IMATRA – BARBADOS > AUCKLAND 1949
Back in April 2021 we had a great discussion on the Imatra – the 123 year old Stow & Sons gaff yawl racing yacht that sailed from the UK to NZ back in 1949 and sadly these days is berthed in the Tamaki River, Auckland and in rather poor condition. There was first-rate input from numerous woodys – link below to that story
Fast forward to last week and Deidre Brown ‘discovered’ the WW site will doing a google search and today we get a wonderful insight into the early life of the yacht and how it ended up down under. I’ll let Deidre tell the story. Enjoy 🙂
“My father Albert (Jim) Brown (b. 1922) was one of the crew of the Imatra that sailed her to New Zealand. Jim had seen the Imatra at Plymouth as he prepared to leave England as crew, with his fiend Ben, onboard the Palmosa in 1948. Both yachts were sailing to Barbados. Jim and Ben left the Palmosa at Barbados and were hired by Captain Nelson as crew for the Imatra to sail her to New Zealand (a two month journey). The following transcript is an excerpt from oral history interview I undertook with my father, Jim, about the Imatra for a school project in 1986. The square brackets are my additions:
‘Captain Nelson was in his 70s. He’d been a merchant seaman captain; he had spent most of his sailing years travelling between East Africa and India, the sort of tropical seamanship where the mate did all the work, and the captain just did his hobbies in the cabin. He was a nice, easy going, old bloke. He had originally come from New Zealand and was intent on going back there. Why? I don’t know. He didn’t seem to know either. I don’t know why he didn’t just sell the yacht and fly across. Two of his crew had left and the third was in hospital with an appendicitis and he didn’t know what he was going to do for crew, so we told him he had some crew … us! He said he needed a cook and we said we’d provide him with a cook because the naval captain [of the Palmosa] was intent on keeping his cook and we thought that he didn’t deserve him. Just to seal the deal the captain gave Ben not a packet, but a whole carton of cigarettes, which made Ben his slave for life, I think. He had tons of whisky and beer on board, which looked very good to us. In all respects, she was a very well-found ship. She was a bit rough-looking after the naval captain’s yacht, which was very smooth. But this one was an old one. Racers used to race ships back in the Irish Sea in the 1880s. This one had been owned by an old lady [Cecilia Mackenzie], I believe. She had originally been a racing yacht with one very long mast, which had been shortened a bit, and a second mast put in and made into a ketch. She was slow, but she was also very stiff and steady, and I don’t think she could ever sink. Beautiful ship inside; all panelled in Bird’s Eye Maple. We got the cook, and we went on board and this other chap came out of hospital. We all set off and we went through the Panama Canal, down to Tahiti, and down to New Zealand. The conditions were very good. We were plagued with a lack of wind rather than too much of it. The only storm we saw was one when we were getting to New Zealand, when we were hit by it. It nearly blew us all the way back to Tahiti…. [We arrived in Auckland on] 1 April 1949…. We stayed on the yacht [Imatra] and we moved from the Ferry Building around to Bailey’s ship building yards in Herne Bay. Or was it Freeman’s Bay? We were put on a berth there. While we were there Sir Ernest Davis, who used to be the Mayor of Auckland at one time and owned one of the local breweries, came down and he liked the look of the yacht because it was old. He was an oldish man and he liked things old. It also reminded him of his previous yacht, which he had given over to the navy during the War. It got wrecked. He bought the yacht and Ben and I looked after it for several weeks and lived on board until Ernie Davis decided it was time for him to do a bit of sailing and for us to go. So we had to come ashore and go boarding. We were very sad to leave her.’
I have dad’s interior and exterior photographs (refer above) of the Imatra in 1949. He always talked of his time sailing the Imatra as some of his happiest and talked often of her elegance and Captain Nelson’s kindness.”
The photos were taken on Jim’s 1940s camera and Deidre rediscovered the negatives in 2007 and had them digitised. While not all perfectly sharp but they show us life aboard as she was then, rigged as a a ketch. There is one good view of half the deck, taken by Jim up the mast with his camera. Deidre has found her father’s friend’s full name, who was also crew on the Imatra between Barbados and Auckland, he was – Albert (Ben) Widdall. Deidre commented that Jim couldn’t remember who the old man and the boy was in the group shot, which is the sharpest picture showing the timber wall linings, Jim is second from left and Ben is first on the right. Deidre can’t find any more information on Captain Nelson, although we have a photo (below) that Jim took of him.
21-07-2022 NEW INPUT ex Deidre Brown
Deidre has sent in the below articles (x7) that she found on ‘Papers Past’
– they cover parts of Imatra’s journey from Portsmouth to Auckland, names of other crew members, and Captain John Nelson’s obituary (what an incredible life). The copy highlighted in green is the some interesting bits (a German first owner?), and included links back to the original sources .
Bay of Plenty Times, Volume LXXVII, Issue 14972, 10 May 1949, Page 6
Ketch’s 13,000-Mile Voyage From England To N.Z.
The purchase of the 72ft English built ketch Imatra by a former Mayor of Auckland, Sir Ernest Davis, has prompted a young Englishman now working in Wellington to tell the story of how the yacht was sailed 13,000 miles to New Zealand.
Eight people, including a woman, made the trip, eight people who had decided that they had to reach New Zealand somehow. Captain J. Nelson, the vessel’s owner and a retired master mariner, was Greytown-bom and intended visiting New Zealand to see relatives. Mr Malcolm Hector, now of Wellington, joined the vessel in reply to an advertisement, and as soon as the ketch was at sea found himself with the cook’s job. The woman member of the company, Mrs R. Godsall, had intended to do the cooking, but became too ill through seasickness to carry on with it.
“I just tied the pots and pans on the stove and hoped for the best,” he said of his culinary efforts. “In all the eight months we took on the trip, only on one day did we. have cold meals because of really heavy seas.”
In that eight months they had experienced Atlantic storms, including the tail-end of a hurricane, a storm in the Caribbean in which a hole was torn in the side after the mainsail boom gybed and caught the yacht’s only dinghy, which was lost, and a spell of severe bad weather which sent the yacht back on her course twice after leaving Tahiti. Incidentally,’ Mr Hector’s cooking was no process of trial and error or proficiency picked up at short notice. He had cooked for his English home, and had acquired knowledge of invalid cookery during his wartime job of male nurse in the Merchant Navy.
Press, Volume LXXXIV, Issue 25670, 6 December 1948, Page 8
Yacht Leaves for N.Z.— The 70-foot yacht Imatra, with the owner, Captain Nelson, a retired Royal Navy officer, and a crew of six paying passengers. left England for Auckland on August 18. according to private advice received to-day. Captain Nelson is a New Zealander. He will probably call at a southern Rhodesian port for his wife and daughter, who are visiting there.— (P.A.)
Press, Volume LXXXV, Issue 25776, 11 April 1949, Page 8 (also reported in the Gisborne Herald, Otago Daily Times, Wanganui Chronicle, Ashburton Guardian)
Yacht Changes Hands.—The 72ft ketch Imatra, which recently arrived in Auckland after an eight-months trip from England, has been bought by Sir Ernest Davis from Captain John Nelson. The Imatra will be the largest privately-owned yacht in the Auckland fleet. She will soon be hauled on to the special slip, surveyed, and probably altered. The Imatra was built in 1898 at Shoreham for a German yachtsman. Captain Nelson bought her in 1946.—(P.A.)
Press, Volume XCV, Issue 28206, 19 February 1957, Page 10
Sir Ernest Davis, one of the oldest yachtsmen in Auckland, celebrated his 85th birthday last Sunday at the helm of his A-class keeler Imatra. A former Mayor of Auckland and a noted benefactor of the city, he has been yachting on the Waitemata for 72 years and has been a member of yacht clubs for 70 years. Sir Ernest Davis is a former owner of the Morewa which he gave to the defence authorities during the Second World War. He also owned the famous Viking, which now belongs to Mr Brian Todd, of Wellington, and sails on the Wellington harbour.
Press, Volume XCVIII, Issue 28824, 19 February 1959, Page 14
AUCKLAND, February 18. Sir Ernest Davis, the veteran Auckland yachtsman, has given himself a birthday present of a 72-foot twin-screw ocean-going diesel yacht. It was Sir Ernest’s 87th birthday yesterday. He sold his sailing yacht, Imatra, three months ago  after more than 70 years of sailing. During that time he owned other well-known yachts, including the Matangi, Viking and Moerewa….
Gisborne Herald, Volume LXXVI, Issue 22931, 27 April 1949, Page 9
THREE YACHTS TO SAIL FROM AUCKLAND TO UNITED STATES
It is expected that three yachts, the 38ft. ketch Faith, the 36ft. ketch Galatea and the 38ft. sloop Trade Winds, will leave from Auckland for the United States in the near future. Each will carry a crew of three men. Mr. A. Rusden, of Auckland, owner and skipper, will be in charge of Faith, which has a beam of lift. 6in. and a draught of 6ft. She is Marconi rigged and is fitted with a wireless transmitter and receiver and an auxiliary engine. Mr. Rusden hopes to sail in the first week in May. The other two members of the crew will be Captain J. C. Pottinger, who arrived recently from England in the ketch Imatra, and Mr. P. Samuels, of Auckland….
Press, Volume XCVIII, Issue 29022, 10 October 1959, Page 15
Obituary CAPTAIN J. NELSON
Captain John Nelson, who died at Timaru this week, was born at Greymouth. He was a son of Mr Charles Nelson, one of Wairarapa’s early settlers. Captain Nelson, who was 79, went to sea in 1897 as a boy on a trial trip from Wellington to England. Leaving the barque, he joined J. D. Clink and Company, Greenock, Scotland, as an apprentice, serving for more than four years. He then joined the cable-layer, Colonia, laying cable from Manila to Guam and Midway. For the next 10 years he served in five sailing ships. In 1908 he joined the Burma Oil Company and was third mate on one of the company’s tankers. He was captain from 1912 until 1939, when he was promoted to acting-superintendent of the company, with headquarters at Rangoon. He retired- in 1939 and went to England. At the outbreak of the Second World War he became a Lieutenant in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, trained sea cadets in the Isle of Man, and commanded small vessels round the English coast. Captain Nelson, in 1948, obtained the Imatra, a ketch, which he sailed to New Zealand with a crew of four. The 30-ton ketch took about six months to come out, though it was at sea for only 130 days. Captain Nelson’s wife is in Rhodesia.