Tales of rough seas and six-week voyages were told on the Interislander yesterday.
The ferry company celebrated the 50th anniversary of the inaugural sailing of the Aramoana from Wellington to Picton by inviting special guests from its past and present onboard a memorial sailing of the Kaitaki yesterday afternoon.
The Aramoana was built in Scotland in 1961 for the New Zealand Railways Department to introduce a transport service linking the North and South islands.
Bill Cox, who was on the Aramoana's first sailing from Wellington to Picton on August 11, 1962, said yesterday's trip was as smooth as the inaugural sailing.
"The Aramoana's first trip from Wellington to Picton was virtually empty and it floated lighter because it wasn't full of freight.
"As for the return trip, I've heard it was rough and everyone was a bit green around the gills."
Mr Cox felt he would be one of the last people still alive who would remember the first sailing.
Jim Wilson, 80, was 28 when he became a second engineer on board the Aramoana during its inaugural voyage for the Interislander.
He was in charge of the running and maintenance of the engines and reported to the chief engineer.
"In my day it was all hands-on, whereas now a lot of it is automatic and electronic.
"It was hard work, the Aramoana had six main engines which had to be completely surveyed every four years."
He worked for the company for 16 months and crossed the Cook Strait about 700 times.
Originally from Glasgow, he said the building of the Aramoana marked the sad closing of the William Denny and Brothers Shipyard, Dumbarton, on the Clyde River in Scotland.
"That was the end of a wonderful era."
Former sailor Ian Dymock was on the Aramoana during its maiden voyage from Great Britain through the Panama Canal to Wellington in 1962.
The trip took six weeks and arrived in July before the ferry's first voyage to Picton on August 13.
"We tried to back it in to Wellington for two hours but the stern just wouldn't fit. We used gangway to get off that night and we got it in the next day after they chipped away at the link-span."
Mr Dymock felt the anniversary voyage was a perfect way to celebrate the start of the rail ferry service and enjoyed being onboard after spending many years working ships.
Interislander general manager Thomas Davis said his highlight was seeing some of the people involved in the service during the past 50 years. He started working for the railway service as an accounting cadet in 1983, began working as an accountant for Interislander in the early 1990s and has since risen to the top spot.
"It's good to see a few familiar faces from over the years.
"The service onboard gets better and better because each year the bar gets higher."
Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee cut the celebratory cake.
He said the occasion was a great achievement for the company that provided a "bridge between two islands".
He declined to give an update on whether the ferry terminal would be shifted from Picton to Clifford Bay in the near future.
"It's still a work in progress and it's important we give it every possible consideration.
"The results will be out soon."
The Aramoana began service on August 13, 1962 as the first rail ferry in New Zealand.
She took over from the Tamahine, which made her final departure from Picton on August 11, 1962.
Before the start of the rail ferry service the majority of cargo went on the Wellington-Lyttelton route.
The start of a rail ferry service meant railway wagons – as well as vehicles – could be rolled on and rolled off, with no need for cranes to load and unload cargo. It was a saving in time and money.
The Aramoana was a "one-ship fleet" across Cook Strait between Picton and Wellington until the Aranui arrived in 1966.
Source: Cook's Wild Strait - the Interisland story.
- The Marlborough Express