I have worked on a lot of boats in my life, but the TSS Earnslaw has more personality than any of them. If she was a person she’d be a temperamental old lady. I don’t mean that in a bad way; she’s a graceful old dowager but she has a tendency to snap back at you occasionally (in a big way!) if you don’t treat her right.
I first came to Queenstown to work on the TSS Earnslaw in 1980 when I was 30 years old. At that point, long-time skipper Maru Bradshaw was looking for a relief skipper for a year. Thirty years on, I’m still here, and I plan to be working on the TSS Earnslaw till I retire.
When I first started working on the steamer, I was aware that she was unusual – and that was one of the reasons I wanted the job. But in those days her historical significance was not as dominant as it is now. As time has passed, the TSS Earnslaw has become something very special and unique. She’s now a living piece of history.
The TSS Earnslaw definitely has her own personality and she has a very strong character. Personally, I’ve don’t feel like I’ve worked for Real Journeys for the last 30 years; I feel that I have worked for the TSS Earnslaw. Don’t get me wrong - the company is great - but I know everyone who has ever worked on the steamship feels the same. She’s just that sort of boat.
Mind you, it’s not all roses working on a heritage vessel. The TSS Earnslaw is definitely not the easiest boat to handle. She doesn’t turn very well and she has a variety of idiosyncrasies that you only discover after spending long hours behind the wheel. Obviously, there’s also the fact that she’s not an automated machine: If I want her to go forward or backward I have to telegraph my intentions downstairs to the engine room and they have to make it happen. Nothing is instantaneous. If they happen to misread an order (which is pretty rare, but it does happen) then you have a problem. This is compounded by the fact that your first instinct when you feel a wrong movement is to telegraph through the order again – and their first instinct when they hear the telegraph bells ringing a second time is to apply more throttle! You can see how you can run into problems…
We had a panic button installed about 15 years ago after one particularly hairy incident. It doesn’t eliminate human error, but it certainly makes it easier to deal with mistakes when they happen.
We’ve had a number of interesting scenarios unfold over the years – some we’ve managed to escape, some we haven’t, and some we’re too embarrassed to mention! Let’s just say that the TSS Earnslaw is not a stranger to the feel of the ground beneath her hull.
It’s a real honour to be able to skipper the TSS Earnslaw into her 100th year. She’s a beautiful old vessel and she has been stunningly maintained by Real Journeys, so she looks wonderful. I’m fairly certain that I won’t be around to see the next century, but I’m quietly confident that if the company continues to look after the TSS Earnslaw in their current manner then she should still be plying the waters of Lake Wakatipu for another 100 years at least!
Graham Moore-Carter (Twinny)
Current TSS Earnslaw Senior Launchmaster