“Operating an 88-year-old steamship is an ambitious undertaking. We are investigating options for mitigating the impact of fossil fuel on the environment [and establishing] training systems to enable volunteers to undertake training and achieve limited qualifications in engineering and seamanship.”
For 88 years, one ship has been a fixture on the Waitemata harbour and wider Hauraki Gulf – the William C. Daldy. The last of her kind known to be sailing anywhere in the world, this unique vessel is now in urgent need of both funds and volunteers to safeguard her future as a working heritage ship.
In 1935, when a brand-new tug was commissioned for the port, the Auckland Harbour Board paid homage to one of Auckland’s most prominent businessmen, a founding father of Auckland and the Harbour Board’s first chairman, Captain William Crush Daldy, by naming the tug in his honour.
At the time, the William C. Daldy was the pride of Auckland, considered the pinnacle of steam engineering. With a pair of triple-expansion condensing steam engines and twin screws, the tug was capable of a pull weight of 17 tons, making her easily capable of managing the shipping of the day.
After more than 40 years of berthing the city’s passengers and cargo, the William C. Daldy had witnessed considerable growth in the size and number of ships visiting Auckland. The new generation of container and bulk carriers were many times the size of those that had visited Auckland in the pre-war years. Tugs like the William C. Daldy were being outmanoeuvred by a new generation of diesel-powered tugs, like her namesake “Daldy” that followed her into service.
The tug was retired, tied up alongside, her fate uncertain. It was then that a group of volunteers approached the harbour board with a view to taking over her operation and maintenance. The tug was leased to the William C. Daldy Preservation Society for an initial year, with a view to proving that the society’s volunteers were capable of maintaining and operating the ship and returning her to sea.
The test was passed with flying colours and she was sold to the society for $1 in 1978. For more than half her life, the William C. Daldy has been owned and operated by the preservation society and used for tours around the Waitemata Harbour, with the occasional excursion to Kawau or Waiheke Islands.
“Operating an 88-year-old steamship is an ambitious undertaking,” says Ian Langley, the society’s president. “It’s worth noting that no part has ever required replacement. All the spares included with the ship are still fastened in place on the bulkhead, just as they were for her delivery voyage from Scotland.”
Nevertheless, to keep her sailing requires having to undergo regular marine surveys and engineering audits. Every two years, the William C. Daldy is hauled out of the water for her survey, with a more detailed engineering inspection mandated every ten years.
There’s a lot of work to be done to maintain the ship’s full complement of 17 steam engines. The preservation society has been generously supported, in both cash and in kind, by a number of sponsors over the years, but the bulk of the money required to maintain her in ship-shape condition has been raised through charters and excursion fares.
Thanks to the advent of COVID, however, the William C. Daldy has hardly sailed since her last survey. “Unfortunately, we were unable to board the passengers, or even the volunteers that we depend on, throughout the pandemic. COVID decimated our revenue, and for the first time in her long history created a backlog of deferred maintenance.”
Today, the society has various challenges to overcome in order to maintain and continue to operate the vessel. Facing not just the 10-year survey, but a backlog of deferred maintenance, the society needs an injection of volunteers and money to keep her under steam and available to Auckland.
“We have ambitious plans. Consistent with every other operator of heritage machinery, we are investigating options for mitigating the impact of fossil fuel on the environment and work on this is ongoing. Training systems are being established to enable volunteers to undertake training and achieve limited qualifications in engineering and seamanship.”
© Waterford Press Ltd 2023 – Independent Print Media New Zealand