Memories of BLACK BOATS – David Wistrand

These are a collection of memories from Able Radio Operator David Wistrand of his time on HMNZS HAKU P3565.

I joined HMNZS Haku in January 1967 – Four of us ex the home delivery voyage of HMNZS Santon from Singapore to the UK (returned in December 1966) were subsequently posted in the New Year to Haku. They were:

Coxswain PO Regulator Stan Harper
POME Egbert Humphries (Humphreys?)
Able Seaman Tom Dooley
And myself

The others on board were:

Lt (RNZNVR) Brian Allpress
Able Seaman Barry Sadgrove
ME 1 Shorty Kane
EM1 Had just posted off and a new one arrived who lasted a trip to Tauranga and back and then got replaced as well.

(in remembering these names the vision blurs so don’t take it as gospel)

If I remember rightly sailed in the next few days for 1967 Waitangi Day celebration which was spent ferrying people around between various ships and places for the weekend. This was followed by a fishery patrol around to the West Coast, to Onehunga at least, but remember at one time being in New Plymouth and poking our nose into Patea.

I left in August the same year. Volunteered to do an EW Conversion Course to avoid the Commodores inspection but the timing was out so did the inspection anyway and then the course.

Take it you have the radio fit out etc so wont go into that but we used to monitor Single Operator periods on the RNZN Morse broadcast WV’s 0800 to 1000 then 1200 to 1400 then 1600 to 1800 and 2000 to 2200. On the Haku I would come off the last sked and take the wheel until 2359.

Events I remember.

  • In the Bay of Plenty the CO was rowed ashore at Whale Island to observe FFV activity. We spied him waving frantically so the dinghy was rowed ashore to pick him up and Haku raced out to intercept the FFV inside NZ’s 3 miles zone. The arrest was made and plans to enter Whakatane were made but this turned out to be unsafe due to weather and instead entered Tauranga escorting the FFV. From what I can gather the law was in such a state it was unworkable – but in the end the dory and catch were confiscated. Some months later we were sailing out of Wellington and it was rough as guts and I received a signal in (cannot remember to code Britex?) but it was a one time pad book code that was never used. I had done it once under basic training so took a while to sort out and it said “Well Done” the CO from the NZ Naval Board – The CO was pleased but was painful at the time.
  • It wasn’t long after that we were in the Bay of Islands again and it was arranged we take an ex UK Army General and another hanger on for a trip around the Bay of Islands. Got to the hole in the wall at Piercy Island and it was decided to give it a go. Bad luck caught a wave half way through and smashed the port bow into the rocks. Came out the other side with a 2 foot square hole above the waterline. We made a patch of canvas and tacked it on, painted it black with a white strip to match the rest of the boat and motored into Opua for repairs. A shipwright came up from Auckland and put a temporary repair in place, the CO got the local reporter drunk and nothing more was ever heard of it.
  • Another time we were alongside in Russell for the night and in the morning switched the radio on for the sked and it wouldn’t work. CO who was an ex RNZNVR Radio Operator said have a look and spot the obvious, so pulled the radio out and poked around and saw a valve that wasn’t glowing and said we needed a replacement. Next day one arrived via NZ Road Services but before I plugged it in, flashed up the radio again and it worked. Reported that the replacement valve was the right one, pat on the back and away we went.
  • Were in Bluff when decimal currency changed sailed for Stewart Island on the day before and come back a few days later and it was all over. Delivered DOC staff around two or three sites. Went dear hunting (of which I had done some) with the 303 onboard. Took a shot at one bounding through the scrub and was promptly relieved of the rifle. Only other event was bouncing on the bottom of some bay in the south of the island, just a bounce but time to leave. In Half Moon Bay went to the pub with a transistor radio I could hear the WV Broadcast on (MCW) but forgot my pen so had to borrow one from the barman (no signals anyway)
  • Same trip we were in Bluff and the lads went to a local dance. Wall to wall women and no blokes (or very few) so we kept dancing with the prettier ones each time but sadly got pissed again and left alone. Next morning had hangovers like hell so when the weather forecast came through added some height to the waves and knots to the winds which made it dodgy to sail so stayed another day.
  • New Plymouth ashore again drinking the cocktail of the moment “Chocolate Soldiers: (tia maria, brandy and orange in equal parts) sailed in the morning, let go the ropes and vomited all over the stern. Those were the days.
  • Also remember being alongside in Onehunga so got dressed in our number 8’s tiddly while polo neck jersey’s and sea boats and went in Queen Street in Auckland and hung out being big time sailors from the ML’s and impressing the young sailors who were ashore in regular uniform. Also in Onehunga we were loafing around in the forward cabin playing cards when the CO came on board ropeable. He had spied a beer bottle floating down past the ship and thought we had been drinking and had thrown it out the porthole. Took him a while to settle down and in the end was quite happy we were just loafing.
  • Were in Opua again and four of us went for a beer (in Kawakawa) from the pub ended up in a farmhouse miles away at a party. Sometime in the night Stan Harper arrived, he had tracked us down from the pub to the farm. The CO had been phoned and told we had to get a signal of ship shore. It was in code again. So couldn’t raise anyone along side so sailed and eventually received the signal and got it decoded and it was about a Russian Support vessel in the Antarctica . Never did find out who the PO of the Watch was in the Comcen in Auckland who was a dick.
  • Would like to recognise Stan Harper as a gentleman coxswain. When we decommissioned Santon I was the postman with the seven pound postie fund. Tried to return it but no one wanted it back so in the end one of the AB’s had a birthday (Portsmouth) so spent the seven pounds on a lunchtime beer for us all. Got back onboard and the Subby want the money. Explained the circumstance and was told to see if I could borrow it or was for the high jump. No one had any money which was why it was spend in the first place but Stan heard and loaned me the money which I paid when we got home.
  • Nelson – Forget what happened but hung over again the CO was spitting tacks so decided to sail and teach the crew a lesson about drinking to excess. Believe his plan was to get us sick as dogs etc. Guess who was the only one to get sea sick, but by the next morning was a nice day and all was forgiven.

If you want to read more Salty Dits on the ML’s see Books Sailors have Written under the Adverts Tab – Salty Dits by Gerry Wright.

What has become of some of these naval vessels – click on images to enlarge.

Tamure at Greenhithe

Tarapunga at Picton

Aotearoa at Northland

Haku at Bayswater

Kuparu at Helensville

31 Responses to Memories of BLACK BOATS – David Wistrand

  1. Pat Coghlan says:

    Dave you and I were in the same cabin for a while on the 3rd floor of the “New Block”. I was the EM on “Maroro” and we were sent up from Auckland to escort “Haku” back to Devonport. We had a really rough trip up and I remember doing a stint on the wheel and waves breaking over the flying bridge. We had to wait for really calm weather before we could sail back, which resulted in a few days of refreshment at the Duke of Marlborough. We got back to Devonport alright and life went on. I recall Mike Cooney was your EM on “Haku”. Our crew were Lt. George Cole, P.O. “Lofty”Kenyon, POME McPherson, RO “Fronty” McKenzie, ME Russell Lean, ME Huk Hooper, AB Johnny Porritt and AB G.A.Smith. Great times.

  2. Jim Dell says:

    On Endeavour in Lyttelton, between trips to the Antarctic, I was called upon to be the radio op on the Reserve boat – Parore. A man had fallen overboard off the Inter-island Ferry, Wahine, shortly after sailing from Lyttelton and we were going out to look for him. I set watch on 2182kHz on the 618/CAS (no B40 on there at that stage). What immediately struck me was the overpowering stench of the diesel. The wireless shack was right behind the engine room. As we cleared the heads, Parore ploughed into heavy seas and I must have been seasick at least once every half hour. As a sense of “what have I done to deserve this” prevailed over me, I discovered that I had failed to secure the lock on the dial of the CAS. Consequently, I missed our recall to Port by some hours as the receiver had wandered off frequency by a few degrees. This had been caused by the shuddering and vibrations within the boat and a trap for a young sparker that had never been on MLs before. As Parore finally returned to calmer waters, I uncurled myself from the foetal position on the deck of the W/T office and cleaned up the mess. I then staggered out to the after end of the boat and was promptly handed a large glass of “squirt” by the Coxwain – a grizzly, 3-badged, killick seaman and a Reservist to boot! I must confess that I felt a trifle embarrassed about being seasick in front of these part timers, but as the contents of the squirt glass diminished, I found myself no longer caring what anyone thought!

    The irony of all this was that no-one had fallen overboard at all. The passenger was found not long after in his bunk suffering from sea-sickness! The swine – I hope he suffered twice as much as I did….

  3. Dave Wistrand says:

    Pat – Yes I remember but must admit the details of getting back to Auckland escaped me, thought we just sailed on back but thanks for rescuing us and yes you are right about Mike Cooney (get a memory jump) every now and again. If I recall you become a boy in blue and came onboard Otago (?) in Wellington I think

    • Pat Coghlan says:

      Yes Dave I had 23 years in the Police and served with a lot of other ex RNZN guys of our vintage, including quite a few Communicators. The reason we had to escort you guys back to Auckland, in calm weather, was just in case the temporary repairs didn’t last the distance. Yes – I think I did visit “Otago” in Wellington, but will hide behind that old adage – “what happens on tour – stays on tour”. Regards to Waipu.

  4. Heather & Keith says:

    Hey everyone – we are the very proud owners of Paea… and love reading all the stories of life on the ML’s…. our girl proudly cruises around Auckland Harbour and is quite an icon. She is still painted grey with her number P3552 proudly portrayed on the side.

    • Murray Nash says:

      Had a brief posting to Paea once to relieve, I think, Gunther Henman. Picked her up in Napier and remember going ashore in Whangarei in polar neck jersey etc.. very spunky or so we thought. Met a girl which was nice but got a shock when she showed up next morning to see us off – IN HER GUIDE UNIFORM!

  5. Heather & Keith says:

    We bought our girl from Picton at the end of 2008 and cruised her up the East Coast – what a great trip we had.

  6. Dodger says:

    Oh boy – I was the sparker on Paea when Pull-through Lloyd ran us aground on Great Barrier Island — we had to interrupt a roaring party on Maroro and Haku to get their help (Skin Porteous and Eddie Tottman) – the buggers were more interested in getting hold of our squirt than manning the pumps hehe !!! We ended up running it up on the beach to stop from sinking — my distress call to North Head was probably my best drop of morse ever.

    • Heather & Keith says:

      Any piccies you have of our girl in her hey day would be really great…. I will see if I can post some here (not sure how)… as she’s looking now

    • Murray Nash says:

      Skin Porteous and Eddie Tottman.. now there is a couple of names I remember very well.. Used to go on many a ‘shore run’ with Eddie in my MK1 zephyr. Eddie might remember the night we broke into North Head perhaps?.. now, that is another story.

  7. gunther says:

    i always wondered who relieved me when i had cronick seasickness on that one and only official posting to an m.l..look what i missed out on..

  8. Bruce Harwood says:

    Dodger I remember that well, I think you were put onto Paea when Taranaki blew its boiler after its half life refit in the late 60’s.
    I spent a memorable year on Paea in the early 70’s crash drafted from North Head. One trip right down to Bluff for the Oyster season was one to remember. On the way a trip from hell from Napier to Wellington straight into a good Southerly. Spent 2 weeks in Wellington getting repaired.
    I have a few photos that I can post once I get them into a soft copy. Some following Pete Brough (Coxn) misjudging the ML jetty and hitting bow first. He got a bollocking for that as the Skipper (Peter McHaffie) wasnt onboard at the time.

  9. Murray Nash says:

    Also remember when posted to North Head that we used to get the call to act as radio operator on one of the ML’s when it was away for the weekend near Colville Channel for a weekend “exped”.. which actually was a fishing trip for a number of PO’s etc.. what the radio operator was really needed for was to get phone calls to all the wives etc to tell them what time we were expecting to be alongside, and what the catch was like.. wonder if that sort of carry on still happens in todays navy.

  10. gunther says:

    ref the fishing trips around the gulf, yes did a few of those, thank god they were on loverly wind free days, sea like a mill pond..and yes the calls to wives informing them when and where to pick up their hubbies.. this all happened when we had a surplus of sparkers , and they were all at northhead trying to be busy..i dont think it ever happened again..(the surplus of sparkers that is) sam tilton was the rs in charge of the port wireless..we were all part of his parks and gardens work party.the trees he planted around northhead, not one of them survived, all died the moment we stopped watering them..those were the days..

  11. gunther says:

    does anyone know of a bruce harwood. sounds like a bit of an o.d.???

  12. Dodger says:

    Bruce your right, the whole crew came from Taranaki while she was in dry dock… we had a lot of fun but jeez a couple of times in roughers I had the wind up mate — scared the livin bejeezus out me !! :-} Sitting in the radio shack in roughers while the diesel fumes came through the bulkhead was not my idea of a good time.

  13. Ken Beattie says:

    Reading all those last comments makes me feel like a granddaddy….was on Haku
    about 63/64…now thats a while back. Read Gerrys book, had a great crew those
    days, still think Haku was best boat in the fleet. Did have some hairy trips down to
    Bluff and around the coast, mainly coming up the West Coast of the South Island,
    needed a couple of “squirts” to keep ur sanity. All in all I had a great 2 yearsaboard
    Haku with a great bunch to work with.

  14. Lewin (Lou) Hocken says:

    Your various feedbacks, bring back mem0ries… I spent time mid 60’s as sparker on Paea and Mako…. Will have to go back through my albums to remind myself of all the dates and events… but we did what I understand was the last circumnavigation of the South Island with a 12 cylinder (Foden) ML. Spent a week in Doubtful sound, totally Bar bound….(Norm Brooks stoker… Dave Wright Skipper …. these names come to mind). Lou

  15. Heather & Keith says:

    Does anyone know how to get in touch with Peter Brough as I come across a heap of his photos of the ML’s and with owning Paea… I have been collecting photos of the boats and stories too – especially on ours…. if anyone can help, or has photos that can publish on line, would love to see and hear.

  16. Paea P3552 (Heather & Keith) says:

    Had some of the Ngapona Old Salts on our girl earlier in April – a great weekend and the Navy rum flowed well!!!!!!

  17. Jim Dell says:

    I have it at home. Normal routine is for the person asking, to send email address which would then be forwarded on to person being sought. If you would like to contact me at I will pass it on to Bruffy.

  18. John Kane says:

    Hi Wis,
    I think you got the first bit wrong. I cant remember Dools being on Santon, but I was.

    Shorty Kane

  19. Dennis O'Rourke says:

    Just read the comments on MLs. I got a ‘pierhead jump’ onto PAEA from OTAGO as the ML’s sparker had fallen in a drop of roughers and injured a couple of ribs. I think this would have been in early ’64 or thereabouts. I had not that long got back onboard after a rather boozey night ashore in Dunedin so was not that excited about the exercise. PAEA was on a whale marking / fishery protection trip down the coast of the South Island. On leaving the harbour I was on the quarterdeck (or what passed for it) to dip the ensign as we passed OTAGO. Very shortly after that I was seasick! I think for the first and only time I was in the Navy! I put that down to the previous over-imbibing the night before. The whale marking project involved sighting a whale, coming alongside same and firing a metal dart via a shotgun into the whale (apparently just into the blubber under the skin – was advised this didn’t hurt said whale?). The dart was inscribed with the details of the US Research Laboratory conducting the survey with instructions to forward the dart and details of the whale, where caught etc. This was in the days when whale hunting in the Southern Ocean was not just confined to the Japanese. On the first encounter with a whale I was on the wheel and promptly proved absolutely useless as a helmsman – ran into the whale – the Skipper was not impressed! Next thing I was perched atop the mast doing my ‘There she blows’ bit. It was quite memorable really – some of the whales were bigger than the boat! Towards the end of the trip we got weatherbound in Port Pegasus at Stewart Island for a couple of days. We had just about run out of food so we swapped rum for fish with a couple of fishing boats who were also forced in by the weather. Finally got into Bluff to fuel and provision. I ashore went to get the mail – the Sparker was the Postie. The Skipper had gone off to visit the Mayor and when I got back there was nobody aboard. I found them in the nearest pub which was where the Skipper found us all when he wanted us to set sail – I can recall that he was not impressed! Back up the coast and met up with the Otago again where I rejoined the big ships Navy. The Sparker on PAEA was also the Captain’s Steward as I recall – supposed to make his bunk and all that – though I can’t recall ever doing that. I do recall having to take his dinner to him and dropping it on the deck en-route. Scooped it back on the plate and rearranged it nicely and he didn’t notice the difference. Didn’t get sick either! An interesting interlude in my Naval career (for what it was) …..

    • John Bullock says:

      Ditto Dennis on some of your experiences…. I always remember my first trip away from Devonport on the Mako heading for Bluff in company with Manga. I enjoyed the “5-finger spread” before I even got across the Hauraki Gulf. Then as a Sparker had to endure sucking in the diesel fumes from the twin 12-cylinder Foden donks in the radio shack, then racing up the aft ladder to have a spew, but not making the guard rail, spreading your gutz over the Skippers canopy instead. I remember one time I was seen by the coxswain George Frost, he bleated like hell because all the “carrots and things” from my gutz created a mess. This I could not understand because the next “Greenie”, which was regular every few seconds would wash the aft section clean again… and so it went on! I never made the skippers bunk or cleaned his ablutions, just attended to his meals. From time-to-time he might ask me to do things. I do not think my Skipper liked me too much because in my “Micky-Ducks” he wrote a statement saying “he reckoned I thought the Navy owed me something”…. god knows what! There was one thing that used to anoy me on the Black Boats was when you were “Cooks” alongside somewhere. I would always ask who is going to be back for the evening nosh. I would have cooked what I considered a reasonable meal in the old oil-burner, then none of the troops fronted! Pub meals were much better I guess! That scenario was the norm no matter who was the duty cook. There were many other happenings, enjoyable and negative, but truly a great experience.

  20. Henri says:

    Some damn great memories in these comments having served on Mako and Paea in the early 60’s myself. Doing the Bluff (the first excursion south) trip and returning home with the aft locker full of about 6 sacks of oysters that had faithfully had buckets of water poured over them 3 or 4 times a day. Leaving Lyttleton for Napier and getting up the coast and having to turn back due weather, and again the next day, and I think perhaps a further 3rd attempt, but in the end the pervading stench from the aft locker became too much and sacks of oysters were returned to the deep alongside the wharf in Lyttleton, much to the disgust of some watching wharfies. Also remember trying to send signal to announce “arrived Lyttleton” while being tied up. Skipper wouldn’t allow me ashore to ring message thru after our time in Bluff because our phone bill was astronomical, So many hours later, having had that bang bang bang one cylinder diesel generator running I finally managed to raise an RN shipshore in Malta on 12 m/cs GYX from memory. Propogation was not great from Lyttleton. The best memories were of lifting the odd cray pot for a feed, and sending down a large longneck DB. The comments from cray boats in Bluff were amazing as you could only get Speights in the deep south, and until the locals realised who was sending down DB was a total delight.

  21. John Granville says:

    Good to read the ML dits. I was posted to Haku i/c Sept 70 on return from SE Asia in Taranaki and enjoyed (mostly) 14 months onboard. It had no CO so crew were very pleased when I joined and was able to restock beer and get to sea. unfortunately my order of beer was double intended amount – cartons of 2 dozen instead of dozens so when we sailed I had no space in my cabin or heads aft. Somehow the beer was still all drunk in a normal patrol away! This could be explained by the crew i.e. Coxn Dave Hollis, POME Gil Pickens and if I have it right MEs Oz McKinley & Rasmussen, ABs Irk Vaudrey & Stew Robertson, RO ‘Speed’ hamilton and new EM ?? Later Coxns included ‘Pugwash ? and John Stables,. Excuse my memory lapses. many adventures – perhaps for Gerry Wrights next book – ‘Surfing in Cook Strait’, crossing the bar and spending few days at Wairoa for Jaycees celebrations, craypot collection in Whangarei, pig BBQ in Whitianga, One Ton Cup committee boat, SAS to Whangamata, ‘barbound’ in Tutakaka, crewing Manga for a day – aground at Home/Station? Bay. If any of the crew read this &remember they can provide additional details perhaps!!!

  22. rRoss Sanson says:

    Good to hear from my old classmate Dennis O,Rourke and to add that I have very limited Black Boart experience, except one memorable weekend when I joined Olphert for a trip Wellington to Picton and return The trip across the strait was as rough as, and I lost my lunch ,breakfast and dinner from the night before. Was also the cook and did not enjoy preparing dinner between the heaves. Great to see some familiar names again. My very best wishes to all. 73s Ross Sanson

  23. Nigel spiby says:

    Haku is now a floating wreck in Henderson creek. Thieves have stripped her down. Only thing left is the engines.

  24. Heather & Keith says:

    Haku has now been scrapped.

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