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Cruise ships regularly come to call at the port of Lyttelton. Often when these large cruise ships arrive and depart, boats from the port meet the ships near the mouth of the harbour and escort them as they are piloted along the harbour. On 14 February, the stately Cunard oceanliner the Queen Elizabeth 2 was set to sail from the port. A couple of weeks prior to this we were wandering around the port and noticed a sign near the famous old steam tug the Lyttelton which advertised for a late afternoon cruise aboard the tug to escort the great ship out of the harbour. We also thought the cruise would make a great date in celebration of Valentine’s Day.

The Lyttelton Tug , first put into use around 1907, is maintained and preserved by a group of devoted volunteers. We boarded the old tug around 4:30 P.M. Our first objective was to make our way over to where the QE2 was berthed – outsite the inner harbour, due to the size of the ship.

The wheelhouse was in immaculate condition, as were the the instruments and telegraphs.

Prior to departure everything seemed to need a bit of grease – everything! All the machinery is original and a little bit of tender loving care keeps it all running smooth.

From the inner harbour the Lyttelton Time Ball can be seen high on the hill. At noon, the ball would drop from the top of a long mast and a cannon would fire to signal to ships in the harbour Greenwhich Time for ships so they could adjust their chronometers and get a fix on their longitude before setting out to sea again. The Lyttelton Time Ball is the last remaining operational time ball left in New Zealand. At noon the ball still drops and a cannon is fired!

We slowly made our way to where the grand ship was berthed and waited for her lines to be cast off.

I was more intrigued with the steam engines on the Lyttelton than the more modern QE2, so I headed down to the engine room for a wee visit. The ship has two sets of steam engines which drive two shafts. Each shaft has a high pressure piston and a low pressure piston.

It was impressive to watch the big engines turn the crankshaft. One of the guys in the engine room was Scottish and reminded my of Mr. Scott from Star Trek.

I watched the engine room crew at work for a while and finally realized how the telegraphs from the wheelhouse operate.

Just forward of the engine room is the boiler room. It was neat to see the huge fireboxes blazing.

I spent at least half an hour talking to the fireman in the boiler room about how the whole thing works.

I came back up on deck to see where we were in the harbour.

The QE2 lumbered slowly along as it was piloted through the harbour. However, once the pilot left the ship it gained steam and easily overtook us!

The Lyttelton Tug has steam assisted power steering – not bad for a 100 year old ship.

At the headlands we left the QE2 as she sailed on towards Sydney. Goodbye QE2!

Eventually we made it back to port.

We thought we would complete the evening with a great Italian meal at Freeman’s Dining Room in Lyttelton What a great day!