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Captain brave, determined and strong-willed


Captain Henry Kraeft, described as a colourful figure, brave, determined and strong-willed - a law-unto-himself – was appointed Port Ahuriri’s Assistant Pilot in 1865. Eleven years later, when promoted to the highly esteemed position of harbourmaster and chief pilot, the Napier Harbour Board were conscious they were employing the services of the port’s most experienced and knowledgeable captain.

Kraeft had proven his worth many times – on one occasion, during extremely heavy south-west winds, he was piloting the Silver Cloud, under tow of the steamer Go-Ahead. The squally conditions threatened to push the Silver Cloud onto the bank of the Eastern Pier. With steely determination and “great precision”, Kraeft brought the vessel safely into the roadstead (a partly sheltered area of water near the shore) and while doing so, “though speaking against the wind and at some distance”, could be distinctly heard by those on board as well as on shore.

During the early 1880s, Port Ahuriri experienced two major issues which caused continual concern for Captain Kraeft: the port was plagued with too much shingle build-up at the entrance and there was a constant lack of “wharfage accommodation”. The shingle build-up proved very time-consuming as the “progressive decrease in the depth of water up to the breastwork” meant that Kraeft had to continually juggle sailing ships and steamers as they unloaded. The disgorging of cargo caused a vessel’s draft (the vertical distance between waterline and the bottom of the keel) to lessen, enabling it to become light enough to move further along the wharf, allowing more fully-ladened vessels to move in.

On Saturday 12 November 1881, a fine and sunny day, the ship Frank Guy arrived at Te Matau-a-Māui / Hawke’s Bay from Newcastle, New South Wales. Instead of being towed in and moored, the Frank Guy, along with two other large vessels, had to “lay in idleness in the roadstead unable to get a berth owing to there being insufficient water for a ship to extend far up the breastwork”.

For four days the Frank Guy languished in the roadstead, causing a heavy financial burden to owner and current Mayor of Napier, John Vautier. The Daily Telegraph newspaper reported that if something was not done by the Harbour Board, the delay in allowing vessels to discharge cargo would cause “serious inconvenience to Napier”. The reporter further prophesised that if the problems weren’t quickly resolved, owners would be loath to send their vessels to Port Ahuriri merely for them to lose money in unnecessary down-time.

Under Napier Harbour Board’s rules and regulations, a ship’s captain could not attempt to enter the harbour without a pilot on board unless “compelled by necessity, in which case a semaphore will guide the vessel in the deepest water over the bar”.  It was not until 16 November 1881 that Captain Kraeft boarded the Frank Guy and berthed it, allowing it’s cargo to be discharged.

By the end of that day the “breastwork was fully occupied with the Silver Cloud, Mary Wadley, Frank Guy and Endeavour”, alongside which were the local fleet of small steamers and lighters which constantly popped in and out. Meanwhile the pressure was on Captain Kraeft, as out past the roadstead, the brigantine Eliza and Mary and schooner Columbia were waiting to berth, with two more sailing ships expected within days.

Captain Kraeft’s actions on that day subsequently evolved into a full-blown dispute with Jacob Balle, the Frank Guy’s captain. According to Kraeft he alerted Balle that at high tide he wished to move the Frank Guy inside to berth. Nonetheless when the tide rose, there being no wind, Captain Balle decided to go ashore and attend to business with Dalgety’s & Co. While ashore the wind changed and Captain Kraeft, instead of wasting time as he had been accused of in the past, boarded the Frank Guy and, without Balle present, brought it inside “at the very first opportunity”.

Subsequently, Captain Balle wrote to the Napier Harbour Board complaining that the harbourmaster had taken control of the Frank Guy without him present. He queried whether, if an incident had occurred without him on board, would all responsibility have been removed from his shoulders.

Kraeft was instructed by the Harbour Board to address the incident. In his report he stated that he “frequently had to take out and bring in vessels” without the captain on board, as his prime objective was to bring vessels in at the “very first opportunity”. The dispute took over two months to resolve and resulted in an uneasy impasse between the two opponents.

Captain Kraeft retained the harbourmaster’s position until the night of 12 August 1902 when, near the Shakespeare Hotel, he fell off the Spit bus and under its wheels. He was badly injured and, although he made a good recovery, he resigned in November that year.

This beautiful photograph of the three masted topsail schooner Frank Guy, anchored at the entrance to the Inner Harbour, is part of the Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust collection. In the distance, can be seen Mataruahou / Scinde Island, Port Ahuriri and the many businesses lining the wharf. On the left, you can see the beginning of Westshore spit. It’s a romantic image of a time long gone, which can still evoke a sense of nostalgia and longing and, like any image, can be worth a thousand words.

Published in the Hawke’s Bay Today newspaper on 23 March 2024 and written by Gail Pope, Social History Curator at MTG Hawke’s Bay.

Image: Frank Guy at anchor, entrance of the Inner Harbour, circa 1881.

25 March 2024

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