Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Saving The Last Scow: Jane Gifford

In New Zealand's early settlement days, most transportation of bulk goods was by water.
Scows were especially useful for this, as they required very little water to sail in, and thus could often clear sandbars that deeper-keeled vessels may founder on. They became indispensible for navigating narrow tidal estuaries and creeks where the first communities settled. A flat-bottomed scow could rest in an upright position even when the tide was out, making it easy to load and
Great Barrier
Island, 1924
unload freight and stock.
The first NZ scow was built in 1873 at Whangateau near Leigh, (the last about 1935 in Auckland). Of the 130 scows used to ply our waters, Jane Gifford is NZ's last remaining rigged sailing scow.
NZ scows were a development of the Great Lakes scows. The first ones were blunt-ended, but blunt-ended scows on the choppy Hauraki Gulf turned out to be not such a good idea, so they changed into the form seen in the Janie.
A scow's stability was purely due to the beam (width) of the vessel, and the weight of the load. Most scows were called deck scows, carrying cargo on deck, although a few were built with holds.
Jane Gifford launched in 1908 at Whangateau (not to be confused with the immigrant ship Jane Gifford that brought Scottish settlers here from Glasgow in 1842). Registered dimensions: 67ft/19.8m long by 18.6ft/6m beam, displacement 60 tonnes, a fairly common size for NZ scows - by no means large. NZ's largest scow was Zingara, a three-masted topsail schooner of 128ft.
Janie's original purpose was to cart granite from Coromandel mines to Auckland. On one trip to Coromandel in the winter of 1911, she was "struck by a heavy sea, which snapped the foremast off just above the deck." The following year it was reported she took nearly a fortnight "battling adverse winds and stormy seas", to travel from Leigh to Warkworth (a distance of perhaps only 30 miles!).
Based in Warkworth from 1921-1938, she carted shell from Miranda in the Firth of Thames to the Warkworth cement works. For a number of years she hauled road metal from the Public Works Dept.quarry at Motutara Island (which then was owned by the "hermit" Charlie Hanson) to Warkworth, for road-building. To illustrate her capacity, one load was of 10,000 bricks and 60 yards of sand. She transported stock to/from Great Barrier Island, occasionally to Little Barrier, and was also the annual Boxing Day Mahurangi Regatta flagship.
Janie featured in the local paper again in 1921, when a deckhand was found lying unconscious on the deck, bleeding from a head wound. Sinister? Not quite: he'd been carrying some eggs aboard, slipped and fell, knocking himself out on the anchor!
The golden age of scows lasted from the 1890s to the end of WW1 when they were gradually replaced by tugs. JG moved to Auckland's Tamaki River from 1938 in search of work and in later years was owned by Subritsky Shipping, operating between the Auckland and the Hauraki Gulf island communities. In 1985 Captain Bert Subritzky gifted her to the Waiuku Historical Society.
Re-launched in 1992, she plyed the Manukau Harbour for seven years until she failed survey because of deck and hull rot (I was on her very last trip). A new macrocarpa deck had been laid over the existing kauri deck and fresh water made its way through the old deck. Then with poor ventilation, rot set in: this is generally what claimed the other scows.
In 2001 a new Jane Gifford Trust bought the vessel from the Waiuku Museum Society and moved her to Okahu Bay, but restoration money ran out. Then in 2005 some Warkworth residents purchased JG to save her from extinction and transported her back to Warkworth. The huge job of restoration began...
For six months volunteers worked on removing rotten timber. This left only the bottom planking and keel, with the bow sections retained as a building pattern for the replacement. By early 2006 the hull was ready for rebuilding. It was decided to rebuild the boat as closely as possible to her original state, but to use durable materials and in particular ensure that no fresh water would enter the hull through the decks. Two 1958 four-cylinder 70 HP diesel motors were reconditioned for her. New 17m Oregon masts were sized down from spars gifted from the three-masted schooner Shenandoah. And the sails were the ones used in Waiuku: a gaff mainsail, gaff mizzen, three fore sails, and two topsails. To counter the lack of cargo on deck, ballast tanks were added to Janie - these carry a total of 10 tons of water in ten tanks. The $750,000 restoration took place through countless hours of volunteer labour and a few paid workers.
Jane and Ted go sailing...
On 9th March 2009, the restored scow was escorted into Auckland Maritime Museum's marina by the ketch-rigged scow Ted Ashby and brigantine Breeze. An historic sight - the first time in 70 years that two scows had been seen sailing on the Waitemata!
On her 101st anniversary (16th May 2009), the restored vessel was officially launched.
The Jane Gifford Trust aims to run regular trips throughout the summer. Times are tide-dependent, so see the website or call Dave Parker 0274/849-935. All proceeds go to the restoration fund.
For group bookings, email: eventswarkworth@xtra.co.nz.

1 comment:

Liz Clark said...

She's a beautiful vessel to behold that's for sure. I virtually grew up in Whangateau. We've got photos somewhere of a race that was on the harbour a few years ago with a scow amongst the old vessels. It isn't her though. They moored at the old boat building shed which I note is still standing and still being used. Great post! And Happy New Year to ya! And yes I'm working on a new post in the wrecks blog. Hopefully I'll have it up today.