Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Summer Cruise Preparations

Here is the good ship Mariner being lifted out so that she can be waterblasted and placed in a safe cradle ready to have antifouling paint applied under the waterline. She will be out of water for the next few days and then its back in and off up the Northland coast to the Bay of Islands, a safe haven for day sailing and holidaying.

There are plenty of safe anchorages at night in the Bay Of Islands and plenty of yachts and boating activity taking place. It's a very busy place over the holiday period. The area caters for not only overseas visitors at this time but also a very big contingent of New Zealanders from Auckland and further afield.

The BOIs is a popular destination for Auckland and Whangarei yachts for the holiday period. There is always a huge fleet that comes up from Auckland every year during this Christmas and New Year period. The trip up the coast has a number of safe anchorages along the way that provide boltholes if the weather turns nasty. So high summer is upon us, the warm winds are blowing, the pohutakawas are in full bloom and my eyes are cast seaward towards the horizon and all that this promises. Bon Voyage Mariner and to all who will sail in her.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Never Underestimate a Bus Driver

Parua Bay Whangarei New Zealand - Photo Alden Smith - Note the new jetty, the old one was destroyed by a number of yachts that either broke free of their moorings or dragged their huge mooring blocks in the last big storm here in Northland NZ.

This nice looking double ended yacht in the foreground of the picture was recently launched here at Parua Bay which is about 15 Kilometres as the crow flies from Whangarei city.

The yacht was built by our school bus driver over a number of years. He is an experienced yachtsman who both designed and built the boat himself. Amateur yacht building is a bit of a tradition in New Zealand - its heyday was in the 1970s before the world went completely barmy, a time when people worked only 40 hours a week for a living wage and had time to indulge their passions and interests in building and creating. These days we are a society that seems to live to work rather than to work to live. More is better in all things is the clarion call to all this madness.

When the yacht was launched she was found to be out of trim - she was floating down at the bow. Unperturbed by this our bus driver took the boat out, took off the four or five tons of outside lead ballast and re - positioned it in the correct position after having the lead recast. " I thought the original calculations were correct" he said with a wry smile - "Was it a bit frustrating having to do all that extra work? " I asked him. "Not as much work as building the boat itself" he replied in a rather matter of fact way - bus drivers are like that, practical and down to earth - I have never been asked directions by a bus driver yet. They know what they're doing.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Americas Cup J - Class Boats

During the 1930s J-class yachts were built to race in the America's Cup. Only 10 were ever built as they were extremely expensive to build and maintain, especially in the post war years. They succeeded the 1883 Seawanhaka Rules 75-footers of 1920 and were replaced by the 12 - metre class yachts when the Cup was challenged again in 1958.

The J designation refers to the class of yacht defined by its sail area, displacement, length, and mast height, formally defined in the Universal Rule. When designing a J-class yacht builders would have to decide which characteristics to maximize to build the ideal yacht.

All three America's Cup races featuring J-class boats were won by the New York Yacht Club. In 1930 Enterprise defeated Shamrock V of the Royal Ulster Yacht Club. In 1934 Rainbow defeated Endeavour of the Royal Yacht Squadron. In 1937, at the peak of J-class racing, the "Super J," Ranger defeated Britain's Endeavour II.

Only three of the original yachts are still sailing today; Shamrock V, Velsheda and Endeavour. They have all undergone extensive restoration and rebuilding.
A replica of Ranger was launched in 2004. As of April 2008 another three yachts are being built or planned. These are Endeavour II, Lionheart and Svea. According to J-class regulations, any new yacht built must use existing designs from the 1930s.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Boyhood Literature

This copy of the American "Yachting" magazine was first read by my father three months before I was born - note the price - they are now about $15 - $20NZ. Pretty pricey really, especially if you are a boat fanatic like myself. If I was really obsessive about purchasing every sailing magazine I laid eyes on I could easily spend in the region of one to two hundred dollars a month. But I don't. I am one of those people at the magazine stand who flicks through and only buys if there is something really interesting and valuable. I have learnt to use the library. Old sailing news is still good news in my book and well worth the wait. I sometimes take a stack home from the local library and saunter my way through them.
In his time my father was a great collector of sailing magazines and our hallway cupboard was full of the Yachting Monthly, Yachting World, Yachting, Rudder, Sea Spray, Wooden Boat, Sail magazine and many more. I can still see him kneeling in the hall in a sort of genuflection to his hoard of yachting magazines. They gave him a great deal of pleasure and like a good CD or book he came back to them more than a few times. I have to say as I grew bigger and developed my own interest in sailing and sailed my own centerboard yachts on the local estuary I too spent some time kneeling in a draughty hallway flicking through a stack before lugging it off to a comfortable chair for closer examination. I remember all this with fondness. The formation of formative years is enduring and the practise continues from time to time to this day.
Today I pretty much only purchase the English edition of Classic Boat magazine on any regular basis and I get a lot of pleasure from reading this. It is full of articles about wooden boats which I am particularly fond of.
My sailing library now includes a huge number of sailing books about yachts and voyaging and almost every maritime facet in between and a fair old stack (and it is old) that I have inherited from my father.
"Give me the child until he is seven and I will give you the man" - I didn't have a chance - but look at me - I'm smiling and I KNOW what the wind is saying when it begins to stir in the trees.

Monday, September 15, 2008


Yacht 'Fantasy' circa 1948 Lyttleton Harbour - Photo from private collection

This is the yacht 'Fantasy' sailing on Lyttleton harbour not long after she was launched. She was designed by the English naval architect Harrison Butler.

Harrison Butler designed all his yachts to a design rule he created called the Metacentric Rule. The rule was a mathematical equation relating to proportion that was meant to create the most efficient and fast hull for a given length. I think that the rule has now been discredited. Despite this the rule did have the byproduct of producing beautifully balanced hulls. My father who sailed on Fantasy said that she would sail herself to windward for long periods without anyone at the helm.

This characteristic is not something to be taken lightly as anyone who has sailed on an unbalanced boat will tell you. Many years ago I did a trip to the Pacific Islands in a beautiful looking yacht with very very bad "weather helm" i.e. the stronger it blew the more the boat wanted to rip the tiller out your hands and round up into the wind. Weather helm can be exhausting, especially in our case where we had lost our self steering wind vane in a storm and had to steer long watches for many days.

The curiously beautiful balance of Harrison Butlers boats is ascribed to the fact that the lines of the underwater plane of his hulls are symmetrical fore and aft. When you combine this symmetry with an above the waterline hull of non extreme type you have a hull whose balance is perfect when sailed upright and does not alter a lot when heeled.

In the UK many of HBs designs are considered classics and many have been restored and are still sailing.

By modern standards some of these older yacht designs do not give the same amount of accommodation for a given length, but their charm lies in their traditional design and very well mannered sailing behaviour.

Friday, August 29, 2008


In the background you can see the good ship Mariner ( she is just behind the yacht with the dinghy tied to her stern and has a blue cover over the mains'l on the boom). In the foreground is my trusty dinghy with my yachts registration number painted in the stern sheets - KZ4472. She is a fibreglass clinker dinghy of approximately 8 1/2 feet long of unknown design. I bought her a couple of years ago off the online auction TradeMe for $460 when my older and smaller wooden dinghy nearly drowned me one day (long story and too embarrassing to tell). I keep the dinghy permanently tied to the pontoon and use her to get out to the good ship Mariner and also as my tender when going away for day trips around the harbour or short trips up the coast. For longer trips I take an inflatable which I can easily get up on deck.

I picked this new dinghy up from the seller at Snell's Beach about 100km away. If you were ever wondering how well an upturned dinghy travels upside down on the roof rack of an aging Honda then the answer is it depends on the driver (long story and too embarrassing to tell).

If you look closely at the bow of the dinghy you will see that she is chained to the pontoon. This is not as satisfactory as how she was originally secured, which was with a long length of stainless steel wire rope which enabled the dinghy to float well away from the pontoon allowing other dinghies and their occupants easy access.

Well shipmates, about four weeks after I had this new dinghy back and wired to the pontoon, I went down one day and found the dinghy had disappeared! - I don't think I have been as furious for a long time and I was a long time furious believe me. It wasn't so much the money involved, it was the time taken searching out and bidding on the online auctions and having to drive all that way to pick her up.
I knew the dinghy had been stolen because I could see that the piece of thin wire painter still attached to the pontoon by the padlock had been flexed backwards and forwards until it had broken. A pair of oars had also been stolen from a dinghy close by belonging to the owner of the yacht opposite mine on the moorings.

I reported the theft to the local Police Station - and I must say to my embarrassment that there was a point where I was describing with great eloquence the pedigree of the thief, where a certain glance from the constable had that - tone it down or you will be arrested look about it.

The dinghy was found two days later by my friend whose oars were stolen. My dinghy had one of his oars in it, we never found the other one. In the bottom of the dinghy was a plastic bag with fish bait in it - so someone had stolen the dinghy to do a bit of night fishing.

My dinghy doesn't have a name and I shall have to think of one - something along the lines of 'Rinky Dink', 'Calabash' or the dinghy equivalent of 'Hunky Dory'. - Just had a thought and a Dilemma - because I got my dinghy back perhaps I should name it 'Boomerang' - Hmmm, as a Kiwi I might have to think about that one.

Friday, August 8, 2008


The Yacht Tai - Mo - Shan in the English Channel approaching Dartmouth - 1934

This is a photograph of the Tai Mo Shan taken in the English Channel at the end of her voyage from Hong Kong.

This is the yacht that played the part of the yacht ‘Fernando’ in the vastly popular film “Mamma Mia” which featured the music of ABBA.

In many ways the history of this yacht and the exploits of its crew both during this voyage and during World War Two are the equal of any applause for the film “Mamma Mia”

Two yachts designed by H.S.Rouse were to become very famous in the post-war era. The Tai Mo Shan and more famously the Tzu Hang, the 46 foot ketch, built by Hop Kee in 1938. The Tzu Hang survived fifteen years of world cruising in the hands of Miles and Beryl Smeeton and underwent a terrifying pitchpoling in 1954 and later a capsize off Cape Horn in 1956. These exploits are featured in Smeetons book “Once is Enough”.

In 1932, five adventurous young naval officers financed the building of a 54 foot ocean racing ketch in the yard of the Hong Kong & Whampoa Dock Co Ltd. She was designed by H.S. Rouse and constructed in teak and named Tai-Mo-Shan [High Hat Hill], after the highest mountain in the colony.

The Voyage of 16,217 miles without a motor, from Hong Kong to Dartmouth is told in Martyn Sherwoods book “The Voyage of the Tai – Mo – Shan.

After deciding to economise by not installing an engine, the officers had to ask the formidable Admiral Howard Kelly for permission to sail the new yacht to England by an unorthodox route, that is against the prevailing winds, via Japan, the Kuriles, the Bering Sea, the Aleutians, California, Panama and the West Indies. "Quite rightly", wrote Lt Martyn Sherwood later in his book, "We were placed on half-pay for the entire voyage". The admiral's approval, came with the comment that it was "refreshing to note this spirit of adventure and initiative", and also with a pay cut, down to seven shillings a day for each man. This lack of money, in sailing Tai-Mo-Shan to Britain without a motor, was to leave them stranded for sixteen days on Crooked Island in the Bahamas. Admiralty penny-pinching was somewhat balanced by a splendidly-timed congratulatory telegram, sent to Dartmouth by King George V.

The crew were four submariners and a naval doctor; Lt Martyn Sherwood, 32, Lt George Salt, 24, Lt Philip Francis, 24, Surgeon Lt Bertie Ommaney-Davis, 27, and sailing-master Lt R.E.D. "Red" Ryder, 24. All these crew distinguised themselves during World War Two by winning four DSOs, a Croix de Guerre and a VC between them.

It has been revealed recently that the voyage was in fact fully supported (except for full financial support) by British Naval Intelligence with the brief to see and record as much as they could about Japanese naval movements.

Friday, July 18, 2008


Painting - Jack Coggins

This is a yawl with a bone in her teeth. The yacht is one that has been built from a particular yacht design. I am going to take a punt as to the identity of that design.

I see from the flag that is flying off the leech of the mizzen that she is from the United States. By looking at the point at the bottom of the stern I can see that she is of hard chine hull form. Comparing the size of the crew with the size of the boat I would estimate that the yacht is about 34 feet in overall length excluding the bowsprit. The other features of the yacht that are worthy of note are the combination bowsprit and boomkin and the cabin form without a doghouse.

So what yacht is this? Well what gives her identity away is really the overall look of the boat. Its not really a hard bit of detective work at all and many sailors who know their boats would pick her for what she is. So what is she? - well I think that she is an example of the V-bottom Sea Bird design, a type developed by Captain Thomas Fleming Day and yacht designers on the staff of the Rudder Magazine. The reason for using the V-bottom type was that it is easier for the amateur builder to lay down and construct this type of hull form.

A smaller edition of this yacht (26 feet) was sailed across the Atlantic in the very early 1900s by Fleming Day. It was one of the great early transatlantic crossings.

But a more famous voyage was completed by the bigger 34 foot edition pictured above by the legendary Harry Pidgeon who completed a single handed circumnavigation in the 1920s in his yacht Islander. He wrote a classic book about his exploits called "Around The World Single - Handed". It was at the beginning of the golden age of small boat circumnavigations - an age marked by the spirit of courage and the robustness of simplicity.

These were far off and much simpler days when a small yacht could come and go throughout the Pacific Islands and many other areas of the world without the red tape and bureaucracy of today. These adventures were uncommon and the sailors of this era were treated as heroes.

They were heroes. These were the days before GPS, SSB radios, VHF, EPIRPs and air searches. You left harbour and your return depended solely on your seamanship, the seaworthiness of your little ship with a little bit of luck for good measure.

Many of this type of yacht were built by amateurs all over the world. My Uncle built this larger version here in New Zealand in the late 1940s and called her Joy. He started the ill fated 1951 Wellington to Lyttleton yacht race in her that saw four yachts perish. He left Wellington but returned because of storm force winds and huge waves in Cook Strait - but shipmates that's another story.

Harry Pidgeon and Islander - I salute you, and all circumnavigators old and new - such a voyage is a huge accomplishment indeed.

Friday, July 11, 2008


Photo - Alden Smith

NIGHT PASSAGE - Poem by Denis Glover

Plotted sure for set, eye to weather,
The revs eased down
I nosed happily along
The dark coast where I belong.

"Now look at dawning froth
Beating at hills held by rock teeth.
If you like it's like a frilly petticoat
White - beaten against the reef."

"Aye," grunted Mick, wise in the ways
Of the swirl and flick
Of women and wave. "Aye, purty - purty,
But a sea petticoat can be dirty."

At least in the east light seen
The hills' breasts rose clean.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008


Painting by Jack Coggins


Clear and sweet in the crystal weather
The sail and the shroud
Are walking and talking together.

Wind tumbles from the sail, the blocks
Clattering, and the hull dies.

To drift at the cliff's foot
Is to feel the south. The swell
Heaves wide and free like a mature woman,
And the rocks,
Bannered with weed among the gulp
And tumour of the tide
Accept with patience each long kiss.

The far brown hills swelling triumphant
From the plain of blue to the blue sky
Bosom the easy cloud,
Serene and self-possessed rising
Amid illimitable seas endlessly sad.

Wind whispers in: the yacht again
Asserts direction on the trackless tide.

Saturday, July 5, 2008


Painting by Jack Coggins

Sea Fever

I must go down to the seas again,
to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship
and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel's kick and the wind's song
and the white sail's shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea's face
and a grey dawn breaking.

I must go down to the seas again,
for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call
that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day
with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume,
and the sea-gulls crying.

I must go down to the seas again
to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull's way and the whale's way
where the wind's like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn
from a laughing fellow rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream
when the long trick's over.

Poem by John Masefield


The Cutty Sark, Greenwich London - Photograph - Alden Smith

Any sailor worth his sea boots and his medicinal purposes only hip flask of rum, knows that when she starts taking it green over the bows and the spindrift starts flying, you turn your pipe upside down and suck harder. This keeps the tobacco in and the embers alight! Its really just a question of common sense and basic physics. Sailors are full of common sense and Triston Jones was a sailor with a good understanding of the physics and agelessness of wind propulsion. This is what he said about the world and its reliance on oil.

"I can't wait for the oil wells to run dry, for the last gob of black, sticky muck to come oozing out of some remote well. Then the glory of sail will return." - Triston Jones

You know as well as I do shipmates that this desire flies as high as a warm wind filled spinnaker in the hearts of those who love sail. When peoples faces appear gloomy at the words 'Peak Oil' we smile a smile as broad as the Mississippi in full flood. Aye, its an ill wind that blows no one any good and what's blowing a cold blast around the smelly empty tanks of noisy petrol heads is blowing a warm trade wind song around the poetic hearts of sailors. The beauty and strength of this lyrical wind shipmates is that it is free, just as its always been.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008


Photo - Sutton Estate
This photo is a record of part of the family legacy that I salute when I give thanks for a love of little ships and the sea. This is my grandfather Burt Sutton after the launching in the early 1960s of his modified John Hanna designed 'Tahiti Ketch". She was built outside in Bamford Street, Woolston, Christchurch, New Zealand. Those that know the area will recognise the Port Hills and Castle Rock in the background.
She was modified by taking the cabin sides out to sides of the hull. She is technically called a 'raised deck' version of the Tahiti Ketch. The advantages of doing this are that it adds considerably to roominess inside and a great feeling of spaciousness. The down side is that you loose side decks to walk forward on and you are unable to sit comfortably on the cabin top with your feet on the deck. I personally wouldn't have built her with this modification. In 99% of cases it is always better to stick to the architect's plans.

Once she was complete she was levered across the road on greased skids at the back of my grandparents property and launched in the Heathcote river. She sat in the river for a time until the masts were completed, then taken down to the Heathcote bridge and the masts installed from the top of the bridge. She was then taken through the Christchurch estuary and across the Sumner bar to Lyttleton. For some time she was on pile moorings at Diamond harbour and finally on piles outside the Banks Peninsula Yacht Club in Lyttleton.

My grandfather always said in relation to any misgivings about the construction, materials etc that "she will see Me out" but sadly it wasn't to be. She was lost on the rocks on Quail Island in a summer gale and was a total loss. Undaunted my grandfather started to build yet another boat, a large flat bottomed boat of sharpie, dory type form.

When the boat was lost, it was found that some parts of the hull were already rotten, and in some ways the ship wreck could have thwarted an even bigger tragedy from happening as the hull was obviously not seaworthy at all. There is a lesson to learnt in all of this. Build your little ship of the best materials money will buy and don't build outside in the rain, build her under cover in a good shed. Freshwater is the enemy of timber, especially if the timber is untreated.

Despite the loss, I still have have happy memories of sailing with my grandfather on Lyttleton harbour in his dream ship. His example of hard work and perseverance has been an inspiration to me.

Sunday, June 29, 2008


Photo - Alden Smith
As you know shipmates a yacht has many hearts. One of its hearts is the galley. This is the gallery on my yacht Mariner and it is a simple affair. It consists of a sink, bench and simple two burner kerosene pessure stove. All the plates, cutlery and other cooking requirements are close at hand to assist the skipper who uses the deep philosophy of the KISS principle (Keep It Simple Stupid) in his dark culinary arts (dark = sometimes burnt). Here's todays KISS recipe par excellence :

3 - 4 cups of canned corn beef
Leftover cooked vegetables and potatoes
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon of butter or margarine
2 - 4 fried eggs

Cube or shred the corned beef. Mix in the corned beef and vegetables and season with the salt and pepper. Saute the whole mixture in the butter or margarine and continuely turn until browned on both sides. Serve with the fried eggs on top, with or without sauce.
Make sure you have a crisp loaf of bread on hand and plenty of beer and wine.
Eat and talk with your mouth full, conversing, debating, telling jokes, telling lies (aka lengthening the fish), drinking alcohol and laughing a lot.
Oh, and don't forget that you can eat outside in that other heart of your vessel, the cockpit, in the starlight or in that other heart, the small warm cabin. Light the old fashioned lamps and eat contentedly as the lamplight shadows dance around your little sanctury. Feel your little ship smile as she tugs gently at the anchor. She is content and so are you.

Thursday, June 26, 2008


Cassandra - 30ft Ron Swanson Designed Sloop

Well shipmates when I do my circumnavigation it will be in a boat of this or similar design.

This New Zealand built and owned yacht is the 'Cassandra'. She has a New Zealand sister ship 'Castanet' that was campaigned during the 1960's and was runner up to the famous 'Rainbow II' in the 1969 Sydney Hobart yacht race. She was designed by the Australian yacht designer Ron Swanson. The design is now over 40 years old and in those years this design has been proved both in ocean racing and in high latitude cruising. Her dimensions are approximately 30 feet over all, 24 feet on the water line, 9 foot beam with a 5 foot draft.

Cassandra and Castanet have two other famous sisters as well. One is the 'Cadence' which won the 1964? Sydney Hobart race and the 'Carronade' which completed a brave Cape Horn passage (again in the 1960s)which included a capsize in one of the most dangerous places for sailors on the planet.

One of the keys to the racing success of this design was its ability to maintain consistently good hull speeds in a wide range of conditions. The cruising success of this design is its sea kindly attributes, flush deck, long keel and its strong construction. Incorporated with good load carrying ability, good accommodation for its size, manageable sail area and good turn of speed it would be a good choice for an extended cruise - if you were looking for something small and relatively inexpensive.

The Cape Horn passage is told in Des Kearns book 'World Wanderer - 100,000 miles Under Sail."

"On the 26th March, 1967, just 500 miles from Cape Horn we were awed by what we saw and heard 'beyond the common experience of men'......... Carronade was long past the point of no return and fast bringing up the latitude of the Cape. At the change of watch I remarked to Andy that the Southern Cross was directly overhead. Craning his neck to see it, he said quietly, "Yes we're a long way south." The barometer had been falling for three days without a change in the weather. We had been lucky till then but now silently scanned the weather horizon waiting for the contest to begin. The barometer stood at 28.6, a quarter of an inch from the end of the scale; we shook with uncertainty and tenseness - waiting for the unknown, men fear most. It happened quickly......... " - Des Kearns "World Wanderer - 100,000 miles Under Sail "

Saturday, June 21, 2008


'Bullfrog' Delivery Trip From Canada To Los Angeles USA - circa 1947 - Note the bouquet of flowers on the fore stay.

I say that any man who doesn't fall in love with this salty little packet has got baggy wrinkle in his brain. All cruising sailors know that you put baggy wrinkle on your rigging to stop the sails from chafing but you never let it interfere with true love. Just look at her clear decks, nicely proportioned deck house stopping short of the mast, her offset bowsprit and her jaunty 'can do' looks. She's got a more traditional work boat look than the look of a gold plated gin palace. Things of substance are often like that - unassuming, understated and often underestimated.
Now there are yacht designers who are competent designers and then there are yacht designers who are artists. William Garden is an artist. This little yacht enchanted my father so much that he bought a set of plans. Well 'blue prints' as they were called in those days. The blue prints are in my possession now and many a voyage has been planned in winter months while wistfully looking at the curvaceous body of this enticing little ship.
This photograph (above), the blue prints and letters were all sent to my father when he purchased the plans before I was born. One of the letters makes for interesting reading, describing the delivery trip through the Juan De Fuca Straits from Seattle and down the coast to Los Angeles. Here is what he said about her qualities,
"After building her here we sailed her down to Los Angeles to the owner and had a wonderful cruise. Fishermen and yachtsmen alike had nothing but praise for her. I beat out of the straits of Juan De Fuca with her and her power and drive quite won our hearts with the way she would go. I hated to leave her!" Now that's a man a bit besotted wouldn't you say?
The Bullfrog is based on the designs of the Norwegian yacht designer Colin Archer who developed this double ended type for rugged search and rescue patrols around the coast of Norway. The Bullfrog is a much smaller version with the lines drawings modified for better sailing performance and motion in a seaway.
Her vital statistics are 30 feet overall length (not including the bowsprit) 26 feet on the waterline with 10 foot beam and a draft of 5 foot 9 inches. Her sail area is 560 square feet in a gaff headed mainsail a staysail and jib.
My father has passed on but William Garden is still alive! I think he is in his nineties and his longevity is a testament to a life lived doing something that he loved - designing, building and sailing small yachts.


The Yacht Ngataki - Auckland Harbour - Late 1930s

The Wreck of the Rewa 1930s - Hauraki Gulf

Well Shipmates these old photographs tell a lot of stories and have a lot of associations in the annals of New Zealand nautical folklore. The old square rigger is the 'Rewa'. The gaff sloop is the Ngataki which I will refer to later. In the second photograph the year is late 1935 early 1936. I know this because the vessel to the right of the picture is the American Dwight Long's ketch 'Idle Hour' in which he did a great circumnavigation during the 1930's (see my book list). The launch alongside the Rewa looks to be a long lean Logan design of which there were many during that period and of which many remain. Being a romantic I would like it to be Harold Pickmere's 'Winsome' of Pickmere's Atlas fame - that would really complete the picture.

The archetype of nautical number eight wire though is none of the aforementioned skippers, this mantle in my mind rests on one Johnny Wray who built the gaff sloop 'Ngataki' in Auckland and to which the 'Rewa' had an important contribution.
You can read about this adventurer and free spirit in his book "South Sea Vagabonds". It is the story of a man who during the great depression of the 30's and after losing his job, (mainly for day dreaming about sailing the south seas) proceeds to build a yacht on a shoe string and the smell of an oily rag.

Those far off days were entirely different to today's quagmire of rules and regulations and compliances and red tape. It was a generally more rugged age, no life raft, SSB radio, EPIRB, GPS or an Orion search if you went missing. There was a strong imperative to make sure the blade of your wits and skills was keen.

During the late 1920's and 1930's kauri trees were still being logged and floated to the mills in big log booms. Often logs were lost in the process and they were found washed up all over the Hauraki Gulf . Johnny Wray and his friends found seven of these and towed them to Auckland and had them milled so he could build himself a boat.

In New Zealand the term "number eight fencing wire" is used to describe a "of course we can do it and we will do it through hard work, ingenuity, thinking outside the square and using available materials in new and novel ways" type of mentality. It is a legacy from times of colonial hardships.
Well Johnny Wray with very little in the way of money and other resources used this kind of thinking, in fact he actually used fencing wire in the construction of the Ngataki. Quoting from his book:

"My next problem was the question of fastening the timbers together and this I accomplished in a manner of which I am rather proud as it has since proved to be absolutely satisfactory. No bolts were used. The timbers were joined with large staple-shaped pieces of heavy fencing wire, which were driven through the wood and the ends hammered over"

And the Rewa? I hear you ask. Well shipmates, the Rewa had been bought by a man called Charlie Hanson, lock stock and barrel. Charlie lived ashore in a sort of nautical Nirvana. Listen to this:

"To anyone nautically minded his little home was a perfect delight. It was built largely from gear salvaged from the ship "in his front garden," as he called it. Lifebelts, binnacles, wheels; flags, shrouds, ropes, rails; in fact everything dear to the heart of a sailor was built into that little home. There was a library there that must have contained every nautical book ever published, a library that would have be the heart's desire of any true sea - lover. A perfect home for an old sailor."

It was from Charlie and the Rewa that Johnny got the mast, boom, rigging, assorted fittings and enough canvas to make the sails for the Ngataki. The price? - "a bag of flour, a bag of potatoes and a few other things" The serendipity of the Rewa and Charlie in the building of the Ngataki were most fortunate, for as Johnny Wray said, "You can't cut a sail out of a log."

The rest of the story of the Ngataki are well featured in Johnny's book. The South Sea Island cruises, the trans Tasman yacht racing, the capsize in a hurricane, searching for lost treasure on Savarov Island etc.

I think it is fitting to leave the last word to Johnny Wray from the preface to his book.

".... it is written for the man who works in a city office and dreams about sparkling blue waters and coconut palms and white sails bellying to the warm trade - winds. It will, perhaps, show him how it is possible to break away from the ties of civilisation, build himself a boat and sail in her whereever he wills. I was a dreamer once, but now my dreams have come true, and I am satisfied and happy"

An archetypal No 8 wire man, a man living intensely and creatively in the moment, day to day, hmmmm, I wonder....

Thursday, June 19, 2008


Cape Brett And Piercy Island In Sight

Mariner's home port is Whangarei. When you go north from here there are a few capes to round if you are making a coastal passage to the Bay of Islands. As you leave Whangarei harbour be careful of williwaws that can scream down off Bream Head and lay the boat flat if you don't keep a weather eye out.

The Bay of Islands is a good destination as it is a wonderful relatively sheltered cruising ground. It is extremely popular over the high summer months and it is not uncommon to see fleets of yachts like big flocks of birds rounding the cape in either direction.

If the wind is fresh and in the south westerly quarter the trip can be made in one long days sail for a 30 footer. But even if you can make it in a day it is better to cruise casually up the coast calling at the many sheltered and stunning anchorages on the way. Safe anchorages on the way up are Tutukaka, Whangaruru and Whangamumu. Whangamumu is where there is an old whaling station. I heard about this spot from my dad before I even came to Northland. He was in the navy during the war on a fast patrol boat. They would hunt down floating mines and sink them by trying to hit the spikes on the mines with 303 rifle fire or fill them full of holes to sink them.

Cape Brett is a dangerous place in all but settled weather and it is best to give it a wide berth in very strong winds or very calm periods (unless you have a very reliable motor). Even in moderate weather the currents around Piercy Island (known for its distinctive hole ) are strong and are to be avoided unless you know what you are doing. Having said that, many yachties including myself do make the passage between the cape and Piercy Isand. But I make the judgement as I approach the cape and always err on the side of caution. I had quite a bit of drama last Christmas with a dead calm, dead engine, fading light and a strong southward current set. I had gone about 2 nautical miles north to get clearance but when the wind died. I was in trouble. One trick in this situation with the engine down is to tie the dinghy alongside and start the outboard - which works even on big yachts in calm weather - but I didn't have an outboard. It was becoming touch and go as to whether I would get in the dinghy and try and tow us out of harms way with the oars when a slight breeze set in and we cleared. We ghosted into Russell at about 2am in the morning. Another lesson learnt.

Cape Brett has an automatic lighthouse on it which gives a powerful flash at night but again stay well out and give it a good clearance at night.

Once round the cape the Bay of Islands opens up, but don't be fooled, you still have a few miles to sail. You can break the passage at this point by going into Deep Water Cove where the old frigate Canterbury has been sunk as a dive attraction, or keep going on to Oke bay, a good anchorage in settled weather. For myself I usually keep going and try and reach Russell or Opua. After that it is a week or more of sailing around. Perhaps a trip up the KeriKeri river or up to Whangaroa - get yourself a nautical chart and have a look at the many beautiful anchorages available.

To get home again, its all the enjoyment, drama and delight again except you are going in the opposite direction. The usual prevailing south westerlies or summer sea breezes make the passage each way one where the minimum of tacking is required. Often its a fast and furious broad reach! yeeee haaa!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


The Yacht 'Mariner' On Her Mooring In The Hatea River Whangarei

This is a recent photograph of the good ship Mariner dressed in her new colours after the completion of her 25 year refit. The black and white photo in the 'Header' box above was taken a few years back when the hull was dark blue. She was repainted because a dark colour attracts the heat far too much for a wooden boat in the heat of the far north of New Zealand. She is a 30 foot sloop. 24 feet on the waterline, 9 feet 8 inches beam and draws about 5 feet in cruising trim. She is constructed of two skins of heart kauri over one inch square stringers with a laminated backbone and many laminated frames. She can sleep four people but for any extended cruise 2 to 3 people is enough. I built her over a period of four years and launched her in 1979. I have been all around the coast of Northland in her and she has proved to be a fast and weatherly type.

Sailing is at the heart of what I love to do. It's not just the sailing itself which as an activity and sensation is to me poetry in motion, it is the associated peripheral things, which when gathered together make for a pleasing and enchanting whole.To steer her up the coast hard on the wind, at the tiller hour after hour thinking only of the relationship of the angle of the genoa jib to the eye of the wind and to exult in the way the boat cleaves herself through the waves; or to run downwind like smoke feeling her make use of each wave, is to be immersed in and aware of every interaction of the boat with its environment.To do this is to enter into a meditation of sorts, it is a way for me to be entirely in the present moment and I rejoice in that.For me, experiencing the many moods of the sea is a blessing. Each time it is as if I am experiencing it for the very first time. The wind, the waves, the sky all have an elemental cadence to them.
Watching a mirror like calm change to the spindrift blown spray of forty knots or more of wind and wave, and to sail through all this after reefing her well down and watching the destination grow slowly larger on a bright or hazy horizon, for me is being immersed in contentment itself.

Then the safe harbour, the snug anchorage, rowing ashore, pulling the trusty dinghy up on the beach. The walks along the beach and climbing a hill to look down at the boat now a toy anchored contentedly in the bay below.At night the meal shared, to lights reflected in varnished mahongony and the warm glow of conversation and camaraderie - and the stars. Not just any old stars - sailing stars, high, high, high stars clear and bright, bright, bright, away from the pollution of the city. The whole sweep of the milky way and the cosmos - and as the chill of the night comes, seeking the cosy haven below in a little cabin made for reflection, reading, meditation and contentment.

But you must remember this, the nuances of sailing are a lifes work, it is always a work in progress and it doesn't suit a plastic caravan mentality, for you see wooden yachts are living things and if you are very quiet and listen carefully they will reveal to you their secrets.