Steam Tug Hipi



Steam Tug Hipi

Today’s story features the Chas Bailey built steam tug Hipi and comes to us from Mick Kelly via Harold Kidd. Mick was prompted to write by a recent article by HDK in Boating New Zealand.

Mick commented that Hipi ran aground just south of Whangamata in the mid 1970s.  He used to own the farm adjoining the beach where this occurred.  The previous owner of the farm was called in the middle of the night to rescue the crew.  For his efforts he was presented with the ship’s wheel, which he attached to the bar in his house.

The story as Mick remembers it was that she was towing a barge with a digger to pinch sand off the beaches in the area, and it all went a bit pear shaped.  A local bought the wreck, and bulldozed a track down onto the beach.  He cut off the metal superstructure and towed the hull up to where he could salvage the engine/s which Mick imagines had replaced the original steam engine.

Mick salvaged a few brass fittings, and some bits of Kauri decking which he incorporated into the first launch he built.  He also used the hardwood keel timber for a beam in the shed he built on the farm.

Update from John Bullivant – ‘newer’ photo below, she was built by Baileys in 1909 and was converted to twin Gardner 8L3s at some stage (apparently)


Input from Baden Pascoe – Hipi was built in 1909 for Nelson Bros who owned the Tomoana Freezing Works as a lighter tug. In these days Gisborne had no deep water port so the frozen sheep carcases were loaded into insulated lighters and towed out to the roadstead. Initially she had two Simpson Strickland triple expansion steam engines and later replaced with a set of compound engines. The photo above with a wheel house fitted was after a major refit at WG Lowe & Son in 1933. The steam engines were removed and two Petter Atomic T25/2m diesel engines of 50 hp each were fitted. She then returned to Gisborne to carry out the same duties. By this time Nelson Bros had bought into the Kaiti Freezing Works and formed Gisborne Lightering and Stevedoring Co Ltd and their tugs and lighters assets transferred over. During the WWII she came back to Auckland as she was loaned/sold to the NZ Navy to work the submarine nets protecting the Auckland Harbour and based at Islington Bay. After the war she was sold by tender to Parry Bros, a well-known local owner of scows and the tug Glyn Bird. They phased out their scow fleet and replaced them with tugs and barges. Their early tugs were, Glyn Bird, Lady Eva, Hipi, Sibyl (now owned by the Pollards). They removed the Petters and replace them with two Kelvin K4’s of 88 hp each. As the old wooden barges become too small or became too hard to maintain they replaced them with steel barges. Hipi’s barge was Onewaka with a capacity of about 500 ton. She was employed on the sand run to Parengarenga and sometimes carried superphosphate to Te Paki Station with a supply landing at Parengarenga Harbour. The Kelvins were replaced with twin 8L3 Gardners of 150 hp making her the fastest tug on that run and their flag ship. I first saw Hipi in about 1964 while she was delivering super from Tauranga. My father knew one of the crew and I can remember boarding her and stepping over the very high wheel house combing. While she was returning to Tauranga from unloading at Whitianga in March 1976 she went aground below the cliffs at Papakura Bay as mentioned by Mick. The boys had spent the afternoon in the pub, had too much to drink and after a few hours bunked down and put the youngest crew member on the wheel. He too eventually fell asleep and was woken when she drove her self between a rock ledge with the Onewaka trailing behind. At this stage she was not making any water and was basically uninjured. Before they could get her off the wind came up and she became a total loss. They went ashore phoned Buster (Norman) Parry to inform him of the grounding. The farmer looked after the crew until the next day when Buster and Keith Penney the operations manager arrived. I understand her skipper George Little was already in Buster & Keith’s bad book and he was sacked on the spot. Ask any of the old school tug masters and crew and they will tell you about Hipi. She was the superstar wooden tug. Mick, have you a photo of her wheel?

The painting below artist is unknow and was gifted to Baden Pascoe by Keith Penney

Hipi Painting

Hipi on slip 72

24-03-2019 Update  –  via Mick Kelly – The wheel from Hipi resides  in Featherston, Wairarapa, with Teena Pettitt, the daughter of the farm owner (Dave Pettitt) at the time of the incident mentioned above. Photos below.

Mick also sent in the photo of a door in his house that features recycled skin fitting and nails from the wreck of Hipi.

11 thoughts on “Steam Tug Hipi

  1. i worked on the big refit on baileys slip ..we refastened her and recalked her hull the only time she never leaked was a shame she was lost so soon after name was mike luck remember keith penny well..


  2. Baden, I have tracked the wheel down. It is in the possession of Teena Pettit, daughter of the farm owner at the time of the incident, attached to the wall of her house at Featherston in Wairarapa. I will email the photos to the website, and directly to you if I can have your email address. Cheers, Mick


  3. Thanks Mick, If you could find out where the wheel went that would be wonderful. Dredging sand off beaches was a common practice in these days as there was no such thing as resource consent. Many operators did it and most of the locals did not care. Frank Hook in Alona/ Kuiri was well known for this. But Hipi & Onewaka were not involved in this practice when this happened. Ray, Nip Lowe was Glyn Bird’s skipper for many years, he may have skippered Hipi from time to time, but Tinny Brown would have to be her longest serving skipper. Charlie Bishop did a lot of miles on her as well. My fathers cousin Alec Pascoe did a few trips on her with Daryl Shadbolt as skipper, before he joined McCallum Bros. Keith Penney always said that her 8L3s ran a lot smoother that the other 8L3’s in the fleet. I have no doubt that the magic had of one Shorty Sefton touched these machines and that would be the reason. It was a shame she was lost, a few months before this incident she has a major refit, motors totally rebuilt and all work completed to Keith’s high standard. And I mean extremely high standard. They intended to keep her going for many years, What a shame she was lost. I have photos of this as well if any one is interested in wooden work boats.


  4. Nipper Lowe was about the longest serving skipper in Hipi and Caesar Roose bought those two Kelvin engines straight out of her on the slip, one went into the new build tug Opuatia and the other into a self-loading sand barge


  5. Thanks for that Baden, a much more accurate and complete account than mine! I apologise for accusing the crew of illegal activity, but I’m not sure that the true reason is any better!
    I don’t have a photo of the wheel, and the farm owner Dave Pettit has died. I may be able to contact the chap who salvaged the engines to see if he has anything to add. Cheers, Mick


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