A piece of Narooma maritime’s history is in limbo with authorities demanding the wooden fishing vessel ‘Gracie M’ be taken off the water and its current mooring on Fosters Bay.
It was one the last large wooden vessels built at Narooma. The former prawn trawler was constructed by Jimmy Taylor at the Taylor Brothers slipway back in 1976 using spotted gum timber.
Canberra diesel mechanic and part-time local, Peter Duffy purchased the 50-foot vessel from its previous owner at Bermagui for $1. He has spent three years working on the vessel getting it in shape to be towed from Bermagui to Narooma. In order to make that journey, he purchased the 27-foot ex-prawn trawler ‘Defiance’ in Sydney sailing her back to Bermagui single handed.
Then in May, he used the Defiance to tow the Gracie M from Bermagui to Narooma, making the trip up with friends and through the bar without any problems.
He now has both vessels on moorings on Forsters Bay and was hoping to continue work on the Gracie M refurbishing her in the style of a coastal ferry. He has even purchased a classic but huge 7-tonne Blackstone engine to install into the vessel.
A Roads and Maritime Services spokesperson said the agency was able to provide a mooring for Mr Duffy’s smaller vessel Defiance providing the applicant registers the vessel. However, a mooring cannot be provided for Gracie M as “the vessel is not seaworthy and requires significant work which must be completed out of the water to minimise risk to the environment.”
Mr Duffy is contesting that ruling employing solicitors for advice and is now making appeals to local State Member Andrew Constance. He is adamant the Gracie M is no danger of sinking and has all the necessary safety systems and bilge pumps. He also contends that work on the vessel can be done on the water without environmental damage.
Jimmy Taylor said he built two or three more similar large fishing vessels after the Gracie M and these were pretty much the last big boats built in Narooma. She was purchased by a fisherman at Greenwell Point, where she spent most of her life working as a prawn trawler.
The Gracie M ended up almost completely sunk at Eden harbour before a previous owner salvaged her and took her to Bermagui with the intention of restoring her to her former glory. This never happened until Mr Duffy stepped in with his plans, which are now in disarray.
Moving the vessel off the water in Narooma for the repairs would be near on impossible, he said, as she weighs around 22 tonnes, even without an engine. And with a draught of 1.6 metres, getting her in and out the Wagonga Inlet channel is no easy task either.
Mr Duffy said he needed more time to work out what to do and whether more repairs can be conducted on the water, including the installation of a new cover for her main deck.
The Gracie M already had work on her hull completed at the Bermagui slipway and he said it was possible that any additional external work could be completed on the Taylors slipway, where she was originally built, but which is now under new ownership.
The very large engine he located at Mudgee was now at his Canberra workshop where he planned to work on it making it ready for installation into the Gracie M. The 6-foot-tall engine was the same kind used to power Winston Churchill’s wartime bunker.
“I was hoping to rebuild her in the form of a 1930s timber ferry and have all the original period furniture and fittings,” Mr Duffy said. “All the work can be done inside the cabin and under the deck, so there should not even be any sawdust.”
Narooma has an extensive history of boat building, and each year the Narooma BoatsAfloat wooden boat festival is held on the inlet, attracting timber boats from around Australia. Click here to see last year’s festival
Her original builder Jimmy Taylor said it would be nice if the Gracie M could be refurbished in Narooma. “It’s part of our history.”
Mr Duffy meanwhile said he was keen to reach some form of compromise with RMS so that he could continue his project of turning the Gracie M into his dream vessel. His task is now to submit a new plan to authorities.