William the Fourthhas had an eventful life, but the replica ship has just been through a storm unlike any it has had to ride out before.
"The COVID storm had put the ship into hibernation," said Bob Cook, the secretary of the organisation that runs the vessel.
The pandemic that swept through in March placed William the Fourth in a financial dead calm. It could not run cruises, so there was no income, but money has kept going out at a rate of about $3000 a month to simply keep the ship going.
The organisation sought funding from politicians at all levels, but Bob Cook said it didn't amount to anything.
"No money at all from any of them," said Mr Cook. "Because we're volunteer run and a small-turnover organisation, we fly under everyone's radar. We were fairly disappointed, but every time we went searching, we ran into a dead-end."
For a time, it seemed as if the COVID-19 storm could sink William the Fourth.
"If this were to go on for months, like it was projected to, six months or more, we would have been closed down," Bob Cook said.
During their online meetings, committee members expressed their fears for the future.
"If we couldn't find a financial way of keeping it going, then [it was] shut the ship down and no longer operate. Find a solution to get rid of the ship. There were moments where we thought we could fail."
For the volunteers, who have poured so many hours, sweat and their own money into the ship, that prospect was unthinkable.
"We came perilously close to being a non-viable operation," said Tony Druce, one of the ship's engineers.
Mr Druce and fellow volunteer Keith Lowe even collected bottles and cans to cash in to help keep William the Fourth afloat.
"We really didn't have any money to keep going, so even to do minor maintenance, we had to find the dollars," said Mr Druce.
Bob Cook said two private donors, a local businesswoman and a long-time former volunteer, came to the rescue with money to tide the organisation over. He has also been talking with the Hunter and Central Coast Development Corporation, which owns the wharf where the ship is berthed at Honeysuckle, about six months' rent relief.
With the easing of COVID-related restrictions, the crew of William the Fourth can see a little money flowing back in. The ship is about to take out paying passengers once more. On July 12, there are two "Mother's Day Revisited" cruises. On the following Sunday are two "Christmas in July" cruises.
But to run the harbour cruises, Bob Cook explained, "we've adapted in every single aspect". One of the volunteers, a retired surveyor, measured the decks and determined the ship could carry up to 22 passengers, less than half the usual limit. Food is to be served in individual takeaway boxes, and the crew has been drilled in social distancing.
But at least William the Fourth will be back out on the harbour, to the delight and relief of the volunteers.
"I'm looking forward to it, it's good to meet different people and share our knowledge of the harbour, be part of the crew again," said Kevin Parsons.
William the Fourth is like a floating men's shed. While the volunteers maintain the ship, the ship helps them maintain links with each other. They have been gathering again to do work on William the Fourth, after a few months of having been kept away. However, during the lockdown, a roster was drawn up, so they could keep an eye on the ship.
"The fact that she has not been used creates problems for the mechanics," said Keith Lowe.
"It's not good for this old girl," added Tony Druce. "Ships that are not used deteriorate very quickly."
The isolation wasn't good for humans either, the volunteers acknowledged.
"It actually addresses the cabin fever that I get at home," Mr Druce said. "And it gives my wife a rest."
The William the Fourth replica was built for Australia's bicentenary in 1988, honouring the original ship, the first coastal steamer to be built in the colony along the Williams River in 1831.
Since it was built, the replica has contended with a string of financial tempests, and it was out of service for nearly 17 years until 2018.
Bob Cook is confident that once the cruises start again, William the Fourth will survive. And he and his shipmates believe it must survive.
"We should celebrate our history, and who we are," said Mr Cook. "And this is one of the ways to do that."
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