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 KAWATIRI - Yard No 399 - Diesel Cargo Vessel - Union Steamship Co, N.Zealand - Built 1950

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KAWATIRI - Yard No 399 - Diesel Cargo Vessel - Union Steamship Co, N.Zealand - Built 1950
 The M.V.KAWATIRI Ship No 399  
Owners    Union Steamship Co, Ltd of New Zealand
Registered    Wellington Keel Laid    
Type of Ship    Cargo Launched    06/10/1950
      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"      
G.R.T.    2484 tons      
DWT    2940 tons      
Engines    Two, Five-cylinder, two-stroke, British Polar M45M of 1,450 bhp (total)      
Props    2      
Speed    9.5 knots      
Other known names   1972 sold to Panama r/n KAWATI
Current Status        


Content on the MV KAWATIRI will be added as and when available. 


 The KAWATIRI was named from the Maori name for Buller River, South Island
KAWATIRI arriving at Wellington
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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.
She was one of the A.C. Colliers built to a wartime design, very tough and sturdy ships that really looked the part. She was part of an order from the Union Steamship Co, Ltd of New Zealand built in the Leith Shipyards of Henry Robb.
Third ship of this name for the company, she served them well for almost 20 years before being sold on, primarily used to carry coal around the New Zealand coast.
She was under the Panamanian flag being managed by a Singapore Company for another 6 or 7 years before being sold on again to sail under the Malaysian flag, she sailed under this flag for other 9 or so years before being scrapped to make razor blades in 1987.
She had plied the stormy seas of the South East of Asia for around 36 or 37 years providing good service to her owners, when you consider that most ships had a useful working life of circa 25 years then this was a pretty good return and also shows just how well these ships were put together.
Although it has to be said that it looks like she did not receive the best of attention and maintenence once she had been sold on from the USSCo, Ltd.

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.
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.

Deck Boy on the MV KAWATIRI

As told by Garry King

I joined the Kawatiri 1962 at the age of 15 years at Port of Lyttelton as first trip deck boy.
Very exciting an nervous time and remember first day met the Bosun who was a
Geordie and i couldn't understand a word he said. After a few days everything
fell into place and I understood him and he was a good seaman. We sailed to Westport and did the coal run
to Auckland and Whangarei for 2 trips. Then on to Tauranga, to
load with a cargo of paper for Australia. We sailed to Brisbane, Adelaide, Sydney, Coffs harbour and back
to Brisbane. Remember having power poles from Coffs Harbour and we had a A.B. fell
down the hold when adjusting the beams. He spent some time in hospital. I
sailed with him again in the SS Waihemo. We sailed back to Wellington, Lyttleton, Dunedin, Bluff and back to Dunedin where we were all paid off for the ship to go on survey.
It was a great start for me and I went on to next a small coaster and finished my boys time on the TransPacific Waihemo.

(1st picture Garry King, deck boy. 2nd picture Andy Cook. 3rd picture, Scouse
and Norm.) 
KAWATIRI story as told by Sandy Balfour,
She was a grand little ship and although built as a collier
we carried an assortment of other cargoes (steel, gypsum , timber, newsprint
and a variety of general cargo) on inter-colonial trades between New Zealand
and Australian, more or less tramping here there and everywhere. The scary
moment he refers to occurred while we were on passage from Busselton in Western
Australia to Dunedin N.Z. deep laden with a full
cargo of jarrah hardwood with just a few tons of pig iron underneath it in the
bottom of the lower holds. We were running before a high following sea down in
the Roaring Forties and I had just come off watch at midnight when a massive sea broke over the port side
inundating the foredeck, followed by a deep rumble as the pig iron shifted and
the vessel took a severe port list. I think the helmsman had come off course a
bit and had we taken another sea in quick succession like the first one I doubt
I would we writing this now. Fortunately this didn't happen, and after the engineers
had  shifted some water ballast we eventually returned to an even keel but
yes, it was one of those occasions at sea which you don't forget.
A couple more crew photographs below both taken by Sandy Balfour while sailing on the MV KAWATIRI

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

A Captains story,

time on the Colliers of the USSCo of New Zealand

By Capt Roger Tindall (Retd)

Captain Roger Tindall, was Master on a number of USSCo ships and among them a fair few that had been built at Leith including the "Navua" and the “Kawatiri.

He was Captain of the Kawatiri when she was the last ship to trade coal into the river at Greymouth; the following is a quote from him with regard to his experience of trading down the west coast of New Zealand.

“It was the very best experience a young Master could have to start off on the colliers running down the West coast of N.Z. and running bar/river harbours. As those class of colliers had nothing. Just Monkey Is. and steering magnetic compass. An old D/F set. Wire sounder on the poop. Not even clear view screens. There was nothing like pile driving a collier down the coast from North Cape to Greymouth in high winds and rain without seeing very little. Then on D.R. making in towards the land with only about a mile visibility with wheelhouse windows open in driving rain and eyes peeled, ears listening and nostrils smelling, looking for a familiar land mark or breakwater if you were lucky. Those times sure as hell honed your skills, and made you prudent. I carried those experiences with me throughout my career even when on a vessels with everything that opened and shut like New Zealand Pacific. This over a period honed an acute sixth sense for knowing when things were not right. In later years that sixth sense gave me a feeling in my water time and time again to go up onto the bridge or take action elsewhere to avert troubles. Also the idea of pilotage exemptions for N.Z., Aus and Pacific Island ports gave you confidence to be able to handle your vessel in all kinds of situations”.

We hope to have more of the Captains story soon.


 KAWATIRI above loading coal at the Port of Greymouth, South Island, New Zealand.
 Note-A lot of the photographs used on this site and in particular the ones of the ships built in the Leith shipyards for New zealand have been kindly donated by the guys on the Oceania Shipping Forum, a great source of information on ships used in New Zealand waters.
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0 #3 John Pothan 2013-10-27 07:50
I sailed with her twice as 4th engineer in 1966 and 1967. Once we were on our way back with a full load of steel. For the New Plymouth. Power Station. Cyclone Dinah meet up with us in the Tasman, we had a few days without hot meals and as a engineer we were meant to check the steering gear on each watch, I hasten to say this was not done for a few days.
+1 #2 Brian G Ross 2013-02-02 21:41
I sailed as 3rd Engineer from April 1962 until April 1963. Gary King must have been with me just before we did the Survey at Port Chalmers. What a great little ship she was. I recall an anxious moment, sailing from Bunbury WA across the Australia Bight to Bluff. We had a huge following sea. The ship was rolling bad when suddenly she rolled way over, gave a shudder and stayed there. I immediately started the ballast pumps to trim her level and she slowly responded. We later found that the ignots of pigiron in her hold had slid to one side causing her go out of trim. Man that was a bit scary. I still have a movie of her loading paper at Tauranga and sailing to Melboure, Adelaid and Edithburgh.
0 #1 garry king 2012-10-16 00:53
Iwas deck boy in this vessel 1962 a great start for me and a memory i will never forget.

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