With the sudden reappearance of a little clinker runabout last seen working around Picton Harbour nearly 30 years ago, older locals can be forgiven for thinking they’ve been through a time-warp.

Tuangi – Māori for ‘cockle’ – is a lapstrake-constructed 16-foot dinghy launched in Picton in 1978. The lapjointed planks look a bit like the ridges on cockle shells – hence the name.

She was designed and constructed by Bill Orchard – a prominent boatbuilder in the area – and her recent reappearance is thanks to Bill’s son Grant – who kept the little dinghy. She is not only painted in the same, original colours, but is also being used in much the same way as she was all those years ago.

 

“Dad was passionate about the Queen Charlotte Sound – as I am – and was driven by a desire to showcase the region, to let visitors experience the majesty and beauty of the area firsthand, and it’s best viewed from the water.

“He built numerous launches over his lifetime – recreational and commercial – and Tuangi was at the lower end of that spectrum. She was designed as a ‘bareboat charter’ vessel. Punters would rent her ($5/hour) for short cruises around the inner Sound.

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The little popper is now in survey and can carry five passengers along with the skipper.

“The design became known as a ‘Sounds Popper’ – based on the sound of her single-cylinder, 8hp Yanmar engine – ‘pop, pop, pop’ – which gave her a top speed about 5 knots. Even inexperienced boaties could have a safe, fun cruise. In fact, all the kids in our family learned to operate boats in the long-suffering Tuangi.”

Used periodically over the decades (and stored in a shed), the vessel didn’t require any major remedial work. “Fortunately, Dad used the clench-nail/glue technique for her lapstrake construction, rather than the more common riveting system of the period. The advantage of clench-nailing is that the seams don’t dry out during the winter months, when she’s out of the water.”

A major part of bringing Tuangi back to life was the new coat of paint and adding more modern technology such as LED lighting and an electric bilge pump. She’s also enjoying an upgraded engine – an 11hp twin-cylinder Kubota. It’s a little smoother than its predecessor, but the distinctive ‘pop, pop, pop’ is more subdued.

Nearly 50 years old and still going strong.  

Today the little popper is back plying the charter market – though not as a self-drive. Legislation has changed and Grant’s restoration of the boat included fitting equipment to get her through survey to carry five passengers, with himself as skipper.

A typical cruise lasts 1.5 hours and covers the inner Sound. “Like dad, I like giving visitors a bit of background about the region – its history, the fauna and flora, the industry. I particularly like showing them the waterfront shed where Tuangi was built and the beach where she was launched.”

KATABATIC

Grant hopes his ‘reactivation’ of Tuangi cruises will coincide with the easing of restrictions in a Covid world that’s crippled the New Zealand tourism sector over the last two years.

The ‘pop, pop, pop’ is more subdued, but the little vessel is as arresting a sight as ever.

“I suspect I will need someone to help with running the Tuangi cruises. I already skipper my 11m charter fishing/ cruising charter boat (Katabatic) based in Picton, and things get really busy at the beginning of summer. I can’t operate both boats so, ideally, I’d like to find someone to skipper the Tuangi and offer them a share in the business. It’s perhaps a way for someone to kick-start a low-stress career on the water.”

If you see a little orange-and-white lapstrake dinghy tootling around Picton and you’re convinced you may have seen her before – many, many years ago – don’t blame your aging mind or that you’ve had one beer too many.

It’s just the Tuangi – a throwback from the past, continuing Bill Orchard’s inspiring vision via his son. BNZ

Grant prepares gourmet meals, embellishing the dining experience with information about the products and method of preparation.

POP-UP COOKING

Grant Orchard is an unusual skipper in that he is also a professional chef.

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In fact, a signature feature of his Katabatic charters is that he not only gives guests a running commentary about the history and ecology of the Sounds, but also prepares the kai moana caught on the trip. As always, he demonstrates how he likes to prepare the food – whether its cod, oysters, mussels, paua or crayfish – whatever.

Just as a Covid-restricted world persuaded him to reactivate the Tuangi cruises, so he has launched a pop-up cooking experience in Picton. A small group of guests (14) attend a full gourmet event – a five-course meal at which he explains the dishes being prepared, with the appropriate wines in attendance.

“I launched the pop-up restaurant concept out at Waterfall Bay in the Queen Charlotte Sound – and everyone seemed to enjoy it thoroughly. Guests were ferried to the venue from the Picton waterfront (on Katabatic). Limiting the size of the group to 14 keeps it intimate and it’s easier for me to interact with them in terms of the food preparation. I guess it’s a slightly different spin on a conventional dinner out.”

The pop-up events will be held monthly on a Friday night – at the Gusto Café in Picton’s High Street. They are scheduled for the cooler, winter months (May – September) when the fishing charter business is quieter.

“A feature of the meals is that all produce is local – whether it’s seafood or beef/lamb/pork/chicken/venison. Each month the focus shifts to a different protein – and there are matching wines for that protein.

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“I like to think the concept gives guests a richer dining experience and an opportunity to experience the local fare from the region.”