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Saturday, August 24, 2019
Sierra of the Three Kings Islands

During a new year sort out of family memorabilia, two faded pictures of ships tumbled out and came to light, one of them being of the twin-funnelled Norddeuscher Lloyd trans-Pacific liner, the Sierra of the Three Kings Islands close to the rugged point where the Elingamite went aground and sank with the loss of many lives.

The two postcards, received by my wife’s family, go back to the pioneer years of 1906 when New Zealand was almost totally dependent on ships for transportation. The Sierra was, apparently, on a mail run from North America via New Zealand to Australia along with one or two fourfunnel larger craft, and the scow Vesper at Auckland, quite likely taking part in the annual trader ships race. She was certainly one of the more attractive vessels of her type which were noted for their pontoon type hulls and ability to sail in very shallow waters. So shallow that her crews boasted they could sail on a heavy dew.

The New Zealand scows were, apparently, a durative of a Dutch design which was altered by Americans and adopted in New Zealand primarily to handle the kauri log trade. The postcards were most likely delivered to Mangawhai, where my wife’s ancestor lived, by a scow or small trading ketch of a size capably of crossing the notorious Mangawhai harbour bar.

The huge kauri trees were the life blood of the Hauraki Gulf and Northland trading where there were no road or rail links to metropolitan centres and they were often seen under full sail decks, piled high with huge logs and manned in the somewhat traditional two men and a dog style. Old illustrations of the scows also show that they often carried more than half a dozen with perhaps extras needed to load and unload the kauri cargoes.

Sand bar harbours like Mangawhai, were the bane of skippers lives. Bad weather would often enforce stays of a week or more at Mangawhai sailing up and down outside the bar waiting for the seas drop when the weather improved. The Mangawhai hotel did provide hospitality of the liquid kind where the crew could sup an occasional beer if the scow was caught inside the harbour.

Auckland’s Trader Day Regatta at Auckland was the annual high for Scow crews to show off their prowess alongside trader ketches and small schooners. The bottom postcard was sent by the Bowmar’s Stead relations at Auckland in 1907 and would have taken several days to reach the Bowmars on a journey that only takes one hour forty minutes by car today. The Sierra card was posted at Leigh which, today, is barely an hour away by road and at best it would have taken about half a day with perhaps a night sailing depending on the high tide and having to navigate close inshore without the aid of lighthouses or lit buoys etc. Kauri timber was converted then as well as now as a first class material to build ships and yachts out of.

Many a south seas Pacific Island schooner was built from New Zealand kauri and it was much valued in Australia also for furniture and house construction.

ROY VAUGHAN
21 Pearson Street,
Mangawhai 0505
Kaipara, New Zealand
E-Mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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