2005: HMNZS WAKAKURA: Final Reserve Weekend
Easter 2005 was a special time for the Ship's Company of HMNZS OLPHERT and our attached Inshore Patrol Craft (IPC) HMNZS WAKAKURA.
The weekend marked both the 20th anniversary of the ship's commissioning on 26 March 1985, and its handover to the Regular Force to assist in bridging the sea-training gap until the arrival of the new 'Protector' ships.
Easter was a transition: two other IPCs, HMNZ Ships MOA and HINAU, were also transferred to Auckland. HMNZS KIWI remains in Lyttelton for Royal New Zealand Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNZNVR) training and Multi-Agency tasking. But for the Divisions affected (Auckland, Wellington and Dunedin) this was the end of a 57-year era that stretches back to the post-WWII reconstitution of the RNZNVR and the attachment of Seaward Defence Motor Launches for training.
For WAKAKURA it was especially poignant as she was to be transferred 20 years to the day that she arrived off Wellington on her commissioning voyage. For her last trip north with an RNZNVR crew, two of her original crew members were assigned, I (I was an OSEA in 1986) and POWEF Bob Monks. The passage north was considerably more pleasant than the one south 20 years earlier when heavy weather forced the ship to shelter in Mercury Bay, barely 60 miles out of Auckland.
The voyage was a time of reflection - most of the OLPHERT-based crew have grown up in WAKAKURA. We started as Ordinary Ratings in the ship and have attained our qualifications and rank in her. We have all been privileged to serve in WAKAKURA in what can be described as a unique and very special experience. RNZNVR service has given everyone the opportunity to serve New Zealand. There is nothing quite like being at sea, and nothing like the atmosphere of a small ship. Unlike the ships' companies of the regular force, RNZNVR personnel serve at sea with the same group of people for years, often decades, and the bonds of friendship forged through our shared experiences in small ships on the New Zealand coast last a lifetime. The RNZNVR is like a large family with everyone knowing everybody else.
For some of us, we have achieved, albeit on a modest scale, the Seaman Officer's ultimate ambition of command at sea. To all the Junior Officers coming behind us (RF and VR), the hard work is worth it. Not given lightly, command is a rare privilege, but it is immensely satisfying. It is a dream worth aspiring to, and with new ships just over the horizon, there will be more opportunities to exercise command at sea.
Our final journey started like every other, with the Ship's Company joining in Wellington. The ship sailed at 1430 into a rather dubious weather forecast of strong northwesterlies - an unpleasant prospect when heading north up the Wairarapa Coast. Happily, with the exception of a five-hour spell of rough seas north of Castlepoint, the journey north to Napier was uneventful. The moon added its own magic to the night watches as the ship sailed north under clear skies. Early on Easter Saturday, the ship moved inshore off Waimarama and headed north past Cape Kidnappers gannet sanctuary before berthing in Napier just before midday.
We were met by the RNO, LTCDR Neville Smith, who hosted the officers on a brief tour of Napier to ensure that all amenities were clearly identified. That afternoon, the Ship's Company held an inter-mess sports tournament at the Napier mini-putt course. Despite the opinions held by the other messes, the wardroom, much to their surprise, won (with the XO achieving the best score of 48!). We headed for the saltwater baths to ease the strain of competition. We arrived back on board just in time to watch MOA berth ahead of us after a long and rough passage up from Dunedin.
With 400 miles to Auckland, the ship made an early departure, sailing at 0630. We had hoped to sail with MOA but she was delayed by the need to refuel. A smooth passage north ensued, except for East Cape where there were a few potholes that the ship fell into. Rounding East Cape, we encountered slight seas and a 15-knot northwesterly, which made for a pleasant voyage towards Auckland.
Passing through the 'Hole in the Wall', we met PAEA II (STC) who confused us for the local IPC HINAU! With identities clearly established, we sailed on, rounding Cape Colville in the late morning. During the morning, LWEF Richard Boyd and LSEA Danny Matheson were advised at a brief ceremony on board that they were both now qualified for promotion to PO, with letters of recommendation being sent to Auckland for approval of their new ranks. WAKAKURA rendezvoused with HINAU off A Buoy for a formation entrance into Auckland.
With the ships cleaned, a brief commemoration service was held on the Dive Pontoon with all Ships' Companies and CNR Captain PB Arnold RNZNVR in attendance, to mark the end of HINAU's, WAKAKURA's and MOA's attached Reserve service.
And so in many ways one era ended. Yes, the RNZNVR still has KIWI, and undoubtedly will continue to contribute to the manning of the now Auckland-based IPCs, but the era of attached ships at the Divisions, and all that meant, has finished.
A new era with the PROTECTOR fleet is dawning. While the nature of RNZNVR service will change, the commitment and professionalism of the Reserves will not. We look forward to serving as part of One Navy in the new ships.
By LTCDR Grant Fletcher RNZNVR