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The Alma is ready for the water

Jack Hayes

The Alma Doepel is ready to return to the water.

It is the news more than a decade in the making and will be whole-heartedly welcomed by Melbourne’s maritime enthusiasts, not least the many volunteers and stakeholders whose painstaking restoration efforts have made it possible.

Restoration director and recent Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) recipient, Dr Peter Harris, said aside from a few finishing touches, the restoration is finally complete, with a tentative date in early September earmarked for the Alma’s homecoming to Melbourne’s waterways.

“The ship will leave here with tugs, and we will tow the barge with the ship on it down to the crane ship at Appleton Dock, just downstream of the Botle Bridge,” Dr Harris said.

“Our team will inspect the ship and then we will tow it back to North Wharf.”

“We will have the Lady Cutler as a spectator boat viewing the process, in addition, we will be running a streaming and video commentary on the web.”

According to Dr Harris, the Alma will be lowered in the harbour by a specifically engineered crane ship, purpose built for cargo exceeding the size of your usually shipping containers.

The crane ship ventures up and down Australia’s east and west coasts, stopping in the Port of Melbourne for a select few days, just once a month.

Dr Harris said Thursday, September 9 will be the likely date for the event, however, he and his team will be at the mercy of the crane ship’s workload, and early estimates may need to “give or take a few days.”

“The basic plan is that we will organising people to come in groups and tours to take a look at the ship out of water prior to the event, so you can see the hole in the bottom of the ship, the propellers and shafts ... all the bright shiny bits. That will happen during August,” Dr Harris said.

“Following the forecasted return to water in early September, we will also be celebrating Alma’s birthday; that is her first launch on October 10, 119 years ago, to be held at the City of Melbourne marina lounge.”

Built in 1903 by Fredrick Doepel and named for his youngest daughter Alma, the ship is the last surviving coastal trader from the early 1900s and originally sailed around the coast of Australia, carrying goods like timber, wheat, and jam. 

During WWII, the Alma was used as an army supply vessel running from Townsville and Darwin to Papua New Guinea. 

The ship was bought by Sail and Adventure in 1976 to be restored as a Youth Sail Training ship and underwent a restoration in time for the 1988 Australian bicentenary celebrations in Sydney Harbour.  

Now, with several of Melbourne’s yacht clubs, service clubs, Rotary and Probus groups, not to mention a considerable cohort of the general public and former volunteers eagerly awaiting the Alma’s return, Dr Harris said now was the time to see the ship in all her glory.

“Basically, we’ve been hibernating from public activity for 10 years and now is the time we come out and turn into a beautiful butterfly,” he said •

For more information: almadoepel.com.au

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