HMAS Esmeralda (formerly Tanda)


Tanda was constructed in Tasmania by Percy Coverdale at Battery Point, Hobart.  She was launched in early August 1927 for Sydney architect R A de T Prevost who wanted ‘the best motor boat south of the Line’.  The Mercury newspaper (281) reported her to be of 45 feet (13.71m), however, Ellerker identified she was 48 feet (14.63m) with a beam of 12 feet 6inches (3.81m).  The newspaper reported ‘She is indeed much more than an ordinary pleasure craft.  She is a deep-sea vessel, and will be given an opportunity to prove her qualities in this direction quite early in her career for she has to go to Sydney under her own power’.  She included a large four berth cabin forward with a ‘much larger’ cabin aft, a commodious galley with electric stove and ice box, and the best arranged and ventilated engine room ‘seen in any motor boat on the Derwent or in Port Jackson’.  Tanda arrived in Sydney on 18 August 1927 after a 1,170 km voyage having weathered high seas in Bass Strait. (282)


By Saturday 10 April 1937, Tanda now owned and renamed Esmeralda by Mr and Mrs Claude Carter won the second event in the cruiser race on the RMYC Rear-Commodore’s Day. (283)  On the same day, the new owners entertained guests including the Lady Mayoress, Mrs G Parkes and Alderman Parkes on board the vessel.    


Sailors relaxing on the motor yacht Tanda. (284)


A fortnight later, she was a competitor for the RMYC ‘W Heine Anzac Trophy’ for cruisers.  Being a handicap race over two miles (3.2km), Esmeralda was to start last in the C Class Cruiser Handicap with a time penalty of 3½ minutes. (285)  It is unknown how she fared.


Ellerker advised the Navy her original Parsons engines had been replaced in 1938 with new high speed Hercules or Kermath diesel engines.


Esmeralda was formally requisitioned by the Navy on 25 September 1941, and on 6 October 1941 the Naval Board approved for Esmeralda to be sent to the Ford shipyard for ‘hull work’ to prepare her for naval operations. (286)  Ellerker in their report for Toomeree, confirmed the owner’s valuation of £4,500, a Lloyds value for the Navy of £3,500, and the price finally paid by the Navy of £3,500.  There is no record of the negotiation process, or if an ‘Impressment Order’ had been issued, or when the parties reached agreement.  


HMAS Esmeralda. (287)


Esmeralda was commissioned on 20 November 1941 under the command of Sub-Lieutenant John A Dennis RANR.  Denis remained as her commander to 1 June 1942.


At 48 feet (14.63m), she was the smallest, and having been constructed in 1927, she was also the oldest vessel of the Hollywood Fleet.  She was fitted with a single .303 Vickers machine gun and depth charge chutes to port and starboard at the stern.  Each chute held a single depth charge.


Esmeralda, did not take part in the Battle of Sydney Harbour.  She remained moored to the wharf due to engine trouble.


Reg Andrew, former commander of Seamist and Lolita recalled in his interview (288) with Carruthers, that Esmeralda had spent much of her time at the wharf due to problems with her engines.  Of all the vessels of the Hollywood Fleet, the National Archives holds more records for defect rectification work on Esmeralda than for any of the other vessels.


The Sydney Log records Esmeralda departing Sydney on 13 August 1944 for Air Sea Rescue duties at Darwin.  She never arrived.  In November 1944 she was at Cairns ‘making good engine defects’. (289)  In December, the NOIC at Darwin reported she was not required and consideration was given to appoint her to Merauke on the south-east coast of New Guinea to replace another vessel.  However, she was then reported to be in transit to Brisbane and expected to arrive in the ‘next few days’.  The Log for the Small Craft Base at Brisbane records her arrival from ‘Northern Ports’ on 21 December 1944, with sundry defects and awaiting directions.  

There are no Reports of Proceedings for her, other than a single page dated 1 March 1945 advising she had spent the entire month at the Fairmile ML base in Brisbane undergoing refit. (290)  By February 1945 she was being stripped for a ‘major’ refit and being prepared for the removal of her main engines.  She remained in refit till she was ‘paid off’ in January 1946 and held for disposal. (291)


She was advertised for sale by the Department of the Navy on 2 March 1946 with inspections to be made in Brisbane. (292)  She was being sold without engines, but according to an advertisement for the sale in a Rockhampton publication, it appears the refit may have returned her to her pre-war condition.  She was advertised with ‘owners cabin’ and saloon, six berths, ‘glassed’ wheelhouse, ‘well equipped galley’ and sound-proofed engine room.


Esmeralda was purchased by Laurie Coleman, formerly of the RAAF, for £1,150 to be used for ‘tourist traffic’ between Mackay and the Whitsunday Islands.  She was described at the time as previously being used as an Air Force rescue craft (293) with a speed of 10 knots with ‘plenty more in reserve in case of emergency’.  


She arrived in Mackay, in June 1946 after a 53 hour journey from Brisbane.  Coleman had installed two Ford Thorneycroft 100 hp V8 petrol engines.  After refurnishing, she made her first trip to Brampton Island on 16 June. (294)  Whales were sighted as she made one of her trips in September and in early January 1947, her skipper reported sighting a mine whilst returning from Linderman Island. (295)  The following month, during a storm, she broke her mooring at Paxton’s Wharf, Mackay and drifted downstream endangering other vessels.  In March, she was nearly consumed by fire when the launch Seaway, also owned by Coleman and moored adjacent to Esmeralda, was ‘transformed to a floating furnace after an explosion’.  The fire spread to Esmeralda’s awning before being doused from shore based fire hoses.  Two people aboard Esmeralda were struck by flying glass as the explosion shattered windows ‘in every direction’. (296)


Between 1947 and 1949, Coleman continued to promote his tourist operations with the ‘splendidly appointed Esmeralda’ for multi-day cruisers of the ‘beauty of the Whitsunday Passage with its numerous islands’ and ‘excellent coral reef gardens’ with fishing, swimming, aquaplaning and sunbathing.


In December 1949 with Coleman and others, she visited Cooktown, the adjacent islands and the reef. (297)  At some point in time, Coleman sold her to a Vic Johnston, (298) and in December 1954, she was purchased by Roy Markwell.  She was moored in front of his home in Fairfield on the Brisbane River just upstream from Roy’s engineering business.  Apparently, Roy did not like her original vertical bow and wanted a more ‘modern sleeker appearance’.  He gave her a new raked bow which increased her waterline length to 49ft 6in (15.01m).  


Esmeralda in Queensland waters, c1960s. (299)


By 1960, she was being advertised in the Australian Women’s Weekly (300) for ‘luxury 5-day cruisers’ from Proserpine.


Roy sold her in in the mid 1960s.  Between 1963 to 1969, she was included in ‘TAA Fly-away Holiday’ advertisements for cruisers through the Whitsunday Passage and to ‘most of the Reef islands’. (301)  She was spotted at the Hamilton Island Marina in the late 1980’s with the name of Ralda. (302)  


In 1992, she was advertised in the Tradeaboat magazine with the name of Lady Margaret.  She was spotted by Northern Territory safari operator Simon Kyle-Little.  Simon recalled her being in Sydney at the time, but she was sailed to Brisbane from where she was trucked to Darwin.  On arrival in Darwin, Simon was appalled her bow had been unsupported during the long overland journey and had dropped by a ‘foot’.  Notwithstanding, the fault was rectified when she was placed in the water and the timbers sprang back into alignment.


For the next five years, ‘the great old boat’ became the mainstay of Simon’s safari business, sailing out of Darwin along the Arnhem Land coasts, past Melville Bay where Steady Hour was destroyed in March 1945, and onto the  safari base camp on the Walker River at Blue Mud Bay to the west of Groote Eylandt.


Simon has fond memories of her.  She ‘served me amazingly well’ and ‘gave a lot of people a lot of pleasure’.


Her story continues from the Cullen Bay Marina, Darwin in January 1997, where Lady Margaret was found by Sale (Victoria) based plumber and gas fitter Mal Howarth.  After inspecting her, including a dive in the crocodile infested harbour, Mal swapped his dive boat for her and had her trucked to Paynesville on the Gippsland Lakes.



Arrival at Paynesville boatyard Feb 1997 after the overland journey from Darwin


Over a period of years, she underwent extensive repairs.  Mal found she had been leaking badly as worms had ‘eaten completely through the hull’.  She was nearly a year on the hard stand while the hull and engines were rebuilt.  Topsides were restored once she was back in the water at Paynesville boatyard and in her pen at Raymond Island.  During the work, the shipwrights discovered her former name of Esmeralda on the rear of her Lady Margaret name plate.  



Restoration underway at Paynesville Boatyard Circa 1997.  


Her current owner, Bill Maxwell and his wife Yvonne, purchased her in March 2018 after seeing her at Raymond Island in the Gippsland Lakes, following the 2018 Paynesville Classic Boat Rally.  After some further work, and ninety-three years since she was launched, she will be returning to Tasmania with her original name – Tanda.


Former HMAS Esmeralda, now renamed Tanda on the Gippsland Lakes. (303)


HMAS Esmeralda was recently included in the Navy’s ‘Ship Histories’. (304)

281 Mercury (Hobart), 1 August 1927, p.5

282 The Sydney Morning Herald, 19 August 1927, p.11

283 The Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 12 April 1937, p.9

284 NLA Trove Pictures – 161951380

285 The Sydney Morning Herald, 24 April 1937, p.22

286 NAA: MP138/1, 603/246/6400 Lolita - Sinking due to explosion in engine room 13/6/45, p.67

287 RAN Sea Power Centre – Australia.  Note the single full size depth charge on the stern (there would be one each side) and smaller depth charges in the crates on the bow.  The photograph was probably taken in late 1942 after the smaller depth charges were introduced.

288 ANMM, Object No. 00047664: Voice interviews by Reginald Andrew … relating to the Sydney Harbour Attack

289 NAA: MP138/1, 603/246/4344: Esmeralda – Allocation to Merauke

290 NAA: AWM78, 108/1: HMAS Esmeralda: Reports of Proceedings

291 NAA: AWM78, 381/1: Small Craft [Fairmile, ML] Base, Brisbane: reports of Proceedings., and NAA: AWM78, 108/1: HMAS Esmeralda: Reports of Proceedings

292 The Sydney Morning Herald, 2 March 1946, p.14

293 There is no record to support this.

294 Daily Mercury (Mackay, Queensland), 12 June 1946, p.2

295 Daily Mercury (Mackay, Queensland), 9 January 1947, p.2

296 Daily Mercury (Mackay, Queensland), 20 March 1947, p.2

297 Townsville Daily Bulletin (Queensland), 6 December 1949, p.1

298 This recent history has been revealed through the research work of Colin Grazules and members of the Facebook Page:  Boats and Ships Built at Battery Point.  See also Industrious, Innovative, Altruistic: The 20th Century Boat Builders of Battery Point, Nicole Mays, Navarine Publishing, 2018

299 Photo courtesy of the Markwell family

300 The Australian Women’s Weekly, 20 April 1960, p.41

301 The Canberra Times (ACT), 3 February 1969, p.9

302 Mays, N., Industrious, Innovative, Altruistic: The 20th Century Boat Builders of Battery Point, Entry for Tanda

303 Photo on the Gippsland Lakes courtesy of Bill Maxwell. Photos above on truck and on hardstand courtesy of Mal Howarth

304 Following a successful representation to the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs in early 2020, for the vessels histories to be included, the RAN Sea Power Centre has recently begun to include the histories.  An early copy of these histories was provided to Sea Power to assist them.