To delve into Kate’s past, Rhodes visited the Dargaville Maritime Museum – armed only with the original builder’s cast-bronze nameplate – E. Thompson & Son, builders, Kaipara, NZ. All other records were lost during her last sinking (it seems there have been a few!).
Thompson emigrated from Sweden and set up business at Aratapu, near Dargaville, in 1873. The museum has photos of him and his shed dated 1898. His tool chest and tools are on display, as well as a half-model of Kate. She was originally built for a Captain Seymour, and cost £84 complete with sails. She was reputedly a fast boat, a frequent winner of her class in the Dargaville Regatta races.
Rhodes is fortunate to know David Waters, who used to own Kate’s near sister-ship, Rewa, before donating her to the Auckland Maritime Museum. In 1983, Waters interviewed the Kate’s then owner, Leo Richardson, who’d spent several years re-building her from a nearderelict state in a barn near Whitford.
More sleuth-work revealed that Kate’s first engine (brand unknown) was fitted in 1911. She was used for towing kauri logs out to waiting ships, and later for towing a shingle barge. The museum also introduced Rhodes to Terry Curel, an 86-year-old master mariner whose father, Bill, was a Kaipara Harbour pilot. Bill bought Kate in 1919.
In 1925 Bill, with his wife of three months on board, were washed ashore during a midnight gale, at Tinopai. The couple abandoned Kate and started a long walk to shelter. But they realised they’d left the wedding ring on board, hanging on a companionway hook. Bill trudged back and, because of the rising tide, had to swim out to the boat to retrieve the ring.
Once salvaged the original engine was replaced with a two-cylinder 18hp Twigg. Bill used to chant to the rhythm of the slow-revving engine as it ticked over: “One penny, two pennies, three pennies, four; You benzine-drinking monster, always asking for more!”
But in 1946 she was burnt to the waterline in a gas explosion and fire. Purchased for £50 by Ray Crawford, she was re-built with kauri planking and puriri frames.
Some time around 1960 she was trucked over to the Waitemata, and used as a cray-fishing boat. In 1973 she was bought by Grahame Wharton, who moored her off Kawakawa Beach and used her as a pleasure boat. He recalls encountering 20-foot seas off Cape Brett on a trip to the Bay of Islands, and remembers her as an excellent sea boat.
The next owner, a builder, reputedly lived aboard her with his family in the Tamaki River. There are reports that at one stage she sank in St Mary’s Bay.
Kate arrived on Waiheke in the mid-1980s, bought by Thomas and Sharonagh Tengblad. They lived aboard with their young family for a while, and began another major re-build. The decks were stripped off and replaced, a new cabin built and the keel deepened by 200mm using kwila hardwood and bronze bolts.
But the work proved challenging and expensive. They’d fitted a beautiful set of bronze portholes off a wrecked steamer, but these were stolen, and that was the last straw. Kate was put on the market.
She sat on the beach for several years before David Brady bought her. An architect and landscape designer, David had recently lost his partner to cancer, and was ‘in need of a project’. He loved the old ship as all her owners have. He lived aboard and did much work on her, but the problems were challenging, and progress slowed.
There were complaints, and the Council threatened to take her away on a low-loader. Fortunately, David’s sister Sue Noble came to the rescue with finance.
But David wasn’t able to cope with living aboard, and eventually Kate’s supporting legs gave way. She fell on her side and sprang a leak. Engine oil floated through the interior, coating it in a black, slippery film. She became a derelict wreck on an isolated beach.
And serendipitously, that is where Rhodes found her.
Donated trees (for spars) have been stripped of bark and sapwood, and the mast, boom and bowsprit are almost complete.
New belting and bulwarks are on, and a large central hatch/ skylight fitted – to give plenty of light below and the potential to carry cargo. The new aft cabin will provide a ‘cave bunk’ for the mate. Inside, the new mast step is in place, so floorboards can be fitted. Upcoming projects – as funds permit – include mast partners, bulkheads, tanks, engine and accommodation.
The team has obtained two lead keels off a twin-keeler – coincidently almost the right size and shape for fitting each side of the existing keel. Calculations by a naval architect show that, with the addition of an external ballast keel as planned, stability will be adequate for coastal voyaging.
The next major step is a haul-out to fit the keels, rudder, stern tube and, hopefully, a new engine.