FATAL ATTRACTION.............the story !

Roy  Massicks

Auckland, New Zealand

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Fuji HS10 at 318mm, 1/400, f/6, iso 200, mode manual.
Single RAW imageTonemapped in Photomatix Pro 4.
Photograph taken Devonport Wharf, Auckland, New Zealand.

You may well ask about the title ’ Fatal Attraction ’ or more to the point, near fatal attraction or I wouldn’t be writing this article. The old steam tug ’ William C Daldy ’ was built in Scotland and sailed out to New Zealand in 1935 where she served for many years at the Port of Auckland. And so this tale begins on a cold winter’s night in 1970. At that time I was the skipper of a 24ft work launch called the ‘Te Tui ’ belonging to the Auckland Harbour Board. I had just delivered eight linesmen to the roll-on roll-off wharf whose job it was to tie up an incoming Trans-Tasman ferry from Australia . The watch forman in charge of these men called from the wharf – ’Don’t hang around Roy, you head for home, some of these linesmen look like they have had one or two drinks too many so I’ll take them back to their base by van.’ Good news indeed, it saved me hanging around for at least an hour as the time was approaching 9 pm. and I had to travel to the far end of the port. A quarter of an hour later I observed the then new tug ’ Te Awhina ’ passing me, having berthed another ship. They’ll be tied up and on their way home long before me I thought.
I then heard this noise that I couldn’t identify, a sort of swishing sound. After a careful look around nothing seemed to be amiss – there were all the city lights reflecting off the water nothing to worry me, but this noise increased alarmingly. I glanced astern to start another search and all I could see was a white wall of water. Suddenly I realised it was the bow wave of another vessel which turned out to be the ’ W C Daldy ’ that had been engaged in helping the same ship to berth as the ’ Te Awhina.’ I threw the wheel hard a starboard and thought I was going to get away with it but the pressure wave turned the ’ Te Tui ’ to port, right across the bow of the ’ Daldy ’ throwing the ’ Te Tui ’ on to her side. That’s when things started to get dark, wet and scary !
The stem of the ’ Daldy ’ hit the keel of the ’ Te Tui ’ and rolled us right underneath the tug. The wheelhouse was half full of water – I turned and felt my way to the after end of the cabin but the doors had slammed and jammed shut with the inrush of water. I headed back towards the steering wheel as there was a hatch above the wheel and I realised this was my only way out. On reaching above my head I felt a long piece of wood that shouldn’t have been there. It was the cover over the propeller shaft – so even in my confused state I realised we were upside down and I was standing on the hatch. The hatch was always kept closed with a bent nail ( I still have this nail today ) so with two or three good kicks I managed to open the hatch and push my way out. I could see the surface above me with the city lights reflections. This gave me the direction in which to head. The feeling when my head broke surface was one of the most amazing sensations of relief. Not long after surfacing the ’ Te Tui ’ rose beside me, upside down still with air obviously trapped in the wheelhouse and engine room. I also noticed with great alarm that the ’ Daldy ’ was heading back towards me, stern first. The skipper on realising what had occurred rang down on the tugs telegraphs, two rings astern which is telling the engineers ’ emergency astern.’ I thought, ’ Oh Shit, I am not going to drown – I’m going to be made into mincemeat by two whopping great propellers, each one well over the height of a man. ’ Luckily for me, one of the tugs firemen had been having a quick smoke on the afterdeck and yelled up to the skipper then threw me a lifebuoy as the tug came to a stop. I suppose this would account for the fact that I have had a soft spot for the old tug since then and strangely, when I went to retire on Gt. Barrier Island I even found the little ’ Te Tui ’ had also retired to the Island, was owned privately and lovingly looked after. The owner even had my old log books.

Occasionally I have a cold shiver run up my spine when I think that those linesmen, the worse for wear, could still have been on board with me then instead of six lines in the local newspaper the next day, it would have been headline news such as ’ Launch skipper drowns eight family men ’…….lol !

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