Pearling ship a big lug up for tourism

Headshot of Jakeb Waddell
Jakeb WaddellBroome Advertiser
The Willie pearl lugger is set to make its return to Broome.
Camera IconThe Willie pearl lugger is set to make its return to Broome. Credit: Willie Pearl Luggers Cruises

A pearling vessel considered by many to be as iconic to Broome as a Cable Beach camel ride or Matso’s beer is set to make its grand return to shores off the Kimberley town later this year.

The 25m gaff-rigged charter schooner Willie was the final pearling lugger to be built in WA, dating back to the mid-1980s.

In its time, it has been chartered to find sacred indigenous sites, search for ship wreckages, collect mother of pearl shells and was even used by the National Geographic team for its coverage of northern WA in 1989.

Willie was a tourism vessel for five years from 2004, hosting sunset charter trips along the waters of Cable Beach, before its new owners took it to South-East Asia in 2014.

But after five years, the vessel is on its way back to Broome and ready to be used as a cruising attraction on the picturesque beach once again.

Willie Pearl Luggers Cruises are set to resume sunset operations in coming months, taking up to 30 people out sailing every afternoon for about four hours.

The ship will also be available for private charters and tours.

WPLC skipper Sally Vincent said it was a very exciting time for Broome.

“Willie is so well known off the front of Cable Beach in that sunset vista, she’s even appeared on the front of books, papers, magazines and even on the Shire of Broome directory numerous times,” she said.

“When the ship was built, it was built as a replica to the old master pearling vessels so she really is a traditional pearl lugger in her own right.

“I think she’s up there as one of the great Broome icons as far as even the camels go — it was always Willie and the camels come sunset when all the tourists rolled out.

“Broome is historical for those luggers coming in before the late 70s. To have that sail configuration and a boat that resembles those old pearl luggers so strongly still sailing along those shores is awesome.”

Broome Visitor Centre manager Mel Virgo said it was fantastic to have an old bit of history back in Broome.

“For many people this will be quite nostalgic,” she said.

“We will finally have that vision of Cable Beach back that so many people have come to love — a camel on the beach and a lugger on the horizon while the sun is setting.”

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