The Reactor turns 50

Dec 15, 2017 Boating history ,General Interest ,Racing

2018 marks the 50th anniversary of Paul Whiting’s 7.6m Reactor, one of New Zealand’s best-loved designs. Nearly 80 have been built. What makes the Reactor’s legacy even more remarkable is its improbable origin, writes LAWRENCE SCHÄFFLER.

Born in 1952, Paul couldn’t, by any stretch of the imagination, be labelled an enthusiastic scholar. Boats, rather than books, consumed his life – perhaps not all that surprising given the family’s sailing obsession.

But proof that he was born with an innate talent and an exceptional eye is evident when you learn that he penned the Reactor’s lines (in 1968) when he was only 16 – completely untrained in boat design.

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH

Equally intriguing is his instinctive move to embrace what was then the new-fangled fibreglass construction, and become a pioneer in the era of New Zealand production boatbuilding – taking advantage of its inherent cost- and process-efficiencies.

The mould for the first fibreglass Reactor was made (1968) from the wooden plug Whiting built in an old shed near his
father’s factory in Auckland’s Mt Roskill. She was named Reactor. The wooden plug, incidentally, continued life when it was fitted out and launched as Armageddon – later renamed Madama Butterfly.

Reactor wooden plug from which all Reactors were to be moulded_cmyk (Small)

Reactor wooden plug from which all Reactors were to be moulded.

In those pre-marketing, hype-free days the best way to display a new design’s capabilities was on the water. Whiting raced Reactor regularly and she performed well. He won the Junior Offshore Group championships in 1969 and extended the winning streak in 1970 and 1971. Reactor became a useful sales tool – and the foundation for an entire class of cruiser/racers.

So when he exhibited her at the 1970 New Zealand Boat Show she attracted plenty of interest – and orders. By mid-1971 he’d built 14 Reactors in the old shed, and five years later, after a move to a new factory, the tally had risen to 67. The class had become an established one-design phenomenon.

Reactor four boats, found pic, smaller size_cmyk (Small)

In addition to the Reactor, Whiting designed numerous yachts, including the Quarter Tonner Magic Bus (which won the 1976 Quarter Ton Championship). Sadly, his meteoric career was cut short by a dark star.

He competed in the 1979 Sydney-to- Hobart race in his yacht Smackwater Jack. Returning to New Zealand a few days later
with his wife Alison, John Sugden and Scott Combs, the vessel encountered 80-knot winds and 11m seas. No trace was ever found of the yacht or its crew.


Reactor owners are an enthusiastic bunch and over the design’s 50 years they – and their boats – have notched up an eclectic array of records. Here is a sample:

First Reactor to Fiji and New Caledonia – Hans and Karen Prager in Jaffa. Set off in May 1985 and arrived in
Fiji after 14 days.
First Tasman Crossing – completed in 13 days in April 1978 on Jaffa, skipper Alan Wallis, crew John Bartlett.
Longest Distance – Hans and Karen sailed Jaffa to Darwin, the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, Bali and on to Turkey.
In May 1988 Jaffa cruised in the Greek Dodecanese Islands, Santorini and Kinaros. She is still in the Med.
Fastest Speed – 16.5 knots by Roger Redmond on Rainbow III, January 2014, rounding Separation Point: “wind would
have been 35-40kn, gull-winged, full main and headsail … a few willy-waws, lifted off the water at times.”
Longest Solo Race – approximately 1,470nm, making 120nm per day. Set in the New Plymouth-to-Mooloolaba Race, April 2010, by Trish Lewis on Wishbone. Elapsed time of 12 days, 5hrs 41 minutes.
Heaviest Social – in 2009 Ecstasy hosted 15 visitors in Islington Bay. With around 13 people aboard water gurgles
through the cockpit drains and the vessel’s bow began to lift.
Biggest Tow – set by Umeme II towing 12 Reactors around the shallow waters of Issy Bay to celebrate the design’s 40th anniversary.
First and Fastest Coastal Classic – set in 2002 by Trish Lewis on Wishbone – 25hrs, 25 mins (144nm, average speed of 5 knots).
Longest Liveaboard – 22 years, set by the late Don Mackay who lived on Nokomis from 1991 until his death in 2013.
Biggest Reactor Race Entry – 27 starters in the 150th Auckland Anniversary Regatta, 1990.
Most Restorations – Geoff Cooper restored six neglected Reactors to pristine condition over the years: Reliant, Wishbone, Reflector, Ecstasy, Siskin and Antares II.
First New Zealand CircumnavigationSassy, sailed by Jennifer and Rowley Skemp.
First Reactor to win Auckland-to-Tauranga RaceJulie III (now Random Precision) in 1970s, with Paul Whiting
as skipper. Race went well until leaving Channel Island. The story goes that Paul asked for the charts. Nobody had them! The only option was to hug the coast, leaving the rest of the fleet to take the shorter, direct course. Julie III won – the only yacht to have a breeze. Everyone else was becalmed!
Oldest Owner to Win a Race – Colin Brown, who won the Auckland Anniversary Regatta on Line and on Handicap in
Umeme II on 2 January 2001. He was then 81 years young.
Longest Reactor Ownership (as at 31 December 2016): Umeme II, Colin Brown 1974-2001 (27 years); Quita, Ted Holloway 1984-2013 (29 years); Command ,Bill Tweed 1985-2015 (30 years); Phocoena, Ross McLean 14.04.1985 – 32
years and counting; Déjà Vu, Neil Scott 24.07.1984 – 33 years and counting. But the winner is Seajay II owned by Harold
Sherwood since 1974 – 43 years and counting…
First Reactor through Piercy Island’s Hole in the WallSolution, then owned by Jim and Debbie (née Whiting) Griffin.
Most Racing Cups WonConflict, as at 31 December 2016, with 67 Wins. China Doll lies second with 63 wins (some wins under her former name, Impulse).
First Reactor in Rikoriko Cave (Poor Knights Islands) – Rapidus, in February 2014. Rikoriko is the world’s largest sea cave by volume (220,870m3). It is 153m long, 96m wide and 38m high (12m is below water).

2008 Sep Rum Race_cmyk (Small)