The crew of the ‘Huria Matenga’ wave goodbye to Nelson as they begin their six-day passage to Vanuatu. Photo: Harri Jordan.

Old tugboat heads for dream retirement in Pacific

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One long blast echoed through Nelson Harbour early on Sunday afternoon as Port Nelson workers waved goodbye to the ‘Huria Matenga.’

“It’s sad to see her go, we grew old together, me and the tug,” says skipper Kevin Skelton whose first command was the tug.

The Huria Matenga was originally delivered to Nelson from Japan back in 1983 on a passage taking 24 days.

“It was my first command, so we’ve grown up with her,” says Kevin. “It’s been a big part of our lives. I’ve been skipper of it for 37 years and there’s always something about your first command.”

The tug was originally named just ‘Matenga’ which was translated to “death” in Maori, so it was consequently changed to Huria Matenga; the Maori heroine who helped save 10 crewmen from the stricken brig at Delaware off the Nelson Coast in 1863.

John Tregidga was the first to drive her into Port Nelson in 1983 and on Sunday he was the last to take her out.

“It’s nice to know she’s going to a good home,” says John.

The boat began her voyage to the Pacific Island of Vanuatu, where she will help locals guide in larger vessels to Port Vila.

Ocean Logistics Ltd, a tug and barge company from Vanuatu have purchased the tug.

The passage is expected to take up to a week and the boat will use 36,000 litres of fuel.

It’s not goodbye forever for Kevin as he has volunteered to fly to Vanuatu to help teach the locals how to drive the tug.

“The tugs are so different to drive; they have fixed 360-degree propellers and it gets quite tricky,” he says. “I’ll be back with it again.”

Kevin formed a real rapport with the ni-Vanuatu while they have been working on the tug, getting it ready for its ocean passage.

Some have even invited him to meet their families when they arrive.

For now, though, Port Nelson has “lost a bit of its history” says marine supervisor Shane Norton.

“The sound of the engine at full throttle occasionally rattled the windows of local houses.”

Which, curiously, it seems people are really going to miss.