THE historic wooden 1903 Topsail Schooner, Alma Doepel, took thousands of young people to sea during the 1980s and ‘90s and for many of them changed their lives, always for the better. After a century of sailing, even the staunchest ship needs a refit and, today, Alma Doepel, at 117 years old, is nearing the end of a 10-year restoration to give her another century of active sailing with the young people of Victoria of today and tomorrow.

She is currently situated on a barge at North Wharf Docklands, where she is undergoing a complete restoration job which includes re-planking the ship with 300 75 mm thick spotted gum planks sustainably sourced from northern NSW. Now that all the planks are fitted, shipwrights use ‘oakum’, a tarred fibre used for packing the joints of timbers in wooden ships, to fill the gaps between the planks and cover the oakum with a special waterproof sealant.

Several shipping industry organisations have contributed to the restoration project. Most recently, Mainfreight, a logistics company which specialises in the Australia/New Zealand trade, kindly arranged to transport the sealant, that had to be sourced from Auckland to Melbourne. The company covered the transport of an LCL container which was unpacked at Secon Freight Logistics in Truganina.

When the gaps in the planks (approximately 2000 linear meters!) are sealed the Alma Doepel will be painted with paint provided free of charge by Jotun Australia Ltd. Once painted she will be lifted off the barge by one of AAL Shipping heavy lift ships, which regularly call Melbourne, by using its 750-tonne twin-lift cranes to lower her gently into the water.

Portside view of restoration work on the Alma Doepel. Credit: Peter van Duyn

The restoration team (consisting of volunteers and professional shipwrights), led by restoration director Dr Peter Harris, would like to thank recent and past shipping industry donors for their contributions.

Once completed, Alma Doepel will once again be able to sail the high seas and resume the work of youth sail training and development. For more details or if you would like to donate to the restoration project, please visit the Alma Doepel website: or come and visit the ship when COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.