THE NOVEMBER AND DECEMBER 2013 issues of Sea Breezes included Murray Robinson’s excellent article on the salvage of the cargo ship Golden Master at Tauranga, New Zealand. In the article there was mention of a small tug involved in the salvage operations which was called the Mona’s Isle II. Now, as a Manxman, and also a tug master for the past 35 years, my interest was aroused.
The Isle of Man Steam Packet Company, which has served the Isle of Man since 1830 and of which Sea Breezes Editor and Director, Captain Hamish Ross retired from as Managing Director, has had a succession of six passenger vessels named Mona’s Isle; in fact the company’s very first ship in 1830 was so called.
I made enquiries and eventually managed to contact Baden Pascoe and Russell Ward, both of whom were well versed in New Zealand shipping matters and small working craft in particular, and who were able to supply the following information.
The tug Mona’s Isle II was built of wood in 1926 at Auckland, originally as a twin screw motor yacht named Rakanui. It is believed that the first engines she had were Widdops, made in Yorkshire. The tug was 55ft overall length with a beam of 12ft 6” and was of a modest 22grt. In about 1950 she was purchased by a large New Zealand builders merchants (with wide ranging interests including a substantial tug and barge fleet), Winstones, and rebuilt into a very useful tug. Her original engines were replaced with a pair of 88hp Glasgow built K4 Kelvins.
At this time she was renamed Mona’s Isle II and, although definitive proof has not appeared, the consensus of opinion is that the founders of the Winstone empire had Manx roots and named the tug to reflect this. The suffix ‘II’ was no doubt added as the Isle of Man Steam Packet’s Mona’s Isle (5) had been launched in 1950. Later on, as a result of an amalgamation with the tug and barge fleet of the Julian family, the Mona’s Isle II became part of the Gulf Freighters fleet, and the tug was re engined again, this time with a pair of 5L3 Gardners of 95 hp each.
I should add that there was a considerable fleet of small tugs operating on the New Zealand coast towing cargo barges and log rafts. Harry Julian, in his autobiography The Sea in my Blood, described the Mona’s Isle II as the finest coastal tug in New Zealand.
In 1958, whilst towing the barge Rangitito, the Mona’s Isle II collided with the arctic survey ship HMNZS Endeavour which was anchored in the Tiri Channel, the tug’s helmsman having apparently fallen asleep at the wheel. The collision was so severe that the tug quickly sank, luckily all the tug crew being rescued by the crew of the Endeavour. However, she was quickly salvaged and after repairs and strengthening, returned to service. After Winstones disposed of their fleet, the Mona’s Isle had a succession of owners which included the Otago Harbour Board, was re-engined a further twice, ending up with a pair of 6/71 General Motors diesels, which are apparently still in the tug today, as remarkably she is still in existence, at present for sale. After leaving the Winstone fleet she reverted to her original name of Rakanui.
CAPTAIN STEPHEN CARTER
Laxey Towing Company Ltd, Isle of Man