An Epic Tale of Whalers, Fishermen,  Farmers & Commercial Launch Masters

Prima Donna built by Lanes 1911 for Herman & Darcey Baldick 001

Primadonna built by Lanes for Ernie & Darcey Baldick 001

Primadonna and One of Bob Swansons boats 001

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An Epic Tale of Whalers, Fishermen,  Farmers & Commercial Launch Masters
 

The story below without doubt is the best to appear on WW, author Pete Beech talks at one stage about writing a book – he needs to. Surely there is a funding channel available – what’s the literary equivalent of ‘NZ On Air’?

The story came about via the recent WW story on the ex whaler chaser – Primmadona and her relocation from the South to Aucklands Waitemata waters. I will let Pete tell you his story, as he told me – its a cracker – enjoy
 
As an aside I spotted Pete’s ‘work’ boat – Tutanekai, mentioned in the story in Queen Charlotte Sound two years ago, I admired her then, sadly I was too busy pushing bacon and eggs down the gullet at the rather swanky, Bay of Many Coves resort, to say hi – my loss, but I’ll be back. Photos of her at the WW link below:
 
Previous WW Primadonna stories:
PART ONE
Kia Ora Alan,
Thanks for making contact, I was sent a link to your site by my sister who lives on her yacht in an Auckland marina. She thought I’d be interested in your story on our old waka, Primadonna.
You and I obviously have a lot in common, 40 yrs ago there were a lot of old Sounds launches coming to the end of their days, my old dad worked for Ernie Lane as a young man then for Jack Morgan and Rodger Carey.
He and his old mates had been Sounds farmers, whalers , fishermen and commercial launch masters, when ever they got together conversation would always revert to “Boats ! “
We lived in a bay down the Sounds, old pa could identify the older boats by the sound of their exhausts, before they rounded the points and came into view. The old guys would tell you who built them, what year, how much they cost, what they were planked out of, some were sister ships (2 keels cut out of the same log) where the logs were sourced from for the planking, what timber they used for the ribs, what make of engine they used, how much it cost, what horse power they developed and how many GPH they burnt and  what revs  they run at.
They took pride in knowing the whole whakapapa of all the old waka, how many hours the engines did until they were worn out and rebuilt or replaced, in those days after 5/ 10 yrs they would replace with bigger more powerful engines, they would also tell you how the engine was taken out of one boat and put into another and so on.
I grew up hearing all these oral histories and like a couple of your writers mentioned the accuracy of some of these stories was lost in the telling, then my old dad passed on and I got to thinking that if someone doesn’t write down these oral histories within 50 years, they will pass from living memory and be lost to time.
So I went around and interviewed a number of the old timers and collected all the photos I could, so pleased I did because those old boys are all gone now and their kids tossed out their photos.
It was funny, they just loved to talk about their boats, often their wives used to ring me up and say “could you come back and talk to dad again, hes driving me mad ! “
For years I have fostered an ambition to compile a book using this material and feel a bit precious about it, however no one has a monopoly over history and it should be shared, who knows the millennials may have no interested in our nautical treasures .
I have been a mechanic, a marine engineer, a fisherman, a commercial launchmaster a boat builder and for the last 30 years have run an eco tour with our old waka the near 90 yr old Tutanekai. I used to think that the day would come when people would regard the old classics like they do vintage cars and would restore them.
However it hasn’t really happened here and sadly many of our old classics have  been sold out of the area many finding their way to Auckland, I will miss seeing the beautiful counter stern of the old Primmadonna on the Sound, she is so much part of our local history.
I’m so pleased to see the resurgence of traditional boats in Auckland and sure a lot of credit should go to you for the sparking peoples interest in the classic wooden boats.
I remember when she was sold to a feller up on the Foxton River, he eventually put her up for sale but no one wanted her, so he rang me up and said “I’ll sell it to you for bugger all, if you don’t I’m going to cut the side out of her with a chainsaw and turn it into a road side stall. 
I contacted Ian Baldick, nephew of the original owner and said that old girl is your family heritage, you should buy her back, he said OK boy , you’re right, I’ll do it on one condition, that you come with me to bring her back home.
So away we went, made the deal, checked out the old Lister, changed the oil and fuel filters and set off for home, when we got down close to the bar there was a big swell and old Ian said theres something wrong, she’s not lifting to the swell, he said pull her up, he went down into the front cabin, lifted up the bunk swabs and found that the whole forward section was full of river boulders, (this had been done because when you run the old lady on full throttle the stern would suck right down until the water was level with the deck and if you were steering from inside the cabin you couldn’t see over the bow).
We tossed all the boulders overboard and charged out over the bar, there were 3 very big waves, she rode up over the first then put her head down and dove under the second and in what seemed like an eternity finally lifted, rose over the third and burst out into the open sea, old Baldy said if we hadn’t thrown those boulders out she would of gone straight to the bottom !!!
He told me that she had been build too fine with not enough buoyancy in the bow, straight stemmed with no flare, he said that one time they we steaming out around Cape Jackson when they went thru the big rip where the Pacific and the Tasman seas meet there are often half a dozen big waves, he said that she responded the same way a stick does when you throw it into the water. He said you had to shut the throttle off and pull her out of gear,   she went down by the head and kept going down until her buoyancy finally made her shoot back out back wards just like a stick !  He said that on this occasion one of their mates was standing on the foredeck, he said that when this occurred he wrapped himself around the mast and held on for grim death, he said that when she popped out they went forward and couldn’t get their mate to let go of the mast, he said he had squeezed it that hard he ‘d squeezed all the sap out of it and they needed a screw driver to prize his finger nails out of the mast !
I also owned the old Fleetwing at one time, but that’s another story.
The old waka in my shed is a true classic launch, is just the bare hull and is in beautiful condition for its age, has been in my shed for 30 years waiting for attention, I’ll never get around to it , I only rescued it because I knew her history and wanted to see her preserved, she had a 5 HP Frisco Standard in her for years, shes only 6 ft beam, they didn’t start building them with 8ft beam until the twin cyl 8 hp Friscos came out in the 1920’s.
The Baldicks said that they flush decked her for gropher fishing and that when they were steaming around Dieffenbach Point in a strong southerly she would roll over that far that your shoulders would be in the water.!
What I could do is send you the story of her builder Ernest Berg who  was a real character, was bankrupted 3 times but kept reinventing himself, a real conman but he built beautiful boats, back at the turn of the century, 3 of them left that I know of.
That’s enough for now, Keep up your good work mate.
PART TWO
Kia Ora Alan,
My pleasure, always interesting to look at a series of photos taken of a wooden boat that shows how their superstructures  were changed to suit their roles and how their engines got bigger and bigger with advances in technology.
My old waka “Tutanekai originally had an 18 hp twin cyl Regal, that was replaced by a 40 hp 4 cyl sterling, then a 60hp, 6 cyl Hercules, a 110 hp  471 GM during the war, currently has a 120 hp GM and have a 6 cyl 340 hp Yanma  in the shed to replace the GM, ( but it refuses to die.)
My apologies, but I don’t know (or don’t remember )  what the original engines were in the Primadonna,  most of the early launches back in the 1920’s had 5 hp single cylinder Frisco standards when they wore out were replaced by 2 cylinder 8 hp Friscos, they were replaced in the 1940’s with car engines then in the 1950s with truck or tractor diesel engines like 4 cyl Fords or GM’s , (lucky ones had Gardners ! )
When Alf Baldick finished whaling he used the Primmadonna as a farm boat and for transport to and from town, there were no roads in the Sounds.
He sold to a guy McManaway who was a gropher fisherman, he did away with the rear wheel house to give him more deck space and fish hold, he built a pilot house over rear of front cabin. He sold to Rex Baldick, Alfs nephew, he was farming in East Bay and spent a lot of time hunting, you would often see her at the Picton wharf with stern deck covered with carcasses of pigs and deer.
Rex sold to Ken MacArther who fished her out of the Wairau Bar, she caught fire on him, he took the 4 cyl Ford out that Rex had put in and replaced with a three cylinder Lister.
That was the end of her commercial fishing era, she had several owners and more changes to her superstructure, they replaced the rear wheelhouse, when I had it she had a coal scuttle that stuck up above the cabin top so you didn’t have to duck , getting in and out of the cabin. Before Ian Baldick bought her back into family ownership he threw the Lister out and put a reconditioned 4 cly Ford back in her, cut the coal scuttle off and replaced with a sliding hatch, put a new S/S shaft in her and did a great job of tidying her up. When he retired he put a line hauler on her for gropher fishing and spent a lot of time out fishing and deer shooting, when he past on she was sold but a couple of owners latter his son in law bought her back again for running the whanau to and fro to their bach.
Sad that she has been sold out of the Sounds, but who knows some day she may find her way home, it has happened before !
Nga Mihi,
Pete.
Woody Classics Weekend #5 Riverhead
RSVP waitematawoodys@gmail.com

Moby Dick

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MOBY DICK
 

I was recently contacted by Richard Neighbour who was hoping someone maybe able to help uncover some history on the 8m Jack Morgan launch he has acquired.

Richard is not sure of any history, but has been told it was most likely built / launched mid 1950’s.  She is one of two built by Jack Morgan in Picton. The wheel house was added some time after as was also the pointed bow (he was told the original bow was referred to as a ‘Husky’ bow).
It might be the angle of the camera but the wheelhouse looks VERY top heavy, could be interesting in inclement
Sadly, in his words Richard will be preserving, not restoring her i.e. “kauri is expensive, she is being re skinned in marine ply and glassed over”.
 
Any help would be much appreciated. 
 

The Evolution of a Whale Chaser

Rorqual 1986

The Evolution of a Whale Chaser
The photo ex Paul Drake (others ex Chris Miller)

Yesterday was one of those days when ww turns up a gem. There are a few photos from the early days c.1960 of the Jack Morgan designed & built Perano whale chaser Rorqual & there are also lots of present days photos but to the best of my knowledge there were none of her in the ‘between years’.

Then whamo out of the blue Paul Drake sends me the above photo of Rorqual hauled out at Mana, just north of Wellington, in about 1986. This would be just before she was rebuilt /re-powered in 1988.
As Paul commented looking at her lying over on her chine, one could be forgiven for fearing for her future, but of course she survived.

Searching ‘Rorqual’ in the ww Search Box will show you a lot more detail, or if your tight on time, this link will taken to a great story on her past https://waitematawoodys.com/2013/03/21/the-launching-of-rorqual/
Now the question for her owners Andrew & Alex Millers (sons of Chris Miller)  –  when is she booked into the time-machine for a trip back to 1986? 😉

Evolution Gallery Below

Rorqual and others

Rorqual 1

Rorqual 1986

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Kokoru

KOKORU
photo & details from John Baird

Kokoru was designed & built by Jack Morgan in Picton in 1960. Her first owner being Russell McKay who was a local Wellington car dealer in the 1960’s. John Baird has owned her since 2000 & understands there were 6 vessels in the fleet with Kokoru being the last. Two others in existence that John is aware of are Hawaiki in Picton and Corrina in Havelock.

One of Kokoru’s claims to fame is that she was a Wahine boat – Russell McKay had sold her to a George Mulligan but not before she had been put to the test on ‘Wahine day’. Although she made one or more effective rescues she was rolled on her beam ends when hit by a monster wave and miraculously self-righted. The force ripped one of the motors from its bed and she limped back to port while taking water through the now open seacock. The complete story is reported in Radiator Magazine of the time and hopefully John will supply a copy to ww for inclusion.
As a result of the Wahine disaster a local rescue service was established and Kokoru was one of the original vessels. She was also warranted and used by the local Police in the 1960’s as an official patrol boat when various US vessels were in port during the Vietnam war.

Any more details on her would be appreciated

30/03/2015 Update & photos from owner John Baird.

If any ww followers are passing by Wellington I’d be very happy to show them over her. The first picture I sent you (above) was taken in Ngaruru Bay and indeed one of the readers almost got it right as Ngaruru is off Tory Channel. The pictures below are a bit dated as now she has new grey carpet and I’m in the process of replacing port & starboard lockers and the floors to facilitate the installation of Acoustop sound insulation as alas the old solution is now ineffective and slowly disintegrating.

20-03-2016 Update
Kokoru’s owner John Baird sent in these photos of Kokoru following a complete strip and repaint of her hull and topsides. It took from early January to March to complete the job. In the 16 years John has owned her it’s the first time this has been done to this extent. The job was done in Waikawa Bay by Sounds Marine.

 

Rorqual 4-Sale

RORQUAL 4-Sale

Rorqual was built c.1960 in Picton by Jack Morgan for the Perano family as a 39’3″ (12m) Tory Channel whaler chaser.  Completely rebuilt / converted in 1988 by then owner Tom Birsdall and boat builder Geoff Bagnall. She was also fitted with a completely rebuilt aluminum 380 HP 671 Detroit engine, that is fitted with a German turbocharger + the standard GM supercharger, all this pushes Rorqual along at a comfortable cruising speed of 14-16 knts. Top speed ? lets just say few CYA launches would beat her in a straight line.

Double diagonal kauri hull and sapele mahogany topsides with glass over ply decks and cabin tops, all recently painted. Hull and decks painted in 2013, cabin tops 2012.
Sleeps 7 but better with 4 🙂
Extensive upgrades & enhancements – check trademe listing for full details. http://www.trademe.co.nz/motors/boats-marine/motorboats/auction-706043302.htm

The seller has had another mid-life crisis 🙂 e.g. the toy chain looks like this –   Jetski>Launch>Caravan > Campervan, so now the launch has to go – thence the owner is VERY open to discussions around how you could own a piece of NZ’s maritime history.

email chrism@pix.co.nz
ph 021 961 936