Thursday, January 12, 2012

Tongariro River Rafting

Choose to raft the Tongariro River in Turangi with Tongariro River Rafting and you may be one of the last people on earth to clap eyes on the New Zealand native blue duck (whio).
We were among the lucky ones to get close to one of these small whistling birds on a picture-perfect January day during a family float tour of the river.
Tongariro River Rafting guide Mike Dally grew up exploring the Tongariro River and took his sense of adventure with him into a career in the outdoors three years ago.
His love of the job is obvious.
As soon as we make it through the first set of rapids downstream from Blue Pool, Dally calls a casual greeting from the back of the raft.
“Welcome to my office.”
We are joined by a family of five from Noumea, New Caledonia for the morning trip.
Three of the four boys are in awe and raptures as white water grade two rapids usher the boat downriver.
The team soon rallies with multi-lingual whoops and shouts after a quick paddling lesson.
Dally’s knowledge of the Tongariro River, world famous for its rainbow trout fishing, kayaking, rafting, camping, walking, and mountain biking opportunities, is personal and scientific.
The whio we see early on in the trip near the Poutu intake belongs to a species 25 times more endangered than the kiwi.
The New Zealand government’s Department of Conservation awarded Tongariro River Rafting a special accolade in 2009 for its work protecting the whitewater habitat of the whio.
It deserves many more accolades from happy rafters, from child novices to experienced locals, this year.
In a word: terrific.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

In The Swim

Coracle Oracle editor Red Hurring breaks the surface to file this report for the Oamaru Harbour Open Water Swimming Club.

It's murkier than a harbour working party meeting held in committee down there.
Certainly, no self-respecting member of the public would dare set foot in our harbour for a swim without taking the sort of precautions necessary for, say, speaking on a written submission to a panel hearing.
But I braved the waters at dusk yesterday, sans goggles, tape recorder or rescue remedy to discover the pleasures of a dip in the briny unfurl before me like a warning semaphore.
It was salty and aqueous and all those things you'd expect it to be.
The high tide at least cloaked the rocks, sharp shells and discarded old vinyl handbags invariably worn to a faint beige by the sea.
How come everything in, near, or around Oamaru eventually turns beige?
The majority of the population was one of the first things I failed to notice when I moved here on account of its endemic ability to go camo in cardies and fawn slacks, becoming as one with the stone buildings and beige dust, and moving apace.
Of course now it's a different story, given the greater access to mobility scooters enjoyed by the older generation.
They whizz along the broad streets in a genteel sort of manner, flags of various nationalities proudly flying, some even daring to sport a bumper sticker.
"My other car's a broomstick."
"You know the world's gone mad when kids run wild and dogs go to obedience school."
"Metal Up Your Arse." Oh, wait. That one belongs on the rear window of the car driven by that Metallica fan who works at Gillies...
You can't see the bottom of the harbour.
The same cheeky piece of seaweed tries footsie with me until I make it clear that this sort of behaviour is NOT ON and surge away with the powerful overarm that got me across the Tongariro River on many a hot day.
I surge across what I believe to be an impressive stretch of water only to look up, gasping, and discover I've moved about two metres.
Time to flip on my back and ponder the sky starfish-like.
There's lots to think about out there, and the town looks positively enchanting from another element.
The delusive distance, eh. No mobility scooters visible, the odd old bomb parked up above the sand, its tightly shut windows indicating one of two things: either the car's occupants can't stand the wind, or it's time for their after-work wind-down spliff.
Such an innocent spot.
The draw of the water as you get out must give that sandy stretch its name: Friendly Bay. Because as you wade out it's clear they'd rather you stayed in.
Pity I never kept that reference book on ships' flags.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Even god gets tipsy

Happy Birthday, Coed-Isaf. Knees up for COR, the FBC tonight! Expecting no less than sea shanties and big dream soup overflowing from the pot seeping out the doorway downhill to the harbour. But no red woman antics please.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Engineering Progress

A slow start to the spend-up-large tradition and a troubled dredge named Progress. Graeme Ferris sifts the silt.

Establishing a still water basin to benefit North Otago's trade and industry was a priority of our early settlers. To succeed, the 1869 creek mouth dock incorporating Brewery Lagoon, required a south east protective wall (our breakwater) and - almost as an afterthought from the engineers of the day - a north wall.

In what would become a local tradition for civic projects such as water works, retaining walls, swimming pools and council buildings the 1871 dock trust contract raised the ire of ratepayers and the contract price for the dock works was immediately negotiated downward. The cheapest cost cutting price was the result.

The dock works became a total financial and engineering disaster and was abandoned. To salvage some self respect work commenced on the south east wall and with the 1874 formation of Oamaru Harbour Board the opportunity arose to borrow even more money.

Once a short breakwater had been established then much needed wharves followed: Macandrew, Normanby, Cross and the north mole. By 1884 Sumpter wharf was complete and just as Thomas Forrester the Board's secretary and engineer had predicted, the need for a permanent dredge was now a reality.

Tenders were called and awarded for a multipurpose dredge, but unfortunately the contractor for this thirteen thousand pound (NZ) project went bankrupt; not a good start for a vessel that was to be christened Progress.

Kinnear and Irmie took over the re-construction of the dredge. It's components were pre-fabricated in the UK with parts numbered and shipped out to Port Chalmers for final assembly.

In May 1883 Oamaru's controversial multipurpose dredge, tug and inshore rescue vessel arrived in the port to the welcome of the town's dignitaries. Sometimes the label multipurpose means that some if not all the multifunctions are a compromise, and Progress soon started to show this deficiency. Her much needed function as a tug in what was still a sail driven majority of trading vessels did not eventuate, mainly because she was underpowered. This lack of power also affected her seagoing qualities and even her main role as bucket dredge was compromised when it was discovered that her hopper capacity was not the designed 200 tons, but only 150.

This lack of local dredging capacity required the costly and regular hire of the Timaru harbour dredge but Progress struggled on in our port for thirtytwo years and was eventually sold in 1916, two years after her official retirement as the Oamaru harbour dredge.

Sold for just a fraction of her original purchase price, Progress during her 1916 conversion, sank then was salvaged and traded as a three masted schooner, but was once again laid up in 1921.

However, she wasn't quite finished and was converted back to steam and even became a regular caller at Oamaru. A broken tail shaft, a parted anchor cable and a mix up of communications eventually brought about her end in 1931 off Wellington's Owhiro Bay. She went aground and was wrecked with the unfortunate loss of four crew member's lives.

A sad end to the Oamaru Harbour Board's dream to own a dredge. Had Progress been an efficient single purpose dredge that dream may have brought about the re-writing of our harbour's history through successful, continuous and affordable dredging.

by Graeme Ferris

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Lower Thames Street Once a Hole

Graeme Ferris notes changes in harbour features since the 1860s.

We go back in time, no breakwater, harbour or wharves, not even many boats, only the fairly small Oamaru township nestling among tussock and scattered lagoons shimmering in the 1860's morning sunlight. No apparent problems. It all sounds pretty good to me.

Move on a hundred and fifty years or so to an expensive breakwater, decaying wharves, a shoaling harbour; the big words of the day: coastal erosion. Some claim that if the breakwater goes so will the town of Oamaru. While a breach in the structure would lessen the protection of the harbour, surely nothing serious would happen to the town. Most of it was here before the breakwater.

When I was a lad kicking stones about the harbour area the oldies told of great mounds of shingle, natural littoral drift, forming our immediate seafront and protecting the town area prior to the breakwater and the north mole construction.

Early immigrants on arrival, having survived the oceans and coastal surf, were then faced with crossing the seldom raging waters of the Oamaru creek. This meandering creek made its way to a four acre lagoon with its own small island situated on the landward side of the large mounds of protective coastal shingle. From the lagoon the outlet flowed southerly behind the shingle banks to the sea near what pioneer Edward Shortland described as the "spring of the cape".

The whole area east of Tyne Street was known as The Esplanade and in the early days there were no buildings there. Perhaps the oldies knew something, they who also claimed that large amounts of this foreshore shingle was used to fill in the vast hole that existed north of the creek where lower Thames Street now lies.

International consultants say that our ageing breakwater is only protecting our harbour and has little or no influence on coastal erosion or protection.

Breakwater or no breakwater I think Oamaru is destined to remain here for a long time yet, but I have been known to be wrong, so keep those coracles handy just in case.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Tawhiri's Touch and Go Tale

You have probably heard the indifferent saying "today's news is tomorrow's fish and chip wrapping"; I am therefore unaware of the actual date of the stray newspaper article that prompts my latest outburst for the Coracle Oracle on snippets of history from our historic little Oamaru harbour.

It's the story of the seaworthy sailing boats to have docked here.

The newspaper article referred to the 150 years anniversary of the Nelson Yacht Club. That takes us back in time to about 1856, and almost 20 years before Oamaru even had its first set-back in harbour development, the failure of the Oamaru Dock Trust's creek mouth project.

Part of this Nelson Yacht Club report was dedicated to memorable times and events during this past 150 years it was celebrating. Among the important events highlighted was the gruelling 1951 Wellington to Lyttelton ocean yacht race sailed in storm-force southerly winds and in which 10 competing New Zealand yachtsmen lost their lives. The winning yacht, the only boat to complete the course, was from the Nelson Yacht Club. Look to the harbour and you'll see it moored: the Tawhiri.

Oamaru was also linked to this 1951 maritime disaster with a local entrant, Mr G.T. Gillies' traditional yawl Caplin, a proven excellent cruising boat, and crewed by several Gillies family members, relations and friends.

During this ill-fated ocean race Caplin with several other vessels sought shelter from the increasing storm-force winds in the lee of some shelter provided by Cape Campbell near Blenheim. At the height of the storm when Caplin's anchor started to drag, the crew were forced to start the boat's auxiliary motor, thus disqualifying the yacht from completing this dramatic 1951 Canterbury centennial ocean yacht race.

Caplin returned to Oamaru and graced the port with her presence for a further 43 years before being sold to an overseas interest based in Marlborough Sounds. Ironically, this delightful product of Anderson and Son of Somerset, while on her delivery trip to Picton in 1995, was again forced to take shelter behind the same cape that had provided a refuge in that 1951 dramatic race: Cape Campbell.

With Caplin gone, Oamaru harbour's link with that 1951 ocean race also appeared to have gone and for a few years this was correct, until one day, the familiar profile of another traditional yacht appeared on one of the harbour moorings.

Unsighted by the writer since the fearful race more than 50 years previously, there was no mistaking the flowing lines of that ocean race winner, Tawhiri, now owned by local man Lindsay Murray. It had arrived to grace our little harbour and to take over the task Caplin had displayed while swinging to the whims of the harbour breezes on her mooring during those intervening years.

Tawhiri, just another boat to the majority of harbour viewers but to some, a graceful reminder of a storm-lashed ocean and the 10 ordinary New Zealand blokes who lost their lives half a century ago, doing what they liked best.

by Graeme Ferris
photos by John Baster

Monday, March 3, 2008

Oamaru Harbour Open Swimming Society (OHOWSS) Report: Sea life in the harbour

One of the thrills of swimming in the Oamaru Harbour is the potential contact between human swimmer and other species that live in and about the water. These can be divided into three groups: birds, visable sea creatures, and those menacing spectres that lurk, unseen in the eery depths.

There are several species of seabird that nest, or at least amiably pass a few hours, around the edge of the harbour. As you approach Sumpter Wharf, the shags and gulls start to take an interest in your progress, and will buzz you within a few feet of your head. If you have not seen "The Birds" by Alfred Hitchcock, this is completely enjoyable. I am not sure what they are on about. Perhaps, encased in rubber, I look something like a seal, maybe leaving a trail of half-eaten fish carcasses in my wake. maybe it is just curiosity. I find it comforting when they wing by, and would miss them if they were all suddenly vapourized. I have not yet run into a penguin, and would not particularly wish to. They strike me as a bit standoffish. Other bird species in the area ignore me, and I will return the favour.

Sea mammals are of special interest - fellow sucklers of their young and all. In truth, I have only run into mammal in these waters once, a vague brown thing that I think was a fur seal. He was large and fast. I take some pride in my swimming ability, and indeed that of humans in general, who are remarkably adept in the water for a bunch of tree-dwelling ape descended bipeds that have no real business being there. But, we are sad, awkward things in the water next to these graceful, furry simpletons.

I can't comment on the fish life as the water is too murky to see much of anything below the surface beyond a fathom or so. I am sure they are very nice.

It is the third category, the hidden monsters, that most occupy one's thoughts. Sharks always come to mind. Shark attacks are rare in these parts. I have heard that sharks will sometimes bite down on a person, then spit them back out. Apparently even the corpulent modern human can be too lean for their tastes, which tend to blubbery seals. Still, the possibility of a sudden ripping attack from below is always there. What a way to go.

Leopard seals are perhaps more terrifying, and they are occasionally sighted in these parts. They are big: up to 3.5 metres in length and 500kg in mass, with large prehistoric jaws that allow them to take a good, big bite. Only one fatal attack is recorded, in Antarctic waters where they are most common. In that case, a leopard seal dragged a doomed 28 year old marine biologist deeper and deeper until she drowned. Another person had his leg chewed, also in the Antarctic. Ernest Shakleton's record of his 1914-1916 Antarctic expedition also records an attempted attack.

However, it must be remembered, dear readers and potential OHOWSS members, that that kind of thing is vanishingly rare, especially in friendly Oamaru Harbour. Your life is in far more jeopardy from that Big Mac you are scarfing down while reading this. And, although I am not any sort of thrill seeking risk taker, there is something about swimming above all that rampant life that is strangely invigorating. Occasionally, when peering down into the inky depths, my imagination conjures up ingeniously scary beings from the shadows, and moments of panic follow. These generally pass quickly, and are replaced by elation at my great courage in the face of the deep.


Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Tour Caption Contest

Editor and Chief Reporter Red Hurring is going for bronze while souveniring Europe's treasures.

"... a bunch of men stopped dead in their tracks when they saw us two in the darkened phone booth, probably looking somewhat panic stricken, sleep deprived and totally wired with adventure. The tallest of them looked me up and down and growled."

"I've still got souvenirs to buy. Sadly, I can't remember what size trousers Art wears."

A bunch of men or two sizes of trou? The Kafka Memorial, Prague. photocredit CreativeCommons

Nix to do with Oamaru Harbour


Random assemblages of my travel impressions from a landlocked country. ON a foreign keyboard.ΕΎ

You should see our profiles in Slovenian. I'll not make it to see Laibach perform but have learnt Laibach was the name given to Llujbjana in Napoleonic times. This was a good thing for the Slovenes whose language was cultivated under French rule and some autonomous expression of culture allowed.
But not so the Czechs. Makes Doestoevsky seem happy.
Train trips great, no view of Oamaru harbour.
NOt a coracle in sight yet. Boat trips offered from Karluv Most (Charles Bridge) in Prague by Africans in white sailor gear. Too cold to swim so I didn't consider it.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Going For Broke on Ramsay's Extension

This week Coracle Oracle The Friendly Bay Chronicle harbour historian Graeme Ferris tells us about the breakwater in Oamaru harbour.

Our crumbling harbour breakwater is often the topic of media speculation, even if only regarding the vast sums of money both the original Harbour Board, and since we were designated a closed port, the Waitaki District Council, have poured into this conspicuous local landmark.

On the seaward side of what was originally defined as our South East Wall, a decaying protrusion officially known as the Ramsay Extension, and now a crumbling heap of soft quarry rock and rubble, just seaward about where the northern end of the breakwater raising finishes.

Just why this disintegrating piece of engineering is named Ramsey's Extension and not William's, Furkert's, La Roche's, or even Leggo's extension is unclear for all were engineers or professors of some standing, and all, over a period from 1914 to 1938, were involved in the design and structure of this elusive breakwater extension. Captain Ramsey was the Oamaru harbour master from 1896 to 1922 and nearly always when mention is made about this money-munching breakwater add-on, his name comes to the fore, almost as if he was solely responsible for the unfortunate extension design.

The single and only need for this extension off the existing breakwater was to form a lee, an area of calm water, to enable the dredging of our harbour approaches to be carried out. This dredging had become essential to the future of our harbour as cargo vessels were becoming larger, therefore deeper, and the harbour approaches were at that time actually shallower than the dredged inner harbour.

The eventual outcome would probably have been no different, but when the extension work finally proceeded, it was constructed at a different angle and started from a different location than the several detailed plans had originally indicated.

The designed length also became something of a lottery, starting as 1,750 ft. (533 m) in 1914 and modified by various engineers over the years to about half that length. When work eventually ceased in 1944 with the outer end sealing of Ramsey's Extension, it had reached a total length of only 365 ft. (111 m), approx. one fifth of the original designed length. Just imagine the vast hole there would have been in the Harbour Board's quarry if the original length had somehow been achieved.

By 1945 the Harbour Board's engineers conceded that this expensive protrusion to our breakwater was a total disaster and was actually placing considerable stress on the immediate shoreward section of the main structure and also causing severe shoaling on the extension's northern side, the very area the original proposal had intended for deepening. The passage of time has shown this 1945 reasoning to be absolutely correct but long forgotten.

In the year 2007 we are poised to have contracts let by the local Council to reinforce and retain the remnants of this relic from our past.

Graeme Ferris

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Martians Defeated

Fresh from the battlefield, CORTFBC war correspondent wipes the blood from her index finger to type this exclusive report.
A border skirmish at Victory Park today (December 31, 2007 earthtime) rendered alien forces inoperative.
The strike by water and air at Oamaru harbour categorically eliminated any threat from Mars.
Pacifist warfare bystander and Killing As Organised Sport (KAOS) spokesman Scott Barnes, of Blenheim, was on the field for an interview (see above photo).
He reported use of biological and germ warfare.
When asked for a description of the state of mind required to maim, wound and generally munt Martian ass until foam string and curious ooze was seen spurting in a sticky mess onto the grass, he offered the following: "It feels pretty choice. It makes me feel better about myself when I see people hurt."
His explanation for this trigger-fingering malaise?
"I've got a fidgeting disorder."
KAOS also threatened to granny pash Alf's Imperial Army, Earth's defenders.
Little did Scott Barnes know, the true grannies of the battlefield, Brownie HydeRangers, were typically the most organised.
HydeRanger medical corpses (SUBS NOT SPELLING) militated against the Martians in a ruthless display of efficiency almost unbecoming in women of a certain age.
Brownies (see above photo, showing left to right Jay and Frances MacMillan, Oliver Briggs, brownie butler Tobias Trout, Tom Muir, AnneMarie Liesbeth, and brown owl Donna Demente) were valiantly (SUBS NOTE ACCURACY ERROR: Brown owl drives a Merc) engaged in the heroic distribution of emergency cups of tea to wounded and dying imperial forces.
The HydeRangers' medical station dispatched of each flailing and shaking machine shuddering in its death throes with vigour.
For piety's sake and reasons of brevity, we'll let the last word rest with the Martians.
Shortly before its gruesome putdown, a Martian was heard begging for leniency.
In a fine display of extraterrestrial cunning, it appealed to Alfs and earthlings thus: "Actually I'm only one-sixth Martian. I'm registered on the Martian electoral role."
A Martian charge followed and the selfsame creature was heard crying, "Don't eat them all. Save some for me."

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

They Tried to Talk About It

Martian negotiator connives to pacifist battlefield referee David McLean as Alfs Imperial Army recruit, dispatch rider and alleged communist chairman Tsill Blair turns to break the terrible news of war to Earth's defenders.
Victory Park was the place, December 31 last year the time.
Photo: Red Hurring

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


Of necessity...

he sits
leant against the crib
an old man weaves
crab like fingers nip the rope
splicing on a fishing float...

glistening like oilskins in the rain
we were immigrants along these shores

from commingled waters
the fathers of our fathers
settled southern lands
sailing from obscurity
on a reach to summer.

Lindsay Murray

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Oamaru Tourism's Tidal Nightpiece On-Demand

(Body language for three piece band. Look Mum, this treacle's got bubbles in it.)

This repeats from horizon to horizon. Particles attract across indifferent waters. The elements of confusion are so obviously collision and fusion. Will them to explode, do you, or ask an easy union?

To the observer this is either a pointless pair or a measurable movement. Laws say you cannot see them all together, though you can have them both at once. Each is displaced out of own space, one into the other, though a harbour is Comfort's zone. All this is knowledge (see, here is a tree) and its application, expertise, is fruity.

Now they (one less than a trinity, cheap seats stuff) sense each other where each once was. Sense brings recognition and identity is constructed out of loss. The composite cools at this edge of union. Land, sea and sky radiate Something.

Something, which is called Something, sets into a scape, a lairscape or a sandscape, to be scorched in sunlight and cut down by the moon.

For the observer again (with respect, this in not You), mastering a pilot's tug, over and again, up and down a tedious estuary, there is only one story to be hung up in any language. For more clarity add the distortion of seagull gossip, dash of local colour. And now, You are here.

Reductionists develop the faces of clay slopes with smiles all the way to the harbour master's door. The pennies drop. Reduction is development, turning small towns into a flurry of points of light. A councillor is a pointillist (my Blackpool illumination: te-a-rooms). Smear the picture of the daughter bagging fish in kelp, with children near, without demanding agitated growth, within the seal's eye.

Recreate the conjunction of water and earth. This is a place of recreation, professing hobbies, dressing up. The visiting voice is a bare white knuckle pounding against its other silver fist. There are no sparks, but look out for spume from those who sibillate in the old tongue. Llandudno is a seaside town. Ecotourism is ecumenical from bank to bank. A harbour is brine in a barrel to an old dog. It's seven long years since I had quota.

Stillness here grips lightly, like thistle tips about a trapped finch. Don't move then. Think. Collect your thoughts on spikelets of anxiety among the old fermented grains. Red by gold birds flutter at the silo's torn doors. WhiskeY gongs the white carillon. So that if you have travelled a long way to find yourself at the gates of nowhere, see the bobbing wash and splutter. Feel the weak attraction. Welcome.

by Dafydd Coed-Isaf

Oamaru's Own Big Bang

Contributor Graeme Ferris relates a gripping story about efforts to fortify Oamaru harbour.

Most of us have heard of the big bang theory that emiment British astronomer Fred Hoyle considered totally ridiculous and spent many years of his life opposing.

There were however absolutely no theories surrounding our own little Oamaru harbour big bang, but they happened, one of them with sad consequences.

The first harbour quarry big blow-out occured one Tuesday afternoon in August 1938 and the associated earth tremor shook buildings over a large area of town. Several substantial harbour sheds including the engine shed and blacksmith's shed were wrecked by this shot which brought down 150,000 tons of rock and rubble to be used for harbour breakwater armouring.

The second big bang was indeed a large blow-out and I recall, even though about two miles distant, rushing outside to try and see just where and what this huge November 1943 noise was all about. After all, we were in the midst of WW2.

At the harbour quarry, two people were killed by the falling rock from this 1943 blow-out, one, a harbour board employee, the other, an employee of the then waitaki electric power board. Both victims were sheltering in a purpose-made slit trench located adjacent to the north west corner of the quarry, almost exactly where the eighty one year old Stothert & Pitt Ltd steam crane sits, the trench about as far away from the blasting tunnel as possible, yet still remaining in the quarry area.

For the second time in five years, the area resembled a bombsite with the sheds as far away as the carpenter's shop on Cross Wharf being riddled with holes. Once again, these harbour sheds were repaired or rebuilt with salvaged corrugated iron. Much of it from sheds now no longer required.

The Harbour Board was appropriately silent on the disaster and the quarried rock, as engineers had previously correctly told them, was totally unsuitable for the use they proceeded with in armouring the seaward side of the breakwater.

By 1956 the first batch of 20 tetrapods for breakwater protection was ready to be placed in position by the board's aging steam crane and apart from the later vertical drilling of the quarry face, no further blasting at the harbour board's quarry took place.

The random placing of this small number of tetrapods for breakwater protection proved to be an expensive failure, their correct designed interlocking placements being by the thousands, not hundreds, and certainly not tens.

The tetrapod saga continues in 2007 with the proposed random placement of almost 200 mostly recently constructed 15-tonne concrete tetrapods plus a few leftover concrete cubes, a legacy of previous patch-up days.

Graeme Ferris

Monday, December 3, 2007

News Splash

The 2007 Oamaru grand coracle race yesterday rocked the boat and then some.
Radio personalities went in the water.
Welshmen sustained injuries.
Three schoolboys went home from Oamaru harbour tired and happy with prizes to share among their mates.
Race organisers John Baster and Adam Ardouin hobbled about Friendly Bay on their sea legs all morning supervising the smooth running of the event.
But it wasn't all plain sailing for Adam, who during the morning ripped the toenail of his left foot clean off.
Thanks to forward planning, safety officers from St John Ambulance were on hand to attend to Adam's bloody toe (see picture; shows Adam resting his foot on race winner Mike Lillian's coracle, with Adam's daughter Bronwen Ardouin at right).
It was a non-coracle related injury.
Wife of Adam, Julie French, laughed from sheer relief about the incident afterwards during an interview with Coracle Oracle, The Friendly Bay Chronicle.
Adam says he also tried to crack jokes about it at the time with ambulance staff.
Adam and Julie weren't the only ones making light of the occasion.
Good-natured competitors stepped up to the podium (three upturned plastic crates) and received applause and congratulations after each heat.
A young rower watching the event from the water in a boat of more advanced design was overheard saying "this is so gay".
She and a fellow rower then overbalanced their boat.
It must have been the wash.
As the poster for the race promised, egos were dampened, reputations fell, and there was glory in the name of local watersport.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Get In One

Use whatever motor power you have to get to Oamaru harbour this Sunday, December 2.
From 9 o'clock in the morning you'll see men, women and children racing and at play in coracles.
This year's grand Southern Hemisphere coracle race is set to test the wits of the Waitaki District's wiliest boatmen and women.
Organisers have planned coracle jousting as the fun part of the day.
John Baster and Adam Ardouin are keeping to the format of last year's race.
Registration is at 9am, followed by children's races, the race for the cash prize, and coracle jousting.
Friendly Bay, Oamaru harbour's northern beach, will be the place where extreme sports and DIY collide.
Already the likes of local media personalities The Mikes are kicking sand about in readiness for the race.
Radio Network Classic Hits show host Mike Plant (pictured at right in coracle, being schooled by John Baster) has taken to the water already and is keen to race.
Ardgowan School pupils have cranked up the coracle assembly line and are turning out more coracles than you can shake a paddle at.
You have three days left to build one.
Instructions for building a coracle can be found at Oamaru Public Library on Thames Street. Or talk to the organisers about nabbing a ready-made frame for covering before Sunday morning.
A note for novices: A coracle is a small shovel-shaped boat of ancient design, better known to Britons than most New Zealanders.
It is used for fishing and recreation on many United Kingdom rivers, the names of which are to be found on many Oamaru streets.
So hang a right at the bottom of Wansbeck Street and see what you can find.

Straight from Bill's steambox

"Odourless, invisible gas consisting of vaporised water, usually interspersed with minute droplets of water giving it a cloudy appearance".
Encyclopaedia Brittanica.
Our editor was watching me whittling in the workshop one day with the steam box issuing a gentle flow of the above-described gas and thought it would be a good subject for a column, and I agree.
Steam powered the industrial revolution that transformed the world for better or worse, and is still used to generate power worldwide.
Steam cranes and shovels excavated stone for the construction of the harbour, and steam trains hauled it.
And steam power in the form of the magnificient restored locomotive that the Oamaru Steam and Rail Society runs every Sunday down to the Red Sheds helps highlight the historic value of Oamaru and its harbour.
But long before it became the industrial workhorse, steam was used for centuries by woodworkers and boat builders to bend wood.
I use it to bend the willow handles and rims of my trug baskets and to bend my ash pitchforks into shape.
Wood cells are made of cellulose and this is nature's plastic.
Like oil-based plastics, it is pliable when heated.
(In the nineteenth century the first plastics were derived from plant cellulose and also from milk casein.)
To bend wood you need nothing more than a wooden box, big enough to fit the object to be heated, sitting on a pot of boiling water on a stove, which is what I have in my little workshop.
I insert the wooden handles and rims into the steam and within half an hour or so they are ready to emerge and be bent into wooden bending jigs.
Admittedly, wood is wood and not plastic so it is less predictable.
Trees grow layer by layer and in different conditions.
They have knots and grain and all this means that one can get breakages and that it takes a while to learn the characteristics of different woods, which can involve tears of frustration.
Because it grows in layers the cutting of wood inevitably involves cutting across layers and where this happens is where the lifting of wood fibres can occur, leaving a split.
Backing strips to hold the wood while bending can prevent this.
So, wood bending is simple, but complicated!
It is also fun and satisfying and potentially useful for coracle making, as John Baster can testify.
- Contributed by Bill Blair

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Absolutely Gastric, Impressions of a Coracle Oracle Meeting

Contributed by John Baster,


Irish Breakfast tea
Carrot and cream cheese icing cake (New World)
Cold rising 1/2 rye bread
Big Dream soup
Soaked raisin scones
Port Royal Original Tobacco

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Coracles in the Kakanui

Moeraki photographer Nigel Yates was on the water on August 5 to record Ken Mitchell (paddling), John Baster, and Eliza Baster-Scotti having a coracle moment.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Media Stunts Hi-jack Harbour News

Organisers of the 2007 Grand Coracle Race at Oamaru harbour hope to show the young scallywags of local print and broadcast media a thing or two about coracles, today.

Race organiser John Baster is asking radio personality, Mike Plant, to board a coracle. The Oamaru Mail is also invited. Both outlets are known for their abilities to attract a crowd in a hurry.

The fun starts at 1pm, at Friendly Bay, October 12, 2007.
Please, bring your camera.
Ladies, a plate.

By Red Hurring

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Notes from the Red Sheds

Spring has arrived in the Oamaru harbour with a pleasant vengeance.
There are two bellbirds frequenting the rampant, volunteer flowering currant bush which takes up one side of my shed, occasionally piercing the air with their distinctive song, and a pair of little blue penguins have established an early nest in the blacksmith's shop next door using wood shavings from my floor to line the nest leaving a trail of said shavings all over the floor of the forge - ah, the trials of life in the harbour, having to sweep up after horny penguins.
Wedding parties appear at weekends led by frenetic photographers to utilise rustic sheds and my pennyfarthing as picturesque backdrops, recreational fishers jostle in the mornings to launch their vessels for a morning at sea, locals drive, walk and cycle by on their regular excursions to see what's happening or just to relax by the sea.
Harbour to Ocean restaurant (H2O, or Cross Wharf cafe as I prefer to call it) is back in business after a winter recess and the usual stream of tourists cruise up to the penguin viewing centre.
Oliver Briggs is chipping happily away at his Oamaru stone sculptures in the red sheds and two other winter emigrants are back in their respective residences now that the weather is warmer.
The former woolstore buildings nearby which are mooted as private apartments await the decision of the Environment Court.
It is scheduled to hear the Oamaru Whitestone Civic Trust's appeal against the granting of a resource consent to allow this.
And also of great significance for harbour lovers is the advertising by the Waitaki District Council (WDC) of the long-awaited Waitaki District Plan Change 4/Variation 9 and Plan Change 5 - Oamaru Harbour.
(Doesn't that title just fill you full of enthusiasm to start reading what will no doubt be gripping prose?!)
These immediately take partial effect upon advertising, or have to be taken into consideration when the WDC is dealing with consent applications, but are subject to alteration through the public submission process which closes in November.
The changes will determine how the harbour develops this century and it is important that as many people submit as possible - we want to get this right.
The changes are available on the WDC website, or from the WDC building in Oamaru.
- By Bill Blair

A Chip Off the Old Block

Although he's carved only two Oamaru stone pieces since his arrival in April, Oamaru harbour's newest artisan, Oliver Briggs, is already carving a name for himself.
The 21-year-old moved to Oamaru on a whim after encountering Oamaru limestone in his hometown of Whakatane.
So far he's enjoying the solitude at the harbour.
His workshop is near Bill Blair's and was formerly occupied by Michelle Beaufoy (see earlier posts).
"I suppose I like the abandonedness of it - not having to talk to other people. It is nice to be left alone there," he laughs at the inherent irony, given our interview was arranged at the harbour.
But Oliver considers he is in good company.
"It's nice to have other people around such as Bill, David (Kilgour, postmodern apprentice bootmaker) and Slim (Hurring, harbour idler)."
The harbour is a stepping stone for Oliver in more ways than one.
His artistic aspirations don't stop at local limestone, which is sourced from Parkside Quarries.
He is also stretching out the hand of creativity to oil painting, and has impressed the locals at Fight Club with the depth and breadth of his musical knowledge.
Among them is established painter Donna Demente, whose investment nous led her last week to buy one of Oliver's first Oamaru-made works.
Not bad for a few months' work.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Great Southern Hemisphere Coracle Race 2007

The crew of The Coracle Oracle
announces its purpose
to race boats in a morning-long circus
from Friendly Bay.
But not today.

Just think "follicle"
and you'll find in the murk'est
shallows of Oamaru Harbour
our proud boats, our town, even our workers
racing coracles from 9 a.m.

The date is December second. So cut the trim
shear the wind lose the sail and join in!

It's not horrible.
You'll find us incorrigible.

Picture (Bill Blair) : John Baster photographed recently on Oamaru Harbour secretly practising for the great coracle races this year.

Oamaru Harbour Swimming

After a brief hiatus for winter, the activities of the Oamaru Harbour Open Water Swimming Club have recommenced.
As the only member to date, it falls on Conrad Galland to describe the pleasures of swimming in the harbour, in the hopes of luring a few stalwarts to join him in this wholly satisfying, and only slightly masochistic, pastime.

Firstly, one needs to be a competent swimmer, and, secondly, one who is sick enough of pool swimming to undertake the exhaustive physical preparations required to survive extended exposure in the harbour.
It is generally very cold.
A wet-suit is not an option, it is a necessity.
You can swim unprotected for a relatively short period in the summer, but the water in the harbour is mostly bone-chillingly cold, and one must just accept this aspect of living in Oamaru, as one accepts all the little injustices of life.
The upside is that you are not likely to collide with any other swimmers, most of them being of the warm water wimp variety.
This represents a stark difference from the swimming pool situation, where avoiding obstacles is the main challenge.
Swimming along with nothing in the way but more water is no small pleasure.
Once suitably garbed, it is necessary to enter the water promptly, as you will quickly begin to overheat.
Entering the water is quite tolerable, until it comes time to put your face in, the only unprotected part of your body.
Your first facial dunk will be met with a searing, sinus headache-type pain, which I presume is due to the rapidly chilled bones of your face contracting around the as yet uncooled air within the sinuses, with a resultant rise in pressure.
This eventually goes away as everything comes down to the same temperature, usually taking about 10 minutes of gradually increasing facial exposure.
The pain is replaced by a generally numb feeling, which is not entirely unpleasant. Now you are ready.
It is really quite splendid. Come, join me in the sea.
- By Conrad Galland

Friday, June 29, 2007

Coracle Photo Opportunity June 2007

By Red Hurring

Getting ready for the 2007 Coracle Event? Find out more and join the photo opportunity with some of last year's coracles and their paddler-designers at Friendly Bay, Oamaru harbour this Saturday; 30th June 2007, 10am. We hope to see you there.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Coracle Oracle Slumbers

The editorial crew of the Coracle Oracle, The Friendly Bay Chronicle today decided to put our worthy blogging vessel to bed for the winter.

Transmission will resume on September 1 and the Coracle Oracle will again be replete with features on the harbour, interviews, contributions, recipes and other vital advice.

Thanks for the visits. Contributions can still be sent to editor Red Hurring for later posting (see my profile for contact details).

Happy hibernating, from Red Hurring, Scotti, and Coed-Isaf.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Sumpter Wharf: Humble Beginnings, Grand Intent

This week contributor Graeme Ferris sheds light on the debate over the original purpose of Sumpter Wharf, and reveals it was one of six such planned wharves.

Oamaru’s Sumpter wharf has been featuring in local Waitaki District Council and national news recently.

After a long period of various draft reviews, archaeological assessments, concept plans, various visions and engineer’s structural assessments, the reason for the delayed council decision on the future of this historic wharf was insufficient information! Not the news the Sumpter Wharf Action Group (SWAG) was hoping for.

There was however national publicity regarding the 125 years since the very first frozen meat ex-Totara Estate was shipped from Port Chalmers, on the vessel Dunedin direct to the United Kingdom.

Recently there have also been differing claims made regarding the early shipments of frozen meat direct from the port of Oamaru.

Some say that Sumpter Wharf was built specifically for the frozen meat trade while others claim that the vessel Elderslie was the only locally commissioned specific item for this historic trade.

Whomever is correct, those at the time were obviously not talking to each other.

The Oamaru harbour board was busy ensuring that both sides of Sumpter Wharf were dredged to a uniform depth of 22 feet and at the same time the Elderslie was being designed and constructed, drawing a little more than 26 feet.

Some early photos of the Elderslie berthed alongside Sumpter Wharf show the vessel having an obvious list. This list probably had nothing to do with poor loading procedure but was most likely the fact that at anywhere below about half tide, 26 ft did not fit too well into 22ft; the ship was most likely briefly resting on the harbour bottom.

During the late 1800s period when public gardens were planned for the now King George Park area and also on the higher ground of the ‘cape’ ( the area now being named ‘Forrester Heights’) 44 separate residential sections were planned and drawn on this Oamaru harbour works plan.

The biggest potential disaster showing on this ‘harbour’ plan however was no fewer than a further FIVE curved approach wharves within the still water basin, all similar and only slightly shorter than Sumpter wharf, two on the south harbour side and three from the north side.

The SWAG committee would have been very busy indeed, had these additional five wharves eventuated.

Graeme Ferris
Next time: Fancy a shag on the wharf? How about 500? In his next instalment Graeme looks at the problem regurgitative shags present to SWAG.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Coppice Craftsman Joins Us

Trug dealer to the stars and well-known harbour denizen Bill Blair is to start posting regular updates on harbour happenings and visitors here on the Coracle Oracle, The Friendly Bay Chronicle blog.

That's him on the right in the picture, by the way, at Totara Estate's Harvest Home on April 1.

Bill Blair is a woodworker extraordinaire whose Coppice Crafts workshop was set up in the Red Sheds on the south side of Oamaru harbour in 1998.

He is one of several artisans working in the harbour. Sculptor Michelle Beaufoy also works there, and the premises were envisaged a decade ago as the ideal site for an artisan's village.

"We wanted to have the Red Sheds as a traditional artisan's village, as it were," Bill explains.

"Ken Mitchell organised the leasing of the sheds from the (Waitaki District) Council and Lindsay Murray and stone sculptor Alan Ward were here. Although his tenure was very brief, Lindsay was a boat builder.

"When I decided to become a traditional woodworker it seemed to make sense to start doing it in the Red Sheds."

Lindsay has since moved his boatbuilding into a workshop in Kakanui and Michelle occupies the workshop Alan was in. But visitors to the Red Sheds remain plentiful, comprising two parts from outside the area to every one part local.

The most recent issue to take Bill's attention is the build-up of silt and sand on the harbour floor.

"One thing I fear is that there will be less momentum for re-creating the harbour as a deep water harbour the way it used to be. It is slowly filling up with sand because there is no dredging. The corner of the harbour where I mean has long been considered a beach by locals but of course it is supposed to be deep water. Actually I would quite like that not to be a beach. I would quite like there to be sailing ships tied up there."

Bill's first contribution will be posted at the end of this month.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Notes from the Red Sheds

A diary of happenings, philosophy, crafts, history, politics, penguins, bicycles and anything else that strikes my fancy centered on Oamaru Harbour. By Bill Blair.

Tucked into the south-east corner of the Oamaru Harbour next to the Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony viewing centre is a bunch of old, red-painted sheds.

These are relics from the early days of the harbour in the 19th century and were the work sheds for harbour maintenance and the quarry which sits behind the site.

Back in 1995 Ken Mitchell, an amateur blacksmith and heritage enthusiast, discovered that the old harbour board blacksmith shop was still intact there complete with workable hearth and anvil.

The sheds were in a parlous state by then, used only for storage, and slowly disintegrating.

Ken persuaded the Waitaki District Council property manager to lease the sheds to him for a peppercorn lease in return for maintaining them and turning them into an asset, namely the genesis of a traditional crafts village.

Many of us toiled on working bees to repair, re-clad and repaint the sheds and over the last 12 years they have hosted a plethora of talented crafts people starting with Lindsay Murray, traditional boat-builder, and Alan Ward, architectural stone-carver.

In 1997 I decided to create "good work" for myself and started training myself as a traditional wood worker.

In 1998 I donned my tweeds and carried my shaving horse and draw knife into one of the Red Sheds to create my traditional wooden tools and be available as something interesting for visitors to see.

Over the past nine years in residence there I have been privileged to see the daily goings-on of the port and to host a continual stream of local and out of town visitors.

I’ve seen the resurgence of interest in the harbour with it now being listed as an historic place and also part of a potential world heritage site.

Developers have also discovered the harbour and this brings new challenges and dangers. Would we like a recreated, nineteenth century type harbour or do we want rampant growth of luxury apartments, restaurants, hotels, motels and marinas?

I think you might guess my preference from the way I’ve framed that question!

As the Coracle Oracle harbour "correspondent" I hope to report on such things and much more, not the least of which will be penguins since I share my working space with them most of the year which is why I have illustrated this inaugural column with a photo of two, fat, little blues sitting on a nest of wood shavings in my workshop waiting for their parents to return at night with a feed of fish.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Curragh Building at Totara Estate

Oamaru coracle culture will be demonstrated at Totara Estate's Harvest Home on Sunday April 1. Harvest Home celebrations begin at 10am, 10 minutes South of Oamaru on SH1.

A Boyne curragh will be constructed and a recently built award winning Ironbridge coracle will be on display.

Come and see the latest in personal Victorian watercraft, perfect for the post-peak oil apocalypse.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Coracles Drawn Into Totara Yield

Totara Estate gave coracle followers and traditional craftspeople a helping hand into the
spotlight at the start of this month.

The established historic site south of Oamaru celebrated its annual Harvest Home. The pulling power of bullocks, Clydesdale horses and other beasts of burden drew
attention to the estate's claim to fame. Sumpter Wharf in Oamaru harbour may or may not be part of this claim (see Graeme Ferris' upcoming contribution on this subject).

Totara Estate is known as the birthplace of New Zealand's frozen meat industry and is
the site where mutton was processed for the first shipment of frozen meat to England
aboard the Dunedin.

The Dunedin's first voyage from New Zealand left from Port Chalmers in 1882.Meat was taken by train to Port Chalmers.

Some historians believe Oamaru's Sumpter Wharf was built for the thence-burgeoning
frozen meat export trade.

Another example of that spirit of adaptive technology still thriving in these parts can be
found in the ever-expanding local coracle quarter.

Although still in its infancy in Oamaru, it was fitting that coracle building should be
demonstrated at the birthplace of another now significant New Zealand tradition.

Local coracle pioneers John Baster and Lee-Ann Scotti are pictured at Totara on the

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


Spike Island, Kakanui:
Autumn of the Lewismen

They cast their nets
under a long white cloud
beyond the curve wave deckle
fishing on ivory tonsured seas.

Till stars dissolved behind mist
and fires were kindled
pungent in autumn decay
shrinking the world to a global habit
and some custom we have retrieved.

by Lindsay Murray

Harbour Landing Refurbishment In the Wind

Last year we had a couple of jet-skis pay a very brief visit to our Oamaru harbour during the course of their anticlockwise circumnavigation of New Zealand, Auckland to Auckland.

Today, particularly with an abundance of back-up and onshore assistance, a maritime circuit of the country would be somewhat less demanding than it would have been in the 1970s when a 45 foot (13.7 metre) launch carrying out a circuit of the South Island called at Oamaru for a day or so visit.

Ralph. S. Von Kohorn, in his immaculate motor cruiser 'Colombia', on completion of his South Island circuit, immediately planned and carried out a successful clockwise circuit of the North Island which then completed, in a figure of eight, his circumnavigation of New Zealand in a motor launch.

During his Oamaru stay many interested local people were made very welcome aboard this well-appointed John Lidgard constructed vessel, which was conveniently berthed at the 'landing', generally referred to in those days as Stronach's landing, situated at the western end of Holmes wharf.

Visiting vessels requiring some privacy while anchored in the harbour beyond the buoyed swinging basin, while those keen to meet the locals and display their boats, used the Holmes wharf landing. It also had a pontoon associated with it which made it ideal for visiting boats and for shore-based people either visiting or just viewing.

This landing site, the only deep-ish water one within our harbour, has been steadily decaying over the years. In 2004, a group of swing mooring holders had plans drawn for the refurbishment of this landing, including a replacement pontoon, and these plans plus an offer of voluntary labour input for the project was presented to the Waitaki District Council. This proposal, although having the support of several senior council staff, was unfortunately rejected on the grounds that there was a lack of finance and/or possible non-acceptance by some harbour users. It was to be looked at again in 2005/6 but has, like many harbour maintenance jobs, simply slid into oblivion. This is a pity because a reasonable pontoon style deep-water landing is a definite asset to any harbour, large or small.

Graeme Ferris

Friday, March 16, 2007

Oamaru Rowing Club triumphs in long-awaited race

Although they had to wait two months to beat the New Zealand navy in a cutter race at the Oamaru harbour carnival on January 21, it was worth the wait for the locals.

The race around Oamaru harbour was scheduled to take place in November last year as part of the Oamaru Victorian Heritage Celebrations.

Bad weather put it off.

The Oamaru Rowing Club versus New Zealand Navy race ran in January instead as part of harbour carnival, an annual festival at Friendly Bay run by a local radio station.
Good crowds were on hand to cheer the local club to victory.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Friday, March 2, 2007

Black Boats Makes Landfall

The day I met with Lindsay Murray to talk about Black Boats, the project he is undertaking with fellow local boatsman John Baster, the harbour was still and glassy.
Becalmed on Cross Wharf at Harbour to Ocean restaurant over crema as viscous-looking as the ocean waters aft, I started to appreciate the subtleties of this new project.
Ostensibly a boat-building enterprise which began with the construction of a coracle for last year's inaugural Southern Hemisphere coracle race, Black Boats has since stretched and yawned into life as something resembling a philosophy.
Lindsay is talking Celtic roots, handcrafts, and re-establishing respect for nature's whims and powers.
His phrases are peppered with references to earlier, darker times in our history when provisions may have been scant but imaginative sustenance more plentiful.
"What it suggests to me is first of all, we all have our own whakapapa. You might not know it but it's there, it has to be."
That's him beginning to explain Black Boats. He says his interest in cultural origins began about 20 years ago. The foundations for Black Boats were laid then.
"It's about organic boats. It's about boats that have virtually zero carbon footprint, if you want. "They don't use fuel and oil. They might use one tree, but you don't have to cut down the whole forest.
"It's Celtic philosophy. It is about growing up and there being darkness, being the possibility of goblins and elves lurking in the trees.
"And then it's also about having fun. The whole idea of the coracles is anyone can do it."
Lindsay's DIY approach blends and extends into other traditional craft-based lifestyles.
"It incorporates other crafts - blacksmiths, green wood working, stone walls - it's real crofting. That still exists to a degree in Moeraki: a simple means of existence.
"When you think of pre-industrial times there were only really two types of people: those that fished and the rest (who) were involved in farmwork. Then you had the merchants and city people, but in fact most people would have been land and sea-based."
The traditional boats project is an attempt to recapture some of the essence of those times, predicated upon division by nature.
Black Boats is part of the paring back and slowing down of days, he adds.
"This is a step, I wouldn't say backwards, but sideways. It is about tribalism."
Ideals aside, the project has two concrete aims for the next three months. Construction of a curragh, or ancient three-man boat, is already underway at Lindsay's workshop in Kakanui, and he and John hope to organise a curragh event at Oamaru harbour for like-minded Celtic revivalists from around the regions.
"We've got about three or four teams of people that would like to race them. We would go out through the harbour and out to sea."
They expect the first curragh to be completed within a month, but say one could probably be made within a week under a full-time commitment.They'll eventually move on to building the kind of boats used in colonial New Zealand.
"What will happen is there will be further developments in Black Boats which will then cut across and have iconic New Zealand boats; very simple workman boats."

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Vagaries of Voss Visit Recalled

Local man Graeme Ferris reflects on a little-known visit to Oamaru Harbour by J.C.Voss in the 'Tilikum', in 1903. He is interested to hear from anyone out there whose ancestors recall this March 1903 visit to Oamaru by Voss.

During my time of local messing about with boats, I only ever met one person who could recall Voss and this notable event and yet there are many local people who could recall quite clearly the wreck of the large luxury schooner 'Ariadne' on the North Otago coast in 1901, two years before Voss called here. It would be interesting to hear from anyone whose ancestors recall this March 1903 visit to Oamaru of J.C.Voss, his vessel 'Tilikum' and his companion during this part of the voyage, Mr.G.McDonald.

It has been established that my portion of this newsletter was originally to be about the early days of the port of Oamaru, our historic little east coast harbour that nestles beneath what was once an interesting tree clad hillside with scenic walks and solitude. I realised however that the main object that was trying to be presented was something other than a history lesson because much of the history of our slowly but surely decaying harbour had been written many, many times previously, and this, mostly by people with academic qualifications or huge strings of letters after their names. Adding my own non-qualified version to this was hardly something that could be described, even vaguely, as interesting harbour information.
Stalemate? Not quite!

When the names Voss and 'Tilikum' were recently mentioned in association with this Oamaru Harbour awareness newsletter my thoughts went back a century or so to when Captain J.C.Voss, during his world voyaging in a thirty-eight foot (11.58 metres) dug out Indian canoe, hewn from one log of North American Red Cedar, called at the port of Oamaru in this unusaul three-masted vessel he had christened 'Tilikum', a Native Indian name meaning "Friend".

This unique harbour event apparently went unnoticed by the local papers; the Otago Witness printed his March 1903 arrival in Dunedin Harbour, even published a photo of this unusual craft but Oamaru papers it appears simply ignored his arrival from the Otago Harbour and subsequent departure a few days later for Lyttleton, via the port of Timaru.

Voss an expert in the use of a sea anchor in heavy weather, carried on to complete his 'Tilikum' voyage that had started in Victoria, British Columbia in 1901 and concluded three years and three months later in London, England after sailing forty thousand miles across the world's oceans.
Venturesome Voyages indeed.
Graeme Ferris

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Coracle Race Views

Not so innocent bystanding? Ken Mitchell ponders the competition: Murray Dernehl and his craft.(top picture)

They're off! Lead teams at the inaugaral coracle race meeting battle for position.
(bottom picture)

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Monday, January 22, 2007


Welcome to the first edition of the Coracle Oracle, The Friendly Bay Chronicle. This is your place to discover and share in activities, events and heritage of the Oamaru harbour area of New Zealand.

The Coracle Oracle is a free monthly, issued in print and online. The print version is available from the Oamaru Information Centre. Look for it too in places of interest around the harbour. The online version has its first home on the Internet at http://www.coracleoracle/

This issue features the First Oamaru Coracle Race. A fleet of little boats, most made quickly from sticks and canvas, took to the water. Over 300 people came along to share the day.

Future issues will report highlight events, harbour people, places, life and work. Try out the maritime knots and recipes each month.

The Coracle Oracle is for everyone interested in our harbour life, visitors, residents, mariners and landlubbers, the active and the laid back. The supporting Internet sites give more detailed and specialised information, especially about historic craft and harbour features, as well as past issues.

Having a paper about the harbour alone is an innovation. Our harbour and its community are both small, but at times interest is intense. The big issues about the harbour make it into the regular press. Between the dramas the day to day activity around the harbour continues. People make their livelihoods there; for some it is their special place; other come to seek out attractions. All this we have in common with any other small town harbour. This doesn't make our harbour any less significant but instead joins us to communities of harbour people around the world.

Our harbour and its community are unique. The coracle event is the most recent instance of special things taking place here; building on a history of activity than binds people to the place, the community and the water. This event with its emphasis on a simple type of ancient craft with no New Zealand tradition associated with its use may seem of out of place, yet on the day one could not help but feel it was the most appropriate thing imaginable to occur in Friendly Bay and the times we live in.

Coracles Go Down in History at Inaugural Race

Palmerston man Gavin Cox has a new claim to fame.
His name is to go down in the annals of coracle history as the very first winner of the Southern Hemisphere's inaugural coracle race, held at Oamaru Harbour on December 2, 2006.
Before last Saturday's event he was just the guy who works at Puketapu Timber.
After a ferocious battle against the elements and 16 other determined paddlers of the home-built prehistoric watercraft, Gavin left Oamaru a changed man.

Only four or five entrants managed to finish the course out of a field of 16 spectacular coracular entries of varied shade, hue and fashion.
Paddlers pictured on the day included Mike Lillian (left), David Kilgour, and Gem (centre, looking at camera).

The unique community event was organised by locals John Baster and Lee-Ann Scotti, whose efforts in the lead-up to the race included giving detailed instructions to people fashioning their own coracles, and whipping up enthusiasm among the townsfolk for a spectator sport the like of which they had never before encountered.

Gavin was the first back to Friendly Bay after negotiating a strong northeasterly wind, tangles of seaweed and two strident jets of cold seawater being sprayed directly onto the race by the Waitaki District Rural Fire Authority.
He said his coracle, Little Ted, took three attempts to build using all the materials he could muster to make it watertight. Deciding on a name for it didn't take long. Ted was Gavin's childhood nickname.
"It is because my uncle built a boat in Britain called Super Ted and it was named after me."

John and Lee-Ann were thrilled with the community response engendered by the coracle race and plan to release a calendar to celebrate the event.


Red Shed

Drizzle brought an
early dusk
the steam crane rusts
these past 50 years

Like mechanical toys
under the red iron shed
penguins are whirring
tourists flit to
to view the blue dusk waddle

home to unregulated dwellings
apple box shacks
indifferent to blood
running rusty red
god is dead.
the colour of the
harbour master's shed.

by Lindsay Murray

Local Search and Rescue Need Another Sea Advisor

There is room for back-up in the local search and rescue service.

North Otago Search and Rescue is making do with one sea advisor in Moeraki and the help of an Oamaru fisherman for emergency calls off the North Otago coast.

NOSAR chairman and the area's only official sea advisor, John McLellan, says the system in place for dealing with emergency calls at sea is adequate although there is room for improvement.

Any emergency sea calls go to the police, who in turn contact him to get specific advice on weather conditions, ocean swell and locations for search and rescue missions.

John is an ex-naval man and keeps a keen eye on the sea from his base on the Moeraki waterfront, where he also receives and transmits the latest weather reports for boaties.

Although he would like to see another sea advisor appointed to ensure better coverage in emergencies, he is reasonably content with the current handling of emergency calls.

He and NOSAR are grateful for Oamaru charter fisherman Ted Boraman's help should they need it further north along the coast for searches or other help at short notice.

(by Red Hurring)

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Hooker's Sealion Eats Out

Regular coastwatcher Nigel Yates, of Moeraki, caught sight of this rare Hooker's sealion last winter. It was attracted by the smell of fish being filleted and ate a pile of fish frames, apparently, after chasing the fisherman supplying them.

(by Red Hurring)

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Knot # 1

Originally used to tie off the ends of reef points when shortening sail. It can be untied under tension by pulling on one end and capsizing the knot. The simple way to remember how to tie a reef knot is: left over right and under, right over left and under.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Seafood Recipe

Fish Pie
3 cups mashed potatoes
1 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp flour
1 cup milk
500g smoked fish, flaked
or 425g can tuna, drained & flaked
3 hard-boiled eggs, chopped
2 Tbsp parsley, chopped
2 Tbsp capers

Line a 20cm pie dish with half the potatoes. Heat butter in saucepan. Stir in flour and cook until frothy. Gradually add milk, stirring constantly until sauce boils and thickens. Remove from heat. Add fish, parsley, eggs and capers. Pour this mixture into lined pie dish. Cover with remaining potato.
Cook at 180 deg C for 25 mins or until golden.
(by Scotti)

Bottled Mullet

Here's a way to process all those mullet you're hauling out of Oamaru harbour and the Kakanui River estuary. This is a recipe tried and true by Wayne Hollows.

3 mullet
1 dessertspoon vinegar
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tablespoon olive oil (optional) per half agee jar

To scale mullet, hold fish in your `off' hand and cut through back of head till the spine is severed, then rip off the head. This will pull out most of gut. Then clear out rest of gut and blood line with your finger and remove tail.

Take a 1/2 agee jar, measure against fish and cut heavy end to depth of jar.
Insert tail end inside cavity, place vertically in jar, to fit three good-sized fish per jar or four small.

Add 1 dessert sp vinegar and 1/2 tsp salt ( I find a spoon of olive oil added is nice, but there's some concern about it being de-natured with the length of heating required.)
Lightly boil for four-and-half hours' time to soften bones.

Beware of bouncing jars which tend to break. Keep them off the bottom of the pot with wire.
I have a big pot in two layers of seven jars with newspaper placed between jars.

This is a staple for my lunches, nice used as you would tuna or salmon, with cucumber and pepper in sandwiches. I love it with salad and a balsamic-based dressing.