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 WANGANUI - Yard No 395 - Dredger - Wanganui Harbour- Built 1950

Leith Shipyards

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WANGANUI - Yard No 395 - Dredger - Wanganui Harbour- Built 1950


The Grab Dredger WANGANUI Ship No 395
One of the many such working ships built in the Leith
Shipyards of Henry Robb. 
Owners    Wanganui Harbour Board
Registered    Whanganui Keel Laid    
Type of Ship    Grab Dredger Launched    18/01/1950
      Handed Over    
Ship Details          
Length Overall     Launch Details    
Length B.P.    107' 6" Weather    
Beam    27' 0" Time to Water    
Depth    10' 6"      
Draught Mld           
G.R.T.    252      
Engines    British Polar type M4,4 cylinder 360bhp@ 350 rpm      
Props    1      
Speed    8.5 knots      
Other known names        
Current Status   Rusting away in New Zealand, and now looking like she will be scrapped (April 2011)    
Content on the WANGANUI will be added as and when available. 
The ships wheel from Trevor (Ex-Skipper)
Saved and now in storage at the Whanganui Museum 
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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.

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 Grab Dredge WANGANUI was another in the long line of Work Ships built in the Leith Shipyards, built for a specific task, but used for so much more.
A grab dredger was a very complex and specialised type of vessel to build, with hopper tanks that opened from the bottom of the shell so that the sludge and mud could be dumped in a convenient place in deep water. The Leith Shipyards of Henry Robb were to build many of this type of special vessel. 
She was to keep the Wanganui river clear for shipping for many years and had a hopper capacity of 250 tons and she last dredged in 1988.


 Trevor Gibson ex-Skipper.

She was a grand old working girl, and I am proud to have been associated with her for so many productive years, this is a model of WANGANUI in a bottle, with all the parts made from drift wood collected over a period of time on the river, on and of the model took me around 4 years to make.


 Building a model ship in a bottle



 The grab dredge WANGANUI working at Omaru 1964 (from a picture in the Otago Daily Times) 

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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.

As told by the Skipper of the Dredge WANGANUI Trevor Gibson.

During my many years working on the Wanganui, there are so many stories to tell, but some that I do recall are told here in a chronological order, so going back to 1964 I remember being sent to South Beach to rig a breaches buoy in case it was required to get the crew off the Wanganui which had grounded on the beach after a steering mishap??  29th July 1964. Once the tide had gone out  there was no danger and the crew were able to get down by ladder. During the day wires were run out from the ship to the south mole for an attempt to re-float her on the mid night tide.

That night at 23.30 I was out at the mole end to connect a mooring line messenger from the Totoki, Captain Ted Charles passed by helicopter flown by Mike Alexander in the first night flight by helicopter flown in New Zealand. The towline snagged on a pile and could not be freed, we eventually managed to float the Wanganui and she was none the worse for her adventure.

Later that year I was appointed relieving Dredge Master, a position I was to hold permanently on account of Captain L.E.C. Dyers health. 

Then in 1968 I was appointed permanent Master of the WANGANUI, taking out up to 6 loads of spoil per 8 hour day depending on the weather, if the bar was not workable then spoil was dumped in the river abeam of the lower groyne and the checker board.

I remember taking the Port Doctor out to the Russian ship Tula to bring a sick crew woman ashore with poisoning; the ship was en-route to Lyttleton from Russia with a cargo of potash.

The Wanganui, was used in many roles and I was at the helm when we were used as a tug to turn the Tanea (oil Tanker) and the Russian potash ships.

I also remember getting caught on an out going tide and becoming high and dry for 10 hours on the edge of the turning circle.

One of her life belts (Photograph from T.Gibson collection)

Some other trips included many battles against the weather, again in 1968, we were heading for Oamaru to dredge the harbour entrance of shingle build up, and then onto Lyttleton for survey and then back to Wanganui, 24 hrs wharf to wharf on a trip that averaged 30 to 36 hours but on this occasion all went with us.

Unlike one trip that took 24 hours just to get round Cape Campbell, we lost all lighting, with no radio contact and the crew quarters awash and the chain locker flooded , we put into Picton to effect repairs, another time heading south it took 12 hours to sail 10 miles to get under the lee of Cape Campbell.

In 1970, while dredging at Wellington for 3 months at various sites, including the Ro-Ro berth and the breastwork, where I had a narrow escape from being crushed.


The dredge WANGANUI was well looked after while she was working on the river.

(Photo from T.Gibson ex-Skipper)

After working the wharf from both ends, the sounding plan would not match up in the middle, I was so busy counting rows of piles, when the crane slewing caught me and took me between the crane and a ventilator, rolling me through and getting squeezed, then having to put the dredge alongside the wharf  and radioing Beacon Hill to call for an ambulance all at the same time.

The hospital gave me some pain killers and said to return the next day for x-rays and strapping up. It took me 3 hours to get out of my bunk and get dressed. Once mobile and back at the Taranaki St breastwork we measured the wharf not once but three times, it was 90 feet short of what was on the plan.

The engineers knew but failed to tell anyone else which in the interim had caused many headaches, for the 3 watches that done the soundings.

It was not only the water that was “Blue”.

The Dredge Wanganui in dry dock at Lyttleton New Zealand
(Photo from G.Ferguson collection,Oceana shipping)


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.

 The Skippers story continues.

Then in 1975 we were moved down to Milford Sound, dredging channels into DeepWaterBasin, and FreshwaterBasin where the tourist launches berthed. Living on board and working 6 days, getting home for 3 days every 3 weeks.
We done all the tourist trips in this awe inspiring part of beautiful New Zealand, up to the top of Bowen waterfall from where the water was taken for the Milford Hotel power station, drawing our stores from the hotel and living on the best of everything.


Flying into Milford Sound was a treat in itself, berthing alongside the ex-Northern Steamships Co Koatanui which was a freezer vessel for the cray fishermen and the deer hunters.




Dredging up a non existent power cable to the hotel which shut their  power off for 3 days, while repairs took place, a section of the cable was presented to me prior to departure for services,
rendered by the electrical dept MOW Milford Sound.



A couple of surveys at Nelson were next, where we picked up a lot of  engine parts surplus to Anchor Dormans requirements, ex-PURIRI which had the same engines as the WANGANUI British Polar engines.


Then we took the Pilot launch Karere up to Waitotara to tow the Totara back to port after an engine breakdown, the tow took just around 7 hours at 2.5 knots.

Then we were Grab Dredging on the bar, when it was said it could not be done, and trying out a Warman pump on the bar, this worked but adaptation would have been too expensive at the time.

The WANGANUI carried out a myriad of different tasks on and around the River including core sampling of the Riverbed, Basin and Bar for engineering reports.


We even towed an experimental submersible sledge for Bar dredging, which was not successful as it kept capsizing (It was an idea of a local diving contractor).


The end of the journey? or is it, the Wanganui is rusting away at Great Barrier Island New Zealand.

(Photo is from Ocean Shipping Forum)
She would be a huge restoration project for anyone to take on and pretty costly we would imagine,
but perhaps one day!


 Leith Shipyards website has since heard the old Dredge WANGANUI looks like she is to broken up for scrap.

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0 #2 Simon Gunson 2017-01-07 11:21
Given recent talk in 2016 of dredging Wanganui River again, does anybody know how many cubic metres (or similar measure) had to be shifted each year in Wanganui to keep the port operational and to what depth please?

Thanks in advance
0 #1 Tony Robb 2012-03-17 23:16
I remember the dredge with affection,my Father(Fred Robb)used to,on odd occasions, supply water to her...and I saw her many times in action,when as a young fellow,I used to fish off the wharf.

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