Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Was It All Cricket?

Chapter 36 — Ships and Shipping

page break

Chapter 36
Ships and Shipping

Perhaps the greatest service Mr. Lamb rendered was the encouragement and help he gave that enabled us to enter the coastal shipping business of New Zealand. We were, by now, in command of supplies of timber sufficient to keep a nominal sized ship running regularly between Greymouth, Nydia Bay and Lyttelton.

On one of my trips to Australia I discussed this phase of our business. R. S. Lamb & Co., by this time, were already established in shipping between Australia and New Zealand, and were in much the same position as we were, for their operations in timber gave them sufficient freight to keep two steamers trading across the Tasman. Mr. Lamb was at once enthusiastic in his advice to go ahead with our shipping proposition, and said he would put money into it. He said, further, that they were sending Charles Rawson, their superintendent engineer, to Scotland and offered to allow him to look after the building of any steamer we might require. My optimistic nature needed little spurring on, and it can be imagined how, on the three days' voyage back to New Zealand, my thoughts raced round the size, type, speed, and general design of the steamer we would order.

The startling success of our sawmills left no doubters among our original group and the money was soon found. My three years with Howard Smiths, together with my years at sea, were now to prove invaluable. My sketch-plans were soon approved and posted direct to Rawson in Scotland. The ship was to be of 600 tons gross. In due course he cabled the price quoted by James Fullerton of Paisley, which, in the light of present-day costs, seems ridiculously cheap. We accepted at once, and in 1912, coming out via Suez, the S.S. Opouri—named after the valley where our sawmills were situated—arrived at Lyttelton with a cargo of hardwood from Hobart.

At this time ships with engines aft were rare in New Zealand, but my experience on the Dominion and Cymbeline prompted me to favour this type. The Union Steamship page 487 Company had the Kowhai running on the coast, and I had often cast covetous eyes upon her. The Opouri was of similar type and was greatly admired when she arrived. We had stipulated ten knots at sea and as the Opouri reached nearly ten and a half knots on her trial run on the Clyde, there was no doubt about her speed. All cargo steamers on the New Zealand coast at this time had a speed of about eight or nine knots. When our little greyhound appeared on the scene, she was to put up performances that were the envy of all her rivals. What this extra speed meant is to be found in a series of voyages to Greymouth that can have no parallel in the cargo-carrying trade in New Zealand. The West Coast port is 420 miles from Lyttelton. Leaving the latter port on a Saturday night, the Opouri was back in Lyttelton on the following Friday with a full cargo of timber. She was to repeat this Saturday night sailing for six weeks in succession. Meeting some rough weather, she was put out of her stride, but, fitting into the next Saturday night sailing from Greymouth, there followed five successive Saturday night sailings from the West Coast port. Eleven trips in eleven and a half weeks! Is it any wonder the warehousemen and store-keepers on the coast began to issue instructions to their Christchurch merchants to ship by the Opouri?

This competition was a bit hard on the Union Company, for, possessing an almost complete monopoly of New Zealand's coastal shipping, they had responsibilities in serving all ports. One of their ships would, for instance, on leaving Dunedin, call at Timaru, Lyttelton and Wellington, and there was no certainty when she would arrive at Greymouth. especially if a call also had to be made at Westport. The Opouri, with her express, two-port service, soon won a large share of the back cargo from Lyttelton.

I cannot leave the story of the Opouri without reference to the men who manned the ship and the men on the waterfront; they were a grand lot and took pride in her performances. Captain Pearson, the Master, and Burgess, the Chief Engineer, were a splendid pair and always had an efficient crew with them. The speed of loading and discharging played a major part in the ship's success, and this spoke volumes for the energy and loyalty of the wharf labourers of thirty years ago.

It was not long after the Opouri had proved herself that we page 488 began to think of a second ship. We had found at the outset that to build up a general cargo trade out of Lyttelton, we must run direct to Greymouth. We therefore continued with chartered ships for freighting our timber from Nydia Bay and cement from Tarakohe. Now we were prepared to measure our strength in trade between Lyttelton, Wellington and Nelson, picking up a back load of either cement or timber, sometimes both.

On one of my trips to Australia, Fin Stewart who, on the death of his uncle, had taken over the control of R. S. Lamb & Co., told me of a fine little ship that would suit us, and was for sale. We went to Pyrmont to inspect her. She was slightly bigger than the Opouri and a perfect model of the engines-amidship type. I was immediately impressed and Stewart and I met the owners to enter into negotiations. Both sides were tenacious and we wrangled for hours; they wanted £15,000 and we started at two thousand less. We met again in the afternoon. To fill in the lunch hour, Stewart and I went to a mid-day picture show. In the end we had to go more than half-way to close the deal. For years afterwards Stewart used to chuckle about my going to sleep at the pictures when in the middle of such a deal!

The name of the vessel was the Tay I. We re-named her the Orepuki. On her arrival in New Zealand she attracted as much attention as the Opouri had done, except that she was not her match in speed. We now became real ship-owners, and these two vessels were to become as well known at Lyttelton as any other ships trading to the port, excepting the ferry steamers in the daily service to Wellington. Our Lyttelton agent, Mr. F. E. Sutton, was an active representative, and he handled increasing quantities of outward cargo. Our own interests in timber and cement always ensured the inward cargo.

So far, we had enjoyed uninterrupted success. We were like a cricket side that had scored a hundred runs without the loss of a wicket. Soon we were to learn the meaning of disaster. When on a visit to Port Craig, I received an urgent telegram advising that the Opouri had been wrecked on the bar at Greymouth when entering port the previous night. Richard Scott, the chairman of our timber and shipping companies, was with me. We telephoned for a car to meet us at Tuatapere, a small township across the bay from Port Craig, and set out page 489 on a five hundred and fifty mile motor ride to Greymouth. We had two drivers who took turns about at the wheel, while Scott and I got what sleep we could throughout the night. We arrived at Greymouth the following afternoon. It was a sad sight to see our beautiful little ship piled up on the centre breakwater on the north side of the river. It was the Opouri's first trip after her annual overhaul, and looking so smart in her newly painted hull and deck-houses seemed to make her fate more tragic as the waves dashed over her at high tide. There was no alternative but to abandon her to the underwriters, especially when we received notice from the Harbour Board that they would hold us responsible if the ship broke in half and any part of the hull fell into the river.

I was now to receive my first experience of negotiations with insurance companies, covering both hull and cargo. The general average clause, so innocent looking on the parchment of the policy, unfolded itself as a very intricate and important condition of contract. The underwriters, also wishing to get rid of the liability of this wrecked steamer, held fast on the breakwater, lost no time in putting her up for sale. A large crowd filled the auction room. The Harbour Board's notice, read by the auctioneer, warning the owners of their responsibility, had its affect upon the bidding. Beginning at a fairly low figure, the auctioneer was held down to small but steady advances in the bids made. Finally the ship was knocked down to Captain Monro of the Canterbury Shipping Company. The reader will be able to imagine the chagrin of our Captain and his crew when they saw the ship they loved pass into other hands, but their disappointment was short-lived. Going into the auctioneer's private room I completed the deal I had made with Captain Monro before the sale, to pass her over to me. I had figured that if I bid up to a few hundred pounds only and then dropped out, speculators would hesitate to gamble on a ship on which one of the owners placed little value. Captain Monro, although to some extent a rival of ours in the coastal trade, was a great friend of mine and willingly fell in with my proposal that he should buy her on my account.

There was no time to lose, and a gang of men was at work on her the following morning. I arranged to pay them three shillings an hour, wet or dry, early or late, for we had to take full advantage of low tide. This was in advance of the ruling page 490 rate on the wharf. I gave the men beer and bread and cheese at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. and they certainly showed their appreciation and responded with a will to work. I shudder to think of what the wharf labourer of to-day would demand for such salvage work. A recent experience showed that some New Zealand waterfront workers can be harsh and unfair; so high were their demands that the cost of salvage was greater than the value of the cargo brought ashore, and the vessel and her contents had eventually to be abandoned to the waves.

I was indebted to the Harbour Master for the loan of his foreman, one Williams, who had an all-round ability eminently suited for the work. He had an intimate knowledge of explosives as well as the use of tackle. The first thing was to get rid of the fo'c'sle head that was overhanging the river and might break off should another storm arise, Williams reckoned he could blow it off, not in one piece, but so as to scatter the parts that it would not matter if some fell into the river.

After dismantling the fo'c'sle deck and getting ashore the windlass, anchors, chains, etc., and removing anything else of value, Williams laid his lengths of gelignite under the main deck, up the inside of the stem, and alongside some of the frames. These looked enough to blow the roof off anything. We then all scattered well clear and sought shelter. With electric wires leading to a safe spot, Williams then pulled the switch which caused an explosion that could be heard miles away. The whole of Greymouth heard it. Plates, frames, rivets and bolts, soared hundreds of feet into the air. Rising from their sheltered places, the watchers saw a shower of debris almost like the aftermath of a bomb explosion. One piece of plate landed in a back yard in Blaketown, on the other side of the river! We all heaved a sigh of relief when it was over.

When the smoke cleared away it was soon seen what a complete job had been made of the nose of the ship, for there was nothing left. Now there was no fear of a claim for damages from the Harbour Board. The next thing was to get all the gear ashore, for there was no chance of salvaging the ship as a whole. As the two boilers each weighed twenty-five tons it will be appreciated that there was work of some magnitude to be done. Acetone welders were hired from the Dispatch Foundry and they cut a great hole in the side of the ship, opposite the boilers. Through this hole the boilers were rolled page 491 out on heavy timber staging. A steam log-hauling winch had been borrowed which facilitated the work of parbuckling them ashore. Next, another hole was cut in the side of the engine-room. A heavy cable was fastened over the deck of the ship and directly over the opening into the engine-room. As the engines were dismantled by the ship's engineers, piece by piece, they were attached to a sling that was fastened to a travelling carriage on the main cable and then hauled ashore. All the auxiliary plant came first, then the pumps, crankshaft and sundry gear. The heavy castings of the cylinders, engine frames, condenser and engine-bed were heavy loads, but all were landed safely. Our steam hauler, well back on the shore, with its double ropes, one doing the lifts in the engine-room, and the other hauling the carriage along the cable, proved its worth. The bolts holding down the engine-bed were under water and the engineers were working in gum boots. But for the ship being driven higher up on the steep little beach between the river breakwater and what is known as the North Tip Head, we could not have managed without divers. In any case, this work could be carried out only at low tide. While the engines and boilers were being got ashore the work of dismantling the deck-houses, taking out the funnel and masts, and the removal of the winches proceeded apace. Next came the salvaging of the hull, deck plates and frames, for at this time, steel was at a tremendous price. Finally we got down to the water-level and left the keel and bottom frames to the souvenir hunters. The rough seas gradually scoured away the sand and the frames sank out of sight. And so ended the salvage of the wrecked Opouri.

This wreck and salvage are still talked about in Greymouth as a notable event. In the history of this port more than thirty vessels have been wrecked on the bar and only one or two have been anything but a total loss. We were, of course, lucky in that our ship went on to the centre breakwater instead of either the North or South Tip Heads, where most of the other ships were wrecked with little chance of being salvaged. It took more than a month to complete the job. We worked according to the tides, and on some mornings started as early as five o'clock. The whole of the salvaged machinery was shipped to Lyttelton on the Orepuki. When it came to getting the boilers across the Cobden bridge to Greymouth, it was page 492 found there was a clearance of a few inches only. A friendly and considerate railway engineer waived the regulations which stipulate a minimum clearance on bridges or through tunnels.

I end this story with a tribute to Williams, the sturdy Welshman who handled both the men and gear with understanding and marked ability. To him most of the credit of this salvage is due. As for the men of the waterfront, they worked splendidly. I have never met a more loyal group. They appeared to take the same interest in our ship as did the officers and engineers and other members of the crew. Most of them had for years worked on the Opouri in unloading and loading her cargoes and this, no doubt, contributed to the interest they showed in the work. It was perhaps natural that I should think there was also a personal response to the manner in which they were always treated, and on this occasion in particular.

It will be realized that the salvaged machinery and other gear were now of considerable value, but without a hull its worth could be counted only with regard to what it would bring on the market as second-hand machinery. The boilers were readily saleable, while the engines from such a crack ship would have been likewise sought after, as would the windlass, winches, etc. With these disposed of, there would still have been left an immense amount of gear, such as masts, funnel, deck-houses, steel plates and a hundred and one other parts which would be worth their value only if used in ship construction, but otherwise hard to dispose of except to the second-hand dealer.

To make the fullest use, and obtain the greatest value, it was therefore necessary to find a hull into which all this machinery could be placed. In those days many a good hull, especially of sailing-ships come down in the world, would reach humble service as lighters or hulks in the ports of the world. A dismasted sailing-ship, at a time when her class was being ousted from the trade routes, was often considered unworthy of being refitted. I was fortunate to hear of one such ship, the Lilla, that was doing duty as a coal hulk in Wellington. A few years earlier the Union Company had purchased her in Adelaide and had her towed to New Zealand. After making a casual inspection, I asked the Union Company if they would tell her.

The story I have told of our competition with this great page 493 shipping company in the coastal trade of New Zealand would, in itself, seem sufficient to make the reader believe that they were not called upon to help even a small competitor. It redounds to the credit of Sir Charles Holdsworth and Mr. David Aiken that they placed national interests before their own. It was the last year of the first World War, ships were badly needed everywhere, and these two men, ranking high in the shipping world of the Antipodes, at once agreed to negotiate. In the end I secured an option, but the price asked was more than the total cost of the Opouri. As a check-up I cabled James Fullerton of Paisley and asked for the price of a repeat order for another Opouri. The answer came quickly and was certainly enlightening. Three words sufficed: “Thirty Thousand Pounds”! This was more than double the price of five years earlier.

As the Lilla would give us the opportunity of converting to a steamer double the tonnage of the Opouri, we had to compare the cost with what the price would be for a new steamer of more than a thousand tons. When values were compared with costs, the proposition appeared in a better light, although the estimated cost of conversion was to bring the total to a rather formidable figure. On securing this option I cabled R. S. Lamb & Co. in Sydney, asking if they would lend Charles Rawson who had superintended the building of the Opouri. The reply came: “Rawson Sailing First Steamer.” I had always believed in using expert advice and, like Williams at Greymouth on the salvage work, Rawson was to prove that he had a gift for reconstruction. I met him in Wellington and we had the Lilla put on the slip at Evans Bay. If ever a ship's hull got a pounding with a hammer, the Lilla's did! Built in 1884, a thorough examination was necessary. I knew her plates were of Lomore iron which, without the rusting qualities of steel plates, gave an assurance of a condition at her age that would not be possible with steel. The hull proved to be in magnificent condition. We could not find a flaw. The docking also dispelled the fear that the Opouri engines would not drive her fast enough to be an economical proposition, for her fine lines were a picture. We estimated she would steam at least eight knots. I spent days and nights with Rawson, planning, estimating and measuring. It was a different type of anxiety from that of sitting for an engineer's page 494 examination, for in this case failure meant the loss of a fortune, as well as financial embarrassment, for I had greater money stakes in this venture than in any of the previous ones. In the end Rawson and I agreed on all matters affecting the project. I then exercised my option and, on completing the purchase, had the Lilla towed to Lyttelton, where the work was to be carried out.

Messrs. Andersons Ltd. had their ship-repair works at Lyttelton and the placing of the contract in their hands revived memories of the days of my apprenticeship with them. It also brought me into close touch with the men who had once employed me, for Mr. John, Mr. Andrew and Mr. Fred Anderson were still in active control of this engineering firm. I found additional interest in meeting men working on this ship who had been apprentices when I was serving my time some twenty years earlier.

The excitement and the anxiety of the work of salvaging the wrecked Opouri and of the negotiations for the purchase of the Lilla were now to be followed by more months of anxious moments. To convert a sailing-ship into a steamer—for that is what it meant—was an unusual undertaking in this part of the world. Rawson had spent a good many years at sea as a Chief Engineer and added greatly to his knowledge of ships by his experience gained in supervising the construction of several new steamers built in the yards of the Old Country. I had in my possession Walton's splendid work on ship construction, and the detailed drawings and plans supplied in this book proved invaluable to Rawson when setting out the work, much of which had to be planned as the job proceeded. I had my own business to look after, so naturally left all details and staff control in Rawson's capable hands. He proved to be an outstanding man for an enterprise such as this, and amazed everyone by the ability he showed. The planning that preceded the beginning of the work called for many decisions; the first and most important being the position in which the engines were to be placed. Rawson was a great believer in the Opouri type, with engines aft. Without ballast tanks this was likely to make the new ship somewhat unwieldy at sea when light ship, it was, however, the shape of the hull that was the deciding factor; the midship section of the Lilla was comparable with that of any cargo steamer, but the fineness o page 495 her lines finally convinced us that it would be a mistake to give the widest and most roomy part of the hold to the engines, boilers and bunkers, and leave only fore and aft wedge-shaped holds for the cargo. This decision to place the engines aft was at once a theme of gossip for the critics, many of whom shook their heads and said it was an error of judgment. Fortified by Rawson's firm conviction, I had no misgivings about it.

It was now a race against time, for war-time costs could be met only by war-time freights which were offering at very lucrative rates. Every available boilermaker and riveter was sought out, for the earliest part of the work concerned beams, frames and plates. The cutting of the Lilla's decks to make openings for the engine-room casing and the making of the two hatches that were to serve the long, undivided hold, proceeded apace. As soon as the new, raised floor of the engine-room was completed, the engineers set to work to instal the machinery. The ship at once became a hive of industry, and great interest was shown by the people of Lyttelton. Week by week the work proceeded, but we suffered from a shortage of boilermakers.

Perhaps the most intricate job was the making of the aperture in the stern of the ship, in which the propeller does its work. The fine lines made it difficult, if not impossible, to make use of the Lilla's own stern-post for this purpose and Rawson showed great ingenuity in solving the problem. He fixed the Opouri's aperture forging several feet forward of the Lilla's stern-post, thus making it easier to have the plates bossed to the shape of the former's stern-post and, on the inside of the hull, provided sufficient width to erect the watertight bulkhead to which the forward end of the stern-tube is fastened. This ingenious arrangement, to be found on all steamers, enables the tail-shaft to pass through and have the propeller keyed to it. A gland and packing then complete the conventional way of keeping the sea-water from passing through the stern-tube into the ship. During the time the vessel was in dry-dock having this alteration carried out, every engineer who visited the port must have gone to inspect this unusual piece of work. Rawson was justifiably proud of the manner in, which he solved a knotty problem.

As the time approached when this composite ship would be ready for sea, it became necessary to consider which trade to page 496 put her in, for her draught was too deep for Greymouth except at high spring tides. Freights to the Pacific coast had risen to a startling figure, a fact that was to be brought home to me when two of New Zealand's biggest exporters of hemp sought a charter of the vessel for a full cargo to Vancouver. It was fortunate that I did not close with them, for in a few days another offer was received which represented an advance of several pounds a ton. This will show that the shippers contributed to forcing the freight rates up to such an attractive figure. Being a free lance, and beyond the government control arrangements which affected many of the Union Company's steamers, I accepted the terms offered.

The final touches were now being given to the ship. With her clipper bow shortened, the masts re-stepped to new positions, the funnel and deck-houses in place, she began to assume the appearance of a real steamer. Keeping to names beginning with “O,” she was christened the Opihi and was at last ready for the loading berth. The work of reconstruction had taken six months. The task proved even more formidable than was anticipated, as did the financing of such a big undertaking. Again it was the bank who gave a helping hand.

When the loading was nearly completed we decided to carry out a trial run in the harbour, and invited a party of friends to join us in the test of speed, which, while a commonplace on the Clyde, is rare in New Zealand waters. Mr. Cyrus Williams, the engineer and Secretary of the Lyttelton Harbour Board, and Captain Thorpe, the Harbour Master, both of whom had shown great kindness and rendered valuable help, were among our guests, as also were the Andersons, who took pride in the work they had carried out and, perhaps, in the enterprise of an old apprentice.

Captain Thorpe had marked out the “measured mile,” as they call it. There was much excitement on board as the Opihi gathered speed in readiness for the flying start in her dash from post to post. Bang! went the pistol. Everyone had their watches out and when the Harbour Master, who was the official time-keeper, rang out the shot that announced the crossing of the line at the other end, pencils and paper were soon working out her speed in knots. We must have looked like a lot of school kids at exam. time. To the surprise of all page break
Hauling Timber up Steep Incline

Hauling Timber up Steep Incline

page break
Wharf at Nydia Bay—Pelorus Sound

Wharf at Nydia Bay—Pelorus Sound

page 497 on board, the official time was the equivalent of a fraction under nine and a half knots per hour.

Lyttelton Harbour is about eight miles in length. We steamed out to the Heads and, turning for home, again approached the measured mile; the same performance, the same excitement, with approximately the same result. This time a speed of nine and a quarter knots was recorded. That settled it! To say that the performance cheered our hearts is to put it mildly. Charles Rawson was as proud as punch. Naturally his thoughts were of the consummation of a notable engineering feat. While I was able to share his satisfaction and joy, and to praise and applaud his fine work, my own thoughts raced ahead to the affect it would have upon the venture as a shipping proposition.

This trial run was to prove to the layman and to seafaring men what scientific calculations prove to the expert designer of ships. Here were engines that drove the Opouri—with a beam of 27 feet—at a speed often and a half knots on trial, now driving the Opihi—with a beam of 34 feet and a proportionately deeper draught—at more than nine knots. The answer to the riddle is to be found in the fineness of lines, with the finely tapered stern counting as much as the fine bow. Back at the wharf after the trial, the Opihi completed loading and was soon ready for sea. We had a jolly dinner party on board that evening.

The illustration of this unique ship, as she steamed out of Lyttelton Harbour, will, perhaps, assist the reader to get a more realistic picture than I may have been able to sketch in this story.

As I stood on Gladstone Pier at Lyttelton and watched the Opihi steam down the harbour on her way to Vancouver, my thoughts went back over the months of anxiety that lay between the sensations of this moment and the sight of the helpless Opouri piled up on the breakwater at Greymouth. So much had happened that it all seemed like a fairy tale and became even more dream-like when the Opihi passed out of sight.

As the freight was pre-paid, the weight of financial worry had been lifted. I remember the shock the bank received when the cheque was paid into the account.

The progress of the Opihi was watched with intense interest. page 498 I had a big map of the Pacific Ocean hanging in my office and, basing the Opihi's speed at a little more than two hundred miles a day, was able to keep an approximate check on her movements. The times of her arrival at Suva and Honululu, where she called for bunkers, showed that in fine weather the trial run performance was an accurate recording of her speed. The Opihi's arrival at Vancouver seemed to establish her reputation as being something more than a freak steamer. With plenty of cargo offering, it was not difficult to fill her for the return journey at rates approximating those paid for the outward cargo.

It was as though I had entered Alladin's cave, for these two freights represented riches that exceeded even my highest hopes. Another such round voyage and the cost of the Opihi would have been more than liquidated—but Fate chose otherwise.

This was the last year of the first World War. New Zealand had already made great inroads upon the manpower of the Dominion. I was now called up for military service in the last batch of married men with one and two children. Just before I was due to go into camp, word came through that our draft was held back, then a further delay. Next came the news that an Armistice had been signed. How that magic word, which came as a prelude to peace, was flashed round the world to lighten anxious hearts and restore to fathers and mothers and wives the sons and husbands who had fought so magnificently and been spared the fate of so many, including my youngest brother who was killed at Messines. What did it matter if glittering prizes were to be wafted away from those who had not been called upon to make an equal sacrifice?

I had been on the point of completing another charter of the Opihi to the Pacific coast. The terms were agreed upon, but the charter was not finalized. The freight rates from New Zealand to America and Canada fell away the moment the Armistice was announced, although the return freights kept up. The Opihi was too small a ship to rely upon a one-way good freight. At this moment a personal friend, Mr. A. G. Rowlands, who was one of New Zealand's ablest men in the meat export industry, asked me if I was prepared to take a risk with the Opihi. Explaining that he anticipated a rising market in tallow, he was prepared to offer a very good freight page 499 for a charter of the Opihi if I would send her to Marseilles, with the option of diverting her to any other Mediterranean port. Mr. Rowlands was quite frank, and admitted that the attractive freight rate offered was based on market anticipations; it was my responsibility to get the ship back to New Zealand. I hesitated for some days. No one knew what was going to happen, or how long it would be before a revival of world trade set in, or what form it would take. The freight offered was such that I could not lose, even if the Opihi had to come back in ballast. In the end I accepted. I must confess I had little knowledge of the freight market on the other side of the world, but was prepared to trust the ability of good agents to pick up cargoes from ports on the ship's return journey to New Zealand.

Away went the Opihi, calling first at Melbourne, then Fremantle and on to Colombo before crossing the Indian Ocean and up the Red Sea to Port Said. No change had taken place on the tallow market, so Marseilles remained the port of delivery. How close Rowlands was to a great scoop may be gathered from what happened to the tallow market in England shortly after this voyage of the Opihi.

The Stores Controller, who held large stocks of tallow in Britain, was anxious to dispose of them as soon as possible. He offered the whole lot to Lord Leverhulme, then the biggest buyer of tallow in England. The price he wanted was something like fifty-five pounds a ton. Leverhulme, sitting back in his chair, laughed, and said, “Why, the tallow market is going to drop!” and would not buy any, even if the price were shaded. But he reckoned without the Ministry of Munitions—or was it the Ministry of Supply? Neither did he anticipate the suddenness of the trade revival that followed soon after the war ended. Favoured by the latter happening, the Controller used great judgment in disposing of the stocks he held. When buyers found they had to go after the tallow, if they wanted any, the price advanced rapidly. In the end, Lord Leverhulme was paying for his immediate needs more than double what he was originally asked. This judicious handling ot the stocks in England was to have its repercussion on the export markets of the world. In New Zealand large quantities were held by all the freezing companies, for, during the war, meat and butter had been given precedence in the allotment page 500 of shipping space; I remember seeing thousands of barrels of tallow lying out in the paddocks at the freezing works. It seemed too bad that Rowlands, the brilliant young New Zealander, should miss the market through being too soon; Lord Leverhulme missed it because he was too late!

So far the voyages of the Opihi, favoured by good fortune, and backed by a daring policy and high freights, had won dazzling success. By the time the vessel had discharged her cargo at Marseilles, our active London agents had chartered her to load a cargo of salt at the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean, for delivery at the Faroe Islands, due north of Scotland. The rate of freight was many pounds per ton. From the Faroes, she was to load dried fish for Norway at an equally lucrative rate, and from there load mine-props for England. This was a programme that would have left her to return to New Zealand with freight-earning performances seldom equalled by tramp steamers. But this was not to be.

The incidents that were to follow make up a chapter of events that must rank with some of the old stories of the sea. There is always a “bush lawyer” in every fo'c'sle; he was aboard the Opihi. Discovering that the Faroe Islands were two degrees north of the latitude provided for in their agreement, he did not take long in persuading his comrades to refuse to sail. In the articles which all crews sign when joining a ship, it is always provided that the voyages will be within the latitudes of sixty degrees north and sixty south. This is a reasonable restriction on owners, for, even on a tramp steamer, seafaring men have a right to know in advance if they are being taken into the Arctic or Antarctic regions. Unfortunately, tact and tolerance were not outstanding qualities of the Captain of the Opihi, and instead of humouring the men, he flew into a rage and swore at them for what he called an act of disloyalty to an owner more than ten thousand miles away. There was nearly a riot on board and some of the men went into the ship's galley and threw all the cooking utensils into the harbour. When the Captain cabled me, I replied at once to offer the crew a bonus to make the voyage. It was a tragic happening that the passing of these cables coincided with a complete breakdown of the cable services of the world. Cables were taking more than a week—even a fortnight—to and from England. Although my reply was made urgent, it arrived too page 501 late. By this time the terms of the charter had been broken and the contracts cancelled. Delayed cables also prevented the confirmation of a charter for a valuable freight from Dakar, in French West Africa, to New York. This would have meant making the return journey through the Panama Canal, but as war-time freights from America still prevailed, the Opihi could yet have returned in triumph from her round-the-world voyage.

It was now clear that it was impossible to exchange views with regards to freights offering. I therefore cabled our London agents to take complete charge of the Opihi and move her in accordance with their own judgment. With no outward cargoes offering at Mediterranean ports, and the delay at Marseilles now being a serious matter, they fixed her to load at Algiers for Dunkirk. By the time the Opihi had delivered her cargo at this now famous port, the plums of the freight market were fast disappearing, as more and more ships were being released from war work to resume their old trading.

In the end we had to be satisfied with the commonplace cargo of coal from Cardiff to Port Said. Then to Calcutta light ship and again load coal for Singapore, finally loading case petrol for New Zealand. From this it will be seen that the last leg of the return voyage was to be the only profitable part.

Singapore was reached without incident and after discharging, the Opihi moved across to a nearby island to load her cargo. The crew lived ashore while loading proceeded. When ready for sea, with officers and men aboard, there was to be a repetition of the scene at Marseilles. The bush lawyer had now assumed the position of ringleader; going to the fo'c'sle, he went round the cabin sniffing; he sniffed here and sniffed there, then, turning to his mates, he said, “I can smell petrol fumes. I refuse to sail!” It was not hard to make rebels of the others and a deputation waited on the Captain. The latter had not learned his lesson. This time he outdid the exhibition of impatience and temper he had given at Marseilles. “So you refuse duty, do you?”

The spokesman was no novice at leading a deputation, and calmly answered, “No, not in that way. All we say is that it's not safe to sleep in our quarters,”

“You refuse duty!” yelled tire Captain.

page 502

“No? we just refuse to sleep in the fo'c'sle.” Although he really meant they would not sail.

Uncontrolled wrath is no match in argument for a cool head, and the spokesman stood his ground. In a state of anger the Captain called for a launch and going ashore brought back some Chinese firemen to take the Opihi over to Singapore. On arrival there, he had the men arrested for “refusing duty!” Justice is a fairer arbiter than an angry sea captain, and the men, aided by a clever Singapore lawyer, were immediately released.

It was the implications arising from this happening that were to make us pay dearly for having a Captain who seemed unable to see any point of view but his own. If a ship loaded with petrol was unable to provide safe sleeping quarters for its crew, then it should not be carrying an inflammable cargo. A special survey of the vessel was ordered and the verdict of the surveyors was that the ship was not suitable for such a cargo. This was a heavy blow. One could not blame the men for complaining of fumes in the fo'c'sle, but I have always thought that though they exaggerated their statement of the case, they would have sailed for a more considerate Captain.

It was unfortunate that the way of the Opihi's Master in handling men was so different from the manner in which we had always treated the crews of the Opouri and Orepuki. My experience of the sea had taught me that though firmness was necessary, kindness and consideration were better weapons than a hard heart and a harsh tongue.

There was no bunting flying from the masthead of the Opihi as she crept out of Singapore on her way to Bunbury in Western Australia to load a cargo of jarrah timber for ourselves at Lyttelton. To anyone who knew the story just told, she must have appeared like a ship whose colours had been lowered and whose grading marks had been reduced.

When the Opihi steamed into Lyttelton, she was hailed as a traveller to many parts of the world. Of those who watched her arrival, I alone knew how close she had been to winning a great fortune. Shorn of some of the glory that might have been hers, and with some of her profits disbursed in the long delays at Marseilles and Singapore, she still had to her credit a performance that justified the original faith placed in her.

The final episode of this round-the-world voyage was to page 503 occur at Lyttelton. After the crew had been paid off, one of the firemen, who was very intoxicated, went aboard the ship and bashed the Chief Engineer on the head with a water bottle as he sat at his writing table with his back to the door. The engineer was badly hurt, but soon recovered. The sequel to this assault was a court case, when the prisoner in the box told his story of the happenings of the voyage. It was clear that neither the Captain nor the Engineer were blessed with the requisite tact or common sense to handle men when so far from the ship's home port.

The Opihi was now put into the New Zealand-Australian trade, carrying cargoes of timber from Hokianga, Kaipara and Opua in the North Auckland Peninsula, to Sydney. The return cargoes were hardwood or coal to ports like Wanganui and New Plymouth, where the rates of freight were higher than those to the main ports.

It was now time the Opihi was put into a regular trade where a more direct personal control was possible. The most suitable trade in New Zealand was between Lyttelton and Auckland. There was always plenty of freight offering from Lyttelton, while, with the Golden Bay Cement works closed down and the Company supplying our requirements from Wilsons' great works at Whangarei, there was also substantial back cargo.

This brought us in direct competition with the Union Company. Their most jealously guarded trade on the coast of New Zealand is that carried on by a fleet of fine cargo steamers running from the Bluff, in the extreme south, with calls at Dunedin, Oamaru and Timaru, Lyttelton, Wellington, Napier, Gisborne, and then on to Auckland. Canterbury, with its fertile plains, made Lyttelton the principal port for shipping produce. Without any responsibility towards the other ports, such as the Union Company had, we were in a favoured position.

When the Opouri first began running on the coast, old Bob Lamb said to me, “Look out for a clout behind the ear from the Union Company.” I did not forget this warning, and yet, throughout the years, I received nothing but friendliness from them, not only with regard to our very considerable freighting arrangements for cargoes from Australia and the Pacific coast, but also when we were in competition; firstly page 504 from Sir James Mills, then Sir Charles Holdsworth and David Aiken, and lastly N. S. Falla—now Brigadier Falla—one of the foremost men in the shipping world of both hemispheres. The only outward sign of opposition was their putting ships on the berth just before or just about the time the Opihi was to sail, and one could not blame them for this. In the case of the Opouri to Greymouth, this would have been effective enough in keeping us down to a proportionate share of the trade but for the fact that this speedy little ship so quickly developed an express service of her own between the two ports. The Opihi did not possess this advantage in the run to Auckland and had to meet a more persistent attack from the ships, just before and after.

We had many friends among the shippers, and the contest was largely one of personal support against powerful business influences. I remember the manager of an Auckland firm, when explaining why he was not making shipments by the Opihi, saying quite frankly that his firm did considerable business with the Union Company and he must give them preference. Then there was a contest for cargo for transhipment at Auckland. We seemed to miss our share of these shipments, and so replied by freighting direct to Whangarei, the largest of the northern ports and to which the Opihi had to go to load cement. This was the last straw. It must have become obvious to the Union Company that so long as we could get a cargo of produce from Lyttelton, our own cement ensured back loading, and success for the ship. One day I received a letter from Mr. David Aiken, the General Manager of the Union Company, asking if I would come to Wellington to see him about the Opihi.

I sensed the purport of this invitation and went prepared for negotiations. A pleasant skirmishing conversation brought to the surface an offer to buy the Opihi. I felt I was in a strong position, but realize there were limits beyond which I could not go. The high price they had charged me for the hulk Lilla was now to react like a boomerang in our favour. The negotiations began in the old-fashioned way of the seller asking more than he expected to get, and the buyer beginning at a figure below that which he was prepared to pay. A new element in bargaining was soon in evidence when I found that Sir Charles Holdsworth sitting in his own adjoining room, page 505 was to be the final arbiter. On two occasions I thought we had reached the stage of closing the deal, but when Mr. Aiken went in to consult Sir Charles he came back with the answer that he would not agree. In the end we came to terms, but I have never forgotten how difficult this form of three-cornered negotiation proved. Although I had to come down a little, these big men of the Union Company were not unduly hard, and the price paid was a handsome one, but it carried with it the stipulation that we were not again to enter into competition with them in this trade to Auckland.

The Opihi continued to trade on the coast of New Zealand for another ten years and was then taken out into the middle of Cook Strait to be scuttled and become an addition to Davy Jones's locker.

And so ends the romantic story of a ship that came into being in a remarkable way and for a few years played a part that was to make her a somewhat distinguished tramp steamer and roamer of the seas.

The Opua was the fourth member of our family. She did not leave behind her a record comparable with that of her sister ships, Opouri, Orepuki and Opihi. She was always a bad buy, and it must be confessed that although the circumstances were different, I did not show the same judgment in the purchase of this vessel as with the others. It was at a time when we could not get ships to go to Port Craig to lift timber cargoes for the Dunedin and other markets, and few suitable steamers were then for sale.

I was now to learn my most severe lesson in ships and ship buying. The Government Surveyors were much more exacting than Lloyd's man had been. The repairs insisted upon cost several thousand pounds and this added considerably to an already high price, for ships were still scarce.

The Opua was a twin screw, light-draught vessel and not of such rugged structure as the Opouri and the Orepuki. With the former out of existence, the Opihi overseas and the Orepuki unable to cope with the trade offering between Greymouth and Lyttelton, and cement from Tarakohe, the Opua was transferred to this trade. She was a fine-looking ship, but could not show results equal to the others. Her light draught made her suitable for such harbours as Wanganui and Gisborne, and she made occasional voyages to these ports.

page 506

When the Otira Tunnel through the Southern Alps was completed, the effect upon shipping was felt immediately, for all timber and coal for Christchurch now came by rail. This forced our ships on to the North Island trade with timber cargoes. Their control and management became more difficult when Lyttelton ceased to be the regular terminus. Clearly our position in the shipping world was not as strong as it had been. The sale of the Opihi, and the price obtained, had sown a seed of thought in my mind and it was fortunate for us that it germinated while the price of ships was still high.

The Anchor Shipping Company of Nelson had of late felt our competition more than the Union Company, for, with the Golden Bay Cement Company again in operation, cement freights, previously carried by them to North Island ports, were now an important part of our carrying trade. The extension of our operations to such ports as New Plymouth and Wanganui made this more apparent. Mr. William Rogers, the Managing Director of the Anchor Company, was a man of whom I was very fond, and although many years my senior, had always treated me with the utmost courtesy, and showed no signs of being upset at our increasing competition. When he learned we were prepared to consider selling, he seized the opportunity and opened negotiations. As the freighting contracts for cement went with the ships I had something to bargain with.

I went to Wellington to meet Mr. Rogers and his Chairman, Mr. Cock. The interview was a repetition of the Opihi negotiations, except that Mr. Cock was present all the time. Two to one is not an easy position for the individual in negotiations, but we fought the position out on the question of values as they were at that time. The Anchor Company's new steamer had just arrived from the Old Country and knowing the fabulous price they paid for her, it will be seen that this knowledge was a help.

We came to terms and I think both parties were satisfied; we got a good price, and they got two good ships and a connection that made their company stronger than it had been for many a day. Reese Brothers were appointed their Lyttelton and Christchurch agents.

The Orepuki became one of their best ships, but in little more than a year the Opua, in foggy weather, ran ashore between page 507 Wellington and Napier when on her way to Gisborne, and became a total wreck.

This concludes the tale of four steamers that for a few short years played a small but virile part in the history of New Zealand's coastal shipping. It also brings to an end the story of how an engineering career that was seemingly cast aside, was later to prove its value and be made use of in a manner never dreamed of when at the parting of the ways; little did I think that some day I would become my own Superintendent, and have so many engineering problems to deal with in our sawmilling ventures. The experience I gained with Howard Smiths in Melbourne, and my three and a half years at sea, proved invaluable. A seafaring man who is given the opportunity of seeing the world must often find opportunities ashore such as presented themselves to me.