Lady of the Lake getting check-up

Gough Bros fitter Allan Ledington, of Invercargill, checks the water pumps. Photos by James Beech.
Gough Bros fitter Allan Ledington, of Invercargill, checks the water pumps. Photos by James Beech.
Real Journeys company engineer Brian Humphrey, of Te Anau.
Real Journeys company engineer Brian Humphrey, of Te Anau.
Real Journeys stokers (from left) Matt Scurr, Oliver Neville and Harry Tompkins inspect the steam...
Real Journeys stokers (from left) Matt Scurr, Oliver Neville and Harry Tompkins inspect the steam fittings on the promenade deck turned workshop.

After another year of clocking up 40,000km of icy water between Steamer Wharf and Walter Peak, the normally prim and proper Edwardian ''Lady of the Lake'' is letting it all hang out. James Beech reports.

The sound of banging and whirring tools has temporarily replaced tinkling sing-a-long melodies from the piano and the echoing blast from the steam whistle while the TSS Earnslaw undergoes her inwater survey.

While less extensive and expensive than the slipway survey at Kelvin Heights, done on alternate years, every survey of the 101-year-old iron maiden is a challenge which calls for the utmost ingenuity and skill from as many as 20 Real Journeys and Gough Bros specialists.

Behind safety fences, equipment of all shapes, sizes and ages, along with removed corroded metal, cables and more tools spill out from the Earnslaw on to the wharf.

Cheerful staff, covered head to toe in oil, grease and coal dust, inspect every piece of the engine room and work on countless components of machinery in the makeshift workshop on the promenade deck.

Real Journeys company engineer Brian Humphrey, of Te Anau, said the main project of this survey involved the recladding of the large coal bunkers on port and starboard sides of the steamer. The bunkers have corroded after 30 years of use.

''We're taking the opportunity of survey to ensure the components that control the fires are working as they should,'' he said.

''We're working with the supplier of coal on the West Coast to ensure the coal quality is consistent.

''We're enlisting combustion advisers and feeding back to the Otago Regional Council and the community all our processes which we hope will see the Earnslaw's emissions being the best that can be achieved for a vessel of this age.''

Passengers may experience a smoother cruise in future, thanks to the replacement of 2.5 tonnes, or 200m, of chain with 150m of Dyneema rope and 50m of chain, for the anchor at the bow.

The new rope has a 20% greater breaking strain, but 10% of the weight of its historical predecessor. The remaining 150m of original chain will be kept in storage in Te Anau until another use is found for it, Mr Humphrey said.

Cyclical inspections on the engine, boilers and auxiliary equipment also began on June 3 and work is expected to continue for an intensive five weeks.

The $450,000 worth of survey work and sea trials must be passed by inspectors from SGS Marine Services, before the Earnslaw is returned to service in early July.

''It's very difficult and expensive to maintain a vessel of this historic nature, but we're committed to looking after her,'' Mr Humphrey said.

Asked if the Earnslaw will still be operating when her 200th anniversary rolls around, Mr Humphrey said: ''That's how we see it; why shouldn't she? We can make all her components.''

Add a Comment

Our journalists are your neighbours

We are the South's eyes and ears in crucial council meetings, at court hearings, on the sidelines of sporting events and on the frontline of breaking news.

As our region faces uncharted waters in the wake of a global pandemic, Otago Daily Times continues to bring you local stories that matter.

We employ local journalists and photographers to tell your stories, as other outlets cut local coverage in favour of stories told out of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

You can help us continue to bring you local news you can trust by becoming a supporter.

Become a Supporter