Restoring the Toroa


Rebuilding from the Inside Out

The steam ferry Toroa has been a salient landmark by the NW motorway for a number of years, standing next to the Lincoln Rd interchange and the Selwood Road—The Concourse junction in Henderson.“Is anything happening? What are they doing? Why can’t we see anything from the road? Is this a lost cause?” the commuters wonder, sitting in their cars at the traffic lights.

 Short answers: Lots; restoring the hull and the machinery; the current work is invisible inside the hull or behind the hull; far from it—enormous progress has been made in the restoration of the venerable vessel.

These notes touch on some of this work in returning the Toroa to the Waitemata as an authentic, seaworthy & operational steam ship.

The Auckland steam ferry Toroa is a large vessel, a ship, of composite construction in the old sense of composite construction—timber planking over steel framing and bulkheads. Much of the original steelwork was badly corroded and has had to be renewed virtually throughout the hull.

And to preserve integrity of structure and shape, renewal of the steelwork must be done from the inside out, before tackling restoration of the hull and deck planking. And so, an extensive body of restoration work has been invisible to the passing motorist.

The steel frames and bulkheads have been restored, and main-deck framing  is underway. Both wheelhouses rebuilt. Triple-expansion steam engine reassembled and mostly restored. Shipwright work on backbone and planking of the hull begins at completion of the main-deck framing.

Renewed steelwork in Toroa’s hull aft of the engine room. New steel bulb-angle frames (ribs) have been bent to shape and bevel while heated to above red heat. Bulkheads have been hot-riveted with 16 & 20 mm diameter mild steel rivets. The steel deck beams in this area had yet to be tackled when the photograph was taken.

Bending the Frames

The original rolled 5″ x 3″ bulb angle section to B.S. 6, and the new extruded 120 x 75 bulb angle section

Bending the frames meant reviving and adapting 19th-century techniques. After cold-bending proved unsuccessful, bending the bulb-angle to a pattern on a traditional cast-iron dog-slab was employed, heating the steel to above red heat with a large oxy-acetylene torch gradually swept along the frame, and pulling the frame progressively into the pattern. In successive sweeps the flange was bent outboard to match the bevel required by the planking at the particular station of the hull. The torch replaced the long-gone 19th-century soaking furnaces and the benders with sledge-hammers, crowbars and leather puttees.

Steelwright Andrew Macbeth & Jackson Brown of ADM Contractors Ltd adjust the bevel in the flange of a bulb-angle frame already bent to pattern

New frames in the port after-quarter of the hull. Here there is reverse curvature and up to 20° of bevel in the flanges

Riveting the plate laps of the engine-room water-tight bulkhead. Each rivet is heated nearly white hot. The water-tight door to the right is from the frigate HMNZS Wellington, now beneath Cook Strait

Installing a newly fabricated main-deck beam through a slot in the gunwale

All 71 bulb-angle frames, each about 12 m long gunwale to gunwale, have been fabricated and installed to date, together with floors and reverse frames, intercostals and longitudinals. And some 200 sq m of steel bulkheads of plate and angle fastened with several thousand rivets. Replacing the main-deck beams is in progress.

Toroa’s large triple-expansion steam engine is housed to the north of the ferry and has been repaired, de-rusted, painted and reassembled. Apart from some work on journals and valves and auxiliaries it is in a state to be lifted back into the hull when that is ready. Other machinery, including an auxiliary steam engine driving a generator, has been restored, and a replacement condenser has been obtained.

The two wheelhouses have been rebuilt using original materials and methods of construction, and one has had its equipment and fittings restored and re-fitted.

Restoration Guidelines

The restoration of the Toroa is guided by a comprehensive conservation plan prepared by Peter McCurdy. The plan is based on well recognised heritage conservation principles and protocols. The purpose of the project is to restore the steam ferry to an authentic and seaworthy state to operate again on the Waitemata. To this end, materials, methods and arrangement are being restored as closely as possible to the original state of the vessel, modified only where necessary to comply with the current maritime regulations, and to meet the requirements of longevity and the need to generate income to fund ongoing maintenance and preservation.

The requirements of the conservation plan are applied to the restoration work by means of a Live Specification, an ever-growing and ever-more-detailed document defining precisely each element of the vessel and its gear and fittings.

Funding the restoration of the steam ferry Toroa

The rate of progress of the restoration is highly dependent on the rate at which funds can be raised. Many organisations and individuals contribute, and have contributed, to this maritime and social heritage project. Substantial grants have been provided by the Lottery Grants Board, the ASB Community Trust and TTCF: Waitakere Licensing Trust, and the Society is supported financially and in materials and services by many others.

Major funding is sought to complete the restoration well in time for the ferry’s anniversary in 2025. Please contact the Toroa Preservation Society with your support and inspiration. See Support the Restoration for a list of contributors and for how to join in supporting the restoration of the historic steam ferry Toroa.

See the Timeline 2001–2008 and 2008–Present for more on the restoration

Photographs: © P.J. McCurdy