Tug MoreeA series on Your Boat.

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Tug Moree

by Paul O’Neill

When I first saw her she wasn’t too old, I was on board with my father on school holidays. That was in the early 1970s. After that I never saw her again for about twenty years or so but she was over in the corner at Stannard Bros Launch Services base at Balmain. Hardly anybody took her out on a job but I liked Moree. She had good power even though the design was from fifty years back with machinery to match.
As time moves on we move with it. Stannards closed. I left the harbour and now most of the small tugs are gone from Sydney. I often thought about the small tugs and what happened to them.
Then the opportunity to own one presented itself. I had the money so I went looking. After months of nothing I was leaving Sydney on the plane for a job in the oil industry and, flying at reasonably low altitude over the Parramatta River, I noticed a small tug at Brays Bay. Four weeks later when I returned the hunt was on. It was the Moree.
After all this time I thought she was scrap for sure, but no.
I rang around and learned she was for sale. Upon inspection she was found to be in fairly good shape but some major repairs to the structure and engines were going to be required. And what would the hull and shaft be like? I couldn’t let her go.
The fellow who owned her said he towed her to the mooring and just left her there. I checked her out with a dolphin torch, did a lap in my dinghy to check the hull and parted with the money … she was mine!
Now what? A boat that wouldn’t start, that had parts missing from the 50-year old engines that up until then couldn’t be found … and I had to go back to work … on an oil rig in Western Australia.
When I got home Moree was still sitting there so it was time to give her a birthday present. A new set of batteries, a 20 litre drum of Jet A1 in each of her fuel tanks and I threw in the breaker. Nothing happened. I went to the wheelhouse and switched on the engine alarms … nothing.
Back to the engine room and tried the lights … again, nothing. Then I heard the regulator click in, then the alarm bells went off in the wheelhouse and on went the lights. Fifty-year-old ceramic fuses and bakelite switches. This stuff still worked!
This was encouraging. I got hold of the basic bits for the engines and decided to test the bounds of reality. I tried to start them. And start they did!
Although somewhat smokey, they started easy. Later a local GM mechanic, who said he’d never heard of 110 series GMs, gave them a simple tune up and synchronisation, and the control system was good to go. We also came to the conclusion that the exhaust smoke was due to oil passing the blower shaft seals.
After this it was time to get the divers over to clean the propeller, rudder and sea water intake. Then get a report on the hull. It was covered in barnacles – every square inch.
The next move was to get her down to Wollongong and pull her out of the water. We left the mooring at sundown mid-October and arrived at Belmore Basin at 0600 the next day. I only used the forward engine and put it on 1000rpm but still made five knots.
That weekend I hauled her out, blasted the hull to reveal a remarkably preserved vessel. A good coat of primer and anti-foul then back in the water on Monday morning.
Moree is due for some major welding soon, but made no water at sea, so the hull and stern tube are sound. One of the blowers has been rebuilt and the auxiliary engine is ashore waiting on some new piston rings. I’ve even found some period brass port holes. As for the rest of her, she’s as those who worked on her would remember and that’s not about to change anytime soon.
Hopefully Moree will be around for another 50 years, but after driving her fresh off the slipway last month she is a credit to the men who designed and built her. The bilge keels can be felt to work and the steering can be operated with one finger. Even the old anchor windlass still turns easy.
All in all, for a boat to last this long after such a hard life it’s impressive to stand on her decks and think about the work that went into her.
And if anyone reading this knows anything about her drawings or files please let me know.