The Wreck of the Yankee

“Were you here when the Yankee went on the reef?”
“Oh, yes,” Powell shook his head sadly.

The battered hull of the famous round-the-world yacht still remains as a prominent landmark just beyond the harbour at Avarua.

Yankee wreck 1

The Yankee was a steel hulled German pilot vessel, taken over as a prize of war, and acquired by Irving Johnson and his wife who took young people as working, paying crew on voyages around the world and their adventures appeared frequently in National Geographic and the sparkling, white-sailed Yankee was the dream ship of all the adventurous young who wanted to explore far away places.

“The Yankee under the Johnsons was immaculate. White dacron sails, white hull, varnished woodwork and gleaming brass. She was a picture.

“One day [in 1964] a large sailing ship came into view and as usual everyone started to speculate on what ship it might be because even then a ship of 117 tons and 97 feet was a rare sight and at first it was thought that the ship was the Yankee but as it came closer we could see the hull was grey and when it went to its engines after dropping sails the diesels belched black smoke.

“When the small boats were put over and came in, they were dirty with broken gunwales and with water sloshing around the bottom. There was no way that Irving Johnson could be on board and later the word drifted around that it was the Yankee all right but the boat had been sold to Windjammer Cruises and was being run out of Miami. It was as ratty as it could be.

Yankee wreck 3“At first the trades were from the east and then gradually started to swing slowly to the north with the wind getting stronger. By this time the Yankee was snubbing to her anchor and rolling badly and I thought it was time the skipper got away….but the crew had picked up a batch of local girls and there was a marathon party going on board. I said to my wife, ‘The Yankee is going ashore tonight.’

“When I woke up the next morning at the first light in the sky and I could feel the wind I told my wife, ‘The Yankee has gone on the reef.’ And I called our daughter who was a photographer at the time and told her to get her camera and go down to the beach because undoubtedly the Yankee was on the rocks and she could take news pictures which would be very valuable. And she did and they were.”

Yankee wreck 4BW

“A bit later I took my bicycle and rode down to the main road and there she was.”
Powell heaved a heavy sigh and shook his head again, “I wanted to cry.”

Condensed from ‘How to Get Lost and Found in the Cook Islands‘ by John W. McDermott, Waikiki Publishing Company, Inc. 1979.
Images from 1981.

Windjammer Barefoot Cruises, whose luck got worse with time, finally went bankrupt in 2007. Founder, Michael Burke, died of pneumonia at 89 in 2013. According to this Wikipedia page, the remains of the Yankee were cut up and removed in 1995.

 

 

 

A Wahine postscript

The Wahine that sank in Wellington harbour on 10th April 1968 (see last post) was the second Lyttelton ferry to carry that name for the Union Steam Ship Company of New Zealand. The first was a steam ship of 4,436 tons built by Wm. Denny & Brothers of Dumbarton, Scotland in 1913.

s.s. Wahine, 1913

After a distinguished and colourful career that spanned two world wars she, too, met her end by hitting a reef – although this was not a glancing blow. She made a proper job of it.

In 1951 she had been pressed into service as a troopship once more and was transporting New Zealand soldiers to the Korean War. After her last refuelling stop at Darwin, Australia, she was steaming north for Kure, Japan, on 15th August when she ran up on a reef at Masela Island in the Arafura Sea.

Everyone on board was safely transferred to an oil tanker but the old Wahine made a forlorn sight, perched clear of the water, for many years afterwards.