30 YEARS OF SERVICE
30 August 2016
The thirty-year story (so far) of Spirit of New Zealand began on a spring day in 1985 when her shiny black hull slipped into the Henderson creek, in the upper Waitemata, and was towed under the harbour bridge. February 1986, rigged and ready on Marsden Wharf in driving rain, she was officially named and launched by round-world yachtswoman Dame Naomi James, with the Duke of Edinburgh and the Governor-General Sir Paul Reeves in attendance.
Her name was never in doubt. Spirit of Adventure, from her first voyage in 1973, had had to work hard to be perceived as not merely an Auckland asset. The $6 million Black One would be indisputably New Zealand’s ship: she was bigger, embodying lessons in design, rigging and square-rig sailing techniques learned from the White One.
The new Spirit would have three masts, a roomy Great Cabin for 40 trainees, proper flush toilets, a handsome galley, better crew accommodation. Trainee power aplenty, so no winches, except for the anchor. And faster: at her sea trials in July 1986, hurtling across the Waitemata in a SW squall, she’s believed to have clocked 15 knots.
Thirty years later, this magnificent barquentine has, at 22 July 2016, clocked up 721 10-day voyages. At 40 trainees a voyage, that’s around 28,500 young people from every corner of New Zealand, not counting the many 5-day Trophy voyages, others for disabled, school trustees, scout and naval cadets, adult sailors and one-day trippers, plus hundreds of paid and unpaid crew, twelve to fifteen every voyage.
Marine Manager Captain Nigel Wright, regular Master for eighteen years, estimates the distance sailed in three decades would be around 501,000 ks: all the way to the moon (363,000 ks) and half way back.
From her maiden 10-day voyage in August 1986, Spirit settled into routine schedules, soon venturing south to major coastal ports and Stewart Island. Some years she returned via the less congenial western shores, memorably visiting Dusky and Doubtful Sounds, New Plymouth and the Manukau Harbour. With Stephen Fisher and the Trust Board firmly keeping the focus on youth development, she has only twice ventured offshore: to Sydney for the 1988 Bi-centennial celebrations and in 2014 for the Royal Australian Navy Fleet Review and Tall Ships race between Sydney and the Bay of Islands.
Other ceremonial occasions have included participation in the 2000 and 2003 America’s Cup regattas, the scattering of Sir Edmund Hillary’s ashes in 2008 and the 2011 Rugby World Cup. Less happy was the unfortunate 1995 grounding after dragging her anchor at Tryphena Bay, Great Barrier Island, with no injury to trainees and the ship re-floated after four days with only minimal damage to the hull; also, for the Board and management some years of financial challenges following the global crashes of 1987 and 2008.
With Spirit of Adventure decommissioned in 1997, Spirit became perhaps the world’s busiest youth ship, sailing back-to-back voyages for ten months of the year. The other two months are given to maintenance.
Thirty years should have seen the Trust Board well embarked on its campaign to build a replacement ship; Spirit was initially given around three decades of safe operating life. However, a 2008 report by her designer Don Brooke recommended that with continued excellent maintenance and a carefully planned Life Enhancement Programme (LEP), the Spirit could continue confidently on for another twenty years. The $4.5 million LEP so far has included fitting a new and more powerful engine, and major improvements to the electrics and key areas below.
International recognition has earned the ship and the ‘Spirit family’ that operates her six Sail Training International awards: the 2008 ‘Sail Training Organisation of the Year, individual awards to four crew members, and the 2013 Tall Ships Race Friendship Trophy.
- Tessa Duder