Richard O’Keeffe: Shipwright/Docent, Matthew Turner Project

by Steefenie Wicks Sausalito Historical Society

Boat building in Sausalito has been a continuing activity from William Richardson’s time to present. The Sausalito Historical Society has photo images from over 100 years ago that show the productivity of this maritime trade.  

Now for the first time in 100 years there is a new tall ship being built in Sausalito. The design is that of the prolific boat builder Matthew Turner and is being fashioned after one of his fastest ships, the Galilee, which still holds the record for the fastest run between San Francisco and Tahiti. This new vessel will be called the Matthew Turner, and will be part of the Educational Tall Ship program. Founder Alan Olson has taken this vast building project on. When completed the vessel will be a two-masted brigantine rig that is 85-foot on the water line and 100-foot on deck (note: 32 feet shorter than the original ship) with a 25-foot. beam drawing about 10 feet underwater.  She will be fitted out with 38 births for cadet training, a galley, captain’s quarters, and toilets.

As a working shipwright and part-time docent on the ship, Richard O’Keeffe is quick to tell you that this is a “once in a lifetime project,” that he is lucky to be involved with.  

   Photo by Steefenie Wicks 


Photo by Steefenie Wicks 

O’Keeffe, born in Kinsale, County Cork, Ireland, came to the US 15 years ago to look for work.  A carpenter all of his life, who spent a good deal of time working on boats, he found the Matthew Turner project an answer to a dream. He was attending the Arques Traditional Boat Building School with instructor Bob Darr, when he heard about the project.   They were just getting started so he turned up to volunteer.  After his skills as shipwright were recognized, he was offered a paying position that he holds down today.  He mentions that the volunteers on this project are awesome individuals who drive in each morning form different parts of the Bay Area just to work on this ship, being part of something that is very special, with a group of talented crafts people.

For O’Keeffe, this is his first time working on a project that is not only vast but has a real historical significance.  Watching something like this come together is exciting.  Using some of the same methods that were used 100 years ago in shipbuilding, then integrating them with the new materials that are produced today, is like watching history meet the present. “When she is finished, she will be a ‘beast,’” he says.” She is being built to go to sea, and trust me, this vessel is seaworthy.”  He continues, “She is built like a tank, a 190-ton vessel that is a good solid boat based on the design of another good solid vessel.  She has a soul; when you walk her decks, you can start to feel that aspect of her coming alive.”   

He continues, “Tall ships are great when they can be built for a town or city.  Because the idea of building a wooden boat is so unreal today, building one is historically significant.  To see a vast vessel like this come alive, gives you a chance to see the action that goes into a project such as this.   This vessel will now be part of Sausalito’s maritime history.  Each day someone stops by and wants to know what’s going on, so it’s great to stop and tell them what we are doing because the next time they stop by they want to be involved. The project as a whole is thrilling because you get to look forward to seeing the vessel finished, so she can begin carving out her own history on the water.”

O’Keeffe looks off into the distance as he continues, “With a project like this you always think, ‘will we be able to do this?’ Then you see all of these people, these volunteers, they come by every day to give their time and talented skills, and then you know this is going to happen.  We are building a tall ship.”

Welcome Aboard the Matthew Turner On June 7, you’ll have a unique opportunity to inspect the progress being made in the building of the Matthew Turner Educational Tall Ship.  Also to being able to tour the completed portions of the replica brigantine, several shipbuilders will be on hand to answer questions.

Tickets for this 4-6 PM fundraiser are only $50 per person, $40 for members of the Historical Society. Children under 12 free when accompanied by an adult.  Each ticket buyer will automatically be entered into a raffle with the Grand Prize being a sail on the Matthew Turner once she is launched.  Other prizes include additional outings on the bay, a seaplane ride, and use of a Southern California beach house for a week and many more.  Each ticket buyer also will receive a free drink and complimentary appetizers.  A no-host bar will be available for your enjoyment.  Support two great causes and attend the Sausalito Historical Society event at the Matthew Turner Educational Tall Ship.