Regan Schoultz is an NZME news service reporter based in Auckland.

Kestrel's sinking a mystery

Preservation society was looking to restore 110-year-old ferry

It survived 110 years of choppy waters, but all that could be seen of the Kestrel yesterday was its roof floating amid the debris.

The well-known Auckland ferry sank overnight at its berth in Wynyard Quarter. The cause of the sinking is not yet known.

Colleen Hemingway was about 9 when her father James Benfell started working on the vessel as a mate before becoming captain a few years later.

Colleen Hemingway. Photo / Supplied
Colleen Hemingway. Photo / Supplied

"We used to take his lunch down to him sometimes as kids because we loved to go back and forth on it and I loved a rough day. There are just a lot of good memories," she said.

"When it was rough, gosh, the big waves would crash and we would all just sit there loving it. Then we would get off in town to go to work and we would all be standing on the side of it waiting to get off and the boat would be on its side by the time we all lined up to get off and you would think, my god, it is going to tip over, but it never did."

The 86-year-old said the news of the Kestrel's sinking had brought her close to tears.

"I was really quite upset. I ... did so much on that boat."

Some of her most cherished memories were of fishing at night off the Kestrel with her siblings and father once it was closed to passengers.

General manager of Panuku Development Auckland Marinas Tom Warren said the sinking surprised the council and was "definitely a loss for Auckland" and for the Kestrel Preservation Society.

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He said it was unclear what caused the sinking. "We are still looking into that at the moment. We ... are now just working through how to deal with the challenge that we have here.

"We have bonded the area so we will contain any hydrocarbons. The Kestrel was supposedly meant to be completely clear of any oil so there should be none of that. The [cordon] will hold the debris and once the Kestrel Preservation Society has contacted their insurance assessors they will start to clean up the debris."

The area where the Kestrel sank was 6m to 7m deep and it was sitting on the marina floor.

The ferry Kestrel picks up passengers at Pine Island (now Herald Island) after a day's outing. Photo / Graham Stewart Collection.
The ferry Kestrel picks up passengers at Pine Island (now Herald Island) after a day's outing. Photo / Graham Stewart Collection.

Society chairman Mike Alston said he was not really shocked at the sinking. He was unable to comment further.

Chief executive of Auckland Seaplanes Chris Sattler said it was a huge loss to the trust which was looking to restore the vessel.

The harbourmaster is investigating the incident.

Life at sea

• The ferry steamer Kestrel was built by Charles Bailey Jnr from kauri and totara. It was launched at St Mary's Bay on December 14, 1905.

• Purpose-built for the run from Devonport into the city, the vessel carried up to 20,000 passengers a day.

• The Kestrel was converted from steam to diesel in 1952 - it had a Crossley 6 cylinder 450hp diesel engine.

- NZ Herald

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