Lake Rotoiti’s fabled boat museum is home to a glorious selection of restored classics. But it also features a number of immaculate classic recreations – including a handsome 1928 Biscayne 18-footer. Story by Lawrence Schaffler, photos by George Empson and supplied.

Amalfi is a recent copy of a design by American Ken Hankinson – famous for his beautifully-crafted timber runabouts that were themselves based on classics from an earlier period.

The Biscayne – with her sensuous curves and barrel-back stern – harks back to an era of glamorous boating in the US. The gleaming vessels – typically constructed in mahogany – were potent symbols of the heady confidence of American society in the opulent, roaring twenties. Few imagined that things would all come crashing down within a few years, with Wall Street imploding and ushering in the Great Depression.

This beauty belongs to Timaru’s John Maclean who first fell in love with the notion of cruising around in a sexy, mahoganyhulled runabout when, many years ago, he clambered into a similar vessel – a water taxi – in Venice. He just had to have one.

“I’ve always been fascinated by the history and heritage that surrounds these boats – and in particular, their role in the particularly ‘colourful’ period of boot-legging in the US’ prohibition era.”


Fast forward to 2018 when, fortuitously, this Biscayne had just been built by Whangamata’s Harry Nordberg – a chap whose name has become synonymous with boats featuring impeccable timber craftsmanship.

John had seen her on Harry’s website and, after much discussion and an exchange of cash – with a few bottles of home-brewed whiskey to seal the deal (no, not really) – towed her home on her custom-built trailer and named her Amalfi. He really likes that part of the Italian coastline – it’s also a favourite playground for owners of these stylish runabouts.

“When I got to see her in the flesh, I was staggered by the attention to detail,” says John. “I’d never seen a boat so well-built and beautifully finished. Harry works alone – he’s meticulous and a perfectionist. I ran the Royal Bahrain Yacht Club for many years and, as you might imagine, saw and experienced scores of quality boats in that time. Amalfi – I can guarantee – takes some beating.”

She’s powered by a 225hp, 4.3-litre Volvo Penta V6 (petrol) engine, driving a three-bladed, cupped bronze prop. This configuration, says John, suits the boat perfectly and delivers a top speed of nearly 60mph. He drives her at a far more sedate pace – using her for family outings and languid fly-fishing on various South Island lakes. Still, Amalfi has become something of a drawcard at Lake Rotoiti’s annual Classic Boat Show.

The Biscayne, says Harry, was 18 months in the making. “She’s a cold-moulded build – three layers of gaboon ply covered with mahogany slats and then glassed.” He sourced the plans from a California website ( run by a company called Glen-L Marine Designs.



It turns out Ken Hankinson had worked for Glen-L from 1965 – 1987 and, after a spell of working on his own, retired in 2005. His designs are coveted among classic boat enthusiasts and are particularly popular with DIYers.

When Hankinson died in April last year, many believed his plans would never again be available. But given the early working relationship and close friendship, Glen-L was able to negotiate the rights to distribute the plans.

The company sells all of Hankinson’s stock plans, patterns and study plans through its website. “We’ve also set up a section in our online forum for discussion about his designs as a service to clients,” says Barry Witt, Glen-L’s webmaster.