Murray Robinson’s detailed very professional account of these two ships bring back colourful memories of sailing briefly in both ships.
The Lachlan did valiant, essential survey work around the NZ coast for some years literally updating Captain Cook’s charts. The latter charts were exemplary for the time, given the basic navigational gear Cook had at his disposal. James Cook, the master surveyor, can rightly take credit for charting most of New Zealand’s coastline. As the New Zealand Herald’s maritime correspondent, I volunteered to do a few days on board the Lachlan in mid-winter when she was engaged in a survey at Spirits Bay near Cape Reinga.
I joined her at Russel in the Bay of Islands when she was temporarily laid up sheltering from a nasty mid winter storm. Myself and a few sailors, who had been on leave, were ferried out by her two small inshore survey launches. The engines of one failed just after leaving the wharf, so we had to tow the broken down craft at a snail’s pace with her boat load of sailors, a few miles to the anchored Lachlan. Her Captain, Commander ‘Bubbles’ Munro, an ex Port Line man, laid on a traditional wardroom dinner to impress me of the hospitality on board.
The Lachlan was one of those sparse and crude small naval ships built in times of great austerity of a typical war time designed craft. She was a useful craft, though very prone to weather conditions. On a race to rescue some smitten crew members from the ill fated coaster Maranui, a forward part of the Lachlan’s superstructure was stove in by big seas and she had to run for shelter.
I woke with a sore head after the Wardroom Party to be told the weather was improving and we would make our way to Cape Reinga. From experience sailing in Union Steam Ship Company Ltd ships, I knew it would be pretty wild there. The Kaitawa, my old ship, had sunk in rough seas just around the corner at Pandora Bank! The Lachlan clawed her way around the coast and I was told, because she had lost time at the Bay of Islands riding out the storm, it meant I could not be dropped off as planned in a week’s time, but had the choice of leaving at North Cape or staying another three weeks. I chose the former as the editor of the Herald an ex Navy Man himself might had thought I was swinging the lead.
“The Bosun’s Mate will organise some transport for you to get ashore” Bubbles told me. The Bosun’s Mate suggested I don waterproof clothing for the occasion. It was an understatement and when he told me we would go ashore in the ships zodiac, I began to realise it could be a pretty exciting landing. Prompt on time, the Bosun’s Mate had organised an Able Seaman complete in scuba suit and lifejacket to do the job. The AB was appalled that I was wearing corduroy trousers and a waterproof anorak. He looked heavenward. I was briefly tempted to tell him I was ex Merchant Navy and used to that sort of thing, but I was definitely not used to surf boat landings in storms. He gave me a large polythene bag to put my small non waterproof bag in and I took off my shoes and rolled up my trousers. I must have looked like one of those old ancient Giles cartoons of a father taking his family sailing!
I could feel the heat of the AB’s disapproval on my back. “You may have to save my life if we can-out” I advised him. He grumped half in joke and part in a belief that this was a real possibility. A very big swell was running and a few matelots got up early and positioned themselves on the upper deck to watch the sport of the day. I managed to leap into the tossing and bucking zodiac without damaging anything or anyone and in a few seconds, we were gunning the zodiac at speed towards the storm battered beach. The seas looked enormous, but there was a regular pattern to them which the AB locked into preferring to ride in the troughs between two big swells at the bottom of the swells. I could hardly see the beach for spray and foam.
“We are going to land there” – he pointed to a smallish bay, its beach smothered in broiling surf. Under his expert hands, the AB positioned the zodiac on the back of a very large breaker and literally surfed in and landed so high up the beach I could step ashore without getting my feet wet – well almost.
My brief voyage in HMNZS Monowai was at the opposite end of the scale. She was virtually a ‘Royal Yacht’ for a Vice Regal Tour of the Cook Islands, taking the New Zealand Governor General, Sir David Beatie, on a round of engagements to the islands. This was some years after the Lachlan voyage and again, I was doing a story for the New Zealand Herald in my role as maritime correspondent. Both yarns are contained in my book The Last of a Salty Breed. The Monowai was by far, a much more comfortable ship and the Cook Islands a far better place to visit in the winter than surveying the New Zealand coast between breaks in the ferocious storms of a rugged shore line.
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