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.


Down South said...

Hi Alden! Do you know of any other John G Hanna Tahiti Class ketches around New Zealand? cheers paul

Tillerman said...

I had a look on board a lovely old Tahiti Ketch from Sitka Alaska last year in the Bay of Islands - There is some mystery now as to her whereabouts, I think she has gone missing overseas somewhere, I have lost touch with the news about her. She was a lovely example, built carvel planked in the tradional manner out of Alaskan cedar.

There was a quite famous Tahiti K in Christchurch for years called Taihoa, she was owned by Neill Arrow who wrote a book called 'Painted Ocean' back in the 1960's, Taihoa raced overseas (either a Sydney Horbart or Trans Tasman race - I forget now) and was a bit of a local hero for a while. She was lost at sea after being stolen; the police caught up with the thieves and arrested them at sea, unfortunately the Taihoa was sunk (towed too fast by a large ship trying to return the yacht to Lyttelton)

I think there are a couple of T ketchs in Auckland, I saw one at Kawau Island a few years back but other than that they are a bit of a rare bred these days.

There is a steel hard chine version here where I live (slightly longer than the original design)but she doesn't have any of the ambience of the original wooden build.

World wide there were a lot of boats built to this design.

Perhaps the most famous Tahiti K was the Atom owned by a frenchman called Jean Gau. He lived on the Atom most of his adult life. He did a circumnavigation calling at New Zealand in 1965. A book called 'To Challenge a Distant Sea' by James Tazelaar and Jean Bussiere is a biography of this great sailor.

A very good book about the Tahiti Ketch and other yachts designed by John Hanna is a book called "A ketch Called Tahiti - John G. Hanna and His Yacht Designs" written by John Stephen Doherty - this is a recent publication still in print.

Down South said...

Hi Alden! Banika was the Tahiti ketch lost while being towed after being stolen! You can find Taihoa at www.thesquarerigger.com/ taihoa.html. Vinings have a steel Tahiti ketch on their listings for 49k! cheers paul

Tillerman said...

Ah yes Banika, I was wrong there, I had a suspicion I had the wrong name, just couldn't think what the correct one was, you are quite right! I think when I was sailing around Banks Peninsula with my father in the late 1960s Banika was owned by a local dentist.

I remember going on board the Banika and seeing a chart of Banks Peninsula permanently under a large piece of perspex on the chart table (funny what one remembers!) She was a good little ship, built to plan and a good example of the type, pity she was lost.

I remember several races (Port Levy and New Brighton Pier races) where Banika was last by half an hour or so. The Tahiti Ketches were always considered rather slow but in fact it wasn't so much to do with the hull form (although this is a factor) but more to do with the fact that they are undercanvassed.

The Book I was referring to shows an improved sail plan which increases the sail area considerably and does so in easily managed amounts. This new sail plan which incorporates a topmast on the mainmast also improves the look of the boat as well. In light and moderate wind conditions performance is much better.

They are certainly solid and ship like little yachts with tremendous appeal indeed.

In the book "A Ketch Called Tahiti" there is a photograph of one called 'Orca' which was built in NZ - she may still be around somewhere.

Thanks for the www.thesquarerigger.com/ taihoa.html. link I appreciate that and will have a look.

You sound as though you are on the look out for one of this design ???

Down South said...

there is a photo of Banika & Taihoa in 'The Banks Peninsula Cruising Club' by Ian Treleaven. Yes it would be interesting to experience a Tahiti Ketch as they seem to be a thing of the past. Also interested in Albert Strange's and Harrison Butler's designs but these to seem to be few and far between as well. For a solid kiwi design it's hard to go past Athol Burns! I have JSD books on order as library interloans so hope to view soon!

Tillerman said...

Yes I remember seeing those photos in the old clubhouse before it was pulled down. Where is the BPCC now? - are the photos still there I wonder?

You probably know Shelia II which was sailed to NZ by Adrian Hayter, he wrote a book "Shelia in the Wind" I think she is an Albert Strange design. The English magazine 'Classic Boat' is a good source of stories and pictures about classic designs like these - I think there was an article recently about A Stranges boats. A lot of these classic boats are being restored all over the UK.

There was a Harrison Butler design called 'Fantasy' which was built in Christchurch in the 1940 -50s I don't know if she is still there.

Harrison Butler used to design his boats to a theory of his called the 'Mentacentric Rule' - Whatever this rule was about it did have the effect of producing very well balanced yachts - many will sail themselves to windward with your little finger on the tiller. I think the underwater lines of his yachts were perfectly symmetrical which produced this balance.

You won't be disappointed in the JSD book - its a great read with plenty of photos and yacht plans.

Down South said...

Well that's another Harrison Butler to add to my list!
these were in Canterbury in the past but no sign of them at Lyttleton or Akaroa; I haven't been able to check French Farm Bay where a lot of yachts are on swing moorings. [I live on Otago Harbour]
Quest [1936] K453
Cyclone [HB Cyclone design] renamed Senorita
Ballerina [HB Cyclone design] [1934] K551
Annabel Lee [HB Cyclone design]
Your right the Hanna book is great!
The BPCC members were incorporated into the Naval Point Yacht Club at Magazine Bay though a few lads have recently moved a building onto the old BPCC clubhouse site [now not required by port company] for an informal clubhouse! P

Tillerman said...

I know the Senorita. She was owned and sailed by a friend of my father called Wally Brown. He nearly sailed her in the ill fated Wellington - Lyttelton race of the early 1950s (yacht Husky and others were lost) but didn't make it to Wellington from Lyttelton for the start.

Now, my uncle Claude (who is written about in Neil Arrows book 'Painted Ocean' DID make the start in his yacht 'Joy' but turned back in Cook Strait due to the weather). Interestingly Claude sailed on to Whangarei where I now live and started Smiths Boat Yard up here. He sold the 'Joy' and built a Harrison Butler design which he called 'Rejoice' - I think she is now in Hawaii or the USA.

When my father and I sailed with Wally he owned a yacht called Murare (When I was last in the BPCC in the late 1960s there was a photo there of the Murare and all the other yachts of club members. I am in the photo in the cockpit of the Murare as a young lad of 12 or so. I wonder where all the photos are now? - they provide a good old record of the yachts that were in Lyttelton cira 1940 - 1970.

Harrison Butler wrote a book called 'Cruising Yachts: Design and Performance' published in 1945 which has many of his designs in it. Some online second hand book stores such as www.abebooks.com may still have this book available.

Another source of plans and photos of some HB designs are the first editions of Eric Hiscocks books - either 'Cruising Under Sail' or 'Voyaging Under Sail'

I am glad to hear that there is now a building on the old BPCC site. Its a shame the old one was pulled down in the first place. Also the move away from the protected pile moorings in the inner harbour has been a disaster. I cannot believe that anyone who knew anything about Lyttelton weather would have thought for a minute that those yachts on the Marina around by the Canterbury Yacht Club would have had any protection in a bad southerly - the whole idea was madness right from the start - but it was all to do with the Port Co and big money -same old story.

It would be interesting to find out where the HB designed yacht 'Fantasy' is. I am not a great fan of doghouses on yachts but hers was particularly pretty. She was a very nice looking boat overall and would make a great cruising boat. My father watched her being built somewhere in ChCh. She was launched in the Avon river and floated down to the estuary - then over the Sumner bar to Lyttelton. She had had a number of owners when I lost track of her by coming North.

My father was a member of the BPCC for years and I a BPCC burgee which I fly from time to time on my own yacht in his memory.

Down South said...

I have a copy of Harrison Butler's book.
There was an HB for sale recently on Waiheke Island called Carolyn
another presumed HB type Valwyn in Bay of Island. Also in Bay of Island is Garnet who's owner claimed her to be a HB. She was built in Dunedin and my research indicates she is a Colin Archer type.
sorry can't seem to load photos here!
I agree with your comments on the BPCC site. 
There are plans afoot to turn the pile moorings into a marina.
Your uncle is listed as designer of Fantasy K928

Tillerman said...

I am glad there is talk about a marina. There must have been a bit of soul searching and a change of heart - that's good.

There are a number of 'Fantasys' about. The one you refer to as being designed by my uncle is actually designed by my uncles son, my cousin. They both have the same first names although the son, my cousin has always called himself by his middle name Alan.

As to where the H Butler 'Fantasy' is now is anyones guess - may well have had the name changed.

Alan designed the Pacific 38 class and the Easterly class yachts. The Fantasy you refer to is a "Planet" class yacht design. There is a sistership called Orbiter that was for sale on Trademe the last time I had a look. Really nice long keel hull. The Planet class design was featured in the SeaSpray magazine late 1960s very nice design.

Give me your email address and I will see if I can send some photos.

Down South said...


Tillerman said...

Ok Paul I will send you some photos (I'll need to take some photos of some photos - no problem, that's how I produce most of the photos on the blog) when I get some time, shouldn't be too long. Cheers Alden

Tillerman said...

Paul, I sent you some photos and hope they have arrived, if not drop me a line or drop a comment here

Shane Hersey said...

G'day Alden, I have a copy of the original magazine featuring The Tahiti Ketch. It was my Dad's, and he gave it to me. It was involved at the beginning of my love of boats, I think. If you like, I could send you a photostat of the article. Just give me a postal address and I'll send it across the ditch to you. You can reach me at . Cheers mate.

Alden Smith said...

Shane I would like a copy of that very much indeed thankyou.
My address is:

Alden Smith
31 Kohe Street
Whangarei 0112
New Zealand

The Yacubians said...

I just came across your post- i moved to ChCH from San Francisco about a month ago- Taihoa, built in upper riccarton in the 50's did not sink- it is owned by a close friend of mine who is a shipwright in Sausalito, CA- I am trying to find out as much info as possible for him about Taihoa's history. It was sailed to the US by a man named Fenton. I was wondering if Trevor Stringer, the builder is still living, or Neil Arrow- it would be great to get some oral history. I sailed down the CA coast on taihoa last summer.

Alden Smith said...

Hi Yacubians - Welcome to New Zealand and to Christchurch my old city where I grew up - If you only moved there a month ago I must apologise for Christchurch welcoming you with a massive earthquake - As for Taihoa, I don't know much except that she was sailed sailed in the TransTasman race by Neil Arrow. Neil Arrow wrote a book (Not about that race) called 'Painted Ocean' where amongst other things he sailed north from Christchurch in the 1950s in a yacht built and owned by my Uncle Claude - his boat being a sistership to the famous Harry Pigeons 'Islander'
Nice to hear you have sailed on 'Taihoa' - that must have been a special experience.

yacubians said...

Thanks for responding- and thanks for the info on Neil Arrow's book. Yes we arrived 3 days before the 7.1, but are doing fine. Thanks for all of the info- great place here where you grew up!

Budgie said...

With regards to the comment by Tillerman August 1st 2008. The TAihoa was built by my grandfather in 1949. She was not sunk being towed back to Lyttleton but was sold to some american buyers. The Taihoa is still sailing out of Sausalito ,San Francisco. She is currently for sail last I heard. I have a complete file of her being built etc.

Alden Smith said...

Hi Budgie you are right it was not the 'Taihoa' that was sunk it was the 'Banika' which was stolen and then sunk under tow - I have already acknowledged that mistake on one of the earlier comments in this comment column. I would love to see the file of her being built!!!!!

Budgie said...

My address is mikets@maxnet.co.nz
Will try and do a web album sometime and send you the link.
send me an e-mail first so I have your address.

Budgie said...

My addeess is mikets@maxnet.co.nz
E-mail me so I have your address and I will send you a link for a web album.