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Schooner Independence will sail again

South Australians all learn in school that our colony was founded in 1836 with the arrival of a fleet comprising HMS Buffalo and eight other ships. Ships with names like Cygnet, Rapid, and Pirie that now grace the names of the rivers, bays and towns of our lovely state. But did you know that the first vessel ever built in our local waters predates the founding of South Australia by over 30 years? And did you know it was an American vessel, not an English one? If you're like many others, you never learned this in school.

In 1802, the American Captain Isaac Pendleton set sail for Australia from Stonington, Connecticut, USA in the Brig “Union” in search of seals. Early the following year Pendleton met the French explorer, Captain Nicolas Baudin who recommended Kangaroo Island as a place where seals could be found in abundance. Much of that information was previously given to Baudin by the English explorer Captain Matthew Flinders. Arriving at what is now known as Eastern Cove on the north coast of Kangaroo Island, Pendleton made the decision to winter here on the shores of near what is now the township of American River. He decided to build a small schooner to permit inshore work and to increase the number of seals that could be caught. Daniel Wright, Union's 1st Officer, was put in charge and the schooner was constructed between April and August 1803. Thus was born the Schooner “Independence”, 45 foot long, 35 tons. The Independence had a short but productive life, until being lost at sea near the Antipodes Islands in 1805.

Fast forward two centuries to 2012 and a committee made up of members of the American River Progress Association, including a high percentage of ‘yachties’, met for the first time to discuss rebuilding the Independence. In May 2013 Rebuild Independence Group Inc. (RIG) incorporated as a not-for-profit organisation with the mission of rebuilding a replica of the Independence. Since then we've attracted many members.

RIG has been working hard the past year and we’ve recently achieved two very important milestones:
  • Firstly, we’ve received development approval from Kangaroo Island (KI) Council. 
  • Secondly, we’ve received a generous infrastructure grant from the KI Council.
This now means we are able to proceed with Stage 1 which is our Boat Shed and Café near the American River wharf area.

With a keel kindly donated by the Tall Ship ‘Enterprize’ in Melbourne, we are furiously working on Stage 2 and the building of the schooner. Once relaunched Independence will again sail the waters of Kangaroo Island, albeit loaded with tourists clutching cameras not sealers clutching clubs.

You can learn more on our website, www.theindependence.org. The project is still in its early stages though, and we need lots of volunteers to bring it to fruition. So whether you're interested in construction, wooden boat building, marketing, fund raising, social media, administration, or just interested in the project, please become a RIG member by signing up at www.theindependence.org/members.

Our members will also be out in force for the Ballast Head Cup on New Year’s Day, so sail over to American River, join the fun and learn more about this exciting project.
Finally, RIG is planning a series of Information and Fund Raising Events at The Cruising Yacht Club, the Squadron and the Trailer Sailer Association in the New Year... So stay tuned.

By Alan Noble, originally published in CYCSA Groundswell Magazine, December 2014