Sad ending as Varangian is wrecked off New Zealand

A boat with a long history and Shetland roots was destroyed off New Zealand two years ago, it has emerged.

The Varangian, most recently owned by New Zealanders Julian and Shelley Hoogland, was unfortunately wrecked at Waikanae Beach, Gisborne, New Zealand in 2007.

The vessel began its life in Lerwick, being commissioned by John Russell, a retired squadron leader from the west coast of Scotland who was looking for a strong boat capable of sailing offshore.

She was built by Jeemie Smith of the Allcraft Company at the West Dock, Lerwick, in 1960, with assistance from John Ratter, Douglas Sinclair and Jack Duncan.

Impressively, all the work undertaken was done by hand and the only power tools used were the electric drills used to bore holes, and all the steel fittings were custom made at the Malakoff by Willie Farquhar before being sent to Glasgow to be galvanised.

Throughout her life at sea the Varangian clocked up many miles and was used as a cruising vessel and among other things, interestingly, a political campaigner.

During the late 1980s and early 1990s, and under owner at the time Alistair Robinson, she was part of a flotilla supporting the Greenpeace vessel Rainbow Warrior, in protest at a planned atomic explosion at the Fijian island of Mururoa Atoll.

In 1985 Rainbow Warrior was attacked by French secret service and sank, with the loss of one life. The protest led to the New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone, Disarmament and Arms Control Act 1987, making New Zealand a nuclear free zone.

The Varangian was well documented by previous owner Gordon Smith, who bought her in 1976.

In his book of the same title, Mr Smith chronicles the voyage he took with her during the late 1970s and early 80s when he sailed from Lerwick to New Zealand.

Along the way their route included Madeira and the Canaries, the West Indies, passage through the Panama canal and on to the Galapagos, the Marquesas, Cook Islands and Fiji before reaching their destination.

After selling her on to Mr Robinson, Mr Smith came to own the vessel again and was the last to own her prior to her current, and sadly last, owners.

He bought her for a second time from Alison Clifford in 2001. However, three years later Mr Smith realised he could not commit to the work required to keep the vessel in pristine condition, and she was sold on in 2004 to the Hoogland family.

Planning to live on the vessel, they undertook several renovations, during which they were visited by John Ratter, who had helped build her and who said that, owing to her excellent condition, she should be of use for many years to come.

The Hooglands owned her until the disaster in 2007, the details of which are unfortunately unclear.

Most recently, some of the wreckage was used in a piece of art by New Zealand sculptor Conor Jeory, who used wood from the smashed vessel to create a wall relief.

The abstract artwork depicts New Zealand mythical creature the “taniwha”, which are said to be beings that can take on many different forms and often live in the sea, especially in places with dangerous currents.

Taniwha, while often thought to be guardians of their people, can also be depicted as monsters – particularly those at sea – and are often blamed for a disaster.

This is perhaps a fitting use for the remains of this historical vessel.


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