A great read by Russell Ward
In my youth –well I’m still young ain’t I? – I used to admire a lovely old counter-sterned boat that used to moor in the Wade River. It is now not on the cruising agenda, but we quite often used to call in as part of a cruise. Sometimes if it was a really lumpy trip across to Tiri, we’d sneak down the Whangaparaoa Peninsula and sneak our way up to Stillwater to lick our wounds. There was a thriving motor camp and store there and at night the silence was profound. Just nature all around. The tide was very strong and every day, about sunset, an old Labrador dog used to ease himself into the river and swim across to the Stillwater side. He would end up miles down river because of the tide and we never saw his return swim. Maybe he had a girlfriend or food source over on the other side. The term “dogged determination” sprang to mind.
But I digress. Moored just under the headland that is upstream of the WBC moorings was a fine old ship. She had the rather gracious name of “The Minerva”.
(From Steamers Down the Fith by the late Bill Laxon).
Built as an Auckland harbour ferry in 1910, she was relatively shallow draft to cope with the creeks and estuaries. She was fitted with a coal fired scotch boiler and two 14 nhp compound engines made by George Fraser and Sons -a pioneer Auckland engineering company. This firm ran from 1862 -1955 and was a major builder of the heavy machinery a developing country needed especially when there was gold to be found in them there hills. For those interested, there is an early 1900 reference to the company at http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/cgi-bin/paperspast?a=d&d=NZH190009220.127.116.11. The firm transmogrified into Tappenden Motors in the ‘50s and the asset stripping raids occasioned by Rogernomics sealed the company’s fate. It was under the spaghetti junction down from the University’s Owen Glenn Building.
The Minerva’s time on the Auckland Harbour came to an end in 1922 and she was taken round to the Kaipara (where her shallow draft was an asset) by Charles West to be converted to a tug for towing timber to the McLeod’s mills. As an aside, John McLeod was the first settler in Helensville. A sawmiller, he built his wife Helen a stately villa. And you always wondered why it as called Helensville.
The good ship steamed until the late 1940s. With an abundance of timber scraps, it had been good economics to keep her in steam. Now when I used to see The Minerva in the 1950>60s in the Waiti River, she had been diseasiled but I subsequently found out that her boiler went to a market gardener down south and one of her engines was left abandoned on the Helensville wharf up to the mid 1950s. As Bill Durham said in Steamboats and Modern Steam Launches “Come and get ‘em”. Alas the boiler has yet to be found and everyone seems to have forgotten her engine. Anyone who knows where it is can happily contact me and all will be treated in confidence.
The Minerva’s time as a workboat came to an end in 1945 when she was converted to the pleasure boat I knew. Lewis McLeod retired and took her over to the milder east coast where I first met her. She went seriously downhill when she was sold for commercial fishing and even worse things in 1964. The Minerva presently lies under cover at Kerikeri somewhat north of here and a group is fighting to restore her. As an aside Russell would love to know how she got the name The Minerva.
(as an aside, the writer Peter Gill, of the great story above in the ‘Bay Chronicle’ was a previous owner of my old girl Raindance, named Lady Gay (Gai?) in Peter’s day)