'Incredibly important' WWI mercy boat returns to water
A piece of New Zealand maritime history has been officially relaunched.
Retired Christchurch businessman Allan Williams was on hand at Auckland's New Zealand Maritime Museum on Wednesday to see the World War I launch Nautilus take to the water.
Williams bought the boat in 1994 but donated it to the museum in 2011.
The museum's 'Wednesday old boys' put 46,000 hours of volunteer work and $200,000 into restoring it.
New Auckland Mayor Phil Goff cut the 103-year-old motor launch's ribbon before taking a short cruise on Auckland harbour.
"We are celebrating an incredibly important part of New Zealand's wartime history," he said.
Modern rules meant the kauri plank launch could only take eight passengers, a far cry from desperate war-time expediency.
During the ill-fated 1915 Gallipoli campaign, the 11-metre Nautilus towed boats full of maimed soldiers off the hospital ship Marama to land-based hospitals in Alexandria, Egypt.
The Nautilus also had a wartime stint in the English Channel and returned to New Zealand several times ferrying recuperating soldiers to port.
It returned to Christchurch following the war and plied the Avon River and then Lyttleton Harbour.
By the time Williams, a keen boatie, first saw the Nautilus it was in a sorry state.
"The first time we saw it, it was swinging out on a mooring, unloved and covered in bird droppings."
Yet Williams considers the vessel a "lucky boat".
"She's defied wars, storms, earthquakes, she even survived a bow-sprit going through her from another boat, just above the waterline."
Seeing the "craftsmanship and dedication" the volunteers poured into the launch's five-year restoration "nearly brought tears to my eyes", Williams said.
"What price can you put on that boat? Many New Zealanders owe their lives to that little boat."
Visitors to the Royal New Zealand Navy's 75th anniversary Auckland celebrations can ride the Nautilus for free on November 20.