Turning a tired old boat into an elegant lady demands vision and fortitude – and money. Having a wise, patient and understanding dad also helps. Story and photos by Lawrence Schaffler.



Beautifully-restored, the 32-foot ketch Waka Irie embodies everything romantics imagine when they think about sailing off into the sunset – the graceful clipper bow, the teak decks, the taff rail – and those gorgeous red sails.

She’s a Mariner 32 – designed by American Clair Oberly and built in 1972 by the company he established in Japan – Far East Yachts. Now based in the Bay of Islands, she’s owned by Peter Deverell who bought her sight-unseen from a TradeMe listing. That purchase was a daunting punt on his part, but after three years of full-time restoration he’s awash with a huge sense of satisfaction – and a palpable measure of relief.
Like many 50-year old boats, the little ketch has had multiple owners. Originally named Serena II, she was imported new from Japan to the US but changed hands numerous times over the years. She arrived in New Zealand in 2012 after a voyage that began in the Caribbean, slightly altered from her launch day spec, but with her classic feel retained. The original timber spars, for example, had been swapped for an aluminium rig – and she carried more modern fittings such as opening portlights.


Her owners sold her to a budding Whangarei DIYer with grand plans to revamp her – but as he got deeper into the project the scale of what was required became overwhelming. He listed her on TradeMe.
Deverell was in Germany at the time, completing a three-year joinery apprenticeship. By then he was aching to come home – he was tired of the cold, missed the sea and yearned to go sailing again. As you do, he’d been scanning the boat listings on TradeMe and fell in love with the little ketch – especially her brightwork, black hull and red sails. Most importantly, he could afford her!

The photos accompanying the listing presented her in perfect sailing trim. Filled with youthful enthusiasm he directed his dad to check out the boat. Dad dutifully did as instructed and, as a seasoned boatbuilder himself, was well-equipped to make a judgement.
But his report wasn’t exactly encouraging. The fibreglass hull was OK but inside there was rot – a LOT of rot. The plywood under the teak deck, the cabinetry, the bulkheads – all had been built with conventional ply (non-marine grade) and it was all rotten.
Worse, the builders hadn’t installed compression posts under the masts – and when the ply underdeck rotted, the teak decks began to sag. As later research revealed, Mariner 32s have something of reputation for sagging decks.

Still, my son, if you’re prepared to commit a sizeable chunk of your free time to her – and a bit of money – she might be salvageable…
With the deal struck the boat was trucked from Whangarei to Dad’s backyard in Totara North.


Deverell began by stripping out all the rotten ply (and there was plenty of it). Under Dad’s watchful eye he left the teak decking in situ, replacing the plywood underlay from below, opting for epoxy glue (with fibreglass reinforcing) rather than screws. The deck-to-hull join was reinforced, with the bulwarks fibreglassed and faired into hull. The teak deck was re-caulked, re-plugged and sanded.

New deck beams returned the areas around the masts to their correct profiles and, rather than installing compression posts, Deverell opted instead for stainless steel reinforcement plates, bolstered by carbon fibre inserts. The bowsprit was re-laminated and fibreglassed, and the bow roller re-engineered to accommodate the new electric windlass.

The entire interior was replaced – floors, bulkheads, berths, lockers, settees, cabinets, galley – with a few modifications added such as a gimballed cooker and a starboard quarter berth. A chain locker was added under the V-berth, and a holding tank installed in the bilge. The joinery apprenticeship provided the needed woodworking skills – Dad offered sage advice and lots of useful tips.

A compression test on the ancient 40hp Perkins 4107 proved that the engine was mechanically sound, but it looked pitiful. De-rusted, repainted and equipped with new hoses, the contrast is remarkable. Below the waterline, she received a new cutlass bearing and a new rudder (the original was very small).

With help from his marine electrician brother, the yacht’s wiring system was ripped out and replaced with a new harness and a very flash control panel – and LED lights installed throughout. The spars were stripped back to bare aluminium, re-primed and repainted. Those glorious sails were in pretty good nick, but much of the running rigging was tired and will be replaced progressively over the next few months.

Colour proved a major hurdle for Deverell. He’d fallen in love with the black-hulled boat and her red sails. Dad politely suggested black wasn’t a great colour. “It gets hot in the sun, it’s impossible to get a perfect finish, it will harm the hull and the fibreglass will delaminate…”
This was hard to swallow. But Deverell slowly came round and accepted that maybe black wasn’t the best option. That said, he was completely averse to a white hull (“it’s just too normal, I don’t want normal”). After some creative experimentation with PhotoShop, grey offered a good compromise.


Deverell is philosophical about the time and energy he’s spent on the boat. “It wasn’t always easy, but I’ve learned an enormous amount. Specifically, I now know that judging a boat by its looks is not a good idea. Most importantly, though, I’ve realised that I’m very blessed to have such an amazing dad to help me! Having this boat would have never become a reality without him. Thanks Dad!”
Deverell’s long-term plans are unfixed but they will involve cruising New Zealand, then the Pacific. What is certain is that wherever she goes, Waka Irie is sure to draw plenty of admiring looks.