The Scow Echo
A.S. Echo, now permanently ‘on the hard’ on Picton foreshore, was built from kauri in 1905 at Te Kopuru near Dargaville by William Brown & Sons (William Brown was an uncle of Ernie Lane, later Picton boatbuilder).
One of New Zealand’s larger two-mast scows, she was also one of the first to have an engine installed. Of shallow draught to allow entry to shallow harbours and rivers, she had large centreboards which could be lowered in lieu of a keel. Originally built for the Kaipara timber trade, and also used for coal, she later plied between Wellington and Karamea, then carried meat from Wairoa to Napier. In 1920 she was bought by Charles Ekford and her 45 years based at Blenheim began.
Crossing Cook Strait approximately 15,000 times, Echo carried any and every sort of cargo, including Ford cars and tractors on top of the cargo hatches.
Both Ted and Ron Perano crewed on her at different stages, and as Ron said, ‘The river [the Ōpaoa/Opawa] was quite overgrown with willows, and the Echo, if she was loaded wrong she was very difficult to steer and she’d just bounce off one bank and bounce off the next one. Big willow branches would get hooked up in the rigging and come down, and occasionally a big willow branch would come down and go straight through the roof of a car and through into the upholstery! She had quite a big bowsprit on her – it stuck out quite a few metres – and she poked it behind a willow bush and broke it off.’
During World War II, Echo was requisitioned by the US Army for service in the Pacific, where she rescued many downed American aircraft crews and carried Allied troops. She is thought to have helped track down two Japanese submarines, and her story was told in the 1961 movie The Wackiest Ship in the Army, starring Jack Lemmon and Ricky Nelson. After the war she returned to Cook Strait service until 1965 when, although seaworthy, she became uneconomic due to competition from the ferries.
During her seagoing days, Echo foundered twice, was stranded at least fifteen times and damaged at least as often, suffered three fires and seven collisions, one with an outhouse on the Ōpaoa River. One seaman was lost from her on the Kaipara Bar.
In 1972 she was brought to Picton for use as clubrooms for the Marlborough Cruising Club, after some difficulties towing her down the Ōpaoa River.
Tim and Denise Dare bought the ship in 1992 and restored her to the present condition, including replacing one of the masts that had unfortunately been removed. They now operate a café and bar inside her, as well as a comprehensive exhibition about the history of NZ trading scows, a most interesting and congenial place for visitors and locals alike. As Tim says, it’s rather ironic that Echo ends her days beside the site of Ernie Lane’s boatyard, where she was often repaired, almost as if she’s returned to the family of her builder.
This story is an abridged version of one written by Loreen Brehaut for The Seaport News, 2008 (updated April 2020)
The SS Echo, owned by Port Marlborough, was declared unsafe and beyond repair in 2015 and was demolished.1
Sources used in this story
- Powell, S, (2015, April 9) Demolition work begins on historic Echo. Marlborough Express on Stuff:
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Further sources - The Scow Echo
- Langdon, D. (2009) A History of New Zealand Scows and their Trades. Auckland, N.Z. : Captain Teach Press
- Eckford, H.S. (1995) History of the Eckford Shipping Co. and Blenheim River Traders 1881-1965. Blenheim, N.Z. : H.S. Eckford
- Adeane, J. (2004) An undying echo. New Zealand Memories, 49, p.44-45
- Adeane, J. (1998, August 9) Cafe museum echo from the past. Sunday Star Times, p.A11
- Dobie, G. (2005) Sailing scow 'Echo' 100 years old. New Zealand Marine News, 53 (3), p.109-115
- The great New Zealand summer : the past (1988, Jan) North and South, p. 59-61
- Johns, G. (2005) Empty vessels. Heritage New Zealand, 99, p.8-15
- Leahy, P.J. (1972) For the record. New Zealand Marine News, 24(1), p.1,18-32
- Sprosen, A. (1983) Sixty years of service - the Echo of Blenheim. Journal of the Nelson and Marlborough Historical Societies, 1(3), p.42-44
Echo. Retrieved 7 December 2009, from Marlborough Online:
- Simpson, H. (2014, December 11) Echo of the past draws big interest. Marlborough Express. Retrieved from Stuff:http://www.stuff.co.nz/marlborough-express/news/64038614/Echo-of-the-past-draws-big-interest