Town rallies round for iconic Pacific Venture fishing vessel after storm sinking

Town rallies round for iconic Pacific Venture fishing vessel after storm sinking

A community is rallying to save a piece of maritime history in northern New South Wales, with efforts underway to save a 60-year-old fishing trawler from a watery grave in a local river. 

The sunken Pacific Venture is the last surviving vessel from a fishing fleet built in Laurieton in 1963.

Once the pride of the fleet, it was also used extensively during marine rescues in past decades, and even as a one-time emergency supply vessel for Lord Howe Island.

Originally owned by the Poole family, the boat was purchased by filmmaker Damien Lay in 2019.

Earlier this year it was entrusted to the community, with plans to bring it back to its former glory and put it on display.

A black and white image of an old fishing boat near a bridge with people lined along the bridge.

The Pacific Venture in 1970 during Captain Cook Bi-centennial celebrations at Laurieton. (Supplied: Port Macquarie Museum)

But the restoration work was yet to begin when a storm tore through the region in late October, and the old boat sank in the Camden Haven River at Laurieton.

Several weeks on, efforts to pull it from the river have begun.

Former owner Damien Lay said the task was proving challenging but many in the community were still determined to save the old boat.

“Hopefully it’s not the end of the story,” he said.

Salvage challenge

A boat is sunken in the water off a wharf. Chains are attached to the boat to pull it up and onlookers are watching nearby.

Efforts to pull the sunken boat from the waters using two cranes on Monday were unsuccessful. (ABC Mid North Coast: Isla Evans)

A crowd gathered to watch initial attempts on Monday to pull the Pacific Venture up with two cranes.

The efforts proved unsuccessful and the next plan is to secure large floats to the vessel.

Pacific Venture Restoration Project board member Stuart Mann said it was a costly process and could be weeks before the boat was out.

‘We’ve struggled with the two cranes,” he said.

“To lift that boat we need 20 tonne airbags, which is not a cheap exercise. We are just in negotiation with two salvage teams at the moment. 

“We do have a plan to keep the history of the boat and display it somehow, but that will come in the future.”

A difficult life for ‘the old girl’

It’s not the first time the Pacific Venture has sunk.

An old wooden fishing vessel partly submerged in a river.

The Pacific Venture sank on October 27 after a storm hit the region.(ABC Mid North Coast: Isla Evans)

It first went down when floods came through in 1963, and this is the third time it’s gone under since then.

The last time was during major flooding in 2021, with retired diver Paul Doney helping with the recovery efforts.

“It refloated fairly easy in 2021 and was considered to be reasonably safe then because all of the planks were in order,” he said.

“The structure of it now is a lot weaker just from being immersed in water, and the deck is damaged.”

An elderly man with a cap on, standing in front of a set of tables. An orange and white crane can be seen in the background.

Paul Doney worked on the Darling Harbour project and Sydney Aquarium during his diving career. (ABC Mid North Coast: Isla Evans)

Among those hoping to see the boat restored is 67-year-old Kim Poole, the son of the original owner.

“It’s got sentimental value,” he said of the boat.

Mr Poole worked on the boat until 2012 and his father was killed on the vessel in 1979 when he got tangled up in the propeller shaft.

“My father’s last words were ‘Look after your mother and work the boat,'” he said.

“My mother used to say my father would never have an affair, because the boat was the other woman.

“Older fishermen become attached to things, and we always call it ‘the old girl’ and it takes on its own entity.”

An old wooden fishing trawler in a river, partly built.

The vessel under construction in 1963.(Supplied: Camden Haven Historical Society)

Mr Poole said the Pacific Venture had travelled far and wide.

“We did a supply run at Christmas time for Lord Howe Island in 1974, as they hadn’t had a supply ship in about nine months,” he said.

“That was an adventure, the roughest seas I’ve ever been in … we got blown up to Hat Head sideways trying to come back to the coast here.

“I’d really like to see it restored. I spent 40 years working on it.”

Local support

Mr Mann said that while one of the biggest challenges was the cost involved, many people in the community had offered support.

The image shows a group of people from behind as they look down into the waters of a wharf. The image doesn't show any faces.

Community members watched the operation from the wharf on Monday afternoon. (ABC Mid North Coast: Isla Evans)

“A lot of people have donated their time, and materials and everything else.”

Carolyn Dobson is a descendant of the boat’s builders, Ronald and Eddie Dobson, and part of the restoration project.

She is also a local artist and has been helping raise money.

“She put all of her artworks up for sale and she raised over $1,000, ” Mr Mann said.

“She did an amazing job.”

For former owner Damien Lay, the Pacific Venture project is in good hands.

“Luckily in this community, there’s still a lot of people that still hold those original skills from when the vessel was built, and the ability to preserve her,” he said.

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