing training program, for these two love birds to fall in love.   

“The Alma used to run a youth sailing training program for 15-18 year olds and we were lucky to be accepted at 14.”

Matt said the program used to take trainees out on a nine-day voyage and then those trainees would come back as “leading hands” and help out on the next voyage with a new round of kids.

“I did about eight or 10 journeys. It’s a shame that kids don’t have that opportunity anymore. I’ve never seen it done the way Alma or similar ships did it. It was a pretty amazing experience,” Matt said.

Matt and Alena, who have dated on-and-off since they were about 16, continued to work alongside each other until the ship stopped sailing.

“I was about 17 or 18 when it stopped sailing and that was back in 1999. Then there was the ‘save our ship campaign’ and I was the spokesperson for that, but it didn’t raise much money,” Matt said

The campaign finished just as Matt finished school, so he decided to take a year off and complete a diving course before venturing to university to study marine biology and teaching. Matt then became a high school teacher in biology and outdoor education, while Alena became a nurse and mid-wife.   

Having already given up teaching, Matt was driving charter boats in Docklands when he was approached to captain the Platinum.

“If I didn’t go on the Alma I wouldn’t be sailing now.  It’s because I started so young, that’s why I’m so young to be captaining now,” he said.

Matt and Alena, who have been married for three years, now work alongside each other on Platinum with Matt as the captain and Alena as its chief stewardess.

Platinum is currently up for sale and there has been interest from overseas buyers, so there is a good chance that this Docklands love story may soon find itself crossing the Pacific.

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  • David Doepel at 1:49pm on 19/07/12

    My great grandfather built that ship

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