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The tale of the Tiare Taporo

Saturday March 24, 2018 Written by Published in Local
The Tiare Taporo pictured during her sea trials after coming off dry dock in Canada. 18032326 The Tiare Taporo pictured during her sea trials after coming off dry dock in Canada. 18032326

As the often controversial and much-beleaguered vessel the Tiare Taporo prepares to set sail again for the first time in almost two years, CINews takes a look at the boat’s turbulent past.

In part one of this series, we delve into the history books to find out more about the boat’s 20th-century namesake and revisit the early days of the new Tiare Taporo when the outlook was bright, and her arrival in Rarotonga was eagerly anticipated.

When CINews first reported on a new cargo vessel soon to be servicing the Cook Islands way back in 2010, hopes were high that it would provide a much-needed additional transport option to and from the outer islands.

Formerly a fishing boat known as “Zebroid”, the Tiare Taporo was purchased by Rarotonga-based company Pacific Schooners Ltd for a reported $1million, “including the price of the boat and the refit, infrastructure on the ground and the delivery voyage”.

“Our new ship has some enormous sails to fill as she ushers back a new era of trading schooners in the Cook Islands,” said company director Garth Broadhead in January 2011, referring to the legacy of the new ship’s famous name.

That name of course came from one of the last ships to trade under sail in the Cook Islands and wider South Pacific, the original Tiare Taporo.

Built for AB Donald of Rarotonga in 1913, that boat’s name came from the Tahitian for ‘lime blossom’ – in Cook Islands Maori it would be “Tiare Tiporo” – and it was so called due to Donald’s nickname among Tahitians as “the lime man”, earned after he obtained the contract for supplying the Royal Navy with lime juice.

Built of kauri with pohutukawa framing, the original Tiare Taporo had a four-cylinder oil engine and travelled at a speed of seven knots. She was 90 feet long and had a gross tonnage of 173.

After World War I the vessel sailed under the British flag, ferrying Cook Islands copra to San Francisco, where she would load petrol destined for Auckland. From 1919 she was permanently stationed in the Cook Islands, where she remained for the next 30 years.

Then in 1949 the Tiare Taporo was transferred to Tahiti under the French flag and resumed her original runs from Papeete to the Marquesas and the Tuamotus. She was eventually wrecked at Vanuatu in 1968.

Perhaps the vessel’s most famous captain was Andy Thompson, a veritable legend in the Pacific.

Talking to CINews in January 2011, Broadhead remembered meeting two of Thompson’s sons, Phillip and Andy Jr, who were both in their eighties at the time.

“They were asked how they would feel about having a new schooner in the Cook Islands bearing the name Tiare Taporo and it was humbling to see the delighted looks on their faces and hear them give their blessings,” he said.

As first reported in November 2010, the new Tiare Taporo was originally estimated to arrive in the Cook Islands “somewhere between July and September” of 2011. That estimate would turn out to be some four years off, the vessel ultimately not docking at Avatiu until November 2015.

At 140 feet long and weighing 263 tonnes, the Tiare Taporo has a 300-tonne cargo capacity and room for up to 30 passengers. In January 2011 it was undergoing a refit in the Canadian port town of Lunenberg, Nova Scotia, where it was purchased from Dawson Moreland & Associates Ship Riggers, a company presided over by captain Daniel Moreland, who is also a shareholder in Pacific Schooners Ltd (PSL).

At this same time, Broadhead was looking to drum up investors in the company, envisioning “a new era in inter-island trading”.

Optimism was running rampant, and there was talk of the Tiare Taporo generating revenue even before its arrival in Rarotonga, by way of “port appearance fees, passenger day sails and selling Cook Islands memorabilia” on its delivery voyage from Canada to the Cook Islands.

Here at home, public reaction

to the new boat’s imminent arrival was also encouraging. As one tongue-in-cheek CINews smoke signaller wrote: “There’s something fishy about this new ship – there does not seem to be any government subsidy, the owners don’t seem to have gone begging to the Chinese dictatorship, the ship looks and sounds great on the description in CINews. Come on Garth, how can we maintain our reputation as the laughing stock of the Pacific if guys like you are going to change the way we do business and do things the right way?”

In addition to ferrying cargo and passengers among the far-flung Cook Islands, tourist trips were also on the cards for the Tiare Taporo, and PSL planned to offer what they called “trainee berths” as well, offering locals an opportunity to gain sea experience and develop the skills needed to pursue a career at sea.

As of March 2011 plans were still on track to have the ship servicing the Cook Islands that July, but by June 2011 the vessel’s delivery voyage had been rescheduled for a November departure, with a “more extensive refit” cited as the reason for the delay.

This did nothing to dampen enthusiasm for the venture though.

“A longer preparation period means a greater opportunity to plan for and earn important revenue on the delivery voyage,” said Broadhead, who had plans for the Tiare Taporo to stop at New York, Bermuda, the US Virgin Islands, Guadeloupe, the Galapagos Islands, Pitcairn, Tahiti and several other destinations before arriving in Rarotonga “around the end of January 2012”.

However, come November 2011 the Tiare Taporo was still at dock in Nova Scotia, with no confirmed departure date in sight. This time the explanation was that as a result of its more extensive refit the vessel was required to re-apply for its safety certifications and undergo additional surveys for insurance purposes.

Seven months later the Tiare Taporo was still in Canada and the cost of the boat, its refit and delivery voyage had been upgraded from $1million to $1.5million.

A definite departure date had been set though – September 15, landing her in the Cook Islands by mid-November 2012. This too, was not to be however, and barring a few sideways references it would be another year before the Tiare Taporo was making headlines again – although not necessarily for the right reasons.

Next week: Sailing stormy seas         

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