The Loftsman
Leith Shipyards

A history of the Ships built at the Henry Robb Shipyard in Leith, Scotland. Also a testimony to the men who built the Ships and to all who sailed in them.
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Home Ships Built in Leith 1946 to 1984 KAITANGATA - Yard No 361 - Diesel Cargo - Union Steamship Co N.Zealand - Built 1948

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KAITANGATA - Yard No 361 - Diesel Cargo - Union Steamship Co N.Zealand - Built 1948



 The M.V.KAITANGATA Ship No 361  
Owners    Union Steamship Co of New Zealand 
Registered    Wellington Keel Laid    
Type of Ship    Diesel Cargo Launched    27/01/1948
      Handed Over    
Ship Details          
Length Overall    305' 4"  Launch Details    
Length B.P.    290' 0" Weather    
Beam     43' 0" Time to Water    
Depth Mld      19' 6"      
Draught     17' 5"      
G.R.T.    2485      
DWT    2959      
Props    2      
Speed    9.75 knots      
Other known names   1968 PALADIN - 1969 KARANA III - 1974 TUNG PAO - 1978 GEMBIRA    
Current Status   Broken up in 1983    
as content becomes available it will be added to the pages.

The ship took her name from the town which is a small one known by the locals as "Kai" near the bottom of the South Island on the East Coast, the origins of the name are lost in time but according to wikipedia the name may be mythical or it may have a more sinister meaning, The origin of the town's Maori name is uncertain. It is the name of a figure in Polynesian mythology, but could also refer to cannibal feasts held after tribal fighting in the district between Kai Tahu and Kati Mamoe. The name can be interpreted from Māori to English as, 'Kill a man and eat him' or 'Food for the people'.  Food for the people eh! Well this fine ship carried a varied cargo so you could say she was well named.




MV Kaitangata arrives at Greymouth New Zealand.

(Photo from G.Ferguson Collection)

You can see that the ships of the U.S.S.Co sailed pretty close to the rocks at times and this would have been a tricky monuevere in a rough sea.


Ships History

Once a ship had been built and launched she then had to be out-fitted, and then complete sea trials
before being handed over to her new owners, who would look to have that ship at sea, as long as possible to
pay for her build costs and of course to make the company good profits.

To this end one company may have had no requirement for a particular ship after a time and would then sell her
on just like any other disposable commodity.

Hence a ship may have had a few owners and would go through many changes and names during what was
hoped for a long and successful working life.


The KAITANGATA leaving the port of Greymouth in New Zealand on another trip.

(Photo by kind permission of G.Ferguson)

This fine old ship (although new at the time of course) was an order from the Union S.S.Co of New Zealand Ltd, Wellington.

She was one of a class that had been designed during the war, known as an AC class collier.

 Built at the Leith Shipyards of Henry Robb, Scotland. The first of six specialist motor ships for the coastal trades; very strongly built to cope with the bar conditions at Westport and Greymouth.

She was used all around the coasts of New Zealand and was in service with the Union Steamship Company of New Zealand for 20 years before being sold on.

This type of traditional cargo vessel was a very well known and liked ship the kind that were the staple of moving goods around any country in the days before motorways and container ships.

A time now long gone and who is to say that we do things better in the fast paced days we live in now.

Strongly built with transverse framing, and her accomodation and bridge amid-ships, with three cago holds and derricks to lift the cargo, she was a nice little ship.

  We try here to give as full an account of her history as time and research permits, if you know of missing info
or you have any photographs of her, then please get in touch and we shall update her story as we go along.


The KAITANGATA at Wellington New Zealand

(Photo from the L.Butterfield collection)

Tales from the Ship

Here you will find the stories from the men and women who sailed on the ships, what was it really like to be working on a ship in a raging sea and in the pitch dark of night, the real stories some funny some sad, some good and some bad.

Dedicated to all the brave men and women who sailed the vessels from the Leith Shipyards.

We have some great stories of times on the KAITANGATA from Bob Jenkins who sailed on her working in her engine room.

The first story is of a time now gone and it is amazing to think that just getting a motor car in New Zealand during the 1950s was something of an adventure, not to mention some what risky as you will read.

Damaged cargo

In the 1950's you could not buy a new car in NZ for love nor money unless you had overseas funds to pay for at least a knocked down assembly.

A newly retired West Coaster from Westport had been on a trip to Europe and had been able to purchase a brand new factory built Volkswagen "Kombi" camper van and ship it back to Auckland.

 It was a show stopper in its time with its built in sink, toilet, double bed etc and after taking delivery the owner decided to ship it down to his home town rather than drive it the 600 odd miles with a ferry trip from Wellington to Lyttelton to boot.

Yes the Union Co confirmed that the Collier "Kaitangata" was sailing that evening from Western wharf for Westport for another load of coal and was able to accept cargo. The Kombi was driven around that afternoon and loaded into no 2 hold, which was empty and cleared of coal, parked amidships, brake on, in gear (all apparently) and lashed in place by running tie ropes from each wheel into the corners of the hold. A lack of tie points on the flat collier hold floor made this arrangement the best available.

We set off that evening in ballast, the only cargo being the Kombi and after a calm trip up to North Cape we turned the almost 360 degree corner to head south to our destination. Heavy weather is pretty common on the West Coast and this trip was to be no exception and as we headed directly into the seas we began a rhythmic sea-saw pitching and rolling that lasted for days and one morning the Store keeper walked the deck past the no 2 hatch to hear a muffled bang. He listened again and heard the sound of the cargo moving. He called the Mate and eventually all and sundry turned up on the pitching soaking deck to hear what sounded like a rattling scraping nose of the car sliding then a bang as it hit the bulkhead. As the ship dipped into the trough there was again a pitter patter of the sliding cargo as it slid and pitched into another barrier.

Recriminations started, who did this, who didn't do that, but there was no admitting or answers and as time went on it was accepted that we were in very rough weather and the pitching and rolling of the light ship had stressed the tie downs and the vehicles gear box etc to the limit and caused them to let go

Poor weather persisted until we reached Westport and it was an inconsolable owner that was there to see his precious bundle unloaded and substantially damaged

The cargo was apparently insured and although we did not get to know the outcome of blame placement etc some of the stick was pointed at the shore cargo superintendent for accepting such a cargo for a collier hold as there was no provision of eye bolts etc on the hold deck to provide proper securing points. Again the mate and Bosun should have perhaps declined the cargo, or supervised the securing more closely but we are all wise in hind sight and after all we could have had a calm trip.

Deck cargo would have been a safer option but then the salt water would have made the vehicle a rust bucket in little time


Another Story from the engine room,

MV Kaitangata, another skipper who was a seasoned sea dog who had commanded a square rigger in his time and was a very experienced master but when it came to berthing a motor ship he was a bundle of nerves and was well known for his extravagant use of engine movements to the detriment of the compressed air supply for engine starts.

We were berthing a collier along side Auckland's Western wharf against an outgoing tide and a slight head wind and our twin, well worn British Polar engines were repeatedly getting the telegraph message to go "dead slow ahead" –"stop" "dead slow ahead" – " stop" as we crept and inched our way toward the berth.

We had four air receivers, two normally in service and two as standby but with the high number of engine movements we were well into the second two and the compressor was unable to keep up.

The chief said "Ring the bridge and tell them we have only half a dozen engine starts left"

The third mate took the message to the skipper who promptly ordered the Mate on the bow to let go an anchor and that was the end of that for a few hours as we swung on the pick only 50 metres off the jetty. It was a Saturday afternoon and the only people on the quay were the Union Co shore staff waiting to take our lines and on seeing the anchor drop they packed up and went home. After a few ship to shore messages, a turn of the tide and full air receivers we finally got along side and home that evening.


Should you know of anyone who may have sailed on her, then please feel free to get in touch so that we can add the story here.


It could get a wee bit rough as this photo shows.

and these type of ships did not have much freeboard so the seas would break over the deck more times than not. 


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0 #2 Mike Waring 2016-01-03 03:51
I went to sea as a deckboy in 1959. My second ship was the Konui.I sailed on all Auckland colliers except the Kaitawa over my ten years at sea as AB and eventually Bosun on the Kawatiri in 1970.
We did one trip in the Konui to Bunbury in West Australia to load rail sleepers. for Dunedin. I recall we had to ration fresh water due the two weeks at sea. Sometimes we lay off the Westport bar for up to a week due weather and Greys tobacco butts became luxury items for roll your owns. Good and happy ships mostly that were hard work but well paid.
0 #1 sandra steingrimsson 2015-01-29 15:40
My father Kristinn Steingrimsson worked on this ship 1952-54 as first or second mate, I will find out more. He regularly took her through the bar at Westport, maybe for the above mentioned captain. I will show dad this site, he will be pleased - he enjoyed sailing with the captain - Name to come.

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