Old boat of many stories

NICCI MCDOUGALL
Last updated 05:00 10/01/2014
Bluff boat The Mystery
ROBYN EDIE/Fairfax NZ

VETERAN VESSEL: Mystery boat owner Murray Conner left, with Bill Gibb – great-grandson of the boat builder, Ned Johnson – and his wife, Jan Gibb, at the Greenpoint Yacht Club near Bluff.

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Bluff boat the Mystery really is a mystery.

The last remaining boat built by fisherman and boat-builder Ned Johnson on Stewart Island in the late 19th century, Mystery ran aground last week. Owner Murray Conner said he would restore it.

The 22-tonne boat broke free from its mooring chains at Greenpoint on Thursday night and hit rocks before running aground near the old Ocean Beach meatworks. It has since been salvaged.

While working on the boat in Bluff on Monday, Mr Conner met a great-grandson of Mr Johnson, Bill Gibb, and his wife Jan.

Mr Conner told them he purchased Mystery because he liked old boats, explaining he was restoring it and would "chip away" at the project when he had time.

Mr Conner had been told Mystery was built in 1886. It was rare for a century-old boat to still be around, he said.

They discussed the question of where Mr Johnson obtained the funds and timber to build his boats at Horseshoe Bay on Stewart Island. Some had earlier speculated it may have been funded by his wife, they said.

Mr Johnson, originally from England, built fishing boats including Mystery, Myth, Puzzle and Secret, using kauri timber and bronze nails.

He died, aged 73, in 1912.

Mrs Gibb, an embroiderer, said she and her husband had discussed seeing the Mystery and were interested to finally do so, and meet the owner.

She was pleased the boat was being restored because of its history, which had inspired her to success in an embroidery exhibition. She had researched the boat's story to create a piece which included Stewart Island and Mystery and Secret.

Mrs Gibb's creation, A Secret or a Mystery, won first place in the Looking out to See (Sea) section of the Southern Regional Exhibition last year.

According to the book Stewart Island Boats, the 40-foot Mystery was the second of the boats built by Mr Johnson at Horseshoe Bay. It was built of kauri with a round bilge and a counter stern, and in 1930 a 10hp standard engine was installed.

The book says that, in 1901, Mystery was used as the wedding ship to celebrate the marriage of Hugh "Mick" Pollock and Bridget Johnson - a relation of Mr Johnson. The tug Theresa Ward towed Mystery, with the bridal party aboard, home to Horseshoe Bay where the wedding breakfast was held.

Mystery has had several owners and fished Stewart Island waters for years before being tied up at Bluff. It was sold to Murray and Kathy Conner in December 2006. The pair intended to restore it for use as a pleasure boat. 

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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