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rnnz museum : the naval whaler, 2002 

Royal Navy New Zealand Museum : The Naval Whaler, 2002.

Royal Navy New Zealand Museum:The Naval Whaler
Royal Navy New Zealand Museum Fact Sheet 13, 2002.

This comprehensive and detailed account of was prepared for the Royal Navy New Zealand Museum in 2002 and forwarded by Rebbeca
Rebekah Clements, Collections Assistant New Zealand Maritime Museum.
The museum's catalogue entry is 2003.28 and the Dewey number 625.827 ROY Row 2.
Many thanks to Rebecca for her invaluable assistance.

Page 1

When the 27 foot clinker built Montagu whaler was phased out of service in the Royal New Zealand Navy in 1990, it marked the end of about 180 years service of that type of boat.
The double ended pulling boat was developed for ships engaged in whaling during the 18th century, because they needed the manoeuvrability to reverse quickly away from whales which had been harpooned.
By the end of the Napoleonic wars this manoeuvrability was seen to be an advantage when boarding an enemy ship in battle.

The earliest reference to 'whaleboats' as they were originally known, was in 1756 and when introduced into Royal Naval service around 1810, they were called 'whale-gigs'.
Their use at this time was to take boarding parties to enemy ships and so it was highly desirable that they were unsinkable, thus they were fitted with buoyancy tanks, giving them a secondary role as lifeboats.
During the mid 19th century the double ended boat was found to be useful in vessels suppressing the slave trade off Africa, where surf conditions were often encountered and by 1862 they weie officially called 'whalers'.

Whalers are clinker built boats, which means that the planks run fore and aft, with the lower edge of one plank overlapping the upper edge of the next below.
The planks are fastened to each other by a copper nail, which passes through both planks and the end of which is bend over or clenched.
More recently the end of the nail is passed through a cone shaped washer called a rove.
Once all the planks are laid, using formers as a guide for shape, the internal timbers (ribs) were fitted to the interior of the planks to give added strength.

British built whalers were made of elm, with some specialised components (such as the stem and knees) cut from oak that had grown to the required shape.
The New Zealand dockyard began constructing whalers during the 1930s, using kauri as the basic material, with pohutukawa for the grown parts.
From about 1960 the New Zealand whalers had laminated kauri stems and aprons, negating the need for the fore deadwood, as well as laminated breasthooks and knees.
The last whalers were built in 1981, but in the interests of apprentice training, several were extensively rebuilt, often retaining only a single component of the original, although the original numbers and other details were carved into the new parts.

Whalers were made in two sizes, 27 foot and 25 foot and were able to he both pulled and sailed.
When being pulled they were single banked, that is a single oar was used from each thwart, three on one side and two on the other.
The oars had a central shaft of Oregon pine, with laminated blades, four of them being 17 feet long and the bowman's 16 feet in length.
When under sail the boat has two masts and carries a 'Montagu Rig K'.

The original variety of designs of whalers had become standard by the 1870s, but in the early part of the 20th century a retired Admiral, The Honourable Victor Alexander Montagu CB, suggested a number of improvements to the design.
Once the improvements were incorporated, the designation, 'Montagu Whaler' was generally given to the new design to distinguish them from the earlier boats.
The principal differences were that the beam was increased and the after lines filled

Page 2

out, the sternpost was more curved and a drop keel introduced.
With an increased beam and a drop keel fitted, the arrangement of the masts was changed to a mainmast and a mizen, in lieu of the foremast and main mast of the older design, allowing more sail to be carried.

Like all service boats, each whaler was specifically identified, their construction details were carved into both the stempost and the lower end of the apron.
This included the size of the boat, its number, the dockyard designation and its year of manufacture, together with the Government 'broad arrow.'

The New Zealand Navy's association with whalers dates from the establishment of the New Zealand Naval Forces and the commissioning of the cruiser HMS Philomel in 1914.
Included amongst the ships seven boats was a 27 foot whaler.
Besides being carried in ships, with the establishment of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (NZ) in the late 1920s, whalers were issued to each division for seamanship instruction and sailing.
The last ship to carry a Montagu whaler was the minesweeper, HMNZS Inverell, which was decommissioned in 1976.
The majority of New (continued page 3)


Manual of


A.  Keel
B.  Hog
C.  Keelson
D.  Stem
E.  Timbers
F.   Planks
GTop Strake
H.  Garboard Strake
I.    Gunwale
J.   Capping
K.   Rubber
L.   Breast Hook

M. Thwart
N.  Knees
O.  Risings
P.   Sailing Thwart
Q.  Head Sheets
R.   Ring Bolt
S.   Bottom Boards
T.   Bilge Piece
V.   Socket for Crutch
WFore Sheets
X.   Stretcher Rail

Monowai Women's Crew,
Last Hawea Cup Race.

Page 3-4 Montagu Whaler Dimensions


Weight (normal load):
Life Saving Capacity:




27ft (8.3m)

20.5cwt (1020kg)
16ft 6m (5.1m) main
13ft (4m) mizen

15ft 3in (4.7m)
6ft 10 in (2.1m)
142 sqft (13.2 sqm) main
32 sqft (3.2 sqm) jib
30 sqft (2.8 sqm) mizen
68 sqft (6.3 sqm)
4 x 17ft (5.2m); 1 x 16ft (4.9m)

Page 3

Zealand whalers were of the 27 foot variety, although there were two 25 footers, which were given to Sea Cadet units during the 1960s.

For most of their time in service, the whaler was simply a small boat for specialised tasks.
Post World War II however, with the move towards smaller ships, such as frigates, the whaler was one of only two boats carried. This meant that they had to be used as the 'sea boat', that is, the ready use boat and lifeboat.
such they were boat and lifeboat.
As such they were fitted with special release gear and turned out, ready for use whenever the ship was at sea.
Also during this
period there was a variant of the whaler developed, known as the 'three-in-one whaler*, which had an engine, but could also be pulled or sailed.
This type of boat replaced the
Montagu whaler in modern ships, remaining in service until the 1990s, in the New Zealand Navy.

A Whaler at the davits
Manual of Seamanship

Besides their official functions, whalers were used for recreation, both sailing and pulling.
Until the 1970s, fleet regattas were a regular feature of naval life, with keen competition between ships.
In 1950 two New Zealand ships, Hawea and Taupo went to the Mediterranean Fleet on exchange with two Royal Navy ships.
Both the New Zealand ships were very successful in the Mediterranean Fleet regatta at Mannarice in Turkey, between them winning virtually all the prizes for pulling and sailing and Taupo winning the overall regatta.
A few weeks later at Malta, Hawea won the Hamilton Cup, the first time that it had not been won by a crew from the shore establishment HMS St Angela.
To commemorate this victory the Commanding Officer of Hawea, Lieutenant Commander IW. Stocker RN, presented the Hawea Cup to the Royal

Inter-ship Regatta 1967,
HMNZS Philomel boat

Page 4

New Zealand Navy for whaler pulling.
This was competed for annually until 1990 and on that occasion it was won by a team from the diving tender HMNZS Manawanui.

Some Parts of a Boat
Bottom Boards: 
Garboard Strake

A piece of wood fitted on the inside of the stem, to which the ends of the planks are secured.
A piece of wood across the after end of the stern benches.
The seats around the stern sheets.
Pieces of wood fastened together, laid on the bottom of the boat as flooring.
Foremost end of the boat.
Pieces of wood or metal secured to the sides of a boat for securing sheets and halliards.
A piece of wood attached to the keel to strengthen the joint between the keel and the stem and stem posts.
The first plank laid on the bottom of the boat, next to the keel.
Backbone into which the boat is built.
Pieces of wood grown to the shape required and used to secure the thwarts to the sides of the boat. 
A length of wood fitted to the upper part of the keel and extending the length of the keel

to the deadwoods, to provide garboard strakes and timbers are secured.
Lengths of wood extending fore and aft over the timbers which support the ends of the thwarts.
Pieces of wood laid across the boat which rowers place their feet.
Seats placed across the boat.
Curved pieces of wood which ectend outward and upward from the keel and are virtually the ribs.
A cross head of wood or metal fitted over the rudder head, to which lines are attached,
leading to a tiller for sailing.

The Last Hawea
Cup Race

HMNZS Manawanui Crew
Winners of the last Hawea Cup Race
21 January 1990.

RNNZ Museum
Fact Sheet No. 13.

Royal Navy New Zealand Museum:

The Naval Whaler
Royal Navy New Zealand Museum
Fact Sheet 13, 2002.

Other New Zealand Accounts and Images.

Paul Mullings:
Montagu Whaler Sailing Regatta, Auckland , c1960.

The New Zealand forces used to hold a regatta, at the end of which they challenged a team of representatives from the Auckland Yachting Association to a series raced in the whalers.

New Zealand
Maritime Index
Source: Bearings
Reference ID: 8005023
Publisher: HOBSON WHARF: Auckland Maritime Museum
Year 1990
Volume 2
Number 2
Page: 21-29
Title: Whaler and cutter
Author: Junge, Stuart; McCurdy, Peter
Abstract: Details of RNZ Navy Montagu Whalers and 32 ft cutters.
In 1990 the Navy disposed of all 14 remaining wooden boats.
Illustration: Several photographs of whalers and cutters, and plans of both types.

New Zealand Navy Montague Whaler,
Tamaki, Motuihe, 1958.
ABZ 0064

Photograph courtesy of Andrea Hemmins
Photographic Archivist - National Museum of the Royal New Zealand Navy.

Picton Menís Community Shed, NZ.
Images: 27 foot Montague Whaler being restored Ė Colin King checking Bills progress and Ken busy sanding and varnishing oars.

NZ Montagu Whaler the star of BBC documentary, 2015.
A Montague Whaler was used in the BBC's recreation of the fight for survival after wreck of whaleship Essex, a 238 ton vessel that was sunk in the South Pacific in 1819.
The Essex was twice rammed by an aggressive sperm whale, the second blow fatally holing the ship below the waterline.
Following the sinking of the Essex,the crew manned three whaleboats and, fearing the cannibalistic natives of the western Pacific islands, set sail for South America.
After a month at sea they landed on a small island, but a lack of water and food saw 20 men set sail again leaving 3 volunteers behind to await rescue. The three left behind on the island were rescued and, after 3 months afloat and travelling 3500 miles, one whaleboat was found , the five crew only surviving by resorting to cannibalism 
Herman Melville who used the story of the attack on the Essex as the basis for The Whale, or Moby Dick, published in 1851..
Few Montague whalers survive now, but this boat, number 235, built in Devonport, Auckland in 1984 was modified for her TV debut.

Yachting Monthly

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Geoff Cater (2015) : RNNZ Museum : Naval Whaler, 2002.