March 20, 2007
IT is one man’s obsession, a dream that has taken 37 years to realise.
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But for Pieter Heemstra, almost four decades of hard work and commitment finally paid off yesterday with the launch of the 107ft Banks schooner that he built in the backyard of his former wife’s riverside house.
“I’m a patient man,” the former fisherman and cabinet maker, 70, said.
About 500 people – including 150 primary school students – from Woronora, in Sydney’s south, watched as a crane lowered the 62-tonne schooner into Woronora River.
“This boat is a part of the community,” onlooker and Woronora Bushfire Brigade captain Peter Carter said.
“I have been watching this boat all my life. I used to take the bus to school as a kid and I would say, ‘How are they going to put that thing in the river’.”
Colleen Jackson said word of the launch spread quickly in the village.
“This is the day we have all been waiting for,” she said.
Mr Heemstra began building the boat 37 years ago, about the same time his then-wife Suzie fell pregnant with their son Simon.
When the couple split, Suzie kept the house and Mr Heemstra continued to live in his unfinished schooner, which was being built in the backyard.
“I’ve been very patient with him, the house is up for sale now,” she said.
Mr Heemstra used recycled materials – and old-fashioned techniques – to build the schooner. Even the portholes are made of recycled wood from the Forestry Department.
“I don’t believe in waste,” Mr Heemstra said yesterday.
His son Simon had suggested the schooner be named after the community of which it has been a major part for such a long time.
“I thought about the name for so long so when Simon suggested Woronora I immediately liked it,” Mr Heemstra said.
“Of course, you couldn’t call it anything else.
”I have had tremendous support from this community.“
Mr Heemstra said he planned to travel the globe on his new yacht.
But before that dream can come true, he must wait for a suitable tide so the weighed-down schooner can pass under the Menai Rd bridge.
”I always wanted a schooner and nobody was going to give me one so I thought I would make one," he said.