Derwent Hunter sailing the Whitsunday Islands for a reef snorkelling adventure and visiting deserted beaches
Derwent Hunter’s specifications
  • Length over all: 90ft
  • Length on deck: 74 ft
  • Beam: 19ft
  • Draft: 9ft
  • Rig: Gaff Rigged Topsail Schooner
  • Working sail: 2,400 square feet
70 Years working under sail, Derwent Hunter was built to last

The Derwent Hunter was designed and built in 1946 by Walter Wilson, a second generation shipwright from the famous Wilson Brothers Shipwrights of Port Cygnet, south of Tasmania. She was built of Blue Gum, Tasmanian Oak, Celery Top Pine and Huon Pine which grew within sight of the Wilsons slip yard, by the waters edge at Gardner Bay. These timbers are regarded as some of the best ship building timbers in the world, and were cut and dragged by bullock train to the slipway.

Derwent Hunter was the last vessel designed and built by Walter Wilson in his eightieth year. By this point he had 56 years experience of ship building establishing him as a master shipwright with a reputation second to none with regards to the building of ships that would make their living in some of the most hostile waters of the world. The ship was built over 18 months, by four men using hand tools, after which she was towed to Hobart for fit out. As the Derwent Hunter was Walter’s last vessel built before retirement, he reputedly poured all his expertise into the design and construction. The Derwent Hunter was the last Australian designed vessel built to work under sail.

The design brief for the Derwent Hunter was for a fast sailing vessel resembling a grand banks schooner that could be used for gentlemanly pursuits and to supply fish for the restaurant at Wrest Point on Derwent River. The outcome was a vessel which was fast and seaworthy which is still turning heads today as she leaves many modern yachts in her wake.

A life in marine tourism, education and research

The Derwent Hunter has been sailing the sheltered waters of the Whitsunday Islands for over 20 years and is multi award winning for Adventure and Eco Tourism. The Derwent Hunter has been delighting guests by offering traditional sailing, snorkelling, eco interpretation sharing knowledge about the Whitsundays original inhabitants, the Ngaro Aboriginal people, the local ecology & geology. Through the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) the vessel has also participated in Marine Park research programs ensuring that the reef and islands will be there to enjoy for years to come.

The Derwent Hunter’s involvement in marine research and sightings networks with GBRMPA is not the first time the Derwent has contributed to marine research.

A decade as a CSIRO Research Vessel

In 1950 the CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation) purchased the vessel and sent her to Sydney to work as Australia’s first oceanographic research vessel. For 12 years, from 1950 – 1962, she worked under sail roving from Antarctic waters in the Southern Ocean and as far north as Noumea and the outer Pacific basin.

Information collected from Derwent Hunter cruise reports was used as reference material for New Zealand research on whales in the south pacific. Ironically, 40 years later, Derwent Hunter is still contributing data material for whale research by submitting whale sightings through the GBRMPA sightings network during winter. These are then used by scientists to establish migratory patterns of humpback whales along the East Australian coast.

Unlike the idyllic sailing in the Whitsunday waters, back in the 1950’s The Derwent Hunter carried out her research in the stormy southern ocean, Bass Strait and the Tasman Sea. Her hydrographic work included salinity tests plotting the East Australian Current. The Derwent Hunter Sea Mount (Guyut) was discovered by and named after the vessel. The sea mount thought to be an extinct volcano that was once above the oceans surface is found 293km ESE of the coast of New South Wales. Sea mounts have a rich seabed fauna characterised by high numbers of species found nowhere else and the presence of large, erect seabed animals including habitat-forming corals and sponges. Some of these are extremely long-lived – hundreds and possibly thousands of years old – making them some of the longest-lived animals on earth.

During her eventful time with CSIRO she had many adventures, twice losing her rudder at sea and successfully piloting safely in to port unaided under sail, a tribute to the remarkable sailing ability of the men who sailed on her and the seaworthiness of the magnificent ship.

Today, Derwent Hunter continues to assist with marine research, guests can get involved and help crew collect data for GBRMPA Eye on the Reef programme, testing water clarity, analysing areas of reef, and completing sightings information crucial to maintaining our pristine Great Barrier Reef.

Records from the CSIRO days of Derwent Hunter.

A Life in Film- The Rovers 1960’s

Tropical sailing on a traditional tallship is one of the truly great adventures, that has inspired many generations to leave their humdrum lives and head to sea. The eye catching lines of the Derwent Hunter brought her fame and fortune in 1969 when she was chosen by Panama studios to become the “Pacific Lady” in the hit family television series “The Rovers”.

The Rovers was based on the adventures of the crew of the Pacific Lady, an island schooner owned by Captain Sam MacGill (known as ‘Cap’ for short), played by Eddie Hepple. In the series the ship cruised the east coast of Australia under charter to Bob Wild and Rusty Collins played by Noel Trevarthen and Rowena Wallace. Wild was a freelance photographer filming wildlife for use in documentaries by a television network. Rusty was a journalist for “Wildlife” Magazine, whose editor had agreed to her accompany them on the boat as long as it didn’t cost him anything. Captain MacGills 10 year old grandson Mike accompanied the crew.

39 episodes of The Rovers were made, produced in colour and entirely on film, with extensive outdoor filming at scenic locations. Many native Australian animals are featured, in the storylines due to Bob and Rusty’s occupations concerning native flora and fauna, but also by Mike having on board the “Pacific Lady” a pet wombat, koala and cockatoo- the latter which exasperates Cap no end.

The opening credits of ‘The Rovers’

Today the legacy continues. Derwent Hunter is still inextricably linked to flora and fauna in her Ecotourism work in the Whitsunday islands of the Great Barrier Reef, and available for guests from all over the world to experience and enjoy.