Brave new world

Jan 30, 2019 Reflections

After the end of WWI and the Spanish ‘Flu that followed hard on its heels, it took a while for things in this country to get back to some sort of normality. But the 1919-1920 season ushered in a brave new world of launches.

Well into 1919 our soldiers were still trickling back home, after doing garrison duty in Cologne during the wild riots as red revolution briefly flourished in Germany. At home, the influenza epidemic restricted activity until it began to wane by January 1919, having killed thousands of New Zealanders in a few weeks of horror.

Pleasure boatbuilding had almost ceased during the four years of war as a large proportion of able-bodied men were on active service in Europe and the supply of materials, especially seasoned kauri timber, dried up and new marine engines were hard to come by. It took many months for the pace of post-war building to catch up to 1914 levels.

The pre-war trend of the big money going away from keel yachts towards motor launches had accelerated. In 1919 the only significant keel yachts built were the Tercel brothers’ Restless and James Reid’s schooner Vision, both big cruisers. However, there was a quantum leap in the building of centre-boarders, especially in the new classes of unballasted racing dinghies, mainly 14-footers, but also in mullet boats.

Despite late wartime shortages, a few pleasure launches did get built. In 1917 three new sizeable launches hit the water, the amateur-built launches Surf and Tarua and the Joe Slattery-built commercial launch Pacific for Everard Hobbs of Whangaparaoa.

Then, sometime in late 1918 or early 1919, events blurred by an understandable lack of newspaper reporting on such minor matters during the height of the Spanish ‘Flu, Bailey & Lowe launched the 34-footer Winsome for J.H. Foster of Devonport. But the Auckland builders got down to business for the 1919-1920 season.


In December 1918 Auckland timber merchant W.L.Casey commissioned Bailey & Lowe to build a 42ft x 11ft cruising launch in their best style, equipped with an American Miller engine. Possibly the Sterling they would normally have fitted was unavailable. She was launched for the new season. She was named Imanota.

Casey was President of the Victoria Cruising Club and was proud to use her as the flagship for the club’s races. In May 1921 he sold her to James Donald of St. Mary’s Bay. Donald removed the Miller engine and replaced it with an Auckland-built three-cylinder Twigg. In 1922 he renamed her Marion D after his wife.

Donald kept her for many years, doing considerable distances in her cruising the Gulf and game-fishing at the Bay of Islands and acting as flagship for the Richmond Yacht Club with which Jim Donald was associated for many years. He kept her very original but in 1938 got Lane Motor Boat Co to replace the round ports in the cabin top sides with five rectangular windows a side.

In 1939 Donald sold her to Athol Wells when he bought the big Dunedin-built launch Norana from Arthur Brett. Athol Wells renamed her Joan (not after his wife). She still had her 30hp Twigg installed. When Wells skippered her as a patrol vessel with the Naval Auxiliary Patrol Service (NAPS) out of Auckland from 1943 as Z19, he replaced her Twigg, now long in the tooth and hard to maintain with spares, with a 6L2 Gardner, probably sourced through the Navy.

After Athol Wells’ death in 1975, Joan went through several hands in the Panmure area. In 2008 she had a moment of glory in winning the Classic Yacht Association’s centennial rerun of the 1908 Rudder Cup race around Sail Rock at night in the hands of owners Ray and Jill Russell.


Jeunesse was built by Dick Lang of St. Mary’s Bay and launched at Easter 1919 for W.J. Harper, a saddler who lived in Ring Terrace, backing on to St Mary’s Bay. Harper had been at the start of the sport in 1908 owning the Logan Bros 35-footer Kotiro which he now sold to Frank Chapman, who renamed her Ahuareka.

From 1911 Dick Lang had been in partnership with Ernie Harvey as Harvey & Lang, specialising in launch building, first at 45 Customs Street West then, from mid-1912 at Beaumont Street on the new Freeman’s Bay Reclamation.

The partnership split up in 1915; Lang moved to Scotland Street and then to St. Mary’s Bay where Jeunesse (originally going to be named Rambler) was among the first boats he built. At 37ft 6ins overall and 9ft beam she was a biggish boat for her time.

Harper fitted an unusual engine – a 40hp (rated) four-cylinder, seven-litre Rutenber engine, which may originally have been fitted to a car. Rutenbers were proprietary engines and used in some low-volume American cars like the Moon and the Westcott.

In May 1922 Harper sold Jeunesse to Horry Hewson of the prominent Auckland Hewson boat building and yachting family, later Managing Director of John Burns Ltd. Horry married Harper’s daughter Marjorie in 1923, selling Jeunesse to pay for the engagement ring, according to family tradition.

He advertised her as ‘Auckland’s finest cruiser’. The name Jeunesse has graced several boats owned by the Hewson family in subsequent years.

Horry Hewson.

Subsequent owners have included N.C. McLean and R. Kirkwood, S. & L. Weston of Whangarei for most of the 1930s, S.H.R. Smith of Onehunga, then Dr. W.J.B. McFarland, Ron Shaw and Richard Leary. She has always been cherished and maintained well. John Wright of Auckland is now the owner of Jeunesse. She sports a 180hp six-cylinder Hino diesel which makes her very quick.


Atatu was another Bailey & Lowe product, built in December 1919 for J.A. Holloway of Stanley Bay to replace his fast Bailey & Lowe 35-footer Manu. She was fitted with ‘the latest 55hp Sterling engine with self-starter’.

The Sterling was a high-quality marine and industrial engine built in Buffalo NY and Bailey & Lowe were the proud local agents. The ‘55hp’ was its rated horsepower, but it actually produced 140bhp with masses of torque. Since the engine usually represented a good half of the cost of the boat, the choice of power was every bit as important as the choice of the designer and the builder.

Atatu was a well-appointed, canoe-sterned, beamy 45-footer designed for comfortable cruising in the Hauraki Gulf. In May 1920 she was the first local launch to greet the Prince of Wales on board HMS Renown off Tiri and in February 1921 took Lady Jellicoe out on an excursion.

But a year later Holloway sold Atatu to Louis Nathan. Nathan kept her until 1939 when he sold her to W.A. Johnston. Johnston sold her soon after to A.J. Long of Day’s Bay, Wellington where she served with NAPS during the Second World War.

Currently she is owned by Frank Stoks of Eastbourne who spends a great deal of time with her in the Marlborough Sounds.

In the next issue, I will review the following launches of this fine vintage, Phyllis M (later Wainunu), Irihapeti (later Nomad, Arawa and Rehutai), Gladys II (later Rongo), Romance II, Islay (later Thistle and the first Lady Margaret), Marguerite (later Lady Una), Mollie (later Alcestis and Raiona) and Luana.


The Waitemata Woodys website – – is a formidable resource for the history of local launches, yachts and workboats.

Alan Houghton, its founder and resident comptroller, has done an amazing job in collecting a huge number of threads of information, anecdotes and images of these boats and the people associated with them.

I acknowledge Waitemata Woodys and its contributors as the source of several of the illustrations in this article.