Independence rebuilding project is sailing along

The replica of the schooner “Independence” is taking shape in the big shed at the American River Wharf thanks to dedicated members of the Rebuild Independence Group or RIG.

All the replica ship’s 14 timber frames have now been constructed and were being pieced together to form its hull. 

The next stage was to put in place the 14-metre solid keel that has been cut from a single blue gum log donated by the Enterprize tall ship project in Melbourne and the freight to KI was paid for by John Willoughby of the Bay of Shoals winery.

Then planking of the ship’s side would begin before it was eventually hauled out of the shed and flipped 180-degrees from its current upside down position.

The original 45-foot top sail schooner was built at American River, Kangaroo Island between April and August 1803 by the crew of the visiting American sealing brig “Union”. 

The Independence set sail from Sydney in June 1805 bound for the Antipodes Islands south of New Zealand and was lost on the return journey, never to be seen again.

American River resident and RIG member Tony Klieve said the ship was coming together nicely even though it was only being built by a group of volunteers, including shipwright Bob Imerson.

“We’ve had no real government funding up until now even though this a very important part of the history of Kangaroo Island,” Mr Klieve said.

“We would like to be able to pay a shipwright to be here permanently and with the help of volunteers, the ship would be built in no time at all.”

The project was initiated back in 1987 when Mr Klieve with the help of Adelaide librarian Nannette Ellis unearthed design drawings of the Independence done by marine architect Robert Sexton in 1976.

These plans, being used to build the replica, matched almost perfectly with those held by Parker Marine in the USA, which has had researched ships of these size and use being built by Americans in the early 1800s.

In other RIG news, the group has just been gifted a fantastic 1:25 scale model of Independence by Peter Chapman of Noosaville in Queensland.

Mr Chapman was inspired to build the model after visiting the RIG shed last year and then personally delivered it himself to Kangaroo Island in April. It is now proudly in place on the shed wall in its glass case.

The RIG members meanwhile are awaiting follow up to their discovery of a large log buried just outside the shed, unearthed during the construction of stone wall by Steve Gurner and Steve Berzel.

The members suspect the sugar gum log may have been used by the American boat builders to launch the original Independence into American River.

A team of marine archaeologists from Flinders University have already conducted a geophysical survey of he area where the log was found, detecting three other logs running parallel. 

It is hoped that would visit Kangaroo Island in the near future to conduct an excavation of the area.

Another group of boat builders is working on constructing two St. Ayles skiffs for use by the Kangaroo Island community. The first skiff is well advanced. 

You can follow the RIG project on its Facebook page here.

RIG members are busy working on the ship whenever they can, with many being retirees. 

Members meet at the shed every second Thursday night for a sausage sizzle and to work as a group, with next working night being 6pm Thursday, August 19, with new members welcome.

RIG is also organising a table at the “pub night” at American River Hall this Saturday, July 14, which is a American River Progress Association fundraiser for a defibrillator.

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