Blair Tuke still remembers the first time he saw his name etched on the inside of a beer bottle cap.

A brewing company puts sports trivia questions on its bottle caps and, in this instance, asked which athletes won New Zealand’s 100th Olympic medal.

That honour fell to Peter Burling and Tuke with their silver in the 49er at the 2012 London Games, a result which announced their arrival to the wider New Zealand public. It’s fair to say, 10 years on, they are the answers to an abundance of trivia questions.

In Olympic class sailing alone, they accumulated six world 49er titles together, three Olympic medals and countless other continental, World Cup and national titles. They were also named World Sailors of the Year – Burling also picked up the gong in 2017 – and were the most dominant combination in modern Olympic sailing.

We might never see anything like that sort of pre-eminence again, and certainly won’t see it from Burling and Tuke in a 49er again in the near future.

On song at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021.

The pair announced recently they had re-signed with Team New Zealand for the next America’s Cup. The timing of that Cup defence, together with their ongoing commitments with the New Zealand SailGP Team (they’re sailors and joint CEOs) and their environmental charity Live Ocean, makes it impossible for them to chase a fourth medal at the 2024 Paris Olympics. They haven’t officially retired from 49er sailing, saying “never say never”, but the chances are exiguous.

“Those things mean we really have our hands full again and we just didn’t feel we could give the Olympics the time and energy they deserve or require,” Tuke told the Yachting New Zealand podcast, Broad Reach Radio. “It was a pretty tough decision when it’s been such a big part of your life, but we have some awesome memories to reflect on and you never know where it will go in the future. We’re definitely keeping our options open but we’re firmly in place with Team New Zealand and SailGP over the next couple of years.”


There was a time when Burling and Tuke didn’t always have so many balls to juggle.

Burling was 17 and fresh from competing in the men’s 470 at the 2008 Beijing Olympics when he emailed the 19-year-old Tuke asking him if he was interested in teaming up in a 49er.

The contents of that email exchange now sit on display at the Maritime Museum, illustrating the significance of their partnership.

They were on the water within two weeks of Burling returning from Beijing and went through what Burling describes as a “feeling out period”.

“When we first started talking, it was about whether we could get good enough to have a crack at the Olympics and win an Olympic medal for the country,” he explains.

They were relatively content with their results in the first couple of years, with gear failure seriously hampering their efforts at their first world championships together in 2009. They finished 26th that year and backed that up with 17th following year in the Bahamas.

Flag bearers leading the New Zealand team into the Olympic stadium during the opening ceremony at Rio.

“That was probably one of the lows of our 49er career because we thought we were a little bit hard done by in the first worlds,” Burling says. “We had learned a lot since then and, at that stage, there was quite a harsh funding crossover – getting in the top 16 – so to miss that by one place was pretty tough.

“That was probably one of the big reasons we managed to get second at the next worlds [in 2011] because it really made us go back and take a good, hard look at ourselves. Did we want to dig a bit deeper and give it everything we had and try to make a big step forward?”

The answer was an emphatic ‘yes’.

It’s widely acknowledged Burling and Tuke are pretty laidback customers but it’s less well known how meticulous they are when it comes to planning and details.

As long-time coach Hamish Willcox says: “There’s an incredible intensity about Pete and Blair that only a very few people are aware of. They go so hard and so fast at so many things at the same time.

“I remember our first meeting [when they asked me to coach them] and they were incredibly clear about what they wanted. I was impressed from the start.”

Others were less impressed in the early days.

Nathan Handley, who went on to coach Jo Aleh and Polly Powrie to Olympic gold and silver medals in the women’s 470, was Burling and Tuke’s first coach and said they were “hopeless” when it came to campaign planning.

Tuke chuckles when reminded of a meeting they had with Handley and long-time campaign advisor David Slyfield after the 2010 world championships.

“Sly was considering whether to work with us and I think this other guy [from High Performance Sport New Zealand] advised Sly not to because we were these hopeless guys,” he explains. “I think Pete turned up with a pen and I had a piece of paper so between us we had something to write some notes but something in that meeting caught Sly’s attention and he gave us another chance.

Burling and Tuke’s exceptional teamwork was the key to victory at Rio, as elsewhere.

“There were definitely stages when we were still maturing and didn’t have the processes in place. That took some good people to come around us and help funnel that energy. But we were always really ambitious and striving to be better people and better sailors, so that was always there.”

They also formed a training relationship with the Australian 49er squad, including Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen who at that time set the standard in the 49er, and made significant improvements to the point Burling and Tuke were second behind the Aussies at both the 2011 and 2012 world championships.

They transferred that form into the London Olympics, again finishing second behind Outteridge and Jensen but well ahead of third, and then set about figuring out how to go one better four years later at the Rio Olympics.

“That whole 2012 campaign was about learning as quickly as we could and, if you look back at the beginning of that campaign, we were miles off where we needed to get to at the end,” Burling says. “It really was a scramble.

“After that it was a good opportunity to take stock over what we had actually done over the last period but also plan how we wanted to go about really dominating that next cycle. That was really our goal, to go out in those first couple of events and put our best foot forward early and just keep improving.”

No one really knew just how dominant they would become.

Racing in challenging conditions in Tokyo.


Burling and Tuke won the first of their six world titles in Marseille in 2013 and won every event in that four-year cycle except a shortened pre-Olympic regatta in Rio, when they were third. They had often wrapped up a title well before the medal race and at one event in Rio in 2014 still won despite missing the entire first day of racing due to the fact they had been attending the World Sailor of the Year Awards in Spain.

“We were kind of in cruisy mode when we got there, thinking we’d probably miss two days and do the last two days, but while rigging the boat it became apparent we could make the second day and started scrambling a bit more,” Tuke remembers. “We went out there and managed to sail a pretty good regatta and took it out after carrying 52 points [on our scorecard for the races we missed]. That was classic and something we will certainly remember for a while.”

It probably added to the building aura surrounding the pair. They aren’t sure if other crews were intimidated by them, but Willcox is, comparing their standing with that of Sir Ben Ainslie who dominated Laser and Finn sailing for so long in the 1990s and 2000s and remains the most successful sailor in Olympic history with five medals, including four gold.

It meant Burling and Tuke went to the Rio Olympics with everyone, including the New Zealand public, expecting them to win. That pressure was amplified when they were named joint captains of the New Zealand Olympic team and led the Kiwi athletes into the opening ceremony.

“That was an amazing experience,” Tuke says. “Both of us would probably say it was one of the proudest moments of our lives to lead the New Zealand team into the Maracana Stadium.

“That was five or six days before we raced so, if anything, that probably helped us. We had that big buzz of dealing with all of that and then we could concentrate on the job at hand. There was pressure, and the people who have carried the flag haven’t necessarily had the best record, but I think we just used that as the kickstart for us to get into our work. It was a moment we will treasure forever.”

So was winning Olympic gold. The result was never really in doubt, and they went on to win by 43 points – the largest winning margin in Olympic history since the present scoring system was introduced in the late 1960s. They wrapped up gold with two races to spare and even afforded themselves time to watch a little of Aleh and Powrie’s medal race immediately before their own – which they duly won anyway.

“I think both of us really enjoy that challenge of performing when it really matters,” Burling says. “I think we both tend to perform a little bit better when we have to.

“One of the really enjoyable things was all that planning came together and we probably sailed one of our best ever events. It was such an amazing event for us.”

The boys exhibiting perfect form in the 470 at Enoshima, 2021


Hamish Willcox didn’t think Burling and Tuke would be back for another crack at the Olympics, so set about following his ambition of sailing around the world with his wife.

He had to amend those plans when Burling and Tuke outlined their intentions to him during their own journey around the globe in the 2017/18 Volvo Ocean Race. The lure of trying to win a third Olympic medal was too hard to ignore, despite their growing list of commitments.

They were seventh at their first international regatta in Palma and third a couple of weeks later in Genoa before winning both the European championships in Weymouth and Olympic test event in Enoshima. Victories at both the 2019 (Auckland) and 2020 (Geelong) world championships saw them named in the New Zealand team to compete at the Tokyo Olympics. And then Covid hit.

“It definitely made for a pretty interesting 2021,” Burling says in his understated way. “We had been pretty happy with where we were at, coming off the back of two world championship wins, and were pretty excited to get in and race at the Olympic Games so we could then focus on the America’s Cup 100 percent after that.

“Like with everyone in the world, Covid flipped everything on its head.”

It meant they had to pack their 49er away for the best part of nine months and almost restart again at the conclusion of the America’s Cup.

Normally they would race regularly to regain their sharpness, but few regattas were being held, meaning they relied heavily on the strong New Zealand 49er squad to push them in training.

The pair won Silver at the London Olympics in 2012.

“By the time we went to Tokyo, I think we would say we felt ready,” Tuke says. “We had given it a huge push.”

They scrapped for every point at a hot and tricky venue in Enoshima and went into the double points medal race with a slim lead over the British combination of Dylan Fletcher and Stuart Bithell.

They “nailed the start” and won the right-hand side of the course. The only problem is the left paid, but they were still in gold medal position until the final few metres of the race when Fletcher and Bithell got their bow in front of the Germans to win the race and, ultimately, the gold on countback.

It would be natural to reflect on all the moments earlier in the regatta when one point here or there could have made a difference but neither look back on that result as the one that got away.

“I don’t think so,” Tuke says. “We got ourselves into a chance of winning in the medal race and it just wasn’t quite to be. I think we are still incredibly proud. It’s an Olympic medal and we’ve loved the journey the whole way.”

It’s hoped it’s not the end of their Olympic journey and they’re still young, being in their early 30s.

There are plenty of examples of ‘older’ sailors competing at the highest level, including Argentina’s Santiago Lange who won gold in 2016 in the Nacra 17 when 56, and five-time Olympic medallist Robert Scheidt was 47 when he competed in the ILCA 7 (Laser) at last year’s Tokyo Olympics.

But few have quite as many commitments as Burling and Tuke and they will have plenty of options over the next few years.

It’s inevitable they will continue to create history, which also means they will carry on being answers to numerous quiz questions. BNZ

A popping little cockle

With the sudden reappearance of a little clinker runabout last seen working around Picton Harbour nearly 30 years ago, older locals can be forgiven for thinking they’ve been through a time-warp.

Tuangi – Māori for ‘cockle’ – is a lapstrake-constructed 16-foot dinghy launched in Picton in 1978. The lapjointed planks look a bit like the ridges on cockle shells – hence the name.

She was designed and constructed by Bill Orchard – a prominent boatbuilder in the area – and her recent reappearance is thanks to Bill’s son Grant – who kept the little dinghy. She is not only painted in the same, original colours, but is also being used in much the same way as she was all those years ago.


“Dad was passionate about the Queen Charlotte Sound – as I am – and was driven by a desire to showcase the region, to let visitors experience the majesty and beauty of the area firsthand, and it’s best viewed from the water.

“He built numerous launches over his lifetime – recreational and commercial – and Tuangi was at the lower end of that spectrum. She was designed as a ‘bareboat charter’ vessel. Punters would rent her ($5/hour) for short cruises around the inner Sound.

The little popper is now in survey and can carry five passengers along with the skipper.

“The design became known as a ‘Sounds Popper’ – based on the sound of her single-cylinder, 8hp Yanmar engine – ‘pop, pop, pop’ – which gave her a top speed about 5 knots. Even inexperienced boaties could have a safe, fun cruise. In fact, all the kids in our family learned to operate boats in the long-suffering Tuangi.”

Used periodically over the decades (and stored in a shed), the vessel didn’t require any major remedial work. “Fortunately, Dad used the clench-nail/glue technique for her lapstrake construction, rather than the more common riveting system of the period. The advantage of clench-nailing is that the seams don’t dry out during the winter months, when she’s out of the water.”

A major part of bringing Tuangi back to life was the new coat of paint and adding more modern technology such as LED lighting and an electric bilge pump. She’s also enjoying an upgraded engine – an 11hp twin-cylinder Kubota. It’s a little smoother than its predecessor, but the distinctive ‘pop, pop, pop’ is more subdued.

Nearly 50 years old and still going strong.  

Today the little popper is back plying the charter market – though not as a self-drive. Legislation has changed and Grant’s restoration of the boat included fitting equipment to get her through survey to carry five passengers, with himself as skipper.

A typical cruise lasts 1.5 hours and covers the inner Sound. “Like dad, I like giving visitors a bit of background about the region – its history, the fauna and flora, the industry. I particularly like showing them the waterfront shed where Tuangi was built and the beach where she was launched.”


Grant hopes his ‘reactivation’ of Tuangi cruises will coincide with the easing of restrictions in a Covid world that’s crippled the New Zealand tourism sector over the last two years.

The ‘pop, pop, pop’ is more subdued, but the little vessel is as arresting a sight as ever.

“I suspect I will need someone to help with running the Tuangi cruises. I already skipper my 11m charter fishing/ cruising charter boat (Katabatic) based in Picton, and things get really busy at the beginning of summer. I can’t operate both boats so, ideally, I’d like to find someone to skipper the Tuangi and offer them a share in the business. It’s perhaps a way for someone to kick-start a low-stress career on the water.”

If you see a little orange-and-white lapstrake dinghy tootling around Picton and you’re convinced you may have seen her before – many, many years ago – don’t blame your aging mind or that you’ve had one beer too many.

It’s just the Tuangi – a throwback from the past, continuing Bill Orchard’s inspiring vision via his son. BNZ

Grant prepares gourmet meals, embellishing the dining experience with information about the products and method of preparation.


Grant Orchard is an unusual skipper in that he is also a professional chef.

In fact, a signature feature of his Katabatic charters is that he not only gives guests a running commentary about the history and ecology of the Sounds, but also prepares the kai moana caught on the trip. As always, he demonstrates how he likes to prepare the food – whether its cod, oysters, mussels, paua or crayfish – whatever.

Just as a Covid-restricted world persuaded him to reactivate the Tuangi cruises, so he has launched a pop-up cooking experience in Picton. A small group of guests (14) attend a full gourmet event – a five-course meal at which he explains the dishes being prepared, with the appropriate wines in attendance.

“I launched the pop-up restaurant concept out at Waterfall Bay in the Queen Charlotte Sound – and everyone seemed to enjoy it thoroughly. Guests were ferried to the venue from the Picton waterfront (on Katabatic). Limiting the size of the group to 14 keeps it intimate and it’s easier for me to interact with them in terms of the food preparation. I guess it’s a slightly different spin on a conventional dinner out.”

The pop-up events will be held monthly on a Friday night – at the Gusto Café in Picton’s High Street. They are scheduled for the cooler, winter months (May – September) when the fishing charter business is quieter.

“A feature of the meals is that all produce is local – whether it’s seafood or beef/lamb/pork/chicken/venison. Each month the focus shifts to a different protein – and there are matching wines for that protein.

“I like to think the concept gives guests a richer dining experience and an opportunity to experience the local fare from the region.”

Ewincher Reader's Choice Favourite Anchorage

Boating NZ readers were asked to share their favourite anchorages with us, accompanied by a photo if possible, and explain why they liked it so much.

From the dozens of entries received, we’ve drawn one at random to receive an Ewincher 2 electric winch handle valued at $3,900.00

The winning entry is from Mark Lesniak, who chose Coralie Bay, Great Mercury Island, as his favourite anchorage. Mark’s favourite heads up our pictorial feature, supported by some of the other entries and their reasons for submitting their choices.

Congratulations Mark – your Ewincher has already been presented to you (Boat World). We hope you enjoy it.





Lovely sheltered bay and you can see the anchor sitting in the sand in 6 metres of water.



One of the most beautiful places in NZ – white sand crystal- clear water.



A (mostly) one-boat bay with awesome views up the hill. Idyllic



Love the remoteness and the crayfish.



Perfect spot for a fish and to walk the dog on the beach. Just bliss.




Peaceful, historical and with gorgeous views from every angle, including across the bay to Young Nick’s Head at the southern end of the bay. In this photo, you can see the Endeavour replica coming into the bay during the Tuia 250 voyage celebration in 2019.



Namotu Island is by far our favourite anchorage because the water is crystal-clear, there is a perfect right-hand surf break on the eastern side of the island and another equally perfect left-hand surf break on the western side, both of which you can paddle to from where our boat is anchored. The air temp is a balmy 27°, with a sea temperature to match. The boat is often surrounded by tropical fish, and the odd turtle swings by to say Hi, too. We’ve even watched whales from this spot



This quintessential Kiwi boat shed looks like so many dotting the coast but unlike most of those rusty relics, this one is loved and still in the family that first built it. Generations of kids have learned to sail and boat from its slipway and endless summer evenings have been spent sitting just inside the door with drink in hand, sucking up the peace that can only be found at the end of a day on the water. Ahhh... true bliss!



It’s so peaceful and I woke up to whales around the boat the other morning.



Our yacht Strongbow in Loch Scavaig, Skye.



A great 2.5-hour walk around an island with loads of archeological, historical and natural history.



One of those places that is still a treat because the weather has to be just right to stay overnight, even though it’s only an hour from Gulf Harbour. It has everything: there’s the scenery with a 10/10 beach, clear water, native bush down to the sand with nearly all the native birds, no baches, swimming, good snorkelling, plenty of shore walks and somewhere to get an ice cream. At about 3 or 4pm, the day-trippers all leave, and you have the bay to yourself. AND it’s perfectly orientated for sunset beers.


A great spot in an ex-cyclone, as in 1978-ish. Also, the first place I saw kaka flying above the forest.


Surely the best place to moor up for a week as an Aucklander (in my opinion) is Wattle Bay with its blowhole, the serenity, soft sand and lovely clear water that’s safe to swim in no matter what the tide is doing. Plus, you can day-trip to the historic lighthouse or check out an old cottage where a local legend wrote a book about the Manukau Heads.



Such a magical place where boaties and anglers come together. The stillness and ambience of this anchorage is unmatched.




Grow your own floating garden

The days when sailors had to survive on a diet of salted pork and ship’s biscuits while scurvy loosened their teeth are long gone, but many cruisers still miss fresh greens during passages or while swinging at anchor in remote places.

The fresh stack in the fridge soon runs out leaving only frozen provisions (if they have a freezer) or mushy, canned vegetables. On Pitufa we enjoy trips to remote places, often staying for some time. We don’t want to miss out on fresh vitamins while onboard, so we simply carry our own little green oasis and use it to spice up almost every meal.

Visitors to Pitufa are often astounded and rather skeptical when they spot the wild miniature jungle underneath the yacht’s dodger. Most think plants are a hassle to keep on board and are bound to make a mess during passages. To be fair, our first attempts at a garden onboard ended in plenty of wilted leaves and we unintentionally murdered more than one green passenger. But we learned from our mistakes and soon expanding our plantation to increase its production.

A garden guarantees a nutritionally-enhanced diet, especially for long-term cruisers, but it also makes sense to take a few pots on a weekend or holiday cruise – a sprig of herbs turns a boat-made meal into a gourmet treat.

Pitufa’s garden thrives behind the dodger.


If you’re only out for a few weeks, it doesn’t make sense to start from scratch with seeds. It’s faster and simpler to buy pots with fully-grown herbs like basil, oregano, coriander or mint and then transfer them into shipshape containers. Not much effort is involved, and even small amounts of herbs add a lot of flavour to a dish.

Spring onions are also easy: plants sold in bundles with the roots still attached may look dead lying in the fridge at the supermarket, but put them into water for a few hours, then stick them in some soil, and most will retain enough energy to keep growing.

As we live all-year round on our sailing yacht, we also grow hardy species we can harvest for a long time. We have a vine-growing variety of spinach that is very undemanding, grows all year around and the young leaves are delicious in salads and sandwiches. The same goes for arugula (rocket), a spicy salad green that keeps going for many months if you only harvest the outer leaves.

We were skeptical about pak choy [bok choy] seeds, thinking that such large plants wouldn’t be happy in our little containers, but tried them anyway. We found that pak choy grows incredibly fast, so we harvested the outer leaves and cut off the whole plant once it started flowering, thinking that this was the end of it. Fortunately, I didn’t get round to tossing away the remains and after a few days we got a pleasant surprise: young leaves were sprouting again from the root and between the cut-off stems.

Once we had bell-peppers [capsicum] in a lunch salad and simply stuck some seeds into an empty pot. Three months later we harvested the first red peppers and the plant kept on going for over a year, constantly flowering again and producing new fruit. The same goes for chilli plants, which seriously spice up our curries. We have seen tomatoes on other boats, but they are sensitive and take a long time until they yield fruit, so we don’t bother with them.

Chilli peppers can be grown from seed.


Most plants thrive best in a sunny spot, safe from rain and especially salt spray. Finding the right site for a garden on a boat isn’t always easy, as the green passengers shouldn’t get in the way of lines, winches and other moving equipment. It is important to choose a corner where they can remain when underway.

As gardening beginners, we kept the pots in the cockpit at anchor and stored them below deck on passages, but in rough conditions they toppled over. Many plants also died from lack of sunlight. Moving pots once the weather turns nasty also doesn’t work, because you’re generally too busy reefing to rescue them in time.

On Pitufa no lines are led underneath the dodger, so that’s the perfect spot – dry with plenty of light. On some catamarans and decksaloon monohulls, the bay windows at the front of the saloon are ideal; on other boats, a corner of the cockpit can be secured.


Most regular flowerpots come with a hole on the bottom, so excess water can drain off. Unfortunately, a saucer full of muddy water’s an accident waiting to happen on a pitching, rolling yacht, so we opted for closed containers instead. We prefer using square containers as they snuggle best into the dedicated corner of the cockpit, but any small bucket will do – use whatever fits best into your chosen location.

We have placed the pots on non-skid mats to keep them from sliding or toppling over when the boat is heeling. Additionally, we secure them with a tight bungee cord all around the garden, so the plants can’t simply take off during a squall. A high wooden/ plastic/metal barrier would work, as long as it doesn’t get in the way during manoeuvres. Our garden has survived rough, splashy upwind passages with quite extreme heeling angles.

Fresh herbs and other greens liven up any meal.


Be careful with watermaker water, because even small amounts of salt residue each day will collect in the earth causing the plants to start dying. Heavily chlorinated water is also bad for your green friends. Their first choice of beverage is collected rainwater. With closed containers there’s a risk of drowning the roots, so better to water less, but every day. In small pots, the soil soon gets low in nutrients, leaves turn pale and their growth rate slows, so we add fertiliser to the water. Another disadvantage of small containers is that they soon end up packed full of roots, so replanting once (or twice) a year helps long-term growing success.


Many cruisers refrain from growing anything onboard because they fear plants will attract insects. We’ve had some ant invasions over time, but so have friends without gardens. As a precaution, we put ant traps behind the pots to discourage potential colonists.

Even the cleanest garden won’t make it through quarantine inspections when clearing into island nations in the Pacific, so enjoy a last big salad, wok, or spring roll feast before you move on to a new cruising destination! Having your garden confiscated and destroyed by customs officials won’t just hurt your feelings, but also your wallet. BNZ

Sprouts are easy to grow.



Some sprouts require elaborate equipment, which might appeal to cruisers with lots of space and a soft spot for fancy gadgets, but we have specialised in lentils and mung beans – they grow quickly, produce astounding amounts of biomass and thrive in a simple plastic box.

• Pour beans/lentils into a plastic container, so the bottom is covered

• Fill the container with water and let the beans soak overnight

• Drain the water, wash the grains thoroughly and put a lid on the container (to keep insects out and humidity in)

• Let them sprout for two to five days, harvesting part of the crop every day. Rinse the sprouts twice a day; the remaining humidity is enough to keep them growing.

Saving the Success

A new Heritage Trust has been established to purchase the historic scow Success and restore her as near as possible to original condition as an auxiliary schooner-rigged deck scow.

It is envisaged she will offer heritage experience excursions for 80 to 100 passengers, including tourism, weddings, youth training and special events.

Success (launched as Alwin G in 1925) is one of the last small coastal trading vessels operating from river and sea ports, which she did up until World War Two. The only other original scow still operating today is the beautifully-restored Jane Gifford which operates on the Mahurangi River at Warkworth North of Auckland.

Approximately 130 scows of similar construction once plied New Zealand waters, mostly as ‘trucks of the sea’. Success is one of only three left.

Success,seen here at Auckland,

Scows were built to navigate narrow tidal rivers, estuaries and creeks beside which the country’s early communities settled. Scows were flat-bottomed, to enable them to sit upright when high and dry, making it easy to load and unload freight and stock. The first scow was built in 1873 at Whangateau and the last at Auckland in 1925.

The New Zealand scows were modified, superior versions of American Great Lakes scow-schooners and initially found favour north of Auckland. As time went on and the practical ability of these vessels was realised, they started finding their way around the country, becoming particularly common around Nelson Bays, and later, river ports such as Kaiapoi and Hokitika.

Most of these little vessels were hard used and, if not wrecked, were turned into barges, unceremoniously broken up, or just dragged up onto beaches and left to rot.

Of the three original scows that remain, only the Jane Gifford is fully restored and in survey, the Alma is in private ownership and under restoration as a houseboat, leaving Success as the only other surviving scow suitable for restoration – she has been well-maintained during her working life and substantially reconstructed over the last 30 years.

On Nelson slipway in 2016, was well- maintained during her long working life.


Success was built as Alwin G in 1925 by Davey Darroch at Stanley Bay Auckland for Alan and Winifred Glass. She traded to places like Ngunguru, Parengarenga, and later Whitianga, carting glass sand, firewood, fertiliser, building materials and other general cargoes.

Alwin G had several owners within the Glass family up until 1930 and then was co-owned from 1930 through to 1937.

Renamed Success in February 1937, she was then owned by the Alwin Shipping Company who on-sold her to Jack Hall and Company in 1950.

Sold to Barney Daniels in 1963, Success moved to Wellington to operate as a refuse barge collecting mainly from overseas ships and dumping in Cook Strait. Later the refuse was taken to Evans Bay to be incinerated.

Purchased by Peter Yealands in 1982, Success went to Picton where she was extensively refitted and used for barging pursuits initially, then in the green shell mussel industry. Sold on to Rob Pooley in 1990, Success continued in the mussel industry. Further extensive refits were carried out during this period.

Success was retired and sold to a private owner in 2008 and moved to a Nelson dockyard, where she remains. Success’ 1930s dimensions: 66 x 18.7 x 4.1 feet (20.12 x 5.70 x 1.25 metres).


The only New Zealand scow to have been successfully restored is the Jane Gifford which is very close in size to Success. She was brought back from the brink and has become a huge tourist attraction. Jane Gifford will be used as the template for the restoration of Success (Alwin G).

The other scow currently operating is the Ted Ashby. She is, however, not an original working scow but a replica that operates out of the National Maritime Museum at Auckland. BNZ

Success under sail.


The trust’s goal is to purchase and restore Success to promote the heritage legacy of the New Zealand scows and to represent the scows that served the Nelson region.

The idea for purchasing the Success goes back to the early to mid-2000s but the idea was dropped when Success was subsequently sold to a North Island owner. Success came to light once again in 2015 and it was determined restoring her was a feasible project. The North Island owner also offered a set of engines and various fittings from a sister scow that had sadly disintegrated.

A preliminary survey inspection has confirmed the vessel is extremely sound, there is an offer from a sister group, the Jane Gifford Restoration Trust, to help guide the restoration project, and a conservation plan for Success has also been drafted.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT THE ALWIN G HERITAGE TRUST: Bruce Etwell, 0274944080, P.O Box 3834, Richmond 7020; or Darren Ball, 0210771255, 55 Feldwick Drive, Kaiapoi 7630. of-nz-maritime-heritage-scow

Of whales and men

The Arctic Circle, at 66 degrees 34 minutes north, was well astern and the compass card, becoming unreliable at these latitudes, danced around Magnetic North.

Meeting the last of Norway's whale hunters at home

Even eyesight wasn’t too dependable. Here, in the ‘leads’ – a winding waterway through islands and fjords on Norway’s northern coast, snow-peaked granite mountains floated metres above the horizon and passing ferries seemed to float on air.

This, I learned later, was Fata Morgana, an optical illusion caused by refraction through the cold band of air at sea level and named after the Arthurian sorceress, Morgan le Fay, who is said to have used it to lure sailors to their deaths.

A week or so out of the Shetland Islands, we were bound for Bodo through some of the most scenic waterways in the world, aiming to clear Norwegian customs and then press on north to Spitzbergen.

Dressed in heavy Line-7 PVC smocks, woollen balaclavas and boots, we picked our way up the fjord to Bodo through a fleet of pleasure boats peopled by women in bikinis and T-shirted men wearing shorts. We’d arrived on the first warm day of summer.

Ragnvald ‘Sea Rover’ Dahl.

But customs clearance was elusive. The customs and immigration officials were based at the airport and not keen on coming into town so, after perhaps a week of futile phone calls, we headed 58nm northwest to Svolvaer, the main town of the breathtakingly beautiful Lofoten Islands.

All night we reached briskly across Vestfjorden, though a fairytale landscape of snow-draped mountains. The sun stayed up all night to illuminate the shoreline and splashes of seawater stung any exposed skin as Elkouba charged onwards.

Winters here are long and dark and the mountains plummet straight into the sea, leaving little room for coastal farming or industry.

In the morning we motored into Svolvaer and tied up to the municipal wharf in the middle of town. Colourful gingerbread houses trailed chimney smoke and, entranced, we walked the back streets.

Then I spotted a flock of crows nests, mounted on wooden masts behind a handful of weatherboard houses.

“Whalers,” I said, “let’s go and have a look”.

Down a narrow walkway between two houses we came onto a wooden wharf with three doughty wooden whalers tied to it. A man stood behind the harpoon gun mounted on the fo’csle of the nearest one, a small boy held in his arms. There was a loud report from the gun and Saah pushed the shutter on her camera.

The man turned around warily. “Greenpeace?” he sighed, and rolled his eyes.

“No,” I replied, “we just like boats and were admiring yours.” “Ahhh,” he responded, “come aboard, come board.”

A small whale is butchered onboard.

And so we embarked on a tour of Kromhout, a typical Lofoten minke whale chaser. Every summer kvalskipper (whaling skipper) Ernest Dahl took her up to the edge of the Arctic pack ice to harpoon minke whales which are processed on board for the local market.

Built of 50mm-thick Baltic pine fastened to beefy oak frames with big galvanised boat nails, Kromhout had gangways from the wheelhouse to the harpoon guns forward and aft.

“The minke are so slow… if you miss with the forward gun, you can walk to the wheelhouse, spin the boat around, and try with the aft gun,” he said.

About 575 whales were taken in 2021 and skipper Dahl, in a 53-year career starting at 12 years old, says he has personally killed 3,500.

“This gun,” he patted the purposeful grey harpoon gun, “was invented by Svend Foy, a Norwegian. We use 50mm harpoons for minke whale or 90mm for fin and sei whales – bigger species.” The harpoon head is designed to explode inside the whale and kill it immediately, but if it doesn’t, the whale is despatched with rifle shots to the head. It is then winched on board for processing. The blubber is rendered down to make oil and the meat is consumed locally in Tromso, or exported to Japan.

Belowdecks the accommodation is warm and homely and a big GM diesel is bolted into an engine room that is as spotless as a hotel dining room. “We steam to the ice every year to chase whales,” he explained, “so we need lots of horsepower.”

Lofoten Kvalskipper Ernest Dahl.

He settles into the wooden chair at the wheel, like someone pulling on a favourite overcoat.

“And where are you from?” he asks. “We came by yacht – from New Zealand,” I say.

“Aahh, New Zealand,” he made a fist of his right hand and thumped his chest with it. “David Lange – strong man.”

And later he added, “You like my father; ‘Sea Rover’ Dahl.” His father, Ragnvald, joined the Norwegian whaling fleet at age 14 and steamed to South Georgia as deck boy in a whale chaser, around the edge of the Antarctic ice pack to refuel at Bluff. Then, with its harvest of dead whales in tow, back to South Georgia and home to Norway.

“Come, come,” and ushered us into the wooden house about 15 paces away over the wharf. Over cake and coffee, we discussed whales and whalemen, life on Lofoten and the long, dark days of local winters when snow falls down to sea level and storm force winds shriek down from the ice pack. He was well-versed in International Whaling Commission (IWC) politics and noted that New Zealand had voted for a ban on whale hunting.

“But you have sheep and little lambs – and you eat them,” he smiled, “what difference is it? We have whales, that’s all.”

“The scientists say that there are this or that number of minke whales – but they don’t come out with us to see. Our whales are like your sheep – my family have hunted whales since Viking times – we don’t kill them all – we need them for the next generations… and to feed the people.”

Eventually, full of strong Norwegian coffee and sweet cake, we walked back to the boat, dropped the lines and motored around to take skipper Dahl’s invitation and raft up to Kromhout.

“Next year the whale hunt is banned – so we will not be going anywhere.”

The harpoon gun was invented by a Norwegian.

He had never been on a yacht before and was intrigued by Elkouba, our 12m steel cutter.

For my part, I was fascinated by Kromhout’s nuggety construction, built to nudge her way through brash ice and make a living from doing hard and dirty work in very rough conditions.

For four days we sat beside the whale chaser in the serene waters of the fjord. I helped skipper Dahl with work on Kromhout and he helped me with Elkouba and at nights we dined with the Dahl family and other whalers.

Otherwise we strolled the docks to look at boats. The pleasure boats were mostly plastic production craft, but the commercial boats – salmon carriers, whale chasers and fishing boats – were mostly strongly-built wooden boats, well-kept and shapely.

Skipper Dahl’s mother, Olga (93) cooked the dark red and lean whale meat or fiskeboller (fish balls) which are the local dietary staples. I wondered about the life this dignified old lady, who always seemed to have a grandchild on her lap, had lived – waiting for her men to return from the sea, Antarctic and Arctic.

Skipper Dahl’s two brothers, Arnold and Oddmund, are also whale hunters; their chasers Svolvaering and the oddly-named Charley are berthed further up the fjord. More grandchildren are in training.

Skipper Dahl and I spent hours poring over charts of Spitzbergen. He had drawn tidy little anchor graphics at the best anchorages, marked the areas of the strongest current flows and little swirls were pencilled in to mark where wind funnels and katabatic gusts were most likely. It was a priceless education in arctic navigation.

“Take them… take them…” he slid the charts across the table, “next year there is no more whale hunting – it has been banned – so these are no use to me anymore.”

Guillemots roosting on an isolated rock stack.

In fact Norway eventually defied the IWC ban and began whaling again, but by then technology had expanded to provide GPS and chart-plotters.

I didn’t like to take the charts – it was like endorsing the downfall of a tradition, of a way of life. But on the other hand, I would think of the whalemen, superb seamen, every time I used them.

Friends in the Shetland Islands had recommended taking duty-free whisky to Norway where tax and duty have made liquor prohibitively expensive. I took a bottle from our stock and slipped it into Kromhout’s wheelhouse before we took our mooring lines aboard and slipped out of the fjord.

The wind was light and we ghosted northwards, boggling at the stunning vistas around us.

Then we noticed the whale chaser leave the fjord and alter course to head our way. With a big bone in her mouth, she forged towards us, then settled back to an idle and held station about a metre astern.

Skipper Dahl stepped out of the wheelhouse and waved the whisky. “Is too much,” he roared. A young boy ran forward and handed over a 30cm square slab of meat.

We slowly pulled away from Kromhout until there was enough space for the little wooden whaleship to wheel away and head for home.

We had no fridge on board but the meat kept for a week or so in the cold steel bilges. Sliced very thinly and fried with onions, it made a nutritious and tasty dinner.

In Tromso, a white van like a Mr Whippy with extras, regularly parked on the wharf with Hvalbuf (whale beef) painted on it. Housewives arrived on a regular basis, bringing bags to carry the family dinner.

And, in a way, I thought, Skipper Dahl was right. We do eat sheep. BNZ

The Serial Collector

There is a private collection of boats in Istanbul that’s always expanding, to the point that any article on the subject has the inevitable defect of becoming obsolete within months.

Welcome to the collection of automotive tycoon Rahmi M. Koç CBE, and the museum he founded in the Turkish metropolis that takes his name. Located along the banks of the Golden Horn, a deep inlet of the Bosphorus that was in ancient times the estuary of a river, the Rahmi M. Koç Museum boasts a collection of over 16,000 exhibits, all linked to the history of industry, transport and navigation.

Turkish industrialist Mr Rahmi M. Koç is an avid collector of boats.

Steam engines are Mr Koç’s greatest passion. For the uninitiated, he is the honorary chairman of a group with an annual turnover of USD$61 billion (2021). His industrial empire counts over 120 companies, including Otosan and Tofas (respectively the Turkish branches of Ford and Fiat), as well as banks, companies engaged in the food sector, hotels, marinas and the manufacturers of household appliances, of which Beko is the best-known brand worldwide – it even has a regional head office in New Zealand.

In his museums (plural, as over the years Rahmi Koç has also opened museums in the capital city Ankara and Ayvalik), dozens of steam engines are exhibited – including working scale models – together with road, sea, and railway transportation exploiting the very technology that ignited the industrial revolution.

Mr Koç at a museum function
Vintage motorboat fascia
The interior of Vilia.

In addition to steamrollers and tractors from the early years of the last century, several working boats and steam yachts are on display, all in working order. Among these are two Dutch tugs, Rosalie (1873) and Liman 2 (1935), the yacht Gonca (1905), a tiny launch built in Chatham for the Royal Navy in 1888, as well as Ysolt, a fascinating commuter built in Southampton in 1893.

These boats, along with many others (the magnificent 1927 picket-boat Maid of Honour was featured in Boating New Zealand in December 2017) can be found inside the museum buildings, located in the Hasköy district along the Golden Horn, or else in the water basin in front of it. The Istanbul museum, opened in 1994 and enlarged in 2001, is housed in the nineteenth-century U-shaped venue where the maintenance of Istanbul’s ferry steamers was carried out over a century ago. The covered square has an area of 27,000m2 equivalent to St. Peter’s Square in Rome.



Rahmi M. Koç’s love of boating – he was born in Ankara in 1930, so a man ‘of earth’ – is a something of a history lesson in itself. In his youth, he loved motor boats, but following a bad accident that put him out of action for several months – he hit a buoy on the Bosphorus during a foggy crossing – he began to see sailing boats differently. Today he owns so many he doesn’t know the total number. The latest arrival is called Teodora, a schooner built at Cheoy Lee in Hong Kong in 1979 and restored in Tuzla by RMK Marine, a shipyard owned by the tycoon himself. “I wanted it,” said Koç “for many reasons, and especially because I had never owned a schooner before. I love her romantic clipper bow and, above all, her very spacious cockpit.”

It’s difficult to disagree: a quick look at her is enough to realise how charming and comfortable this craft is, thanks to her generous beam and long keel.

The museum’s vintage outboard collection

Around the time Teodora resumed sailing after a one-year refit, two motorboats put to sea, much to the delight of the Turkish mogul. One of them was recently delivered to the Rahmi M. Koç Museum of Istanbul as a permanent exhibit. Her name is T/T Vedette , once the tender to the famous Frederick Vanderbilt’s 170ft steam ship Vedette, launched in 1899 as Virginia and built to a G.L. Watson design.

Purchased three years ago in derelict condition, the 26ft Consolidated Speedway Saloon tender was restored at the museum workshops in Tasdelen, in Anatolian Istanbul. The original 35hp Kermath gasoline engine, no longer available, has been replaced with a very similar model (a Kermath 50hp) that turned out to be extremely difficult to find. Rahmi Koç, however, demands that all his collectibles, whether for personal or museum use, be working and complete in every detail.

Nazenin 5 under sail.

Years ago, while restoring an engineless Riva Florida, Mr Koç managed to find an original ChrisCraft engine for the runabout. After a single outing in the Sea of Marmara, obviously with the tycoon onboard, the runabout was transferred to the northwest wing of the Istanbul museum, alongside other historical models of the Italian shipyard: an Aquarama and an Olympic.

T/T Vedette had precisely the same fate: after just a few days in the water to properly test the engine and arrange some good photos while underway, the craft was loaded onto a truck to be permanently exhibited at the Rahmi M. Koç Museum.


The third boat delivered to the mogul in 2021 was Gwendolyn (1947). Mr Koç needed a new craft to commute in the Bodrum Peninsula, where has an estate and often spends his holidays.

Built at the legendary Blanchard shipyard of Seattle, this handsome commuter features sober interiors (with berth accommodation concentrated in a forward V-shaped cabin), a raised wheelhouse with forward-facing sofa seating, a spacious galley-dinette and a wide cockpit.

The tug Rosalie


Wherever he goes and resides, Rahmi Koç is surrounded by yachts. In Miami, where he owns the historical shipyard RMK Merrill Stevens and spends a month every year, he boards the motoryacht Cielito (1930); in Istanbul he uses the Victorian looking Camper & Nicholsons’ motoryacht Romola (1903), the Swedish ketch Cassiopeia (1937) and the gaff cutters Lady Edith (a 12-metre IR by William Fife III, launched in Fairlie in 1925) and Vilia (1910). On Lesbos (Greece) and on another island he owns in the Sea of Marmara, a stone’s throw from Tuzla, Mr Koç owns other motorboats that provide quick and practical travel for him, his guests and his staff.

His flagship, Nazenin 5, is a 52-metre steel and aluminum ketch that replaced the Nazenin 4, a Palmer Johnson ketch in which he circumnavigated the globe early in the millennium, calling at Auckland as well. Built by RMK Marine to a Sparkman & Stephens design, Nazenin 5 fully reflects the taste of the tycoon of a decade ago, especially interior-wise, her cabins and saloons being rich in marine antiques.

Lady Edith under sail
The motoryacht Gwendolyn.

Despite having enjoyed this superyacht around the eastern and central Mediterranean, much seems to have changed in recent years. “I don’t understand why people buy yachts that are even bigger in size,” said the industrialist. “After purchasing and renovating the tiny Vilia a few years ago, which is just 32 feet (9.75m) in length, I realised how much fun it is to sail in the true sense of the word, tacking in a fresh breeze, and holding the tiller in person, all without a skipper.”

“In short, it is never too late to discover the pleasure and beauty of sailing, something ‘minor’ boats, as opposed to gigantic superyachts, can easily provide, enabling one to (re) discover the ancestral pleasure of setting out to sea.” BNZ

Romola with Mr Koç’s island in the background

1970's Offshore Power Boat Wars - Part II - Detroit Iron

Last issue we learned that Gerard Richards and his mates were V8 racing addicts, seduced by the mighty Mustang and Camaro track cars of the late ‘60s, an allegiance transferred to the power boat racing scene of the 1970s, strongly contested in the early years by outboard-powered race boats. This issue features the major players later in the decade, when V8 power made inroads, plus some honourable mentions.

Just when it seemed multi-rig outboards were the recipe going forward, the focus shifted dramatically back to big V8s in 1973.

The arrival of the Jim Mackay designed 8.5-metre (27-foot) MacKay hull Old Crow for Spinner Black, equipped with a finelytuned 454 cu in LS7 Chevrolet V8 from Black’s engine shop, changed all that. This combo and its sister ships were to set the benchmark for speed and endurance over the next four to five years.

Paul Jones Bourbon at full noise
The Wellington BP100 Race 1975, Terrific (103) and Tara Too (107) in the background.

As Spinner told me in 2008, “After the mixed results with his first boat Turtle, that included it catching fire on one occasion and nearly sinking on another, he wanted the best craft he could put in the water.” In Spinner’s words, “Jim Mackay built a beautifully sculptured, strong and very seaworthy deep vee. It was also a very fast one, fitted with a hand-built 7440cc 454 cu in big block Chevrolet LS7 V8 race engine from our workshop”.

Along with fellow crew members Graeme Hastie, Mackay and Black, they won everything that mattered in 1973, with four wins and two sixth places. But with the championship pinned on one driver, rather than the boat, and Spinner not always available due to business commitments, it went by default to Max Johnson in his new triple 150hp Mercury rig Miss Comsec 2.

Spinner was looking to make amends, by taking out the driver’s title in 1974, with the same Mackay hull, now renamed Camel Filter. Going head-to-head with Jim Mackay, running his own boat Topaz this season (co-owned and crewed by Dick Mitri), with similar 454 Chev V8 power, it looked like a massive showdown of the big-block titans. However, it wasn’t to be.

L-R Spinner Black, Jim Mackay and Graeme Hastie.

As Spinner relayed to me years later, “It would go like gangbusters for most of the races, then go off in the latter stages. Then the penny dropped – we’d mistakenly fitted too hot plugs when preparing for the season and never dropped to it until too late.”

Jim Mackay with Topaz cleaned up with seven wins from the nine races and Spinner and Camel Filter only managed a solitary win at Napier.

A big factor in the Mackay and Mitri Topaz demolition of the opposition was the beautifully-built racing engines prepared by Jim Carlise of C & W Motors. The only other outright victory went to Max Johnson’s triple 150hp Mercury rig Clipper Comsec at the Atlantic Six Hour Marathon.

Brian Crouch repeated the dose when he purchased Spinner’s old boat in 1976 (Old Crow/Camel Filter) now known as Cossack Vodka. He was to also enjoy a great winning streak with crew Neville Thomson, Bob Udy and Alywn Flexman, with five victories including the Atlantic 100, Rotorua, Taupo, the Auckland Marathon and New Plymouth, also going on to win the Atlantic Drivers’ Elite Offshore Championship.

Old Crow at full throttle during the 1973 Offshore Powerboat season.

Brian was a cow cockie out of Tuakau (South Auckland) and his crew were all volunteers. Preparing their boat out of a country garage on a shoestring budget, it was a great achievement to get those results – as Brian summed up in similar words to Spinner’s: “Racing frontline powerboats in the open water, with the turbulent water of mass starts, racing in choppy harbours and the swells of the open ocean, was a sobering experience. We were darned right scared shitless at times…” he said.

An interesting aside: Brian told me recently he still retains the trophy for winning the Atlantic 100 in 1977, as it was the last time the race was run and no one asked for it back.

Following a partially successful 1977 season, Brian sold Cossack Vodka to Harry Servicus, and it continued racing under the name of Brut 33.

Tracing the continuing incarnations of the Mackay 27-foot foot hulls is an interesting and somewhat confusing exercise in boat racing genealogical history. I make no claims to bulletproof accuracy here, but it seems the original Old Crow hull, continued through Camel Filter, Cossack Vodka, Brut 33 and then possibly became Pall Filter.

Old Crow carves a turn.

That owner apparently drilled holes in the boat’s ribs to lighten it, causing it to break in half. It was later rebuilt as The Nail, a reference to its previous calamity and it may have continued racing under the name Foden Force, but I stand to be corrected on this. The boat’s whereabouts these days are unknown, despite attempts by Brian Crouch and others to track her down.

The other Mackay boat was Topaz and she continued in 1975 as Paul Jones Bourbon. After that the trail goes cold, but this boat has since been found and restored to its Topaz livery and continues to appear at historic offshore power boat regattas. It seems there have been a couple of other copies made of these classic Mackay hulls, but to my knowledge there were only the two ‘official’ original hulls built.

While on the topic of surviving original offshore race boats of the 70s era, it would be interesting to know if there are any other classic offshore warriors still in existence. I know Tara Too has been partially restored – are there any others out there?

Email me at if you have any information.

Stilletto contests the Powerboat Marathon, Lyttelton Harbour, 1974 or 1975


For that brief window of the 1970s my adolescent mates and I were hardcore fans of that golden era of monohulls, when the heavy V8-powered artillery duked it out with the sophisticated multi-outboard rigs. We had grandstand seats, the best in the house on Devonport Wharf, Auckland and those thundering, heroic boats of the era certainly played to the gallery. Vintage times, they were, when big-time powerboat racing caught the public’s imagination.

As the 70s came to an end, the playing field for offshore powerboat racing was changing in New Zealand. The era of the large American automotive V8 inboard and multi-rig outboard monohulls was ending. The new competitive formula emerging was for multi-hulled outboard-powered catamarans, one of the early successes being E.I.T Mover, which won a trifecta of championships between 1982 and 1985. But that is a different story.

A legendary era of offshore powerboat racing monohulls had passed. BNZ

Triple Mercury power for The Graduate.


While the boat combos I’ve mentioned this issue and last were the heavy hitters through most of the 70s, many others saw a slice of the action.

Chevrolet V8-powered Roaring Rat was first in the Rothmans 70-mile Taupo race in 1971, third at Taupo in 1972, and fourth at Taupo, 1974.

Clipper Blackjack, 2 x 200hp Volvos, was second in the Atlantic 100 in 1974.

The Graduate powered by 3 x 150hp Mercurys and driven by N. Watts scored second in the 1973 Atlantic 100 and sixth at Queenstown in 1973.

Aurora, powered by a 454 cu in Chevrolet V8, was second in Tauranga, 1974.

Tormentor (later Big John) driven by W J Bryan and powered by 2 x 140hp Johnsons finished second in the 1972 Atlantic 100.

Gobbla Hunter, powered by 2 x 135hp Mercurys and driven by B. Shaw, was third at Gisborne in 1975.

Vanishing Point, a 26-foot Levi design, and Alamo were a duo of big inboard racers, but they didn’t score any significant finishes that I’m aware of.

Portage Hotel, powered by 3 x 150hp Mercurys finished second at Taupo in 1974.

These are just some of the many boats to score top places over the years – by no means a comprehensive list. My apologies to other worthy candidates that aren’t included here. Also, I haven’t included the South Island scene, as that is altogether another story.

Raising Divecat Pt I: Loss, relocation and salvage planning

Most people would cut their losses if their boat sank in 43 metres of water, but Norman Holtzhausen’s not most people. He was determined to salvage his boat himself.

On 6th Feb 2020 my boat Divecat sank while returning from a scuba diving trip to Great Barrier Island. The cause of her sinking will be explained in a future article because it, like many things, was the result of a series of smaller issues that together created the perfect storm. She sank in 43m of water right in the middle of the Firth of Thames, an exposed patch of water known for its fierce tidal stream.

In the hectic days after Divecat’s sinking, I approached several salvage companies and experts about the prospects of recovering her. The consensus was it would be prohibitively expensive, because of her depth and location. None of the companies wanted to take on the job, and the insurance company declined to finance any recovery attempt. And then our first Covid lockdown struck!
Now with plenty of time on my hands, I started researching salvage options to work out the feasibility of recovering Divecat myself. I watched many videos of people raising objects from the seabed, and sufficiently scared myself into realising this was not a job to be undertaken lightly. Using numerous heavy lift bags was realistically the only way to do it, but once a sunken object starts to lift it begins a hugely dangerous runaway ascent. Scuba divers know this from Boyle’s Law – any volume of gas underwater expands as it rises. Hence getting just enough lift to move Divecat off the bottom would instantly become too much lift as soon as she was just a metre or two higher.

So, armed with a healthy dose of caution, I looked online for suitable lift bags. Automatic dump valves were required to vent the expanding air as the bags ascended. Very large lift bags are, however, not something you can easily buy off-the-shelf, so I had to find some super-strong airtight bags of the right shape and size and then modify them. Gymnasium rollers seemed about the right size with close to a cubic metre of air volume, so I ordered a couple from AliExpress to try out.
After looking at many videos and pictures of other salvage efforts, I designed and sewed up a webbing harness to contain the vinyl bag. I even subjected different webbing to breaking-strength tests to choose the strongest type available. The finished unit was tested in shallow water first, and then slightly deeper water, with appropriate alterations as deficiencies in my design were discovered. It took several tests and design changes before I was confident that they were up to the job.

Then came the lift plan itself. Because of the danger of runaway, the only safe place for any divers to be during the lift process was above the boat but below the lift bags. I therefore devised a strategy whereby we would lift her just five metres at time. This involved long, strong (and expensive!) ropes with shackles pre-tied every five metres along their length. At each stage of the lift the boat would only rise five metres at a time.
Apart from the initial deep dive to fit the straps and ropes, the recovery divers would spend most of the operation at depths of only 10m to 15m – an important consideration for diver safety. We would fit new bags no deeper than 15m. Once they were sufficiently full the boat would lift only until the topmost bags reached the surface. Those 15m deep bags would now be at 10m, and so the cycle would continue until the boat itself was hanging just 5m below the surface.
Crucial to the success of this stage of the operation was the tide. I had to time the whole exercise so that Divecat lifted from the bottom just as the tide started to come in. With a tidal stream out there of up to one-and-a-half knots, a full tide cycle would take us six or seven nautical miles towards shallower waters. The plan was to combine this with a sideways pull with our dive boat, easing her towards the shores of the Coromandel Peninsula. Our target was Elephant Cove in the Happy Jack group of islands, with a gently shoaling, pebbly beach that we could use for the final floating. However, any location in less than 30m of water would have been a win.

In between all this planning and preparation there was the problem of finding her current resting place. Several unsuccessful search attempts using a fishfinder showed that she was nowhere even close to the final onboard GPS location reading. Reluctantly I resorted to Facebook, knowing the torrent of abuse this would generate from the usual internet trolls. Which it did, but it also served its purpose and pretty soon I had the boat’s exact co-ordinates. It turns out that a commercial fisherman had wrapped his net around an object that should not be there!
Divecat had drifted almost a full nautical mile from her last broadcast location before eventually going down to the bottom.
And then another curveball was thrown my way when I suffered a heart attack in November 2020. This put paid to my diving for three months, just at that crucial phase where I now knew where my boat was and was desperate to see what condition she was in. Was I wasting my time, or was she still worth salvaging?
Champing at the bit, I eventually got a clean bill of health after Christmas, and my dive buddy and I set out on the first deep dive to her. The relief on seeing her sitting upright on the bottom, undamaged and in good condition, cannot be described. The hull was solid, and interestingly a set of cleats that were welded directly to the hull were acting as anodes, preventing serious corrosion elsewhere. “Raising the Tintanic,” as my wife called my obsession, was definitely still a viable project!

Since at this stage I had no formal qualifications for deep diving, I immediately signed up for some appropriate training, which also necessitated upgrading my dive gear. That first dive had been a very quick drop-down-and-look, but to achieve anything significant I needed to spend a reasonable amount of time at 43m. This required technical diving skills, and I set about acquiring these. With the right gear and training, plus a range of gas blends, we could get 25 minutes at the bottom, with another half an hour or more of decompression stops on the way back to the surface. Not a long time, especially since we could only dive exactly at slack tide, but it would have to do.
The final plan for her salvage evolved over the course of the following year and a total of 18 deep dives, going down to her whenever weather conditions allowed. Decompression stops in the middle of winter were very unpleasant and I invested in electrically-heated scuba vests to keep us warm. That darned fishing net both complicated access and greatly increased the risk of diver entanglement. We spent some time trying to cut it off, with only partial success, and recovered a few items from the hull as mementoes. Finding secure locations to attach lifting straps remained the main challenge, and several options were explored.

Eventually I had an epiphany – Divecat did not need to be lifted horizontally but could be dragged up stern-first. This had several positives, mainly that the first stage of the lift would only partially raise her. Enough buoyancy to cause her stern to rise was not enough to lift her completely free of the bottom. This approach also meant I could then more accurately gauge the total lift required for a slow and controlled ascent that avoids any runaway.
The other point I had learned from my earlier trials was to massively over-spec everything. I had calculated that her eight-tonne surface weight would require just under six tonnes of lift under water, thanks to the displacement offset of the aluminium and internal furnishings. So, I organised a total of 18 tonnes of available buoyancy in 20 lift bags. We fitted 11-tonne lifting straps through each of her four scuppers, and one around each of the outboard motors. The lift ropes each had a breaking strain of over six tonnes.

The net result was that any one of the six lifting points were theoretically capable of supporting the whole boat once she was off the bottom. The plan could cope with multiple individual equipment failures and still succeed overall, although you can only plan for contingencies you think of!
Now we were ready for the big day! Waitangi Day 2022 was the target date, which would have made it precisely two years to the day since Divecat sank.

Surviving Ata

In 1964 six schoolboys survived 15 months on a remote, uninhabited island. The southernmost in Tonga, it is no tropical paradise, writes Matt Vance.

Ata Island was the first landfall I ever made as a sailor. It is an uninhabited speck of rock that juts out of the ocean like a tooth. It is also the southernmost island of the Tongan group and it loomed out of the dawn of our seventh day at sea from New Zealand. Even now it still seems like a miracle that you can conjure an island out of the sea. We spent a few hours anchored in the island’s lee and I distinctly remember its vertical peaks had a foreboding presence, but little did I know then of its dark and quirky history.

At each island we visited further north I had a habit of going ashore as a break from the close quarters of the boat. The Tongans I would meet on my wanderings ashore would invariably ask, “Where’s your family?” My only reply was to smile and point south to New Zealand. They would dart looks of concern to each other over the palagi with no family and insist I visit their village where I would be overfed and become an excellent source of entertainment for their grinning kids. It was with those three words I got my first glimpse of the Tongan way and as it turns out, the key to one of the great survival stories of our time.

It is estimated the Tongan Islands were first populated around 2,500 years ago as part of the Lapita expansion into the Pacific. The Polynesians and their Lapita ancestors were able to populate the world’s largest ocean and most remote collection of islands with their unique naval architecture, ingenious navigation methods and a strong sense of community. By the time Captain Cook arrived in the Pacific he noted the Friendly Islanders, as he called them, had a well-developed culture, trading routes and a far superior naval architecture than his own coal barge.

Even by Tongan standards Ata island is remote. It is 85 nautical miles southwest of Tongatapu and was settled in the late 1500s. However, there is evidence of previous sporadic occupations as far back as 2,000 years ago. When a whaling ship called the Grecian anchored off the island in 1863 around 300 people lived on its high plateau, growing bananas and sugarcane to sell to passing boats.

The Grecian’s skipper, Thomas McGrath had had no luck hunting whales and so he turned to the much more lucrative business of hunting humans for slavery. Having squandered the small amount of whale oil he had managed to procure on food, booze and a lick of paint for the Grecian, McGrath was looking for a quick dollar in order to repay the ship’s owners back in Hobart. He revealed his plan to his crew once they were at sea. Eight of his men wanted nothing to do with slaving and were dumped ashore on the Samoan island of Tutuila before Grecian headed south to Ata Island.

McGrath managed to lure 144 of the Atans aboard to trade and added a complementary feast below decks to sweeten the deal. Mid-feast he locked them in the hold and up-anchored with the intention to sell his captives to the Peruvian slave trade. After a visit to Tonga’s northernmost outpost Niuafo’ou to collect more potential slaves, McGrath happened upon the Peruvian slaver General Prim which was working for the plantation owners of Peru. All 174 slaves were sold and transferred on the spot and a cashed-up McGrath continued his wanderings of the Pacific, ending up in Stewart Island. He was eventually arrested in Bluff and found guilty of a raft of charges in the local court. Ironically, none of them included his most despicable crime of slavery.

By the time the stolen Atans arrived in the port of Callao the Peruvian government had just abolished the law that allowed the enslavement of Pacific Islanders. Both the pressure from other governments and the fact that without the social cohesion of their broad family structure Pacific peoples fell to despondence and sickness finally convinced the government to abolish the trade.

The Atans were kept in a waterfront warehouse in Callao where many quickly died of smallpox and despair. Those that survived were dumped on Cocos Island near Costa Rica with a small chance that a few may have made it to Paitia in the far north of Peru. When Tonga’s first King Tupou heard the news of McGrath’s brazen act, he ordered the remaining inhabitants of Ata to be relocated to Eua Island where their descendants can be found to this day.

Bar the occasional visit from archaeologists and ornithologists, Ata remained uninhabited until June 1965. Six Tongan teenagers, Tevita Siola’a, Sione Fataua, Luke Veikoso, Fatai Latu, Kolo Fekitoa and Sione Totau, were boarders at Catholic secondary school Saint Andrews College in Nuku’alofa. Having had enough of the place, they devised a plan to escape by boat to Fiji. After purloining a 24-foot yacht from the Nuku’alofa harbour basin they set sail with two sacks of bananas, a few coconuts and a small gas burner.

Image: John Carnemolla.

Back row left to right- Luke Veikoso , Fatai Latu , Sione Fataua. Front row left to right- Tevita Siola'a , Kolo Fekitoa , Mano Totauflore. Picture copyright John Carnemolla

After a rough first night, they found themselves with torn sails, a snapped rudder and very little hope of survival. After eight days of drifting, Ata Island raised its sharp form above the horizon. This was no tropical paradise of white sand beaches but rather a steep volcanic outcrop on which vegetation clung to near-vertical faces. More importantly, had they missed it, it was a 400-nautical-mile downwind drift to Fiji.

After surviving for the initial months foraging around the coastline for raw fish, seabirds and their eggs, the boys plucked up the courage to climb the cliffs to the central plateau where they came upon the ruins of the original village abandoned when the Atans were taken off the island by order of the king. At the site of the abandoned village, they found an ancient rock water reservoir, an old machete, domesticated taro plants and a flock of chickens that had survived the generations since the Island had been abandoned. One of the castaways, Kolo Fekitoa, even managed to fashion a guitar from some driftwood and six wires he salvaged from the wreckage of their boat.

This all makes it sound easy, like it was some kind of school camp, but it was not. They had to stay fit and healthy, and most importantly, one foot in front of the twin demons of hunger and despair. They prayed together and worked together using skills that their ancestors had developed over thousands of years of colonising remote Pacific islands. They created a community in the best traditions of Anga fakatonga (the Tongan way).

Fifteen months after they arrived on the Island a passing Australian fisherman, Peter Warner, noticed patches of burnt vegetation on the island. This was enough to encourage him in closer for a look. It was then that he noticed some figures heading down a cliff and into the sea, where they started swimming toward his boat. He remained sceptical of their story until he radioed Nuku’alofa where a tearful radio operator confirmed that the boys had been given up for dead and their funerals had already been held!

The Tongan boys on the Island of Arta ate raw fish after being marooned for months on the island. Photo: John Carnemolla

Whenever the story of the Ata Island castaways comes up in modern times, it is usually followed by the description ‘A modern Lord of the Flies.’ This is a reference to the novel written in 1954 by William Golding that nearly every fifth form (Year 11) English student has been forced to study since. The core message of the book is that, marooned on a desert island with limited resources, even the nicest schoolboy will turn into a selfish, cruel murderer.

It is clear William Golding never sailed to Tonga, nor was he asked, “Where is your family?” by the locals, which may have shown him the beauty of the Tongan way and allowed him to discover the key to colonising the vast Pacific centuries before anyone else dared.

Better boat handling: Parking in-between

This edition is about parking between parallel finger docks with the wind blowing you in. In many drystack berths, it is not essential to reverse into the berth unless you need to for disembarking the vessel. Coming in forwards is always the easiest in this situation, writes Andrew Flanagan.

Coming in forwards
• Prepare all lines and fenders.
• Know the pivot point of your boat and turn up into the wind with the pivot point centred and upwind of your berth.
• When your pivot point is upwind and central to your berth, take all way (momentum) off the vessel by going astern (in reverse). Ideally you should reverse whilst turning the helm (steering wheel) towards the direction the wind is coming from. This will kill two birds with one stone, as the adage goes – it will both stop the vessel and begin your turn in the desired direction simultaneously.
• You may need to do a small three-point turn to get the pivot point in the desired position.
• If your pivot point is not central, simply reverse in the required direction until it is. The wind will blow you towards the berth – this is why the bulk of your corrections will be done in astern.
• Once you are happy with your position, simply bring the helm to midships and one gentle tap of the throttle into forward gear should do the trick. Repeated small corrective kicks can be done as required by tapping the engine into forward gear and back to neutral. This gives you manoeuvrability without speed.
• Once you are inside your berth, turn the helm towards the finger dock and apply gentle throttle astern until the vessel comes to a stop.
• Your crew should secure your lines in an appropriate fashion.

Backing in
Backing between parallel finger docks with the wind on the bow is one of the trickiest manoeuvres you can do on a single engine boat with no thruster. The challenge is to not get caught and blown sideways onto your berth.
• Prepare all lines and fenders.
• Know the pivot point of you boat and turn up into the wind with the pivot point central and upwind of your berth.
• Try your hardest to keep the wind at 12 o’clock on the bow as you begin to back in.
• If you need to traverse sideways to position your boat central to your berth, do it carefully. To traverse to port, get the wind at 1 o’clock to the bow; to traverse to starboard, get the wind at 11 o’clock to the bow.
• In a reasonably strong breeze, avoid getting the wind at less than 10 o’ clock more than two o’ clock or you will lose control of the bow. The wind will blow you sideways onto the berth.
• As you back in, ease the stern to where it needs to be, but you absolutely must follow the above 2–10 o’ clock rule. If you start losing the bow, abort the manoeuvre by going forward make a completely fresh approach.
• Make sure your crew is prepared with lines and you have suitable fenders out as the boat is in a very unstable position when lying stationary with its bow into the wind.

Watch Andrew’s videos on Instagram here:

The Journey along Matai Creek to Nelson -The centre of it all

Alex and Lesley Stone and whanau venture up the Maitai Creek, to the very centre of New Zealand.

Our Up the Creek adventure starts at Ruby’s shiny silver coffee cart, a new Nelson institution. Established two years to the day before our outing, Ruby and her crew have proved to be a real anti-Covid success story. The locals frequent her place on the edge of the Nelson Marina. Bean bags on the lawn, free plums, and terrific pastries – the cinnamon brioches a standout.

The Maitai Creek, which heads inland through the centre of Nelson city, lies just to the east of the marina breakwater and Ruby’s cart. It’s to take us to the centre of New Zealand. Well, sort of. A monument on a hill claims this fame, we’re told, though our party immediately debates exactly what constitutes this definition. We’ll see.

The locals I ask about our Up the Creek journey seem bemused at first. With good reason, as all is revealed later. This Up the Creek comes with a distinct tidal caution. On the day we head up, there’s a king tide of 4.7m (!) – well above the Nelson average of an impressive 4m tide.

So, the creek at first appears wide and inviting. You could easily get up in an outboard boat, with this high incoming tide. Two of us opt to paddle the kayaks from our base at Nelson Marina; the other three members of our whanau travel on foot along the lovely riverside walk, with Lesley keeping the camera dry. Initially, the boat people have to paddle out in the opposite direction beyond the commercial fishing docks, round the mole to starboard, to reach the creek on the other side.

First stop past Ruby’s is where Saltwater Creek joins from the west. A commanding corten steel sculpture of a waka taua sternpost overlooks this spot, attended by a serious anchor stone carved from argillite.

Entering Matai
Creek at high tide.

Just there is a floating dock for visiting motorboats, adding to our sense of security. We’re on the right track!

In fact, this Up the Creek becomes something of a sculpture extravaganza, with us marvelling at what Nelson city must have invested in all these artworks. Just up from the waka work, is a magnificent Phil Price piece, one of those fluid, organic, endlessly moving-in-the-wind forms of superlative engineering and seductive aesthetics. Just beyond, again, is a lovely female form, a serene Papatuanuku figure cradling a takahē in her lap, and artfully placed, half-hidden (I imagine at the sculptor’s request) in a bed of flax bushes.

From the river here, we see native plantings right down to the water’s edge, and tūīs feeding on the nectar. Hold on! One’s not a tūī – it’s a European starling. My scientist daughter Zoë, paddling the other kayak, tells me that British ornithologists are studying this, as starlings are not nectar-feeders in Europe. Maybe they have learned from the tūī. I’m tempted to say “Yeah, right”, but there it is, right in front of me.

Pulled up on the bank beside ‘Taurapa,’ a corten steel waka taua scuplture.
More street art under the Matai Creek brdge.

A couple are sitting at a riverside restaurant opposite, next to an unemployed giant chess set. “I’ll open,” I call across to them, “Pawn to king four.” They don’t get it. A mural of a dog looking out the window seems to be laughing at both of us.

Under some bridges, where we duck our heads to avoid bonking them (the big tide, remember), and we spot what looks very much like lunch. A riverside café in a lovely leafy setting. I glide the kayak in, identify a rock to step out onto. But my foot misses the rock, and I’m up to my neck in the water while the patrons suppress giggles at my very visible loss of cool. The maître d’ suggests we sit at the outside table. Fair enough. I choose the sunny spot to dry out.

Maitai Creek scupture detail

Lunch over, and onwards! The slack tide makes for easy paddling in deep, green water. The banks of the river reciprocate with more green and then some. An old couple moseys past holding hands. A woman chases her roller-skating daughter. Another is reading on a memorial bench in an arbor under a drooping tree.

More art: a nautical-theme sculpture in the form of a reef knot. Officially unveiled by the prince of tying himself in knots, Andrew, the Duke of York. Good symbolism that, if unintended by the sculptor. Then a grouse street graffiti mural under the next bridge. And a little way further up, a strange sculpture that looks like potatoes on sticks, only it’s meant to be river boulders on stainless steel poles, said in the blurb to represent the spirituality of the river. Okay…

Matai Creek walkway
Cycle-friendly riverside Matai cafe.

I reckon the gardens of riverside homes here are more impressive. Sprays of glorious colour. At the next bridge we encounter an interpretive sign all about eeling in the early days of the Maitai Creek, and in the pioneer days of Nelson. A photo shows a bunch of men and boys, most with my surname and serious sideburns, holding up giant eels and the hooked poles they used to catch them from under the riverbanks. Another sculpture, that we first mistook for bicycle racks, but on second thinking, it turns out to be an abstraction of a hinanga eel net. The sign tells us the Pākehā settlers of Nelson initially had a great fondness for eating eels, but that fell away. Probably a good thing, for those giant longfin eels are very rare now.

Oops! The creek suddenly is barred by a demure wee rapid. A couple doing DIY on their home offer to let us put the kayaks in their garage till we get back.

Nelson Marina

We’re getting closer to the centre of New Zealand they say, “Not far now.”

Sure enough, at the next bridge over the Maitai, we’re pointed left, past an impressive old heritage home flying the Laser-Eye Kiwi flag (nice touch that), and just beyond to a quiet cricket oval. With a wonky boundary that loops around huge old trees on the edges. I reckon the batsmen must know to aim for them to achieve a cut-price four runs.

And another sign proclaiming that this was where the very first rugby game in New Zealand was played, way back in 1870. College versus Town, 18 men per side. It transpires that the bloke who organized the game, Charles Munro, played for the Town team, and was the referee. No prizes for guessing who won.

More Stone whanau members making their way upstream.

A zig-zag and fairly steep path at the far end of the green takes us up to the monument that marks the centre of New Zealand. We’re game, although not as much as the women in heavy Victorian dresses shown making the same promenade back in the day, in a picture in another interp sign.

As if to complete the time travel illusion, we encounter two fellows in bow ties running down the path at full tilt. No explanation given. Late for a wedding, perhaps?

We get to the monument, which is kind of ordinary. A raised spike pointing straight down to a brass stud in the deck. The exact middle of New Zealand? Well, not really. The blurb tells us this is the datum point for the settler surveyors of the Nelson region, which was the first area in Aotearoa to receive this treatment. Ergo, the centre of New Zealand. “Well, sort of,” is the consensus in our party. All the other visitors there don’t appear to mind.

Civic art:
‘Pohutukawa’ by Chris Finlayson.
Civic art: Family Tree’ by Chris price.

No matter, the views are splendid – all the way acrossTasman Bay, and the Boulder Bank, and Nelson city, and our boat down there (a long way down there) in the marina. And inland up green valleys. We all touch the brass stud, shiny from all the other people doing the same. Mission accomplished. The ultimate Up the Creek.

But on the way back, my lack of navigational foresight becomes apparent. What was the deep green Maitai River is now mostly rocks, with a channel just wide enough for the kayaks going downstream. Where I fell in so ignominiously by the café is now high and dry. So, the lesson is: you need to get the tide-timing just right for this Maitai Up the Creek. Still, it’s a very worthwhile wee boating adventure, with a whole bunch of terrific side stories. Good on you, Nelson. BNZ

Valley view.