On display at the northern side of the Ballina Naval and Maritime Museum is the pilot vessel, (PV), Richmond.
Mounted on concrete blocks, the 11 metre, (36 foot), vessel forms a static display protected by a metal awning to shelter her from the worst of weather, although she is subjected to wind-blown rain.
Over years, time and the elements have led to deteriorating paint work, dry rot in some of her external timbers, mainly the gunnels, (the outermost top edge of the hull usually where the it joins the deck). The hull’s metal sheathing also has corroded.
A sag developing in the keel of the vessel, as a result of only being supported at the bow and stern, is of concern. Water infiltration and penetrating damp into the internal structure has caused rot and warping in a few of the panels which separate her hull into cabins.
If this deterioration is left unmanaged further structural damage is inevitable. A 2012 company report has formed the basis of proposed work.
Built at McMahon’s Point in Sydney, the PV Richmond was one of two vessels of her type, including her sister-ship, the PV Camden, commissioned by the Maritime Services Board to serve the river ports of Ballina and Port Macquarie.
After a severe buffeting by gale force winds and heavy seas breaking over the deck, forcing her to shelter at Byron Bay, she arrived to service the Richmond River from 1932 until 1981.
As a pilot vessel, modelled on the English motor lifeboat style, she was engaged in sounding the bar, repositioning buoys, shifting logs washed down the river by floods, marine rescue and general river duties.
Sensitive to the helm with 1.25 tons (1.34 tonnes) of lead on the keel for ballast stability and a 25 horsepower, three-cylinder engine, her first captain considered her capable of withstanding any kind of sea.
One successful rescue in 1940 involved the Richmond coming to the aid of two schnapper fishermen who had been adrift for 18 hours about 3.2 kms, (two miles), off Skinners Head, north of Ballina. The stranded fishermen sent signals to the headland by moving a bag in front of a lantern.
Her last captain and pilot at Ballina, Podge Holwell, said on one occasion, she rolled completely at least twice in heavy seas and righted herself without major problems
No longer considered economically viable to operate, she was retired and left to the mercy of the elements before the Maritime Services Board formally presented the vessel to the people of the Ballina Shire in 1982.
Her significance to the region was finally recognized when she was listed as a local heritage item and registered with the Australian National Maritime Museum as an historical vessel.
The PV Richmond has technical and aesthetic significance, as well as being an example of past craftmanship. She provides an important insight into the lives of those who worked with, defended and protected seafarers.
Some of the Ballina community can still remember the PV Richmond in service and could add to knowledge of the vessel in the waters of the Richmond River.