Local Eyes on Sailing, Lyttelton Engineering
Lyttelton Engineering has been an integral part of the port town of Lyttelton since 1953, growing from small beginnings to become one of New Zealand’s largest engineering companies. Today they employ over 85 staff, all based at their workshops adjacent to Lyttelton Dry Dock. Twelve apprentices are currently being trained to provide a skilled local workforce who will become the next generation of marine and industrial engineers.
Lyttelton Engineering has had a proud tradition of producing a company calendar, often telling the story of New Zealand shipping companies and ships that have docked for repairs in the Lyttelton dry dock since its opening in 1883 when the “Hurunui” broke the ribbons to christen the facility. The 2023 calendar was a wonderful collaboration between Lyttelton Engineering and Te Ūaka The Lyttelton Museum.
Inspired by the Sail GP event which saw nine international teams competing in Whakaraupō Lyttelton Harbour on 18 and 19 March, the calendar celebrates the area’s rich history of sailing in ships and boats. We worked closely with Richard York, General Manager, in selecting the twelve images from the museum's online photographic collection and writing the associated informative narratives.
We are pleased to now share them with you here.
The Hurunui was the first ship to enter the new graving (or dry) dock in Ōhinehou Lyttelton at its opening on 3 January, 1883. She literally broke the ribbon as she entered the dock, witnessed by a crowd enthusiastic about the significant moment in Lyttelton's port development.
The dock opening was a grand affair followed by an extravagent banquet, hosted by the Harbour Board, to mark the important occasion. Coastal and trans Tasman vessels made most use of the dock in the early years, while many foreign vessels continuing to undergo maintenance in their home ports. The facilities popularity increased such that, although now much changed, it remains an essential element of port infrastructure and is in constant use.
The Hurunui itself was built in 1875 for the New Zealand Shipping Co; an iron sailing ship weighing in at 1054 tonnes. She was changed from being fullrigged to barque-rigged in 1890 and was sold to Russian owners in 1896, thenceforth being renamed Hermes. WW1 sealed her fate as she was sunk by a German submarine in 1915.
The Diamond Harbour jetty on the Lyttelton wharf, once a favourite diving platform for schoolchildren in the summers of years gone by, has also served the Diamond Harbour ferry service for just as long. Here we see five vessels including the steam tug Lyttelton, the ships Kuara and Kaethe Jebsen along the wharf, with a yacht and what appears to be one of our ferries docked alongside the jetty.
As early as 1891, the SS John Anderson was plying a regular ferry service across the water to Diamond Harbour, bringing revellers to Harvey Hawkins’ Godley House hotel, pleasure gardens and park. The enterprise was bankrupt by the mid-90s but the day trip remained popular. In 1913 the Lyttelton Borough Council inaugurated Diamond Harbour as a suburb and by 1926 the growing village catered to tourists on the weekends, and professional residents who commuted daily to work via the steam ferry to Lyttelton port, and the locomotive to Christchurch. It was from this time that the Diamond Harbour ferries – such as the Owaka, Moturata, Reo Moana and Manuka, followed by the Onawe and today’s Black Diamond – came to symbolise the harbour way of life we know and love today.
The British Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNVR) was instituted in 1903 from members of the Royal Naval Artillery Volunteers as part of a modernisation of the Commonwealth’s defence forces that included New Zealand. The Canterbury Division of the RNVR was a civilian reserve composed of sea loving individuals from a wide cross section of New Zealand society. In the interwar period, Her Majesty's Naval Trawler Wakakura, purchased by the New Zealand government from the British Admiralty in 1926, served as the main steamer training vessel for the RNVR and was a common sight around Lyttelton port.
The 52 foot (16 metre) cutter Deveron, pictured, likewise served as the sail training vessel for the RNVR based in Lyttelton, with the eager volunteers taking her to sea almost every weekend through the 1930s. With longer sailing trips around the peninsula to Akaroa and south to Timaru, or north to Kaiapoi, the young hands gained vital experience that would serve them well when called up for WW2.
Yachting has long been a favoured pastime in Whakaraupō Lyttelton Harbour, with the first competitive races taking place in 1851. Malcolm Miller, an early ship builder in the colony, raced a number of yachts, the most famous of which he built in 1886 and named Pastime. Pictured here as the larger yacht A6, she was five tons, cutter-rigged, carvel-built of kauri and red birch timbers with a lead ballast jarrah keel, and initially 28 feet (8.5 m) long with a 7 foot (2 m) beam and 4 foot (1.2 m) draft.
Rival boat builders, William and son Jimmy Sinclair, had much success with their lightly built centre-boarder, Little Wonder, which proved to be too fast for the newly built Pastime in several races from 1886-88. Miller rebuilt his yacht, adding 14 feet (4.3 m) in length and carrying 1,345 square feet (125 m2) of sail. In this configuration, Pastime easily took out the 1890 Lyttelton Regatta and Little Wonder never challenged her again. Sailing under the Banks Peninsula Cruising Club flag in the 1930s and 40s, Pastime is now undergoing a full restoration making her one of the last 19th century yachts still sailing today.
Inainatu Pile Bay, tucked in behind Rīpapa Island in Whakaraupō Lyttelton Harbour, took its Pākehā name from the circle of piles driven into the shallow waters. The date this structure was built is unknown, but four piles marked a cardinal compass point with the fifth master pile in the centre. Small vessels could then use the piles to calibrate their onboard compass by attaching a stern rope to the master pile, aligning that with an outer compass point pile, and adjusting their own compass as needed. The Gardiner family out of Purau bought the land in 1874 and planted a wind break of pines above the sheltered beach, making the bay a peaceful place to pitch a tent. With access only from the waterside, Pile Bay became a favourite camping spot for generations of families through to the 20th century. The bay was eventually populated with small baches amongst the trees, and The Banks Peninsula Cruising Club annual picnic was held there from 1939. As the years passed, the bay's trees were thinned out, the baches taken down, and the lazy summer holiday traditions faded away into the past.
Corsair Bay – named after Captain Thomas Gay’s whaling brigantine, the Corsair, was set adrift in a gale and wrecked on the rocks in 1861 – has long been popular with local picnickers and swimmers alike since at least the 1880s. So popular, in fact, that in 1905 the Lyttelton Borough Council declared the Corsair Bay Recreation Reserve ‘as a pleasure resort for the public of Canterbury’. This quiet, sheltered and rather beautiful swimming beach was transformed with a seawall and baths, a jetty for the ferries, a playground, picnic pavilions, men’s and women’s changing sheds, and a diving platform. The bay became Canterbury’s premier beachside playground through the 1910s into the 20s and 30s, with large crowds lazing in the pavilions, on the beach, in the water and on yachts. The beachside pleasure resort remained a popular Canterbury summer destination for generations of Cantabrians through to the 1960s. Then, with access to many more recreational options via one’s own car, the big crowds and the facilities faded away with just the seawall and old piles remaining in this secluded and very pleasant bay.
The France was a five-masted steel barque built in Bordeaux by Chantiers de la Girionde in 1911 and owned by the Compagnie Francaise de Marine et de Commerce. The term barque had come to mean any ship with three or more masts, with fore-and-aft sails on the aftermast and square sails on all other masts. They grew to prominence in the mid 19th century because they could make journeys similar to fully rigged sailing ships, but with much smaller crews.
At 5633 tons the France was the largest vessel in the world at the time of her arrival in Lyttelton in June 1921 from Newport, Wales. Captain Crawford, Harbour Board pilot, brought her into port fully laden with 6924 tonnes of coal. After loading wool in Lyttelton, in August 1921 the France sailed for Wellington collecting more of the same, in addition to tallow and pelts. Hence from that port she set sail for London, a trip which took 95 days.
The France was wrecked on 13th July 1922 off the coast of New Caledonia.
The four masted, 3,020 tonne barque, Pamir was built in 1905 for German shipping company F.Laeisz. In 1949 she was the last commercial sailing ship to traverse Cape Horn, taking 128 days under lower top sails from Port Victoria, Australia to Falmouth, United Kinghdom.
In 1920, the Pamir was taken as war reparation by Italy; in 1924 her original company bought her back and she returned to service shipping nitrate from Chile. In August 1941, during WW11, the Pamir was seized as a war prize by the New Zealand government, with 10 commercial voyages being made under the New Zealand flag. Lyttelton's own Captain Champion, Harbour Board pilot and Harbourmaster from 1950-1967, commanded the vessel for several Pacific voyages during this time.
In 1957, suffering from leaking decks and corrosion, this beautiful ship sank in the Azores in the Atlantic during Hurricane Carrie. Tragically, after a 9 day search by the US Coastguard, only 6 of the 86 crew were rescued from lifeboats.
In 1947 the Pamir was the last square rigged sailing ship to visit Lyttelton - on that occasion flags on the Lyttelton Timeball Station flag pole read “Barque from the North” for the last time.
According to the January 1904 edition of the ‘English Yachtsman’, one Mr L. E. C. Beebe, a naval architect resident in London UK, sold a large schooner, the Privateer, to an unnamed yet enterprising colonial gentleman then resident in Her Majesty’s colony of New Zealand. The three-masted, 108 ton composite schooner, formerly named the Olga, was 105 foot (32 m) in length with a 22 foot (7 m) beam. After being fitted out for the arduous 100 or more day journey to the other side of the world, she embarked in the early British autumn of 1904 for her first port of call at Cape Town, South Africa. From there she sailed on to Melbourne, Australia before finally setting sail for New Zealand. Here, this fine ship is seen calling in at Lyttelton Port where she was berthed from 14 January to 5 February 1905.
A lively action photograph of hardy seamen at the wheel of the four masted barque Herzogin Cecilie. This photograph was taken on a voyage from Port Lincoln, via Cape Horn to Falmouth in 1935, a journey recorded as lasting 117 days.
Built in Bremerhaven in 1902, the ship was named after German Crown Princess, wife of Crown Prince Wilhelm of Prussia. One of the fastest merchant sailing ships or 'windjammers' of her day, she won the 'grain race' on numerous occasions, in which ships competed to get their cargo of wheat from Australia to the United Kingdom first, with subsequent economic benefits.
Over the course of her career, due to the vagaries of war, she sailed under German, French and Finnish flags and was much admired for both her speed and her elegance.
In 1936, hampered by thick fog, the Herzogin Cecilie, grounded off the South Devon coast. Although refloated and towed to apparent safety at the mouth of the estuary near Salcombe, 3 years later she capsized and sank, to remain at a depth of 7 metres to this day. Some of her fit out was salvaged and is held in museums in both Finland and the UK.
Corsair Bay's sheltered waters were a favourite swimming spot in the late 1800s, with Christ’s College and Christchurch Boys’ High swimming sports being held there from 1886, while the bay’s shores were given over to the colonial industries of the day – such as the Corsair Bay abattoir with its bloody runoff that unfortunately also attracted the harbour’s sharks. Along with William Langdon’s, later Prisk and William’s, brick kiln, the bay also served for shipbuilding, with the Glasgow‐built paddle wheel steamer and river ferry Avon assembled there in February 1860. In 1874 one of the harbour’s first shipbuilders, Malcolm Miller with his sons Archie and Jack, built their shipyard and slipway in Corsair Bay. The enterprise could build and service coastal vessels of up to 70 tons, including Miller’s famous racing yacht Pastime which won the Lyttelton Regatta in 1890. The Miller shipyard remained in Corsair Bay for 33 years being finally moved to the port facilities in 1907 when the bay was redeveloped by the Lyttelton Borough Council and declared ‘a pleasure resort for the public of Canterbury’.
The Sinclair family have a long association with Whakaraupō Lyttelton Harbour, with the Scotsman William Sinclair setting up his shipwright business in Dampier Bay near the dry dock in 1870. With his son Jimmy, the Sinclairs were famous for their love of yacht building and racing, with their yachts Little Wonder and Mascotte competing with their arch rival, the Miller’s Pastime, through the 1880s and 90s. This competitive tradition carried on through to the next generations with the founding of the Canterbury Yacht and Motor Boat Club in 1921. Of the Club’s 40 founding members, 7 were Sinclairs, with Eliot Sinclair’s uncle, Sam Sinclair, sailing the Linnet under the Club’s flag in the 1922 Sanders Memorial Cup in Dunedin. True to his family’s tradition, Eliot Sinclair was also an accomplished yachtsman who notably won five consecutive Sanders Cups for the Club and Canterbury from 1932 to 1936. In November 1953, this unrivalled veteran yachtsman again won the privilege to defend the Sanders Cup for Canterbury sailing Genie in the trials off Lyttelton, and coming runner-up in the hotly contested Sanders Cup of January 1954, won by Otago’s If.