The Huia schooner – Elegant and Fast

Huia topsail schooner

The New Zealand topsail schooner Huia has long been heralded as the best-looking vessel of her type and one of the fastest sailing.  

Launched at Kaipara Harbour New Zealand in 1894, the Huia was built using Kauri planks over a puriri timber frame.   Measuring 35 metres (115 ft) in length and registered at 196 tons, she was purpose built for the timber trade.   For the first few years of her long career she shipped lumber to Sydney and brought coal back from Newcastle.

The Huia soon earned a reputation as a very fast sailer on the notoriously dangerous Trans-Tasman route.   In 1895 Captain McKenzie reportedly made the run from Newcastle to Kaipara Harbour heads in four days and six hours.   For most of the passage she was pushed along by gale force winds while the seas continuously swept over her deck.   

Topsail schooner HUIA

On another voyage she was said to have logged 510 nautical miles (944 kms) in the first 48 hours after clearing Newcastle.   With every square inch of canvas out she clipped along at 14 to 16 knots.    That is a staggering 26-30 kilometres per hour.

Her fast Tasman Sea crossings, however, did not come without risk.   After one “tempestuous passage” the Newcastle Herald reported, “the gales met by the little vessel were from south-west and south, and they were accompanied by heavy seas throughout, the decks being kept in a chronic state of flood.   Whilst diving bows into the seas on Tuesday last Huia lost her jibboom, and a day or two previous her fore shroud was carried away.”(1)

In 1897 the little ship was fitted with an auxiliary engine and continued making record breaking passages between New Zealand ports and across the Tasman.   In 1912 she was sold to the Nobel Explosives Company.   And, through the first few decades of the 20th Century her classic lines made her a favourite vessel in many Australian ports from Cairns to Hobart, and from Melbourne to Fremantle.

By the 1930s the age of sail had past. The beautiful “white-hulled” sailing vessel was one of only two top-sail schooners working out of Melbourne.

Huia schooner. Photo courtesy State Library of Victoria.

In 1950 the ship began carrying cargo and passengers between islands in the South Pacific.   Her time came to an end in 1951 when she was wrecked on a coral reef in New Caledonia.  

© Copyright Tales from the Quarterdeck / C.J. Ison

(1) Newcastle Herald, 8 June 1895, p. 4.

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