Boat of the Month - Gloucester 62 Schooner

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There is nothing like a beautiful wooden schooner to evoke the dreamer in us all. The North Queensland built, <I>Providence V</I> — regarded as Magnetic Island’s own tall ship — is one such beauty and DR LINDSAY SIMPSON has her for sale

Boat of the Month - Gloucester 62 Schooner
Boat of the Month - Gloucester 62 Schooner

The boatbuilder of Providence V has one piece of advice for wooden boatbuilders: "You have to be weak in the head, have a good set of knees, take a vow of poverty and be absent-minded."

At 78, our North Queensland boatbuilder is a shy, retiring type, who wishes to remain anonymous. He claims to have ‘retired’, but behind him in the large shed on his country property are the ribs and keel of his latest craft, an, as yet unnamed sailing boat he is building for his daughter.

Wooden boats are his passion. If it wasn’t for that passion, we would never have owned one of his earlier creations, Providence V.

Our introduction to this unique, fully North Queensland timbered gaff-rigged schooner began in April 2003. We were on our honeymoon in Airlie Beach, strolling hand-in-hand at Shute Harbour when someone called my husband’s name. It was an old mate from Tassie fishing days. One thing led to another and my husband came back to Airlie to help him skipper the tallship, Flying Cloud. While there, his mate told him about "a tidy little schooner" that was for sale in the Abel Point Marina. The rest, as they say, is history.

The anonymous builder had always wanted to construct a schooner. He set up his own boatbuilding business in North Queensland in 1968. At that time, they’d just discovered prawns in the Gulf of Carpentaria. In the mid seventies, he began building sailboats, all the while fixating on building his first schooner, but not just any old schooner.

In the early ’80s, he and his wife Dot hired a car in Miami, Florida, went down to Key West, then drove 6000 miles up the northeast coast of the USA, as far as Maine and New Brunswick and across to Nova Scotia stopping off at the ports where the fishing boats left for the Grand Banks.

Around these waters, there were bluenoses aplenty. These were Canadian fishing schooners, some of the fastest of their type around and the first boats to compete in the America’s Cup in the 1870s, against the Americans.

"They were fast and able. Those hardnosed Yankees used to push them along. She had such a fast rig," the builder reminisces.

But, it was in Mystic Seaport, Connecticut, that he finally found the schooner he wanted to build. It was a 51ft7in Gloucester gaff-rigged schooner Blackfish, designed by one Henry A. Scheel, famous for the Scheel keel that traps the water on the lee side of the keel and doesn’t let it cross under to the weather side.

The Blackfish had a displacement of 27 tons and her iron keel weighed 10.5 tons. She had the elliptical stern of the true Gloucesterman.

"I saw beautiful schooners on that trip, but it was this one I wanted to build. It was patterned on the bluenose," he says. "I built it a little bit different… I had bent timbers, but it’s the same lead ballast as I’ve got on Providence."

The builder asked at the Mystic Seaport Museum for the plans, but it wasn’t until he returned to Australia that his request was approved. He presumes they checked with Henry Scheel, who at that time was still alive.

"They said: ‘You can have the design. You’re only allowed to build one boat’," he said, and as to how she got her name: "There were four Providences that I spotted on that trip. I liked the name Providence."

It was when staying at Providence, the capital of Rhode Island, that he spotted a boat in the harbour named Providence, and that settled his boat’s name.

It took him and his sons about 18 months to build her. "We had a big, lofting floor in our shed — almost a dance floor," he said. "We used to draw our boats out on it."

Spur mahogany was used in the planking below the waterline, yellow sirus (unavailable now) for the topside, brown penda for the ribs and keel and laminated quandong for the masts. Other timbers included grey satin ash, white beech, silver mahogany and keelson blue gum. The deck beams are silver quandong. Providence was launched in 1988.

In 1992, she starred in the Hollywood movie Survive the Savage Sea, based on a true story about the Robertson family, whose boat sank after being upturned by a pod of whales. They were marooned at sea for 38 days.

"One of the people who had something to do with the picture flew over, and saw this beautiful schooner. I was heading south at the time and we’d stopped in at the Gold Coast," the builder recalls. "He tracked me down, but I wasn’t interested at first." They filmed in the Gold Coast. The builder and family set the sails and skippered the boat.

Uncannily, we bought Providence V in May 2005, after selling a farm in Tasmania and uprooting five kids before setting up our charterboat business on Magnetic Island, Qld. Whale spotting is one of our activities. Once, during a school excursion, Providence was surrounded by them, but she’s never capsized, though, not with that Scheel keel.

All five kids have crewed for us over the years. One has even had her name tattooed on his arm. Providence V will always have a place in our heart. Reluctantly, we are heading for higher seas and a change of life.

Providence V is lying at Magnetic Island and is for sale at $595,000 (includes charter business), with an optional berth and dual-key apartment available, too. For more information, contact Grant Lewis, phone (07) 4778 5580; 0427 882 062.

Providence V

FOR SALE: $595,000
TYPE: Keelboat
LENGTH: 62ft
BEAM: 4.18m
WEIGHT: 8500kg (dry)
ENGINE: 57hp Lister saildrive
CONTACT: Grant Lewis, phone (07) 4778 5580; 0427 882 062.


Built as a replica of an 1870s Americas Cup challenger, the wooden 62ft Gloucester schooner Providence V is available for sale as a viable charterboat business or as a romantic’s dream liveaboard. Built in North Qld, the schooner can sleep 15, in four berths forward, a skipper’s berth in the separate aft galley and on 11 berths in the saloon. Other features include 7ft headroom, a shower and head with holding tank, 1000lt of water and fuel capacity of 500lt. The ship is powered by a 57hp Lister diesel saildrive and achieves 12kts under sail. The sail inventory includes mainsail, foresail, worker jib, flyer jib and topsails, and rigging is said to be five years-old. Also onboard is a 20-man liferaft and tender RIB with new 15hp Yamaha outboard.


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