Passionate, enthusiastic boat owners and their devotees were everywhere you looked at the inaugural Wooden Boat Festival, held in Auckland’s Jellicoe Harbour in early March. The threeday event, which incorporated the adjacent Viaduct Events Centre and New Zealand’s Maritime Museum, showcased nearly 200 vessels, almost all in showroom condition.

It’s unfair to single any of them out at the recent Wooden Boats Festival, but the former Auckland Harbour Board 20m pilot boat Akarana, and the 3.6m ‘Rolls Royce’ Tamariki Jnr dinghy, stand out in a crowded field.


Firstly Akarana, a proud emblem of Auckland’s maritime history. She was designed by A. J. Collings and built by W. G. Lowe in 1960 for the Ports of Auckland. She saw service for 34 years until she was retired in late 1994 and sold to Peter McDonald. Six years later she was on-sold to her current owners, Dick and Colleen Fisher of Whangarei.

After purchasing Akarana, Dick took her to his workshop in Kamo where he constructed a purpose-built shed and commenced a five-year restoration.

“I was lucky enough to have inherited a lot of paperwork from the Auckland Harbour Board, including the initial planning for her construction. She was to be extremely well built using the best quality timber and materials. That kind of boat is just not built anymore,” Dick explained.


When the Ports of Auckland sold her in 1994, she was on engine number six, having worn out five engines while working for the port. From her logbooks, Dick estimates she travelled between 600,000 and 700,000 nautical miles during her working life.

The 8L3B Gardner engine Dick re-built was originally installed in an oyster dredger based in Bluff. This engine was built by L. Gardner and Sons Limited in 1960, the same year as Akarana. The Gardner company, with a proud history spanning 109 years and the subject of a takeover in 1977, no longer exists. Happily, Gardner parts are still available.

Gardner’s failure was not a rarity. It’s been joined by Mirrlees Blackstone, Ruston & Hornby, Dorman, and Paxman, all examples of British diesel motor manufacturers that were prominent in the past and no longer exist, either due to bankruptcy, mergers, or acquisitions.

Today, Akarana with her reconditioned Gardner engine cruises comfortably at 10 knots at 800 revs, using just 15 litres of diesel per hour. Under Dick and Colleen’s devoted care, she’s transitioned from an active service vessel to a cherished heritage icon.

This storied vessel emerged from the need to navigate ships within Auckland’s harbour and oversee the burgeoning activities of the port in the mid-20th century. Today, Akarana carries a legacy that extends beyond her original duty as a pilot boat.

Dick and Colleen Fisher aboard Akarana

Crafted in an era of nautical innovation, Akarana was a marvel of her time. Her design is a harmonious blend of functionality and durability, built to withstand the challenging conditions of Auckland’s coastal waters using single skin 44mm thick kauri planking on spotted gum ribs with a hardwood keel and a displacement of 42 tons. W.G. Lowe’s contract allowed 23,000 man-hours for her construction. The vessel was not just a tool for the efficient management of the port, but a showcase for the era’s craftsmanship. For many Aucklanders at the time, she was as familiar as the Bean Rock Lighthouse.


Akarana’s life on the water was marked by dexterity. Her role wasn’t merely to facilitate the safe movement of ships; she was a lifeline in times of crisis, leading search-and-rescue missions with a crew ready to brave any weather. In those days, pilot boats would be crewed by a skipper, an engineer, and a deckhand, with a change of crew every 12 hours. A well-known yachtsman, Scotty McCook, was her skipper for many years.

Beyond her pilot boat duties, Akarana was also a mainstay in Auckland’s maritime celebrations, her silhouette a familiar sight at Auckland Anniversary Regattas, harbour functions and tours of inspection. In this role, she once ferried Prince Charles, then Prince of Wales during a visit to Auckland in the early 1980s.

Through their careful restoration and passionate stewardship, Akarana stands as a testament to Dick and Colleen’s energy and passion. Incredibly, the now 87-year-old is working on a fifth restoration, the Melodean, a 1935 Charles Bailey built 17m former commercial fishing boat – “I expect to finish this restoration before I turn 90”.

Together with so many of the entries in the Wooden Boat Festival last month, Akarana is much more than a historical artifact; they carry stories of crew resilience, technological progress, and the intimate relationship between New Zealand and its maritime environment.

Dick stands beside the rebuilt Gardner diesel
Akarana on display at the Festival


Which brings me to Tamariki Jnr, the second of my highly subjective selections at this festival. Regarded as the ‘Rolls Royce’ of the dinghy classes, she’s a Silver Fern 12-footer, commissioned in 1938 by Alf Thompson for his son Harlan, the younger brother of Bressin Thompson. Built by George Tyler, in 1984 she was bequeathed to mullet boat guru Ron Copeland as the near wreck Ajax. 30 years later in 2014 while at a loose end, Ron started a five-year restoration.

“During my restoration of what I believed to be Ajax, when the original green hull was revealed, I realised that the boat was Tamariki Jnr. It made sense given that the sails had #11 on them. I knew Harlan had owned Tamariki and benefitted from the Silver Fern built and named after her.”

Ron keeps Tamariki Jnr in the aptly named Auckland suburb of Bayswater with a fleet of small boats. It includes the Billy Rogers-built 1947 X-Class Clare, complete with her original cotton sails; Ida, an 1880(!) rowing/sailing skiff built by Robert Logan, and the tender for the Mullet Class boat Starlight, built in 1920. The 76-year-old’s employment as a mechanic and later a marine engineer was the perfect fit for what is now a renowned career in boat restoration.


As these vessels continue to grace our waters – they invite contemporary reflections on the significance of preserving our heritage, standing out not only as relics of the past, but also as sources of inspiration, helping us appreciate and uphold our rich maritime.

Tamariki Jnr on display in the Events Centre.

We can thank Tony and Michelle Stevenson and Andrew Barnes for the event. Tony and Michelle’s vast network and Andrew’s sponsorship were decisive. Tony is the driving force behind the Tino Rawa Trust, established in 2007 to preserve our classic yacht and launch heritage. It boasts a 16-strong diversified fleet.

Tony says the Hobart-based Australian Wooden Boat Festival was the inspiration for Auckland’s festival. “Michelle and I had been working with them for some time and since we were starting from scratch, we welcomed their advice. They reminded us of the romance of classic boats. Before we even needed a logo and branding, our big brothers across the ditch were our starting point.

“The key was our relationship with the boat owners. We engaged with as many in the community as we could. Whether the late John Street’s Classic Yacht Charitable Trust, the Auckland Steam Ship Society, or my Trust. It was about the whole community coming together. They were all keen to participate.

“In the Events Centre, we could display the yachts with their sails up in their full glory. A lot of thought went into curating the display, so it could represent many styles, builders, eras, working boats and sailing boats, including Ariki, the mighty Logan moored next to Ranger, for example. Each in their day had dominated the harbour for 30 years.

Ron Copeland with the 1880 Robert Logan rowing/sailing skiff Ida.

“Ian Cook from Yachting Developments put Ranger back into the water with her full rig just for this festival. There were so many people catching up with old friends, so many smiles on the dock. To get over 10,000 people for a first-time event was phenomenal, all from word of mouth amongst the community”.

Whether Akarana or Tamariki Jnr, these vessels and their fellow entrants in the festival are vibrant threads in the fabric of New Zealand’s rich seafaring history, highlighting the dynamic interplay between tradition and modernity. They’re charming beacons for future generations, illuminating the importance of the sea, both in shaping our identities and recording the progress of maritime innovation.

Innovation is exemplified by today’s pilot boats, of which there are now two in Auckland. One, also called Akarana, was commissioned in 2007. She is a far cry from the 1960 version, but some things don’t change in 64 years: although the updated version has two crew, not three, they still work 12-hour shifts. BNZ