Back in the arena
Following her year-long restoration in Auckland, the 17m Ariki shows little evidence of her 113 years. The A-class gaff-rigger is immaculate, the fruition of glorious synergy between a team of seriously talented craftsmen.
Designed by Arch Logan (and built by Logan Brothers), Ariki was launched in 1904 for Charles Horton (of the Horton publishing family) as a combined racing/cruising yacht. Her name is Maori for ‘chief’ or ‘leader’ – and it proved a prescient christening.
For despite the ‘cruising-crossover’ brief, Ariki was quick – unbeatable for more than 30 years in fact, leading the racing fleet in imperious style. Her dominance came to an end with the appearance of the Lou Tercel-designed-and-built Ranger in 1938.
Relaunched in early April this year, Ariki owes her resurrection to Waiheke Island couple Andrew Barnes and Charlotte Lockhart. They found her in 2016 – for sale – in Auckland’s Bayswater Marina, and like so many restoration stories, it seems she was rescued in the nick of time.
“She’d been out of service for nearly a decade and was in a sorry state,” says Barnes. “Her hull was completely waterlogged and, while she wasn’t quite sinking, it was touch-and-go. Another 18 months – I reckon we’d have been involved in a salvage rather than a restoration project.”
What prompted the restoration decision?
“Stupidity was probably the start point,” says Barnes ruefully, “and I should have known that these projects always take longer and cost more than you think.
“Seriously, though, she is arguably one of the country’s most important yachts – and it would be criminal to let her decay and vanish. I think of it this way: Auckland is the city of sails – sailing and yachting evolved here. And the story of how yachting evolved can be told in two boats – Ariki and Ranger.
“In many ways their stories represent the evolution of New Zealand society. Ariki was a boat built by people from the top-end, wealthier part of town. Ranger was the boat built to beat Ariki – by people from the less affluent, working class part of town.
“For me, this is a story about yachting’s ‘coming of age’. Ranger overcoming Ariki demonstrated that yachting had become a sport every man could participate in – and today that ethos is an integral part of New Zealand’s DNA. Above all, I’m enormously relieved that we got to Ariki in time.”
The process is not new to Ariki – she’s been through it a few times. Prior to this latest project, in 1977 her then-owners (a syndicate comprising Warwick Jones, Rodger Duncan, and Peter Blundell) took her to a shed in Clevedon. After four years she emerged with a new deck, restored skylight, cabin top, cabin interior and coamings. And the engine was shifted forward to improve balance. The syndicate eventually broke up, with Jones becoming the sole owner. He died in 2012, leaving Ariki’s future unclear.
But repairs began soon after she was first launched. Propped up on the Devonport beach for basic maintenance in 1917, she fell over in a violent storm. Chas Bailey – Logan Brothers’ arch rival in boatbuilding – was contracted to repair her starboard side.
“So the standard joke with Ariki,” says Barnes, “is that she’s half-Logan-half-Bailey. When we stripped off her paint, Bailey’s repairs were clearly visible.”
This recent restoration – lasting just over a year – took place in a large tent at Auckland’s Okahu Bay. It was led by Waiheke boatbuilder Robin Kenyon – orchestrating a team of hand-picked artisans and craftsmen.
“I wanted to use someone who would restore her in a sympathetic fashion,” says Barnes. “And my brief was to keep her as authentic as possible, but not to turn her into a museum piece. I wanted a fullyfunctioning racing yacht – she will not be used for cruising.”
Inevitably, there were bits of rot and decay that were excised and repaired. The dried-out hull required new caulking. Components of the rudder shaft assembly – corroded by electrolysis – were replaced. The mast was in a bad shape and enjoyed a major repair – though the gaff and boom (all original) were in perfect condition.
Barnes purchased period fittings from Europe – bronze cleats and blocks. Every bit of running rigging is new and North Sails has produced a new wardrobe. The sails are Dacron, but treated to make them look ‘authentic’ and true to the period.
The most remarkable part of the restoration process, says Barnes, has been the response from the public.
“Simply outstanding. People came forward with all sorts of things – someone contacted me and said, you know, I think I have Ariki’s spinnaker pole – and gave it to us. We needed kauri for part of the repairs, and someone donated a decent supply of it. Another person gave us the vessel’s former gin container. Extraordinary.
“And in some way that groundswell of support is so encouraging. Because this boat is for the community. I think one never ‘owns’ this boat – we are simply guardians caring for her and will eventually hand her over to another generation of sailors.”
Ariki is now moored at Auckland’s Maritime Museum – lying next to Waitangi, another famous Logan Brothers yacht. “We paid to have her jetty built at the Museum,” says Barnes, “because we felt it was important for the public to be able to view her.”
Barnes is now in the process of establishing a regular crew to sail Ariki. He doesn’t know how many he will need to sail her comfortably. “We’re going to find out, but I would guess 8-10. These old gaff-cutters are quite a handful – there’s a lot of sail.”
Ariki leading Ranger around the bottom mark – two gladiators slugging it out again nearly a century on. What a neat idea. BNZ