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Journal of the Nelson and Marlborough Historical Societies, Volume 1, Issue 2, November 1982

The Scows of Port Nelson

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The Scows of Port Nelson

There have been many small coastal scows that served Port Nelson and the Bay Ports and crossed Cook Strait to the Port of Wellington. Names that I recall are Orakei, Fairburn, Kohi, Pearl Kasper, Vesper, The Portland, Te Aroha (withdrawn from service in 1976, now in Auckland), Oban (later the Motiti), Southern Isle and the oldest of them all, Talisman. Another coastal scow at Port Nelson but never owned there was the Echo from Blenheim. She went over to be slipped for her annual survey on the Harbour Board Slipway.

Of the scows that served Nelson only three were lost as a result of shipwreck. The Oban became notorious because she sank more times than any other. She sank in the Pelorus Sounds in 1901, at Tasman Bay in 1904, outside Wellington Heads in 1905 and at Motueka in 1907. She collided with the S.S. Opawa on the Opawa River in 1911, at Golden Bay in 1920 with the scow Vindex and at Auckland in 1928 with Almond. The scow, Southern Isle capsized near Farewell Spit Lighthouse in 1916, her five man crew disappeared when she turned turtle. In 1917 she was re-commissioned and continued in service until 1927 when she was converted into the Harbour Board Dredge. Te Whakatu. The old scow was broken up in Nelson in 1942. The third scow wrecked was the Fairburn in 1936. She was owned by the Karamea Shipping Company Ltd. and, upon departing Westport for Little Wanganui to load timber for Wellington the master, Captain Thomas C. Sawyers, found the seas on the Buller River Bar too rough, and decided to return to Port; but she was caught by the seas and driven on to the North Tip-Head of the Bar. She struck the wall with such force that she made water fast, and her crew of six just managed to get to shore before she sank. The Fairburn was a total loss, and so the scow with the odd exhaust pipes, bridge (wheelhouse) and galley along side, was no more. In 1936 the Karamea Shipping Company Ltd. purchased the scow Te Aroha which had been owned by the Anchor Shipping Co. to replace the ill-fated Fairburn.

Te Aroha was built in 1909 at Totara North, Auckland by T. Lane & Sons and proved to be a popular trader across Cook Strait from Port Nelson to Wellington. Trips into the French Pass settlement in Emslie Bay were also made, while the scows Pearl Kasper, Vesper, Portland and Talisman put in there from time to time. Te Aroha had some noted masters from 1936–1976. Captain Ken Wells, now Tug Master at Port Nelson, was on the scow for some twenty years, while Captain Bob Walling, now proprietor of the Prince Albert Hotel in Nelson was her last master. In July 1976 he sailed her across Cook Strait from Wellington with general cargo for the last time and on arrival she was offered for sale. A Chief Officer on the Rail Ferries, Mr Tim Phipps from Governors Bay, Lyttelton, purchased the scow and set to work doing her up for harbour cruises on the Picton Harbour. These failed, so Wellington was tried with some success and, for the first time in her life, the scow carried fare paying passengers. In 1979 a long sea voyage to Port Lyttelton was made by the Te Aroha where she was slipped and Messrs Stark Bros, went to work rebuilding the "Cook Straiter" to carry some fifty passengers. Alterations were carried out, as well as a new steel main mast incorporating the exhaust pipes, was stepped just forward of the scow's deckhouse. She was also fitted with new sails, davits over the stern and a new life boat. After all the page 4alterations the scow sailed for Auckland where today she makes trips round the Hauraki Gulf from Marsden Wharf.

In 1912 Mr R. G. Tregidga of Nelson purchased the 77 foot ketch-rigged deck scow. Pearl Kasper. She was to remain in Nelson ownership until 1954. Robert Tregidga's brother. Alex D. Tregidga, had six shares in the scow's ownership from 1944–45; he was also the master. From 1945–1947 she was owned by Mr H. K. H. Anderson who sold her to Mr Alan Greenslade who formed the Pearl Kasper Shipping Co. Ltd. The Pearl Kasper and Orakei salvaged the wrecked steamer, Manaroa, sunk at D'Urville Island in April 1913 after striking an unknown floating object one and a half miles off Ohana. She was beached at Ohana by the Master who went for assistance to a nearby house. In 1954 Pearl Kasper was sold to Auckland owners for further trade. In 1975 it was reported that she was rotting away at Houhora in North Auckland.

The Pearl Kasper at Coltingwood. – (Photo from Mrs J. Westbrooke).

The Pearl Kasper at Coltingwood. – (Photo from Mrs J. Westbrooke).

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She was replaced by the scow Vesper who continued trading across Cook Strait until 1966 or 1968.

The 70 foot hold scow, The Portland, was a regular trader from Port Nelson for many years. She was owned by the Puponga Shipping Co. Ltd., then sold to the Golden Bay Shipping Co. Ltd. This little scow had a green hull and earned the nickname of the "Green Linnet" by those who crewed her. She not only traded out of Nelson, but also to Manaroa in the Pelorus Sound where she loaded rimu timber from Messrs Harvey Bros sawmill. The scow even came up the Opawa River to the Port of Blenheim to load a cargo of apples for Wellington – it was the height of the apple season and the local scow Eeho was busily loading over 100 tons when the smaller scow arrived to load the remainder. At that time a well-known Nelsonian was in charge of the green-hulled scow, none other than Captain William Ricketts. Bill Ricketts was the Portland's master for some twenty odd years and had earned the nickname of "Ricketty Bill". He got into some funny scraps with the scow; for instance at Manaroa which was a tidal wharf. If the tide was out several thousand feet of timber had to be loaded via a barge sitting on the mud alongside the wharf. If the tide was going out just as the scow was departing and she was making no progress. Bill Ricketts would swing a small amount of timber that was stacked on the deck from side to side with the cargo derrick. This somehow helped the Portland to get clear of the wharf and into deep water. Bill has long since swallowed the anchor and now lives in Nelson overlooking the port he used to sail from. He has a small museum of artifacts from different ships of long ago. He formed a small society of ex-seamen who once worked on the small wooden hulled coasters of Port Nelson.

[Captain Bill Ricketts died on November 6, 1981. His large collection of over 600 items, including much written material, models and things of historical interest, has been carefully catalogued and packed away and will eventually be displayed at the Founders' Museum. The society of seamen he formed was called "The Cook Strait and Blind Bay Wooden Hullers Association. – Editor.]

The Portland had two other masters after Bill Ricketts, Bob Walling before he took over the scow Te Aroha and Dave Potts her last captain. Dave departed Port Nelson on December 11, 1922 as usual for Wellington, heading across Cook Strait for an 8 a.m. arrival in the capital, but the scow struck an unknown object near Karori Rock Lighthouse. The Portland was making water fast and he had no choice but to radio for assistance. Fishing boats from Island Bay left for the area with large pumps and, with their aid, towed her to Island Bay, but her trading days were over. She was escorted back to Nelson by the Te Aroha, slipped and inspected, but her owners, the Karamea Shipping Co. Ltd., sold her "as is where is". She is now in Otago.

Well, I have mentioned all the Nelson scows except the Kohi and Talisman. The Kohi traded for the Inter Island Shipping Co. Ltd. This scow, formerly named Caed-Mile-Failte (meaning a Hundred Thousand Welcomes) was owned at one time by T. Eckford & Co. of Blenheim. They sold her in 1947 to Messrs Parry Bros, of Auckland who later sold her to the Cook Strait service. She was later owned by the Sullivan Shipping Co. of Wellington. In 1962 she paid a short visit to the South Taranaki port of Patea, then departed for Picton. Here tragedy struck the big-decked scow for she sank alongside Picton's Waitohi wharf. She remained under the water on her port side for page 6many days. With the aid of large pumps on the Waitohi wharf and on a fishing boat she was later re-floated. She remained at Picton for some months, even after the arrival of the rail ferry, Aramoana, now twenty years ago. After remaining in Picton unable to sail again, she was towed round to Port Nelson. There she was slipped and inspected and, alas, condemned by the Marine Department surveyor. The scow was stripped of her twin diesel engines, cargo winch, motor, mast, life boat and cargo derrick. Two large freezers were placed on the scow's deck and she was towed over to Westhaven Inlet, where she is still used as a floating fish freezer and jetty.

And now for the famous Talisman. The 94 foot schooner rigged hold scow was built at Whangaroa by T. M. Lane and W. Brown in 1897. After being in the shingle trade and doing other work around Auckland, the Talisman was sold in 1930 to the Golden Bay Shipping Co. Ltd. of Nelson. In all her 84 years afloat the scow had only three accidents and one stranding. On the 19th of November 1925, she collided with the paddle tug Lyttelton in the Hauraki Gulf. The tug, no doubt was towing a raft of Kauri logs – Captain H. Anderson was the scow's master then. On the 10th December 1930 she was damaged off Sinclair Heads, Wellington – her master was A. J. Henry. On the 22 June 1933 she struck the beacon at French Pass – a popular target for ships – her master was W. D. Drake. She stranded in French Pass on the 18th February 1948, master Mr G. P. Drummond.

In 1951 she passed to the ownership of the Inter-Island Shipping Co. Ltd; Port Nelson. She traded to French Pass as well as to Picton. I saw her there twice, once in 1959 and again in 1960. On both occasions berthed ahead of her was a fellow scow, the Kohl The Talisman's last master was the late Captain Bob Hay. He was one hell of a bloke and pushed the old scow
The Portland. – (Photo from Mrs J. Westbrooke).

The Portland. – (Photo from Mrs J. Westbrooke).

page 7through seas she was not built for – the result was that a few bow planks were sprung and her owners withdrew her from service. She started life as a fore and aft schooner rigged hold scow and ended her trading days as a plain schooner rigged motor hold scow fitted with twin 95 h.p. Gardener engines. These two diesel engines were later removed and placed in the scow Echo in 1963. By now the Nelson Harbour Board owned the scow. She was stripped right down to a barehull with cement in the bows and became a floating landing stage in the Pleasure Boat Marina, where she remained till May 1981 when she sank in the Marina after someone had switched off her bilge pump. She was sold in December 1981 to a Peter Steele of Auckland who plans to restore the ex-Cook Straiter.

[Since this was written it has been found that the restoration of the scow was not practicable and it was sold in Nelson. Though much of the timber was rotten the massive kauri timbers below the waterline were in excellent condition. It is planned to salvage these and to burn the rest. – Editor.]

The old scow Vesper is no longer a scow but a cut down scallop dredge at Havelock, a shadow of her former self.

Today in 1982, not a scow is left to trade across Cook Strait. Gone are the famous traders of long ago. I close this story of the old scows of Port Nelson by saluting the traders we used to know so well.

Farewell Old Friends, Goodbye, and May Your Souls Rest In Peace!

The Talisman. – (Photo from A. J. Sprosen).

The Talisman. – (Photo from A. J. Sprosen).