Last week we learned about the original South Seas schooner, the Tiare Taporo (Flower of the lime). This week, journalist, Anneka Brown, continued the story for the Cook Islands News and wrote about the boat’s most colorful captain, Andy Thomson (also spelled Thompson).
I will paraphrase the article, but feel free to read the entire piece by clicking here.
…But this story is not about Pacific Schooners’ beleaguered tramp steamer Tiare Taporo. It is about the original Tiare Taporo and her famous captain Andy Thomson. Andy Thompson had made his way as a young boy serving in square-rigged ships in the Atlantic trade before sailing around America as a quartermaster on ships on the great lakes. He was just 15 years old when he first landed on Rarotonga’s (Cook Islands) shore.
In 1908 Thomson began working on boats owned by AB Donald Ltd, of Auckland. Thomson would regularly sail past Raro on his way back from Tahiti, and he just liked the way it looked from the sea. When his parents passed away he never went back to New York – he was out in the sea and, in 1912, he decided to come and make Raro his home. Once he was in Raro, he felt the warmth of the people, he fell in love with Rarotonga.
Just a year later in 1913, Alexander B Donald commissioned the construction of a kauri-wood schooner in Auckland. It was 27.3 meters long on the deck, with a beam of 7.1 meters and a draft of 2.9 meters. The build cost was £3000. In those days, says Donald’s great-grandson James Donald, it was common to have financial partners in many separate ventures because the full cost could not be afforded.
The Tiare Taporo was based in the Cook Islands from 1919 to 1949, and then intermittently until 1986. During her days in the Cook Islands, Captain Andy Thomson had some memorable adventures with Tiare Taporo, says Donald.
In 1949 Andy Thomson took command of Tiare Taporo, and sailed her to Auckland for an overhaul. Under Captain Andy’s command, Tiare Taporo returned to the Cook Islands where AB Donald Ltd replaced her with a wooden motor ship the Charlotte Donald. Meanwhile, Tiare Taporo took a labor gang to the phosphate island of Makatea and from there sailed to Papeete, where she was handed over once again Alexander Donald’s business over there, Etablissements Donald Tahiti Ltd.
Thomson, meanwhile stayed in the Charlotte Donald in the Cook Islands and after a voyage to the Marquesas for copra, he again sighted his old boat Tiare in Papeete. “The Tiare looked well, all dolled and painted up,” he wrote. “They always keep the vessels at Papeete in tip-top order. I don’t believe you’ll see such nicely kept ships in any place in the world as you do in Papeete, Tahiti.”
In 1960, Tiare Taporo was returned to Cook Islands and to the command of Captain Andy.
In 1964, the company was sold to a Tongan trader – but by then Tiare Taporo was in a bad way, having lost her main mast some time earlier and the hull succumbing to the ravages of time. James Donald remembers when he was a young man, just 21. It was our years after the sale of Tiare Taporo, and he sailed with Captain Andy on the company’s replacement trading vessel Akatere. It was a 14-day voyage from Auckland to Rarotonga and Andy Thompson, by this point retired, was also a passenger.
Captain Andy taught Donald the art of celestial navigation during that two-week passage. “Andy was believed to have a bottle of rum in his cabin which adjoined mine on the after deck,” Donald recalls. “He swore that he was not drinking but someone put a pencil mark on the label which proved that he indeed had been drinking, but by a very small amount – and why not? He had had an unblemished record in the South Pacific for those days, never losing a ship nor anyone overboard.”
The retired Andy Thompson was travelling as a passenger back to his home in Rarotonga. “For me, it was a voyage that was memorable and which I have never forgotten – 51 years ago. I still have Andy’s notes concerning my amateurish attempts at celestial navigation,” said Donald.
After that, Jim Donald says he used to visit the retired Captain Andy and his wife at their little house in Rarotonga, just about every Sunday afternoon. “The ritual was that Andy would produce an unopened bottle of whisky and open it and throw away the cork! At my then age – and even now – I was and would be somewhat horrified. But I soon got used to Andy and his ways. His stories were phenomenal and to my eternal regret I never recorded them. I only remember one or two. I still have his navigation notes from when he taught me how to navigate with a sextant.”
Captain Andy died in 1975 aged 90. Captain Andy’s Beach Bar & Grill at The Rarotongan Beach Resort is named in his honor. His final resting place lies across the road beside his original home, which the resort has now restored as a heritage building.