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MV Cape Don

Vessel Number: HV000208
Date: 1962
Vessel Dimensions: 76.25 m x 67.05 m x 12.8 m x 4.37 m, 2139.8 tonnes (250.18 ft x 219.99 ft x 42 ft x 14.34 ft, 2174.04 tons)
Classification:Vessels and fittings
MV CAPE DON is a surviving example of 1960s Australian design and shipbuilding, one of only a few remaining in Australia. It's working role was both as a lighthouse supply ship and coastal navigation-aid service vessel. It is the only remaining lighthouse supply ship and one of only two surviving Australian coastal navigation-aid service vessels; the other is PV JOHN OXLEY (HV000032) from the 1920s. Both ships represent typical shipbuilding characteristics of their eras, with obvious differences in equipment to deal with their roles.
DescriptionMV CAPE DON was built in 1962 at the NSW State Dockyard in Newcastle for the Commonwealth Lighthouse Service and designed in Australia by the Australian Shipping Board. The steel ship is just over 76m long, one of a class of three identical vessels purpose-built to service the many navigation aids and support the manned lighthouses around the Australian coastline.

It is one of the few Australian designed and built ships from the 1960s that has not been scrapped and is still in the country.

CAPE DON, with its sisterships CAPE PILLAR and CAPE MORETON, worked until the 1980s when most of the lighthouses were automated.

CAPE DON operated mainly on the western and northern coastlines. Much of this coastline, especially in the north west, is a vast area of islands, bays and archipelagos, with massive tides and miles of wilderness. There are many navigation markers or beacons defining channels and highlighting hazards which were serviced by CAPE DON.

In 1973 CAPE DON under the command of Captain John Marion was used to recover two anchors lost by Matthew Flinders when he was charting the coastline in 1803. The anchors from his ship HMS INVESTIGATOR were retrieved in waters off Esperance WA.

Captain Richard Ireland joined the CAPE DON in 1974. He recalls that up until 1981 the CAPE DON was responsible for the navigation aids from Esperance in the south and as far around as Groote Eylandt in the Gulf of Carpentaria. From 1981 onwards they also did South Australian, Victorian and Tasmanian lights during the summer period, then Western Australian and Northern Territory lights in the winter period. He also recalls CAPE DON helping out in Queensland waters on Moreton Bay when an additional ship was required.

The CAPE ships were manned by Australian crews, and built to provide a versatile platform for various technicians to work from. They featured workshop and cargo storage spaces and a crane on the foredeck to lift buoys on board and to move cargo. They could carry a LARC amphibious vehicle, stowed on the port side. The fitout included first class accommodation in VIP quarters for officials. Relief lighthouse crews often brought their families on board. The ship was able to remain at sea for extended periods, allowing it to cover long distances between major ports.

CAPE DON remained in service from 1963 to 1990, a period of 37 years. The three ships were then retired around the same period. CAPE MORETON went to the Maldives as the OCEAN PARADISE while CAPE PILLAR became the cattle ship KALYMNIAN EXPRESS.

CAPE DON was renamed WESTERN EXPRESS when it was sold in 1990. It was then the subject of a number of schemes that came to nothing, including hopes to sail to the Barcelona Olympics and to refurbish it as a cruise ship. At one time it did become a prop for the feature film 'Dogwatch'.

The breakers yard seemed to be its inevitable end until the MV Cape Don Society stepped in. A team of volunteers including past crew from all three vessels is currently restoring the ship.
Vessel Details
Cabin or superstructure material and construction:steel/iron
Cabin or superstructure material and construction:timber plywood
Current status:floating
Current status:non-operational
Current status:on public display
Deck layout:cabin
Deck layout:multiple decks
Deck material and construction:steel/iron
Deck material and construction:timber planked
Hull material and construction:steel
Hull shape:flat bottom
Hull shape:monohull
Hull shape:overhanging transom
Keel/centreboard/rudder type:bilge keels
Keel/centreboard/rudder type:skeg rudder
Motor propulsion:2-stroke2 cycle
Motor propulsion:diesel
Motor propulsion:motor vesselMV
Propeller:variable pitchadjustable pitch
Hand propulsion/steering mechanism:wheel
Current status:museum vessel
ships:ship:Byzantine ships:ships:wheelhouse
Additional Titles

Primary title: MV Cape Don

Previous title: Western Express

Alternate Numbers

Vessel Registration Number: AVWNA 126494 HT 4 NSW

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