A TUGBOAT met a rather unfortunate fate one hundred years ago when two vessels sailed out of Sydney and encountered a cyclone on their way to New Caledonia.

The voyage attracted media attention even before the mishap occurred. A French steamer named Saint Vincent de Paul cleared Sydney heads on the afternoon of 10 June.

The steamer was on an interesting assignment; in tow was the Sandvigen, an old windjammer on its way to Noumea to be converted into a hulk.

Attached to Sandvigen was a small tugboat, effectively hitching a ride to the same port.

“Fully laden herself and with the French hulk Sandvigen (also down to her marks with a cargo of coke) in tow, the French steamer Saint Vincent de Paul sailed from Sydney yesterday, bound to Noumea,” Daily Commercial News wrote.

“The Sandvigen was purchased from Norwegians some time back, and sailed from Melbourne to Sydney to be dismantled,” it wrote.

“This work having been completed, she loaded a full cargo of coke for the New Caledonian port.

“Arrangements were made for the Saint Vincent de Paul to tow the hulk to her destination. Not being fitted out for this particular class of work, special gear had to be fitted up for the purpose.

“This consists of a strong iron chain cable lashed round the stern of the steamer. To this the towline is made fast.

“After clearing the heads, sails were set on the hulk, and with a good breeze behind them the vessels were soon hull down.”


Further news of the voyage appeared in Australian newspapers about a week later, when Saint Vincent de Paul returned to Sydney with a beat-up Sandvigen in tow, sans tugboat.

The Evening News ran an article titled Thrills at Sea – Tale of Two Vessels which is largely undecipherable in online archives, except for a line that says, “The old ship [Sandvigen] was in a frightful mess, having sustained considerable damage on deck and to the rigging.”

And DCN wrote that shipping circles were interested when the signal master at South Head reported that the steamer and the hulk had returned to port.

“When the vessel reached port, the reason for the unexpected return was soon forthcoming. On board the Sandvigen was a small tug destined for the same port as the hulk. This little vessel was about the same size as the Cific, which, it will be remembered, foundered off the New South Wales coast some time ago while in tow of the steamer Saint Joseph.

“Not taking the same risks as with the Cific, it was decided to send this new purchase to Noumea on the deck of the Sandvigen. The tug was accordingly bolted down to the deck of the Sandvigen, and otherwise made as secure as possible.

“Shortly after leaving Sydney, however, the vessels ran into a cyclone, during which very heavy seas were shipped. One particularly heavy sea, which broke on board, tore the tug from the deck of the hulk, and washed it overboard, fifty feet of the Sandvigen’s starboard bulwarks amidships going with it.

“To make matters worse, a large hole was torn in the deck from where the tug was wrenched, allowing large quantities of water to get down below. The pumps were at once brought into use, but the big one broke, thus making the task of getting the water away much more difficult.

“The position growing more and more difficult, it was decided to put back to Sydney, the vessels reaching this port at 11.20 am yesterday. The Sandvigen dropped anchor off Point Piper and will be repaired here, while the Saint Vincent de Paul was expected to resume her voyage to Noumea early this morning.”

This article appeared in the June 2024 edition of DCN Magazine