The Rakaia started life as the Empire Abercorn. Built by Harland and Wolff Limited (Belfast) in 1944/45 for the Ministry of War Transport, the Empire Abercorn was managed by the New Zealand Shipping Company until 1946 when the Company bought her and renamed her Rakaia.


Technical data on Rakaia indicates that she was a refrigerated cargo vessel of 8,213 gross tons with a length overall of 474 feet 2 inches and an insulated cargo capacity of 367,902 cubic feet. Her 8 cylinder, 2 cycle, double-acting diesel engine gave her a service speed of 14.5 knots.


In 1950, Rakaia’s passenger accommodation was altered to allow her to assume the role of a cadet training ship for up to 40 cadets, and she operated in this role until 1968. The cadets lived in more than reasonable comfort. Their cabins, dining saloon and classroom were on the promenade deck, and their ante-room was on the boat deck. There were 3 full-time instructional staff: a schoolmaster, a seamanship instructor and a physical education instructor.


Whilst a cadet’s life on board one of the New Zealand Shipping Company’s cadet ships is well summarised in the Company’s prospectus printed in 1962, photographs and anecdotes are a great way to show that cadets not only worked hard but played hard.


Any material that you would like to display would be most gratefully received.

Technical data on Rakaia taken from a copy of her capacity plan, dated as of May 1950, are available for download as a pdf. This capacity plan was obtained from the National Maritime Museum, and it is far too large to scan for download purposes. If anyone has a copy of Rakaia’s capacity plan in the format used for “The Carriage of Cargo” handbook, it would be most gratefully received. This would be scanned for download purposes, and the original returned to the owner.


Any engine that has been described as “very complicated but a thing of beauty when in motion” must be worthy of study, and Rakaia’s engine certainly falls into this category. It was an 8 cylinder, 2 cycle, double-acting Burmeister and Wain type diesel engine built by Harland and Wolff. More details on engines of this type are available for download as a pdf here.


For those interested in learning more about Harland and Wolff engines, C C Pounder’s book on “Marine Diesel Engines” contains a wealth of information. An extract from that book, focusing on the type of double acting, two-stroke, opposed piston engine that was installed in Rakaia is available for download as a pdf here.


Andrew Jaggers has kindly provided a copy of the Homeward Stowage Plan for Rakaia’s Voyage 43. This most interesting reminder of the complex nature of cargo stowage in the days before containerisation is available for download as a pdf here.

Brian Jones has written his memoirs, and these include a chapter on his time as a deck apprentice on Rakaia in the 1950s. This chapter, which is packed full of interesting and amusing stories, is available for download as a pdf here.


Conrod provides a fascinating insight into his engineering apprenticeship in his article “Turning the Screw”. His account, which includes a voyage on Rakaia between 1958 and 1959, is available for download as a pdf here.


Jim Varney wrote an article for the Maori Club magazine in 1957 about the use of jury sails on Rakaia during a voyage from New York to Liverpool when she suffered a major engine malfunction. The attached article represents a compilation of the original text together with photographs and a water colour painting. This great story is available for download as a pdf here.


Frank Russell was the Bosun on Rakaia for thirty-five consecutive voyages, and those of you who served on her during that time will more than likely have at least one colourful memory of him! Please share those memories with us to add to the tribute to him, which is available for download as a pdf here.


It was customary for a formal Voyage Photo to be taken at the beginning of each of Rakaia’s voyages as a Cadet Training Ship. The intention is to reproduce these photos in an attempt to identify the cadets and to encourage the submission of supporting photos and anecdotal material to show what the cadets got up to whilst at work and at play! A collection of the Voyage Photos and supporting material that have been submitted so far is available for download as a pdf here.


John Crowder had a memorable voyage on Rakaia in 1965, during which he found himself assisting with an appendectomy! His account of this event is available for download as a pdf here.


Keith Everitt has produced a synopsis of Rakaia’s last two voyages as a Cadet Training Ship; it comprises the diary entries that he wrote at the time together with some colour photographs, and it is available for download as a pdf here.


Barrie Hudd was an Engineer Officer on Rakaia between 1968 and 1969, when she no longer operated as a Cadet Training Ship. He has very kindly produced an article featuring some engineering highlights from those voyages, and it is available for download as a pdf here.


Any anecdotes that you may have of Rakaia would be most gratefully received.