In these changeable times it’s rare enough that a boat remains within the same family for 48 years; it’s rarer still when it’s a plywood launch moored in fresh water. Here’s the story of much-loved launch.
This story begins in 1929 when 18-year-old Norm Bulloch arrived in New Zealand with his emigrating Scottish parents. After completing a gun-smithing apprenticeship with King and Henry in Masterton, Bulloch re-trained as a toolmaker before founding his own engineering business.
While Bulloch loved boats, with business, house and family commitments, it wasn’t until 1955 that he was able to buy one – a 6.7m runabout powered by a 20hp Evinrude outboard. Bulloch wanted twin engines for reliability, so he fitted a second Evinrude, one of the first twin outboard rigs in Wellington.
The Bulloch family used the runabout regularly in Wellington Harbour as well as Lake Taupo, where they eventually bought a bach.
But Bulloch wanted something bigger so in 1959 he purchased the 10m bridgedecker Lady Allison, renaming her Norloch. As part of an extensive refit, he fitted a Ford Cortina 1500cc which he marinised himself. Fitted under the cockpit, this became a trolling engine as well as back-up to the main 100hp Austin petrol engine.
The Bulloch’s next boat was a Plylite Skimmer ski boat (see sidebar). Designed for an outboard, Bulloch and his son Noel removed the Skimmer’s well and converted it to an inboard with a Ford Cortina 1500cc which they marinised.
But Bulloch senior still wasn’t content and, seeking a bigger, more comfortable and speedier launch than Norloch, discovered a partly-built 14m Hartley New Marksman in Tauranga named Simba.
Sadly, its owner had been diagnosed with a terminal illness and wanted out, so after buying Simba, Bulloch transported her to Wellington and had local boatbuilders Bruce Hicks and Tony Sherman build her decks and cabin.
With Noel now running the family business, Bulloch senior was free to concentrate on Simba and he spent the next six years finishing her off including the engineering.
Bulloch took a fastidious approach and again opted for twin engines, this time two Chevrolet 283 cubic-inch petrol V8s of 185hp each, which he marinised. These were mounted onto steel RSH beams, bolted between bulkheads and drove 3:1 Borg Warner counter-rotating gearboxes.
Hartley’s plans and books were full of cost-saving ideas and Bulloch followed many of the suggestions including using a truck steering box to operate the twin rudders.
The interior was all done in plywood with mahogany trim and Simba had bunks for seven, along with shower, galley, freezer and two fridges. As weight saving wasn’t a priority, Simba finished up weighing over nine tonnes.
Simba was launched in Lake Taupo in 1976 and Bulloch thoroughly enjoyed her for eight years. However, in a sad twist of fate he died following a massive heart attack onboard Simba in the winter of 1984.
Noel Bulloch and his brother Denis now own Simba and they’ve used her regularly ever since for cruising and fishing.
Incidentally, Noel Bulloch’s always been interested in fast boats; he raced a five-metre Pelin powered by a 396ci Chevy for many years. He also served on the Wellington Offshore Power Boat Committee for 15 years and assisted in two Cook Strait record attempts (see sidebar). But he’s just as happy pottering along at displacement speeds.
“I just love cruising Simba, and besides fishing, I’m just as happy to anchor up, read a book or listen to a bit of music.”
Just as well as Simba’s hardly the fastest boat on Lake Taupo, her most economical speed being around eight knots. Top speed is around 14 knots, but the engines need close monitoring and the fuel consumption skyrockets at those speeds.
The only part of the original build that Noel Bulloch would change are the steel RSH engine beds which transmit a harmonic frequency over 1700rpm, but as he rarely goes this fast it’s not a major issue.
Keeping a plywood boat on Lake Taupo is a double-edged sword. On the plus side of the ledger the absence of salt means steel fittings last extremely well just with a paint finish.
But plywood boats permanently moored in fresh water are prone to rot. Simba’s been lucky in that regard as the Bulloch’s have had her professionally repainted every five years – that’s eight times to date – which combined with her fibreglass sheathing, has kept her rot-free for 48 years and counting. Who says plywood boats don’t last?
Now aged 75, Noel Bulloch has set his son Craig up to manage the engineering business and he intends spending many more hours cruising Lake Taupo aboard Simba.