Earnslaw undergoes annual health check

 TSS Earnslaw on the slipway  at  Kelvin Peninsula. Photos: Joshua Walton
TSS Earnslaw on the slipway at Kelvin Peninsula. Photos: Joshua Walton
Contractors fit  the  new cafe/bar on the  promenade deck.
Contractors fit the new cafe/bar on the promenade deck.
Steam boiler taken from the original paddle steamer Antrim.
Steam boiler taken from the original paddle steamer Antrim.
Coal storage space and the winch used to pull the ship  from the lake.
Coal storage space and the winch used to pull the ship from the lake.

Every year the TSS Earnslaw is winched out of Lake Wakatipu on to a slipway on  Kelvin Peninsula for routine maintenance. Queenstown reporter Josh Walton caught up with the team in charge of this year’s five-week survey to talk about the historic steamship, its new features and how it is constantly evolving. 

A team of more than 20 contractors and engineers are halfway through a challenging maintenance project to make a famous 105-year-old vessel shipshape.

The TSS Earnslaw was winched out of Lake Wakatipu  on to its Kelvin Peninsula slipway  at the beginning of this month for her annual survey, which is expected to be completed in just over two weeks.

The team includes electricians, welders, plumbers, engineers and painters, who have travelled to the slipway from around the country to help service the historic steamship.

To winch the 400-tonne ship up the slipway, the crew put the cradle in the water, before captain Peter Greer ensured the ship was lined up correctly and ready to enter the slipway. The old steam boiler and engine from the original Paddle Steamer Antrim are still used to winch the 105-year-old ship from the lake.

The dated engine, which was taken from the Antrim in 1922, is being re-certified as part of the ship’s annual survey.

Chief engineer Peter Dorrington said: "The main challenge is the short time we can allow the vessel not to be in operation and the large amount of work we have to do in that time.

Chris Fleck
Chris Fleck
"With this type of vehicle, quite often you don’t know the extent of the stuff that needs doing.

"Once you get into the work, you find it is more complex.

"We always think on a long-term basis. A lot of what we do is part of a jigsaw puzzle that lasts decades."

While the Earnslaw is out of action for the five-week maintenance project, visitors are being taken to Walter Peak on the Fiordlander boat instead.

Real Journeys operates one-and-a-half-hour cruises on board the Earnslaw across the picturesque lake, offering visitors the chance to see Queenstown’s beautiful surroundings from the water.

The ship is being kitted out with new generators, tanks to hold its wastewater, pumping systems and new lifeboats.

Her engines are being rebuilt after being stripped down by the team, and the boiler is being revamped and serviced to make sure it is up to scratch for the next year.

One of the major new additions to the coal-fired ship will be a cafe located on the promenade deck. The deck once had a canvas roof and no windows. On occasion, it was even used to hold livestock  such as sheep.

Foreman supervisor Malcolm Butler said the installation of the new cafe/bar would be a welcome addition to the ship.

"The floor has been a challenge with the different canvas to sort out. There are no straight lines to follow.

"Everything is curved and up and down, especially with a 100-plus year-old deck.

"It is going to be a lot more user-friendly and a lot better than the last one."

Corroded steel is replaced during the survey period and routine maintenance work is carried out on the ship’s hull.

Real Journeys’ asset and engineering manager Chris Fleck said the ship’s lifespan was "unlimited" as long as the team monitors levels of corrosion and ensures the engine and boiler are in good order.

"It’s not like a vessel in the sea, where it is continuously pounded by waves, so we are fairly fortunate.

"The ship goes through an evolution. But one of the things we have to be really conscious of is not changing its historical significance."

He said this was the first time the team  had been able to use 3-D mapping technology to help with the process of planning and designing new features.

Mr Fleck said they did not publicise the day the vessel is winched out of the lake, but about 25 enthusiasts turned up to watch the spectacle.

It will be put back in the water for a trial run once the work is complete and the team will check everything is in working order.

The ship will then be signed-off, ready   to ply  the lake for another year.

Paul Norris, director of operations at Real Journeys, said it was "fantastic to see what the boat has done last summer" and the level of planning that goes into the maintenance work.

"It gives you a lot of confidence and pride that when the boat is back in the water she will be fit for purpose and ready to go for another 12 months.

"It is a vessel that the company has a lot of passion and pride in. It is so important — not only for our company but for New Zealand tourism."

The maintenance team is usually taken for a short trip  to check the changes they made  before the ship is ready for tourists again.

During its time on the water, the Earnslaw has carried many  well-known passengers, including Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip.

It is expected to be back in action for guests to enjoy a cruise across Lake Wakatipu on July 9.

joshua.walton@scene.co.nz

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