Seaward – a mystery yacht
My wife Pauline and I have owned the old 34ft (10.36m) gaff ketch 'Seaward' since 2003, writes Harold Kidd.
We had owned the 28ft (8.53m) gaff cutter Loloma for over 20 years and brought up three boys aboard her, despite her 3ft 10ins (1.12m) of headroom, giving truth to the old adage about such craft that Christmas cruising was like living under the kitchen table for a fortnight. When we sold Loloma to Jason Prew we delighted in Seaward’s full headroom, while the 11ft (3.35m) beam gave her huge volume and the ketch rig was easily handled. We were attracted by her history, her strong association with offshore cruising and racing and with famous yachtsmen like Dick Wellington, Johnny Wray and Bruce Hart, our long-time friend Ted Oldfield and Mick Airey, one of my father’s pre-war crewman on his powerful short-ender Wakanui.
Although Seaward was in a run-down condition we felt compelled to rescue her from being converted into a fishing launch. The blurb we got from her vendor went, “In 1890 the ketch Seaward was built in Picton, New Zealand. She is strongly built in three skins of kauri and is gaff rigged. Starting life as a missionary trader, she later also traded the eastern coast of Australia in the 1920s…”
I found that a tad lurid and was at first unable to find corroboration for any of those historical claims, the “1890”, the “Picton” build, the “missionary trader”, and the “eastern coast of Australia”.
Mysteries about yachts and launches fascinate me. I spend a ridiculous amount of time attempting to unravel such puzzles for other people, and I pride myself on my ability to find their provenance despite physical alterations and name changes. But, although Seaward’s history from around 1934 is an open (and very colourful) book, I still have no concrete proof of her true origins, although anecdotal material is abundant. Let’s start with the known facts.
The first reference I have found to the yacht, anywhere, is in the Auckland Star of 29th May 1934, reporting that she was an unexpected visitor to the port of Napier, putting in to have repairs effected to her propeller. Then the Wellington Evening Post of 13th June 1934 had this: “The auxiliary yacht Seaward left Wellington three weeks ago on a cruise to Auckland. She made calls at Napier and Gisborne, leaving the latter port on Sunday week for White Island and Tauranga, where she arrived yesterday. The yacht is owned by Mr. L.H. Herd, of Wellington, who is accompanied by two friends. It is possible that Seaward will be a competitor in the trans-Tasman race to Melbourne in November.”
It is odd that such a substantial ketch, with such obvious abilities, should pop up out of nowhere in 1934. Certainly, the interest of the public in offshore sailing had recently been stimulated by Johnny Wray and his Ngataki, a classic story of a Kiwi battler designing, then scrounging for material and completing the construction of a yacht in the depths of the Depression. But where did Seaward come from?
The Auckland Star of 15th June 1934 seemed to supply some of the facts; “The Seaward was formerly engaged in trade about Nelson and the Sounds. She was altered into a yacht by a former owner, Mr. Pickering, being replanked and thoroughly overhauled and fitted with a motor car engine.” Later in the month the same newspaper called her “an ex-trading vessel, built at Picton” so the Picton-build started looking feasible.
A couple of years later, the New Zealand Yachtsman magazine published a photograph of Herd on board Seaward, adding in the caption the news that she had at one time been owned in Wellington and called Ariadne! Ariadne was the name of the English cutter that was run ashore near Oamaru in 1901 in an insurance fraud and also the name of a celebrated local trotting horse of the 1910s. The Pickering family was associated with transport in the Sounds for years, initially running the coach services from Picton to Blenheim and Havelock and later running launch services for tourists and fisherman, but I have found no record of a Seaward nor an Ariadne being built at Picton, nor of a Pickering building or repairing any boats.
After a month in Tauranga, Seaward arrived in Auckland on 6th July 1934, last ports of call Mayor Island and Tairua. On board were her owner and skipper L.H. Herd with RPNYC members J.E. Symonds and R.J. Lynch her crew. She immediately went up on W.G. Lowe and Son’s slip for overhaul. Hugh Herd said he intended staying in Auckland for two or three weeks then cruising north and departing for the South Pacific, possibly returning for the start of the trans-Tasman race on December 8. His crew and those of Georg Dibbern’s Te Rapunga were made honorary members of Akarana Yacht Club in anticipation of their entry. By August it was reported that Herd had abandoned the Pacific cruise and, a month later, lacked a crew for the trans-Tasman race and had returned home to Wellington, leaving Seaward in Auckland.
Launcelot Hugh Herd was a Wellington solicitor, born in England in 1898. His father was a wealthy Hawkes Bay farmer. At the age of 20 he went to France as a trooper in the Mounted Rifles but was too late to see action. In 1939, like several Port Nick yachtsmen he volunteered for Naval service and was captured by the Japanese in Singapore in 1941 , joining Tony Clarke and Bill Mellor, both of Marangi and Astral, Stephen Gerard of Rogue, and Geoff Inns and John Maddever of Nanette. At the time of his capture, Hugh Herd owned the 1895 Wellington-built yawl Siren but sold her during the war.
Along with his former RPNYC mates, Hugh Herd survived nearly four years in Changi Prison, a tribute to their toughness. He resumed law practice after repatriation but seems not to have taken up yachting again.
Hugh Herd allowed a group of keen but hard up Auckland yachtsmen to have the run of Seaward but he came up from Wellington from time to time to cruise her in the Gulf and north. The first group consisted of Keith Dawson (who later sailed the 26-footer Roxane to Sydney with Dick Wellington) and Les Crago, an unconventional man but a printer, journalist and fine photographer who took some outstanding images of Seaward during his tenure.
In an email to me in 2003 Keith Dawson recollected: “Seaward arrived in Auckland from I’m sure it was Wellington, definitely down south, the owner (can’t remember his name), his original intentions were to set sail from Auckland for the islands of the Pacific, however on arrival in Auckland he’d had enough and decided to leave the yacht in Auckland and return by other means to his home town.
“A friend and I had made his acquaintance some months before, and he left the yacht with us to use whenever we wished. This we did on numerous occasions; as you say it was a stoutly built boat, triple-planked hull with two opposite diagonally, the outer planked fore and aft. It had an engine which, like most engines of the day, rarely worked when wanted. I remember my friend Les and I after work one evening sailed it from Mechanics Bay over to Devonport on the high tide and tied up alongside the piles situated on the beach at the high tide mark; don’t know whether they still have such things to enable yachts to scrub off the bottom as the tide fell and then antifoul in time to beat the incoming tide.
“This we did, finishing in the early hours of the following morning. It was just on full tide when we cast off with hardly a breath of wind. The outgoing tide took us with it down the channel to as far as the Rangitoto lighthouse before the tide changed to return us by early morning to the spot we’d left the morning before. With the tide still in our favour, we hitched the dinghy on and somehow managed to tow Seaward across the incoming tide and made the mooring just in time to get to work on time. What a night!”
Next came a team headed by C.F. Webster and Geoff Innes who had as crew Mick Airey, Ian Pierce and Des Culpan who went on to campaign the 22ft mullet boat Venus in 1937, when Herd sold Seaward. Of these five young men, only Mick survived service in World War II. It was this crew who raced Seaward in the 1935 Auckland-Tauranga race, held in baffling light winds and calms, conditions which could not have suited the heavily-built Seaward less. The Winstone brothers’ Nga Toa took line honours while the recent import from England, the Tattersfield brothers’ West Solent Q Class Altair (ex-Bird O’ Freedom) was second over the line and first on handicap. Seaward came in last.
Seaward’s 1937 buyer was none other than Daniel ‘Dick’ Wellington who had been Johnny Wray’s companion on the early Pacific voyaging of Ngataki, which I covered in two earlier Vintage Perspective articles. I’ll resume Seaward’s story another time.
This article was published in the Setember 2012 edition of Boating NZ.