Wednesday, November 14, 2018

KaitawaThe author Roy Vaughan, who has a background in both the British and New Zealand merchant navies, has given Sea Breezes his kind permission to print this story, an excerpt from his upcoming book ‘The Last of a Salty Breed’. I had no thoughts of undue risk when, at the somewhat youthful age of 22, I was dispatched to a small Union Steam Ship Company collier, the 2,485 ton Kaitawa, as second mate with a shiny new certificate of competency. The Union Company colliers operated up and down the rugged west coast of New Zealand in fair weather and foul to keep cement works, a sugar refinery, and power stations fired with coal.

She and her half dozen or so sister ships, had done the job for years without major mishap, and she was a tough, nuggety little vessel built by Henry Robb Ltd, at Leith, Scotland in 1949. Like most Union Company ships of the time, about 60 per cent or more of the crew were British-born, including her master, Captain George Sherlock, a large, ruddy-faced West Country man who loved hunting, shooting and fishing in the New Zealand bush.

George, in common with most Union Company masters, had pilotage exemptions to most New Zealand ports acquired by his knowledge of these ports and tests conducted by local harbour authorities, and this allowed him to bring his ship into port without the aid of pilots. He also knew the coast like the back of his hand, which was an asset, as the West Coast was not particularly well-lit, and the ship did not carry radar, nor have a gyro-compass, or full marine WT radio. She was allowed to sail with close-range old-fashioned valve-operated radio telephone gear.

All the deck officers were given two week crash courses to become coastal radio telephone operators. The qualifying stamp in our certificates of competency looked impressive, but that is where it ended, as the RT sets were so ineffective that Auckland Marine Radio could barely be raised off Cape Reinga, which is little more than 100 nautical miles away.

To sum it up, the navigational aids amounted to not much more than was available to Captain James Cook more than 200 years ago. Everything was dependent on use of the sextant, compass, chronometer, and echo sounder to check the depth of the ocean. Satellitedependent GPS was not around then, and few Union Company ships had VHF at that time. A few radar sets had been introduced into the company’s trans-Tasman fleet. These ships carried fully qualified radio officers and had proper international WT radio gear for reliable long-range communication.

Roy Vaughan It was not just the lack of modern navigational aids and reliable radio communication that made the Kaitawa and her sisters vulnerable; more sinister problems became apparent later, though no one who had sailed in the colliers at that time thought of them as being particularly dangerous ships. Captain Sherlock’s confident, jocular, ‘hail fellow well met’ style was reassuring, and the ship had a warm, friendly feel about her.

She and her sisters had a known vice. The British Polar twin diesel main engines were prone to cut out and stop if the colliers rolled more than about 15 degrees. It was due to a lubrication cut-off system which stopped an engine if there was any risk of lube oil getting to the working parts. It would normally only affect one engine at a time and the other would continue to chug merrily away, providing some measure of forward motion and limited steerage. It provided a moment or two of anxiety, and the offending engine was usually restarted within a minute or so.

Nothing in the way the ships were normally operated could be deemed as dangerous, as all deck officers were fully qualified and taught to navigate by sextant and compass, and regarded anything extra like radar as a luxury not to be taken for granted. Coal cargoes were known to be subject to spontaneous combustion because of coal gas, but there had been no incidents of that kind and the lower holds were well-ventilated to exhaust the fumes.

Within little more than a week, in fact the first round voyage on board the Kaitawa, all these risks were apparent but accepted as being part of the job, and controllable to a point where the risk could be eliminated apart from the main engine stoppages, and they were thought of as a bit of a joke. In reality the colliers sailed with a common set of weaknesses which were individually and collectively a recipe for disaster. Remarkably, none of the weaknesses was to show up until the Kaitawa was lost at sea with all 29 hands on a very dark stormy night at Pandora Bank, on 23 May 1966, within sight of Cape Reinga Lighthouse.

Read the rest of this article with additional pictures in Sea Breezes Magazine - February 2012 Issue
Click here to subscribe

Subscribe Graphic

Latest Issue - Look Inside!


Most Popular

  • Less (K)Notts, More Speed! +

  • Honfleur Hull Sections Craned Into Place +

  • Message from the Bridge - November 2018 +

  • Tragedy in Tanzania +

  • Bells Will Ring Out on 100th Anniversary of War's End +

  • 1
  • 2

Top Ten Books and DVDs of 2018

Latest Products

Maritime Log

  • Clean Air Hero +

    Titus The first in a new class of four large roll-on,rolloff car and truck carriers for Wallenius Wilhelmsen, of Norway, has Read More
  • Wreck of Cook's Endeavour Found? +

    HM Bark Endeavour Replica A team of marine archaeologists believe they may have found the wreck of Captain James Cook’s famous vessel Endeavour which Read More
  • Bells Will Ring Out on 100th Anniversary of War's End +

    Lusitania This month, Remembrance Sunday is also the 100th anniversary of the ending of the First World War and various events Read More
  • Focus on Historic Photographs of Lifeboats +

    Beken Lifeboat Collection Photographs of lifeboats dating from the turn of the 20th Century are the centrepiece of a new RNLI exhibition that Read More
  • Vehicle Carrier Runs Aground +

    Makassar Highway The vehicle carrier Makassar Highway, 17,735gt, of the Japanese company K Line, ran aground off the Swedish coast on the Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

North America

  • Disabled Bulk Carrier Towed Into Harbour +

    GDF Suez North Sea A 55,848dwt bulk carrier had to be towed into New York harbour after she became disabled while more than 100 Read More
  • Annual Surveys of Titanic Wreck to Start +

    Island Pride A major expedition takes place next summer to explore the wreck of the White Star Line passenger liner Titanic, 46,328grt, Read More
  • USCG Respons as Ports Closed in Hurricane +

    USCG Dilligence Shipping and ports from the states of Virginia south to Georgia were seriously affected in mid-September by Hurricane Florence, which Read More
  • Forest of Giant Cranes and a New Wharf +

    Port of Houston The Port of Houston, in Texas, took delivery of three new neopanamax ship-to-shore cranes on Aug 6 and five rubber-tyred Read More
  • Garbage Patch Clean-up Set to Start +

    garb The first offshore cleaning system was to be installed last month in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch located halfway between Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3


  • Cranes Lift Ferry Superstructure onto Hull +

    Express 4 The Australian shipbuilders Austal has rolled-out a new catamaran ferry for the Danish company Molslinjen at its Henderson shipyard in Read More
  • China is World's Top Shipping Nation +

    China Containers China is the world’s leading international shipping nation, according to a new report presented at a Hamburg trade fair on Read More
  • Automatic Berthing Project Test +

    Shioji Maru The proposed joint demonstration project by four Japanese organisations relating to the safety of vessels’ auto berthing and un-berthing has Read More
  • Record Voyage for Northern Sea Route LNG Cargo +

    Christophe de Margerie A new record for crossing the Northern Sea Route was set up in July by the icebreaking LNG carrier Christophe Read More
  • Antarctic Ship is Re-Chartered +

    Aurora Australis The contract for the icebreaker and research ship Aurora Australis, 6,574gt, to resupply Australia’s Antarctic stations has been extended until Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Naval Focus

  • Sea Trials Recall for Zumwalt-Class Destroyer +

    USS Michael Monsoor American News The Zumult class destroyer USS Michael Monsoor was in dockyard hands at Bath in Maine for the removal Read More
  • HMS Albion Proves Big in Japan +

    HMS Albion British News The assault ship HMS Albion, at time of writing, had just completed a five day visit to Tokyo Read More
  • Royal Navy Commissions New Survey Ship +

    HMS Magpie British News The latest survey vessel to join the Royal Navy was commissioned into service at her homeport of Devonport Read More
  • F-35 Stealth Fighters Land in UK +

    F-35 British News The first four of Britain’s next generation F-35 Lightning supersonic fighter jets touched down in the United Kingdom Read More
  • Upgrade Planned for Russia’s Only Aircraft Carrier +

    Admiral Kuznetsov Russian News Russia’s only aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, will be refitted to prolong the warship’s operational life. Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Ferry World

  • Seatruck Irish Sea Expansion +

    Seatruck Power Seatruck Pace At this time, when all cross-border ferry operators ex UK must be extremely apprehensive as leaving the EU approaches, Seatruck Read More
  • Tragedy in Tanzania +

    Nyerere A country well used to tragedy, saw another, on Lake Victoria in September. Read More
  • Trouble for "Loch Seaforth" +

    Loch Seaforth Ferry services between Ullapool and Stornoway were disrupted when Caledonian MacBrayne’s Loch Seaforth lost power just over an hour into Read More
  • Stena Adds Extra Freight Capacity to Liverpool Service +

    Stena Forerunner In response to growing market demand, Stena Line has upped freight capacity on the popular Belfast – Liverpool route. Read More
  • Honfleur Hull Sections Craned Into Place +

    Honfleur Brittany Ferries has celebrated the second milestone in the build of its next ship Honfleur with the keeling laying - the Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Sail Review/Coastal Comment

  • The Temps Fête Maritime Festival +

    La Recouvrance During World War II, most of France’s traditional sailing vessels were destroyed and after the war, the emphasis was on Read More
  • Sunderland to Esbjerg Race +

    Oosterschelde On the north east coast of England, it was Sunderland’s proud claim that more ships had been built here than Read More
  • Tall Ships at Liverpool +

    Belem At the end of May, a Tall Ships fleet met at Liverpool. Read More
  • New Bridge Challenges Melissa +

    Melissa The organisers of the charter barges working from Ipswich are worried by plans to build a road bridge across the Read More
  • German Schooners +

    Thor Heyerdahl Two German schooners based at Hamburg are regularly making voyages under sail with general cargoes across the Atlantic. Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

From the Lookout

  • World Class Simulator Arrives at Montrose +

    Ethos simulator Coming from the NE of Scotland myself, I have been impressed by how, in recent years, Montrose Port Authority (MPA) Read More
  • New Flying Focus Calendar 2019 +

    Flying Focus 2019 Once again, Flying Focus’ maritime aerial photographer, Herman IJsseling, has taken to the skies to brave the elements of nature Read More
  • Less (K)Notts, More Speed! +

    Sir Keith Speed A recent addition to my book collection is Sea Change, a commentary on the battle for the Falkland Islands and Read More
  • UK P&I Club Launches Interactive Video Series +

    Lessons Learned Video I am always in favour of any steps taken to improve safety of life at sea and I feel that Read More
  • Seaking Electrical Delivers DFDS Upgrades +

    Dave Gillam I was interested to learn that Marine engineering specialist SeaKing has recently completed extensive upgrade work on three shortsea ferries Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Cruise News/Superyacht News

  • Three Year Restoration for Alicia +

    Alicia The Southampton headquartered ship repairer and marine engineering services provider, SMS, has launched the classic 1930’s superyacht Alicia from its Read More
  • Latona - A Family Affair +

    Latona With her wide open-air spaces, CRN’s new superyacht Latona offers an original interpretation of timeless elegance, coupled with Italian style Read More
  • Back to Back Transatlantic on the Queen Mary 2 +

    Queen Mary 2 In the past I have been fortunate in that I have been on a cruise to a number of the Read More
  • Turnkey Explorer Yacht +

    Explorer 67 An exciting opportunity for an owner looking to build one of the finest explorer yacht projects available has presented itself. Read More
  • Great Perseverance +

    Meira Behind the construction of every great yacht there is a story and in the building of Meira, it is one Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Ships, Ports and Places

Maltese Maritime Museum

A Visit to Ye Olde Naval Bakery

Malta’s “Maritime Museum” is housed in the former Naval Bakery on the quay of Valletta’s urban ward Birgu. Construction of Read More
Presidente Peron

"Eva Peron"

If someone in 1939 had decided to sit out the Second World War they might well have done so in Read More
  • 1
  • 2

Companies, Events and Other Features

MV Crestbank

A Bank Line Voyage in 1959

The Crestbank was the second of a massive 17 ship order from Harland & Wolff in Belfast commencing with the Read More
USS Liberty

The Attack on the Liberty

You can feel for the captain of USNS “Liberty” Commander William McGonagle, after he was wounded in a sneak Israeli Read More
  • 1
  • 2