'US Army WT85' - 'Protrude'/'Koolya' was a 45ft WW2 US Army wooden towboat.
Earlier vessel history can be viewed HERE See a gallery of Documents and Historic Photos of US ARMY WT 85 Protrude HERE
After several years of researchers trying to locate the 'Protrude' it was with some considerable jubilation when we walked onto Gosford breakwall on 24th October 2015 and finally set eyes on this elusive but tough little boat.
From a historical perspective this vessel has assumed immense significance to the community of Tuncurry NSW.
US Army WT 85 is the last vessel still in service that was built by Wright Shipyards
of Tuncurry NSW, one of Australia's leading wooden shipbuilding firms from the mid 1870's till the mid 1950's.
Wright Shipyards commenced building ships in 1867 with the construction of the schooner 'Caledonia' by company founder, John Wright, and Alexander Croll at Boolambayte Creek near Bungwahl NSW.
Wright moved to Tuncurry in 1875 and established shipyards and sawmilling operations. He was the first white settler in Tuncurry with John Wright's son Ernest, the first non-indigenous child born in Tuncurry, taking over the shipyards following the death of his father in 1910.
After the declaration of war by the United States in December 1941, the US Army let contracts to various shipyards across Australia to build specialized vessels for the war effort. With construction of steel ships by this time more dominant these wooden towboat contracts were a lifeline to the struggling shipbuilding firm with Wright Shipyards securing a contract to build 45', 66' and 85' wooden boats with five 45' boats similar to the US Army WT 85 pictured above built and launched by Wright Shipyards in the period 1943-44.
This vessel, US Army WT 85, later known as 'Protrude' and also as 'Koolya', was completed in late 1943 and taken out over the Tuncurry-Forster bar by the harbour boat, "Eldorado' on 24th July 1944 where it was handed over to US Army WT 68 to be towed to Sydney for its final fit out.
US Army WT 85 is the last of the five WT 85 Class tow boats built by Ernest Wright Shipyards to be still afloat and more significantly, the last surviving Wright Shipyards built boat.
The vessel is currently owned by David Winning from the NSW Central Coast after purchase from Larry Elliott of Woy Woy, NSW in October 2013 (tbc).
In January (tbc) 2013 the vessel, then moored in Blackwall Bay near Ettalong, sank on its mooring after very heavy rain following a critical breakdown of its bilge pumps.
A salvage company successfully refloated the US Army WT 85 - 'Protrude' and it was moved to Gosford Breakwall where it remains today undergoing restoration.
Wright Shipyards became quite busy fulfilling shipbuilding contracts during WW 2 and this continued into 1946 when Ernest Wright commenced construction of what was to become the shipping company's last major vessel, the 'Santa Cruz'/'Norfolk Whaler'
(120' & 217.47 gross tons).
Unfortunately Ernest Wright did not live to see his company's last major vessel launched, passing away in that year.
A lingering eight years after construction had commenced, Ernest's son John Wright Junior, finally launched the Santa Cruz/Norfolk Whaler in 1954 and with the viability of the shipyards by now in question he closed the shipyards shortly after; thus ending a proud 87 year Wright family shipbuilding dynasty in Tuncurry, NSW with among many other achievements, the company achieving the record for building the largest wooden ship constructed in NSW to ever see service.
That vessel was the 'Uralba'
(154.8' & 603 gross tons) which was launched at Tuncurry in September 1941.
While the US Army WT 85 - 'Protrude' may not have been a vessel of the huge size of the 'Uralba' its significance is nevertheless historically important as it reflects the massive contribution made to the war effort and the fact that it is the last floating operational vessel built by Ernest Wright & Son Shipyards.
The Tuncurry community may hopefully one day see the last surviving remnant of a once proud shipbuilding tradition returned to its birthplace. List of wooden ships built by Wright Shipyards
, Tuncurry - 1867 to 1954.