Having Faith in Fiordland

By Alina Suchanski

Reading time: 11 minutes

With each of its three fiords bigger than Milford Sound and just as spectacular, Lake Te Anau, located on the edge of the Fiordland National Park, has a vast area of water to explore. Yet, despite all the surrounding beauty, this second largest of New Zealand lakes seems highly underutilised. Fiordland Historic Cruises has been operating on Lake Te Anau for five years. Their 66-foot motorsailer ketch, “Faith”, combines heritage with a touch of luxury. Alina Suchanskitakes a trip down history lane and checks out the old girl.

Sitting on board a beautifully restored old vessel moored in a secluded bay in Lake Te Anau’s South Fiord, I feel part of something very special. The mighty Murchison Mountains shelter us from the nor-wester wind that ruffles the water of the main body of the lake, but here, its surface is glassy. We are surrounded by the primeval Fiordland forest with bird song the only audible sound. A crew member wearing a naval uniform from an era gone by offers me a cup of tea and a selection of tasty morsels. It’s as if time has stood still.

 

By Alina Suchanski

Reading time: 11 minutes

With each of its three fiords bigger than Milford Sound and just as spectacular, Lake Te Anau, located on the edge of the Fiordland National Park, has a vast area of water to explore. Yet, despite all the surrounding beauty, this second largest of New Zealand lakes seems highly underutilised. Fiordland Historic Cruises has been operating on Lake Te Anau for five years. Their 66-foot motorsailer ketch, “Faith”, combines heritage with a touch of luxury. Alina Suchanskitakes a trip down history lane and checks out the old girl.

Sitting on board a beautifully restored old vessel moored in a secluded bay in Lake Te Anau’s South Fiord, I feel part of something very special. The mighty Murchison Mountains shelter us from the nor-wester wind that ruffles the water of the main body of the lake, but here, its surface is glassy. We are surrounded by the primeval Fiordland forest with bird song the only audible sound. A crew member wearing a naval uniform from an era gone by offers me a cup of tea and a selection of tasty morsels. It’s as if time has stood still.

Faith’s beginnings are shrouded in some mystery. In 1935, Cuthbert Isaac Willan, the managing partner of Chapman and Sons Shipping Company, commissioned the construction of the Faith (named after a family member) from A M Dickie & Sons in Loch Fyne, Scotland, designed by Alfred Mylne, of Glasgow. Faith was built in Scotland on the River Clyde and registered in Falmouth, on the southwest coast of England, where she spent the first 30 years of her life as a pleasure craft for Willan and his family. She’s of solid wood construction, with her hull and decks made of Burmese teak, and featuring a mahogany interior.

Faith in front of A M Dickie & Sons ship building yards in Loch Fyne, Scotland, c. 1936

In 1939 at the start of WWII, Faith was relocated to Scotland, thus avoiding the fate of many British ships that were requisitioned for the war effort.

Lord Shawcross, the British Chief Prosecutor at the Nuremberg war trials, was the second owner of Faith in the 1960s. He sold the boat in the ‘70s and a few years later she sailed from Falmouth to New Zealand via Venezuela and the Panama Canal. The voyage took nearly a year and was riddled with drama. In Panama, a bent shaft disabled her engines and the rest of the journey to Aotearoa was under sail (Yacht Faith, n.d.).

In New Zealand, Faith had four further owners. She has spent her time in Whangarei, the Bay of Islands, Wellington, and Marlborough Sounds. This beautiful boat has proved its seaworthiness numerous times. Since her arrival in New Zealand, Faith has been to Fiji and Tonga twice, visited Milford and Doubtful Sound, circumnavigated the South Island, and sailed to Australia, before making way to her new home in Fiordland.

With the deal signed and sealed in March 2014, the new owners expected to bring the boat to Te Anau within a few weeks. The plan was to sail it from Picton to Bluff (a journey expected to take 70 -80 hours), from where it was to be transported to Te Anau on a truck. However, they had a few surprises to contend with, as obstacles piled up causing delay after delay. Unexpected repair work, availability of the sailing crew and bad weather marred the progress. It wasn’t until July 2014 that Faith was able to sail out of Picton. Yet more inclement weather meant it could only get as far as Port Chalmers, near Dunedin, where she was stuck for several weeks waiting for another spell of sunshine to resume her journey. When she finally arrived in Bluff, a new platform big enough to transport the large boat to Te Anau had to be purpose-built. The owners used this delay to strip the boat of its old coat of paint and repaint.

Transporting the 40-tonne ketch on a truck was an impressive feat. Her masts and sails had to be removed and arrived in Te Anau a day before the rest of the boat. But even with the masts off, power lines at a few places along the way had to be lifted or disconnected by a local power company to allow the vessel to pass under safely. As the boat made its way to Fiordland’s capital, it dwarfed everything around it.

Faith entering Te Anau, 2014
Photo: Alina Suchanski

The first few years of business with Faith were far from cruisy. “It took more than two years to obtain all the necessary permits and concessions from the Department of Conservation, Southland District Council and Ngai Tahu. We had to jump through some hoops to meet Maritime New Zealand Safeship Management requirements. In the meantime, we have put a lot of effort into restoration work,” Faith’s owner, George Garden laments.

By “we” he means himself and his right-hand-man, Adam Butcher. Adam is half George’s age, but because both are tall and slim, and wear identical uniforms, many people assume they are father and son. These two men had such unwavering belief in this venture that they worked tirelessly until they turned their vision into reality. Like George, Adam has been with the business from the very beginning.

In Fiordland, Covid hit tourism and hospitality operators hard, with the international tourist market disappearing overnight. But despite that loss, Faith kept afloat, thanks to the continued support of locals and Kiwi tourists. Many a birthday party, anniversary and similar occasions have been celebrated aboard the Faith. “It’s incredibly special to share the boat and its history with other people,” Adam tells me.

Today, Fiordland Historic Cruises employs two more people: Maree, who earlier this year passed her skipper’s ticket, and Michelle, who is helping on a casual basis with customer service and guiding.

I was privileged to experience one of their cruises. The adventure starts before you even board the vessel. As passengers walk down Te Anau’s old Government Wharf, they are greeted by the crew lined up, and dressed in naval uniforms from the last century. Everything on the boat matches the period of its origin, from teak and mahogany joinery to red velvet upholstery and brass fittings. The attention to detail is meticulous.

The bell on M.Y. Faith (M.Y. stands for Motor Yacht)
Photo: Marek Gronowski

Three bells and the horn announce our departure. We leave Te Anau at 9 am, and head for South Fiord across the choppy lake. Being prone to sea sickness I look at the waves with apprehension. But the skipper, Adam, handles the boat with expert ease, like a good rider handles a horse. To my great relief it’s smooth sailing. The boat can take up to 22 passengers, but on this trip, there are only five of us plus the crew.

At the entrance to the South Fiord, we pass two picturesque Dome Islands before arriving at the secluded Hidden Lakes wharf. We disembark onto a floating jetty for a guided walk along DOC’s Hidden Lakes track. Our guide, George, impresses us with his knowledge of the bush and local history.

Ten minutes of hiking in beautiful Fiordland National Park beech forest takes us to one of the Hidden Lakes. This track is accessible from the water only, so there are no other hikers around. Upon our return, Adam has a scrumptious morning tea waiting for us with savoury and sweet treats.

Faith and her crew, George Garden and Adam Butcher

Travelling back to Te Anau, George and Adam chat with the passengers and let some of us have go at driving the boat. They both have a lovely, relaxed way of engaging with their passengers and putting them at ease. The icing on the cake is when Adam brings his bagpipes and plays a medley of old Scottish tunes. This is such a perfect moment where all the Gaelic heritage pieces come together: a boat built in Scotland, on a ‘loch’ in the middle of Southland populated largely by the descendants of Scottish pioneers, while listening to music from this faraway country. “There’s often not a dry eye on the boat when Adam finishes,” George tells me.

We help them hoist up the sails and Faith suddenly picks up speed. She lists to one side under the pressure of the wind, but I’m not worried, comforted by the thought that this yacht sailed halfway around the world, sometimes in much stormier conditions than this.

As I leave the boat, I hear another passenger say, “That’s the best thing I’ve done in Fiordland”. I agree.

 

Source: Yacht Faith A.M.Dickie & Sons, charterworld.com
Feature photo: Faith In Fiordland at the entrance of South Fiord (Photo: Adam Butcher, 2016)

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