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In the weeks leading up to final checks to clear Tug Lyttelton for a summer on the harbour, latitude was invited aboard to take a look around and learn about the history of this well-loved sea boat.

Volunteer members of the Tug Lyttelton Preservation Society, which was established in 1973, have worked tirelessly over the years to save this fine 1907 twin-screw tug in a seaworthy and near-original condition. Their efforts have ensured the steel-hulled vessel has remained a familiar sight on Lyttelton Harbour and many Canterbury families will share fond memories of summer day excursions on the harbour or at Akaroa.

Fundraising efforts have been in high gear over the past few months to help meet considerable ongoing operational, survey and dry dock costs. On the day I met society board member Roger Ellery aboard Tug Lyttelton, he was optimistic the tug would achieve full compliance and have enough funding to get out on the water again in time for the coming Christmas/New Year season.

It is easy to appreciate why so many people are devoted to this vessel, which carries a real sense of timeless craft expressed in so many little ways from shiny brass fittings to a beautiful ship’s wheel. Her deck, deckhouse and fittings are all made of teak.

On the day of our visit, Roger used a set of oversize keys to unlock a sliding hatch giving access to the below-decks area, housing a surprisingly spacious saloon, former crew quarters and officers’ cabins. The cavernous engine and boiler rooms are another impressive sight: four furnaces are needed to heat the massive boiler. Apparently, firing up the boiler is quite a slow process that can take two days or more. It’s hard not to feel a little sorry in retrospect for the poor stokers, who would have sweated buckets to keep the tug going from day to day during her decades of service for the Lyttelton Harbour Board!

Built by Ferguson Brothers at Port Glasgow, this little tug would have been an unremarkable sight at the time of her launch as the Canterbury (she was renamed Lyttelton in 1911). After all, this was the era of large ocean liners like Lusitania, but the steam technology they shared was powerful enough to get this humble little tug all the way from Scotland to her new home port 12,000 miles away.

At 38 metres long and equipped with hardwood belting and cork fenders fore and aft, this tug was built to be sturdy. She revolutionised harbour traffic in her day, replacing a clapped-out 1878 iron paddle tug and thereby ensuring safe passage of shipping in and out of port. Her invaluable service included escorting and towing Ernest Shackleton’s Nimrod to Lyttelton Heads in January 1908.

In the Second World War, Tug Lyttelton was seconded to the Royal New Zealand Navy before taking up harbour duties once more, this time as support to a new tug that had arrived in March 1939.

Upon her retirement in 1971, it looked as though the old tug was destined to be scrapped, but a local marine surveyor Dick Musson was convinced she could be saved. He formed the Tug Lyttelton Preservation Society with his friend John Goldsworthy and help soon came pouring in to support the cause, from the harbour board to local companies including Lyttelton Engineering and Stark Bros. Ownership of the tug formally passed from the Lyttelton Port Company to the preservation society in October 1991.

Following extensive refurbishment, Kaiapoi’s River Queen, a flat-bottomed replica paddle steamer, is ready for a summer of cruising on the Kaiapoi River.

The River Queen was originally built for an operational life of river cruising near Blenheim in Marlborough, but changed circumstances saw her move south in late 2018 for a new home on the Kaiapoi River. Since then, she has been thoroughly upgraded with new paint and fittings. Kaiapoi is undergoing a real reinvigoration, with development well underway to secure its place as one of New Zealand’s leading river towns. The River Queen has pride of place in the reinvigoration, taking up a prominent berth within Kaiapoi’s new marine precinct.

Sited between the Williams Street Bridge and the coastguard boat ramp in the centre of Kaiapoi, the precinct incorporates a 115 m floating river pontoon and a new wharf area. It is bordered to the north by the Port & Eagle Brewpub, where riverside terrace bleachers and a timber boardwalk connect to the river’s edge. On the other side of the river is the Ruataniwha Kaiapoi Civic Centre and Library.

River and town are now linked more closely than ever before, with Kaiapoi’s River Queen berthed in front of the Port & Eagle with easy access for all prospective passengers.

Jedd Pearce of North Canterbury-based PLC Group has led a number of key developments in Kaiapoi and was instrumental in bringing the River Queen to town. The boat’s new operators, Dennis and Judith Andreassend, are delighted to have had this unique river cruise opportunity. ‘Jedd is very passionate about the River Queen and the Kaiapoi community; he wanted to have the right people on board, so he approached us about running it,’ says Dennis. ‘We can’t talk highly enough of him.’

Jedd’s wife Kate also completed all the colour consultancy work required for the boat’s refurbishment.

Since the River Queen’s arrival in Kaiapoi, she has been fitted with two new motors and fully refurbished with new paint, upholstery, carpets and new decking. The look and feel evokes the old days of river travel, at its most gracious. On board is a café and licensed bar, well set up to cater for work functions, weddings and special occasions, as well as casual cruises. The vessel can comfortably accommodate 40 to 50 people for functions, but can take up to 90 if required.

As Judith observes, Kaiapoi businesses and tradespeople have contributed generously to the boat’s upgrade. ‘We wish to thank them for all the wonderful work they have done – we’re so excited to be here, supporting the local community.’

The couple plan to offer school trips at discounted rates and fundraisers for local groups as part of their service. A standard cruise on Kaiapoi’s River Queen will be for an hour and a half in duration, with three and a half hours available for private functions. ‘We have a number of work functions booked for Christmas. People really appreciate that this is something unique,’ Dennis says.

Before coming to Kaiapoi to run the River Queen, Dennis and Judith operated the d’Urville Island Wilderness Resort for two and a half years. The resort with bar, restaurant and accommodation is in a superbly scenic location, catering to adventurous people wanting to get away from it all.

‘With grandchildren in Christchurch, we thought it was time to move on and be somewhere closer to our family,’ says Judith. ‘We’re keen to get underway.’

Words Kim Newth

River Queen was on track to be operating on the Kaiapoi River from November 2019. More information can be found online at kaiapoiriverqueen.co.nz

The society welcomes donations and members of the public can join up for an annual fee of $30 (which includes a free tug trip and regular newsletters). For summer updates, visit facebook.com/tuglyttelton, or for more information visit tuglyttelton.wordpress.com