Waiheke Working Sail

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The Kate’s History

Recently Bill Kinghorn and I made a trip to Dargaville to see what we could find of the history of the “Kate”.

We have the original builder’s nameplate, a cast bronze plaque ‘E. Thompson &Son, builders, Kaipara, NZ’ but all other records were lost the last time she sank.

Our primary source is David Waters, who used to own her near sister ship “Rewa” before donating her to the Maritime Museum.

In 1983 David interviewed the “Kate” ‘s then owner Leo Richardson, who had spent several years re-building her from a near derelict state in a barn near Whitford. David has kindly passed on what he found, but there were many gaps. Her first engine was fitted in 1911, make unknown. She was used for towing kauri logs out to waiting ships for export, and later for towing a shingle barge.

Staff at the Dargaville Maritime Museum were most helpful, putting us in touch with Mr. Terry Curel, an 86 year old master mariner whose father Bill was a pilot for the Kaipara Harbour and who bought the “Kate” in 1919.

We spent a fascinating couple of hours with Terry, listening to his yarns of a bygone era.

In 1925 Bill Curel, with his wife of 3 months on board, were washed ashore at midnight in a gale, at Tinopai. The couple left the boat and started a long walk to shelter. On the way they realised his bride had left her wedding ring on board, hopefully still hanging on a hook inside the companionway where it was placed whenever she took it off. Bill walked 5 or 6 km back, then, due to the rising tide, had to swim out to the boat to successfully retrieve the ring.

Once salvaged the original engine was replaced with a 2 cylinder 18hp. Twigg, a brand manufactured in New Zealand.

Bill used to chant to the rhythm of the slow-revving engine as it ticked over: “One penny, two pennies, three pennies, four; You benzine drinking monster, always asking for more!”

Bill subsequently sold the “Kate” to his brother Arch around 1933, he kept her at Helensville.

Terry remembers his first job as a boy in 1943, crewing on the “Kate” for Harry Stanaway, who owned her then, towing logs.

Back in the museum we studied a feature about her builder, Erik Thompson, who emigrated from Sweden and set up business at Aratapu, south of Dargaville in 1873. There are photos of him and his shed dated 1898, the year “Kate” was built. His tool chest and tools are on display, and the half model among several others. She was originally built for Captain Seymour, and cost 84 pounds complete with sails.

In 1946 she was burnt to the waterline in a gas explosion and fire. Purchased for 50 pounds by Ray Crawford, she was re-built using the best kauri for planking and puriri for the frames.

This explains the difference in the shape of her stern from the half model.

Peter Lindegreen, a retired fisherman who lives on his boat in Ostend remembers crewing on her as a boy when she was a net fishing boat on the Kaipara in the ‘fifties.

She was trucked over to the Waitemata sometime around 1960, and was used as a crayfishing boat during the boom time of the late sixties.

In 1973 she was bought by Grahame Wharton, who moored her off Kawakawa Beach and used her as a pleasure boat with his family. He recalls encountering 20-foot seas off Cape Brett on a trip to the Bay of Islands, and reports she is an excellent sea boat.

His son Lance presently owns the houseboat “Sunflower”, moored next to the “Kate” in the Causeway inlet on Waiheke.

Lance fondly remembers trips on her as a boy when they set steadying sails and learnt the basics of sailing before swapping her for a yacht.

The next owner, a builder, reputedly lived aboard her with his family in the Tamaki river. There are reports that at one stage she sank in ST. Mary’s Bay.

The “Kate” arrived on Waiheke in the mid 1980s, bought by Thomas and Sharonagh Tengblad, who lived aboard with their young family for a while, and began another major re-build. The decks were stripped off and replaced, a new cabin built and the keel deepened by 8″ using Kwila hardwood and bronze bolts. But the work proved challenging and expensive.

They had fitted a beautiful set of bronze portholes off a wrecked steamer, but these were stolen, and that was the last straw. The “Kate” was put on the market.

She sat on the beach for several years before David Brady bought her. An architect and landscape designer, David had recently lost his partner to cancer, and was ‘in need of a project’. He loved the old ship s all her owners have. He lived aboard and did much work on her, but the problems were challenging, and progress slowed.

There were complaints, and the Council threatened to take her away on a low-loader. Fortunately David’s sister Sue Noble came to the rescue with finance, and I was engaged to repair her sufficiently to float her across the inlet to a better location. I took on two teenage boys to help, Tom and Joe Foster-Christie, and taught them to caulk the seams and fit graving pieces in the planking.

Eventually Dave wasn’t able to cope with living aboard. The supporting legs gave way, she fell on her side and sprang a leak. Engine oil floated through the interior, coating it in a black, slippery film. Dave was sleeping on the beach to protect his belongings.

It was Justin Stewart, a friend who lived aboard the “Destiny” nearby, who started the present project. We were standing on the beach looking at the “Kate”, a sorry sight, aware that she is practically the last of her kind, a valuable part of our heritage. We admired her lines.

“This boat should be in a Trust”, Justin said.

It so happened that I and a group of friends had recently formed the Waiheke Working sail Charitable trust, with the aim of building a sail training and cargo ship for Waiheke. Drawing the concept plans for a 70-foot topsail schooner was the satisfying part, but finding the finance was proving difficult.

Could the old “Kate” be made to work, taking youngsters on voyages of self-discovery? She’s rather small for the job, but having lived on a 22-footer for 5 years in my youth, I’ve learnt how to squeeze a quart into a pint pot (and the metric equivalent!)

I walked around the wreck, scrambled aboard and slithered around inside. I took some measurements. There would be room for six trainees, a Master and Mate, living in tight spaces part of the challenge. A huge job, but much more achievable than building a new ship, and her heritage value is unique.

We needed to act fast, or she would become derelict. we pitched in suspensory loans, and bought her for $2,000.

At the time of writing (October 2016) we’re about half way through the refit. The hull, decks and cabin are sound, the stern is re-built, and there’s a new ‘scuttle’ fore hatch. An aft cabin is next, then once the new bulwarks are on she’ll look like a ship again. The mast and spars are under way, made from trees grown on the Island, and a new rudder.

A substantial amount of valuable gear has been donated, and our two apprentices are learning fast.

Our greatest need is finance.

This account by Bernard Rhodes, October 2016.

towing-a-shingle-barge pre-ww2 post-ww2-rebuild half-model-stern erik-thompson e-thompson-son-shed burnt-to-the-waterline-1946 a-cutter-on-the-kaipara-1870

21st Century Coastal Shipping for the Hauraki Gulf, Auckland NZ