Ship wreck rises from beach

20:05, Dec 18 2012
Gordon Heathcote
SEA RESCUE: Museum volunteer Gordon Heathcote with the windlass removed in 1978 from the wreck of the Salcombe Castle.

The old timbers of the British schooner Salcombe Castle have once again been exposed by shifting sand south of Maunganui Bluff.

Department of Conservation ranger Awhi Nathan was walking the Maunganui Bluff track with archaeologist Michael Taylor and returning home via the beach when he came across what he thought was a large outcrop of lignite and stopped to have a look.

It was then he discovered the 150-year-old ship remains.

Salcombe Castle
SANDY GRAVE: Awhi Nathan stumbled upon the wreck of the Salcombe Castle after a walk along Maunganui Track.

Mr Nathan didn't know what the ship was, or its history, but knowing the way the coast works he knew to take photos which clearly show its bow shape.

"The sand is always changing. Some days you can walk along the beach and step on a rock and the next day, it can be towering above your head."

The 74-foot Salcombe Castle was built as a customs cutter and later sold and modified as a schooner to carry timber. The vessel was being sailed from Lyttelton to Kaipara by Captain John James when "thick weather and heavy gales" drove it ashore on September 12, 1863.


The captain and crew of seven managed to get to safety but the wreck lay entombed by sand until it revealed itself in 1978.

Historian Noel Hilliam organised its excavation and in October 1978, the 1.25-ton windlass was pulled clear from its resting place and is now on display at the Dargaville Museum, alongside the anchor.

Mr Hilliam says they left the rest of the wreck intact in the hope that it would uncover further but the wild west coast worked its magic before they could return. He says it seems to come up for air every 10 years, although he saw its ribs poking out about three years ago.

He has finished the conservation of bronze sheathing from the hull and was excited when he came across a round stamp bearing the name of Muntz.

"It's quite unique to have a find there," he says.

Museum volunteer and researcher Gordon Heathcote says the west coast was a real trap for sailing ships.

"If you put a straight edge rule from Cape Taranaki to Cape Maria van Diemen, anywhere inside that line was potentially a trap.

"Some of the ships could not beat up against the wind - they could sail across it but would lose to leeward," he says.

"Eventually they would get into the position where they could see the shore and the panic would set in."

Mr Hilliam says the Salcombe Castle is a protected wreck with all rights belonging to the British Admiralty.

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