The major launches built in Auckland for the 1919-1920 season were spectacular. Strong styling influences came from contemporary American ‘express cruiser’ and ‘bridge deck’ designs.
While raised foredecks had become almost universal by 1912, now the first tentative steps towards the bridgedeck form, the final break from what was left of ‘yacht’ form in launches, had appeared in the influential American Rudder magazine only months before, finally providing sensible forward control.
By mid-1919, US builders were offering ‘bridgedeckers’, although few yet had complete enclosure of the wheelhouse. The bridgedeck became the height of fashion and practicality in the larger launches while the clerestory or ‘tramtop’ was used in most 35-footers and below to increase headroom. Subsequently, this process can make the identification and the accurate dating of our launches extremely difficult.
The final five launches are:
In 1919 Charles Court sold his 1912 Bailey & Lowe canoesterned 38 footer Gladys to his brother John who renamed her Gispa. Bailey & Lowe built her replacement, the bridgedecker Gladys II, for Charles at their Sulphur Beach yard, launching her on Christmas Eve, 1919.
She was a bigger, faster version of Gladys at 45 feet overall and a 55hp (rated) Sterling which developed about 150bhp. Court owned her until October 1927 when he sold her to Cecil Leys who renamed her Rongo, the name he gave to all his launches, and had her extended by 10 feet. The name Rongo stuck to her for the rest of her life.
Leys kept her until 1942, replacing her Sterling with a Chrysler in 1940. R.W. Butcher bought her in 1942 before she was taken into NAPS as a patrol craft out of the Waitemata with number Z20, skipper Alex Stewart. After NAPS service she went through several hands – Joe Moodabe, W.J. Henry, Wilkie Wilkinson – then went to Picton in 1949. W.A. Kenny used her commercially in the Sounds with a five-cylinder Gardner for many years. By 1997 she was back in the North Island. Sadly, she went ashore at Algies Bay in 2007 and was a total loss.
She was built alongside Gladys II at Bailey & Lowe’s yard and launched on the next tide. Her owners were W.C. Mills and Sons of Huia Street, Devonport who ran a successful fishing business. She was a 35-footer on the lines of Walter Lowe’s pre-war round bilge single-skin lightweight fast cruisers, a development of the December 1913 Manu.
She was built to replace the Mills’ 1914 26-footer Romance, these days in great shape on Lake Taupo owned by the Drake brothers. Like Gladys II, she had a big Sterling that was soon replaced by a very powerful Stearns engine giving her a powerto-weight ratio that guaranteed her close to 20 knots and she had a hull-form to handle the power.
At the time she was reckoned to be the fastest private launch in the country, scratch boat in the launch races of the time. She also entered open speed events against the speedboats of the day, occasionally winning on handicap.
The Mills sold her to W.C. Whitney in 1929 as they entered a phase of building new large fishing boats like Cellina and Melodeon.
Later owners included C. Arlington of Mahurangi and Frank Aspden of Northcote. She is currently owned by the Kidd family and, apart from her big Hino diesel which still provides close to 20 knots, she is in her 1919 configuration as a flushdecker with a tramtop and a small dodger.
Collings & Bell’s contribution to this postwar flourishing of fine launches was another American-type ‘express cruiser’, the 44-footer Marguerite for H.S. Harrison of Stanley Bay. She had a classic Charles Collings square-bilge hull of the concave-convex ‘wave collector’ design he had brought to perfection with his 21ft racer Fleetwing in 1914.
The power came from a classic American powerplant too, a six-cylinder 150hp Van Blerck. The engine was late in delivery, so she missed being launched until January 1920.
In January 1924 Harrison sold her to C.G. Macindoe who renamed her Lady Una after his 13-year-old daughter.
The Macindoe family used her for cruising and the odd RNZYS event until the outbreak of WWII when she was laid up for the duration. After the war C.G.’s son Harley took over running her and fitted an eight-cylinder Chrysler engine, upgrading that further to a 200hp Scripps in 1950.
After a period in the Bay of Islands, Lady Una was bought by Spencer and Shirley Smith of Wellington in 1991 and reverted to Marguerite, that name still beautifully carved in her transom. When the Smiths recently had her for sale at Whitianga her original semi-open bridgedeck had been replaced by a conventional 1940s-style cabin-top and the thirsty Scripps by a six-cylinder Ford diesel.
Her new owners are Murray and Jan Willis of Whangaparapara and, like the majority of her class of 1919, it looks like she might make another century.
In 1919 Percy Colebrook owned the Lane 35-footer Mollie built in 1911. He bought her in 1914 but sold her in 1919 to Cecil Leys who had her extensively modified by Chas. Bailey Jr and renamed her Rongo, a foretaste of the Gladys II episode (see above).
Joe Slattery of Judges’ Bay built Colebrook a new Mollie, launched in January 1920. She was 44ft LOA x 10ft 4in beam and fitted with an Auckland-built three-cylinder 30hp Twigg engine. In 1927 Colebrook sold Mollie to Ellingham and Spedding, who sold her in 1928 to H.D. Guthrie.
Guthrie had the boat extensively modified by Colin Wild; a new 16ft raised foredeck gave 6ft headroom throughout, and a ‘hot’ 115hp Stearns engine out of the first Lady Margaret (exThistle) was fitted. Guthrie renamed her Alcestis after a barque owned by his family in the 1880s.
In 1935 Guthrie sold Alcestis to R.W. Butcher who, in turn, passed her on to Alf Seccombe of the Lion Breweries in 1936. Alf renamed her Raiona, sort of Maori for ‘Lion’. He fitted a Kelvin A2 sleeve-valve engine to port of the main engine with a folding prop as a wing motor. The Seccombes kept Raiona for many years, although they were much distracted by their business interests and by owning vintage Bentleys. A Leyland Comet diesel went in during the early 1950s. Raiona was sold to the Parry brothers for private use in the 1960s and survives today in cracking good order in the hands of Michael and Sarah White.
One of the major Auckland launch-building firms not represented so far in this catalogue of 1919 launches was T.M. Lane & Sons of Mechanics Bay. Major Lane was an outstanding designer of fast launches. His most recent landmark design was Scripps III, a 1914 35-footer.
For this season the Boucher brothers commissioned an updated and much bigger Scripps III, a 44ft flushdecker powered by a 14.5-litre six-cylinder 125-130hp Model M Van Blerck marine engine with a bore and stroke of 6ins, weighing 1980lbs and nominally costing around $US3,000, a small fortune at the time. However, since the Van Blerck company had recently failed, this powerful engine probably came at a bargain-basement price.
With the hull complete and while waiting for her engine to arrive from the States, the Bouchers decided to install a bridgedeck like Gladys II and Marguerite. Still transitional, Luana’s first wheelhouse had roll-down canvas side curtains. It was no aesthetic triumph and was replaced later with her current handsome version. However, one has only to look at American designs of 1919 to see just how well Lane did his design job in an international context. Because of these delays Luana was not launched until 6th March 1920.
The Bouchers used Luana for coastwise cruising for many years but, after succumbing to a passion for flying, they sold her in 1930 to R.D. Rogers. However, W.A. Boucher was not long in commissioning the equally fabulous Moanalua from Collings & Bell.
Luana was laid up during WWII but emerged post-war owned by R.G. Entrican with a 100hp Meadows engine as fitted to the 1930s Lagonda and Invicta sports cars and some Bren gun carriers. After a spell game-fishing out of Tauranga she has been in the hands of Rick McCay for several years now and has never looked better.
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