New tug 'Taiaroa' hard at work

Otago heads up the harbour in dawn light.
Otago heads up the harbour in dawn light.
Port Otago engineer Richard Ogier starts engines on  Taiaroa.
Port Otago engineer Richard Ogier starts engines on Taiaroa.
Port Otago linesmen tie up the container ship Hansa Victory.
Port Otago linesmen tie up the container ship Hansa Victory.
Port Otago chief pilot Hugh Marshall concentrates on his second task for the morning, the cruise...
Port Otago chief pilot Hugh Marshall concentrates on his second task for the morning, the cruise ship Dawn Princess.
Taiaroa enters the upper harbour.
Taiaroa enters the upper harbour.

On a calm dawn in Otago Harbour, reporter Alastair Lynn and ODT photographer Stephen Jaquiery took a first close-up look at Dunedin's new tug, Taiaroa, yesterday.

It's 6.30 on a mild Dunedin morning. The sun is a thin golden line on the horizon, and a light breeze is sweeping through Otago Harbour.

While most people are still asleep, or preparing their breakfast with bleary eyes, the crew of Port Otago's new tug Taiaroa is hard at work.

The sturdy tug cuts through the water like a scythe as it surges out of Port Chalmers towards its second job of the day.

Each of the two 16-cylinder Caterpillar engines produces 4700 horsepower, which propel the 250-tonne tug through its daily duties, and yet it is quiet, nimble and sharp.

Today, Taiaroa is crewed by chief pilot Hugh Marshall, engineer Richard Ogier, general boat operator trainee Kim Cormack and deckhand Steve Schofield.

Everybody understands their role and the four perform with an efficiency that matches the well-oiled machine they operate.

Taiaroa arrived in Port Chalmers three months ago following a 40-day delivery voyage from Vietnam.

The $11 million tug was bought by Port Otago to replace the ageing Rangi and Karetai.

The tug now plies the harbour, working with the remaining older tug boat, Otago.

''The thing's a wee beast,'' Mr Cormack said.

''It's much better equipped compared to anything we've had. It's built for the next generation of ships.''

The daily routine of a Port Otago tug involves ferrying container and cruise ships through the narrow Otago Harbour shipping lane.

Some days, there are no ships; some days, there can be up to eight.

With two ships arriving at port, ''today is a busy morning'' for Mr Marshall.

He has been operating tug boats in the harbour for more than 20 years.

''The channel hasn't changed over the years,'' he said.

''The ships are getting bigger all the time.''

These days, the tugs at Port Otago are leading in ships as long as 295m and weighing about 60,000 tonnes.

With the container ship Hansa Victory safely moored in Port Chalmers, the next target is the approaching cruise ship Dawn Princess.

Calmly operating the navigation system, Mr Marshall makes subtle movements with the joysticks to alter the tug's course.

As the cruise ship nears Billing Point, the tug is quickly spun 180 degrees.

Taiaroa is eased up to the side of the ship and the towline is neatly secured by the deckhand. At the same time, the tug Otago moves to the stern of the ship and it is secured.

Arriving at Port Chalmers, the difficult manoeuvring begins. Dawn Princess must be turned 180 degrees to slide neatly into the port.

Crew on the tug boats and the cruise ship communicate with each other to begin the turn.

A series of manoeuvres to push and pull begins, with both tugs flitting and darting in unison.

Mr Marshall is ever on guard, repeating orders over the radio and making small adjustments to his course.

The cruise ship completes the turn and is nudged into place, and dock workers scramble to make it secure.

Just before 8am, Dawn Princess is safely in port and the job is done.

Taiaroa returns to the docks, a job well done, and yet, the day has only begun.

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