1970s Offshore Power Boat Wars - THUNDERSTRUCK

Gerard Richards revisits his youth, represented by a decade-long monohull battle for racing supremacy between the V8 inboard and multiple outboard monohull rigs of the seventies.

The 1960s, the turbulent decade of revolution that challenged the status quo, was just about to end, but its legacy lived on.

Growing up on Auckland’s North Shore and turning 14 in December 1969, I was perfectly positioned to soak up the kaleidoscopic shift in hot-rod, car and boat racing culture. Loud, brash and dressed in metallic/dayglo colours, it was ‘in ‘yer face’ and we loved it!

Jetmark’s chequered career included a couple of second places, as well as fires and sinkings...

My mates and I were into slot cars, pushbike racing and model power boat racing. One of our tribe suggested we ride our bikes from Mairangi Bay to Devonport Wharf in to take in the 1970 Atlantic six-hour power boat race marathon in the inner harbour. Duffel bags were crammed full of sandwiches, plus warm jerseys and oilskins, since our prime spectating location was exposed to all the elements.

The earth shifted for us that day! We were blown away by the visual and sonic impact of the thundering V8 inboard-powered racers and their multi-outboard rivals as they leapt into the air over the swells, brushing close to our wharf vantage point. The world was never quite the same again…

Spinner Black’s Turtle


This adventure became a compulsory ritual for the next five years, with us hanging out at the wharf for the two Auckland races on the National Offshore Power Boat Championship calendar, the Atlantic 100 and the Atlantic 6-hour Marathon.

We were V8 racing addicts, it would be fair to say, seduced by the mighty Mustangs and Camaros we’d seen on local racetracks in the late 60s. We transferred our allegiance to them on the power boat racing scene too. The heavenly thunder of a racing V8 on song was a spiritual experience for us back then.

Jim Mackay’s Topaz

Outright speed seemed to favour the Chevrolet V8, the favourite power unit for boat racers of the day, but not always the most reliable – the outboards purpose-built for the marine environment often proved more robust, particularly in heavy seas.

Fibreglass was the amazing new material of the 60s and 70s that really helped fire up the pleasure boat and offshore race scene. Light and strong, it enabled the creation of some of the fastest boats of the era.


Bill Stevenson, with his sleek yellow state-of-the-art offshore racer Mystic Miss, was breaking new ground with his triple 135hp Mercury-powered outboard rig. This was the cutting edge of the day, taking design and power to a new level. He and his crew of Drew Gordon and Gordon Holmes were the outfit to beat in 1969-70, with convincing wins in tough conditions in the 1970 Gisborne and 1969 Wellington 100 races.

But the mighty hot-rodded Chevy powerhouses were starting to make their presence felt in 1969. First up was Brian Millett and Bruce Perris, bringing their V8-powered Kitten home second to Tiger Hunter – twin 135hp Mercury outboards – skippered by John Meredith and Colin James in the 1969 Gisborne race.

A breakthrough win was achieved by Willie and Dennis Coughey from Auckland, with Panic Mouse in the 1969 Atlantic 100. Based on a Bertram hull and built by John Haines of Haines Hunter fame, it was equipped with a highly-modified 327 cubic inch (cu in) Chevy V8.

Willie told me: “It was fitted with big heads, needle roller cams, was balanced and built by top engine builder Kevin Lamb”. This was taking dedication to a new level, in a racing category that was initially intended for commercial pleasure boats…

With his brother Dennis on the trim tabs, stabilising the boat in the big swells out the back of Rakino, Willie remembers they mowed down Bill Stevenson’s Mystic Miss’s lead, reaching speeds as high as 70 miles an hour (61 knots/113kph). They ran out easy winners from another emerging V8 legend Tara Too. There was some talk Tara Too was closing the gap, but Coughey remembers they deliberately throttled back over the closing stages. They also went on to win the Rotorua race that year.

Tara Too was designed by Rex Henry and driven by the legendary Ivan Boyce in its winning years. Mechanical problems precluded any outright success in 1969, but 1970 saw two wins in the Atlantic 100 and later in the season at the very rough Wellington race. Built of heart kauri, with metal reinforcement, Tara Too was a strong, heavy boat, but this probably accounted for its excellent handling in tough conditions. Fitted with a 427 cu in Chevrolet Corvette V8 engine, with twin Holley 780cf carbs on an Edelbrock quad-ram inlet manifold, it was not short of power. Once reliability issues had been sorted, it took the 1971 offshore season by storm for Ivan Boyce and crew. Wins included the 1971 Atlantic 100 and the 1972 Taupo 100.

1972-73 saw the revenge of the multi-outboard rigs. John Meredith’s 3 x 140hp Mercury-powered Formula, Max Johnson’s twin Mercury 135hp Miss Comsec and Mick Sheridan’s twin 115hp Johnson Stinger-powered Vista Nicolette scored the lion’s share of the honours that season. Meredith took Formula to victory in both the 1972-73 Gisborne races, the 1972 Wellington BP 100 and fourth in the 1973 Atlantic 100. Miss Comsec won the 1972 Atlantic 6 hours and Clipper Commander, powered by 3 x 125hp Evinrudes, took victory in the 1972 Atlantic 100.

Mystic Miss leads the field in the rough at Wellington.

The inboard V8 opposition, included some interesting runners like Jetmark, a 350 cu in Chev V8-powered jetboat built by Bill Hamilton’s Hamilton Jet company, Tara Too, which was beginning to lose its edge, Hugh Fawcett’s Terrific Chev V8, plus the first appearance of Chev Camaro circuit racing legend Spinner Black, with his original 427 cu in Chev V8-powered Turtle.

John Meredith’s, 140hp triple-Merc powered Formula was the class act of the era though, particularly in rough conditions, heading out the opposition, if not necessarily with outright speed, but certainly in resilience in adverse seas. This mighty boat’s later incarnations included Bonz Formula before it was later skippered by Roger Ward under the new name Raro in 1977-78. BNZ


While the boat combos I’ve mentioned were the heavy-hitters through most of the 70s, it would be unfair not to mention some others that saw a slice of the action.

Accident prone Jetmark, a 350 cu in Chev inboard jet from Christchurch, scored a good second place in the 1970 Atlantic 6-hour Marathon and second place at Gisborne, 1972. She also sank twice, caught fire once and had multiple engine failures...

Paeroa’s Hugh Fawcett’s 350 cu in Chevrolet-powered Terrific, looked terrific and ran well – while it was running... Second place, Gisborne 1973 and fifth place, Gisborne 1974, were its best results.

Pathfinder skippered by Ian Reeves of Rotorua scored multiple Queenstown victories through 1971-73.

Big block V8-powered Shaft, later Mt Cook Airlines was second at Akaroa in 1973, fifth at Rotorua and sixth at Tauranga, 1974.

More honourable mentions next month.

Racers came in all shapes and sizes


The South Island has a huge diversity of opportunities for trailer-boaties who are prepared to explore. With some difficulty, Tom Fraser whittles down his favourite locations to just five spots you might also consider visiting.

I’ve been fortunate to use a trailer boat throughout the South Island, from Lake Te Anau in the south to Golden Bay in the north. The boating opportunities are as diverse as the locations – from mountainbacked alpine lakes right through to golden beaches and warm saltwater bays.

Listing my ‘favourite’ five boating destinations has proven challenging because every place I visit is unique and memorable in its own way. But, for the sake of this article I’ve tried to include a bit of diversity and I’ve also taken into account the ability to undertake activities for the entire family.

It’s hard to leave Lakes Te Anau and Brunner off this list, I purse my lips as I omit Golden Bay, and I know my mate Craig will shun me for ignoring the waters near Kaiteriteri. In fact, some readers may find some of these locations unusual, but I think that sums up the fact that boating experiences mean different things to different people.

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Glenorchy, Lake Wakatipu

GLENORCHY, about 45 minutes’ drive from Queenstown, is a stunning spot from which to explore the top half of majestic Lake Wakatipu. It’s a big lake to explore. With a length of 80km it is New Zealand’s longest lake and at 291km2, our third-largest. The lake is also very deep, with a maximum depth of 380m. Its floor is below sea level.

The boat harbour at Glenorchy has very good facilities for such a small location; an easily-used slipway [boat ramp], wharf and shelter. It’s a very popular destination for jet-boaters wanting access to not only the lake but also the Rees and Dart Rivers.

Glenorchy also provides access to the Von, Greenstone and Caples Rivers for those wanting to chase wily rainbow and brown trout in a truly wilderness setting. The fishing in the lake itself is often underrated: trolling from a boat is popular and so too is working the shallow areas of the lake by casting from the shore or from the boat. Rainbow and brown trout are present, as well as landlocked salmon.

If you’ve watched the Lord of the Rings movies, you’ll be aware the scenery of the area is nothing short of spectacular. Beech forest merges into tussock basins while snow-capped peaks rise steeply from the lake shore in every direction.

As with all inland South Island lakes, the nor’west wind dictates boating opportunities. And here it can fair punch down the valley, creating a nasty chop on the lake as well as lifting a fair bit of dust off the Dart riverbed.

The village itself offers plenty for those not wanting to boat and there’s a range of accommodation options available, from houses to camp sites and even the luxurious Blanket Bay Lodge.

WRITER’S TIP: Boat early, before the nor’wester gets up.

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How many places in the world offer the opportunity to pilot your trailer boat just a few minutes off a beach with snow-capped mountain peaks rising skyward from the coastline and be surrounded by dolphins, whales, seals and some of the most special seabirds on the planet? Kaikōura is such a place.

It’s not a spot to water-ski or pull up on a beach to picnic, but if you want to observe and be a part of some of the most exhilarating scenery and wildlife – not to mention fishing – then you simply must tow your boat to Kaikōura for at least a weekend.

There are numerous boat launching options: you could utilise one of many natural gaps in the rocks that some boaties braver than me use in calm conditions, or you could join the Kaikōura Boating Club and use one of its private ramps. But most boaties will use the public ramp at South Bay. It’s busy but it’s sheltered and wide, with a gradient suitable for any vehicle – and there are washdown facilities.

Within five minutes of departing the marina you can find yourself surrounded by large pods of dusky and Hector’s dolphins. If you’re lucky you could even see a sperm whale, humpback whale, southern right whale or other cetacean species that frequent these waters. Seals adorn the rocky shore while Hutton’s shearwaters, Westland petrels, wandering albatross and other seabirds watch quietly as you steam by.

The reason for the presence of all that wildlife is simple; there’s an abundance of food for the bird and marine life due to the close proximity of the deep submarine Kaikōura Canyon. It’s located around 800m off the coast, stretches for over 60km and reaches depths of more than 1200m. The Canyon is part of the Kermandec Trench system which extends far out into the Pacific Ocean. The canyon's biodiversity hotspot and the currents that rise from the depths provide rich feeding grounds.

Kaikōura Peninsula itself juts into the Pacific Ocean and is often very exposed to wind and swell. The rocky coast both north and south of the peninsula are just the same. it can be very rough in northerly, easterly and southerly conditions and many people have been caught out. The problems is that if the weather - or - wind turns nasty there are literally no places you can run to for shelter except the marina.

The fishing's not as good as it used to be, but for those prepared to observe, learn and spend time on the water there are still many wonderful opportunities. Perch and blue cod are the staple species throughout the area, but there’s plenty of bluenose, hapuka, tarakihi, gurnard and moki to be found. Kina, paua and crayfish are easily harvested beside State Highway 1, which twists its way for 100km along the coastline. Free-diving and scuba diving are highly popular along the coast, but it’s important to note the boundaries of Hikurangi Marine Reserve.

WRITER'S TIP: There are lots of crayfish pots marked by bouys, so keep an eye out when you're boating because you don't want to become entangled in one!

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Marlborough Sounds

YES, WITH 1500KM of coastline, the Marlborough Sounds is a huge area to cover in just a few hundred words! There are three main bodies of water – Queen Charlotte, Kenepuru and Pelorus Sounds – and each is worthy of visiting in its own right. Perhaps the greatest attribute of this area is that there’s always somewhere sheltered to boat in or visit no matter what the weather conditions are.

The three main marinas – Havelock, Picton and Waikawa – all have firstclass facilities for boaties exploring the area, including slipways, wash-down facilities and cafes. Numerous smaller slipways and facilities are scattered throughout the sounds.

Havelock is the logical base from which to explore Pelorus Sound, the largest of the sounds, snaking south from Cook Strait for about 55km. Pelorus has several major arms, notably Tennyson Inlet, Tawhitinui Reach and Keneperu Sound. The head of Pelorus is very shallow and great care should be taken boating there as the tidal range in this area is up to four and a half metres during spring tides. This makes it important to stay in the marked channels, particularly as you transit in and out of Havelock Marina.

Picton and Waikawa are the logical bases from which most people explore Queen Charlotte Sound. In some places, Queen Charlotte runs parallel to Keneperu and is only separated by a couple of hundred metres of steep, forested hills. The entire Marlborough Sounds has a rich history and there are plenty of places and opportunities to experience it. These include Ship Cove in Queen Charlotte Sound, the site where Captain James Cook spent significant time during his voyages to New Zealand. In Tory Channel you can go ashore and wander through the remains of whaling stations, while at Blumine Island old military relics can be explored.

Given the enormity of this area, it’s only fair to expect that each part has its own idiosyncrasies – wind, currents, tides and so forth, so if you’re considering spending time here – or in any of the sounds – the online Marlborough Cruise Guide is a superb resource to engage. There are plenty of areas designated for water sports and many private and DOCadministered campgrounds from which to further explore these areas.

The Marlborough Sounds is a playground for many people every year, and for very good reason.

WRITER’S TIP: Make the effort to explore different waterways. For example, if you’re staying in Picton, tow the boat across to Havelock and explore Pelorus Sound.

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Piopiotahi, Milford Sound

FRANKLY, MILFORD SOUND should be on every reader’s boating bucket list.

Yes, being in Fiordland, it’s exposed to extremes of weather, so it pays to pick your weather ‘window’ as it can be very unpleasant when the weather cuts up. Boating here requires a fair bit of planning and a modicum of good luck, but strike it right, and it’s an experience you won’t ever forget.

The drive from Te Anau with a trailer in tow takes about two hours but the spectacular scenery along State Highway 94 is a key part of the overall experience. The highway is very well maintained and towing your boat is no great issue, although the going can be a little slow on some of the narrower and steeper sections. You’ll often see jetboats being towed through to the Hollyford River.

The slipway at Deepwater Basin in Milford Sound is in good condition, although at low tide large trailers have been known to fall off the end of the concrete ramp. It does surprise me just how popular and busy this slipway can get – at Waitangi Weekend last year there were well over a dozen trailers of varying sizes parked in the carpark, giving a good idea of just how popular and accessible the area has become for recreational boaties.

Many people use the slipway to then explore further afield than Milford Sound itself; I’ve spoken to a number of people who have boated down to Poison Bay, Sutherland Sound and even Doubtful Sound. Undertaking anything like this clearly requires a great deal of additional experience, planning and preparation. But, such journeys are regularly undertaken and you just need to watch YouTube to see how popular it is.

Departing Deepwater Basin, all vessels follow the south side of the sound as they head towards the open sea, returning via the northern side. Exploring the sound in your own boat offers a very different perspective to being a passenger in one of the many tourist vessels that travel the sound. The sheer enormity of the mountains rising immediately out of the ocean is quite breathtaking and the sea and bird life, including orca and dusky dolphins, is remarkable.

Fishing’s the main reason many boaties use Milford Sound, but there are key considerations to consider.

A Marine Reserve covers roughly half the area inside the sound, including the northern coastline from Dale Point to Freshwater Basin. No fishing is allowed within the marine reserve and there are also restrictions on which fish can be caught elsewhere in the sound. For example, taking blue cod from waters within the sound is not allowed, but you may catch them outside in the open sea.

However, there’s plenty of tarakihi and even groper available in the sound and, once you venture into the open sea itself, the options really open up. Plenty’s been written about the fishing opportunities in this part of the country.

If you strike the area on a calm, bluebird day you do truly feel blessed. But even on a calm day an onshore sea breeze often whistles up the fiord in the afternoon, and when you have an outgoing tide as well, the conditions can become very choppy.

The last couple of years have provided a wonderful opportunity to visit Milford because so few tourists have been able to visit due to Covid restrictions. The drop in traffic, people and aircraft has been quite remarkable.

If you’re considering taking your boat into Milford Sound, I’d strongly suggest checking out the Fiordland Marine Guardians website, which has a raft of resources available. The work that this group does to help manage and protect Fiordland is phenomenal.

WRITER’S TIP: There’s no Coastguard unit near Milford. Make sure your equipment is in good working condition!

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Lake Ohau, Mackenzie Basin

IT’S A GEM but seldom associated with serious trailer boating. This is perhaps because this 54km2 lake about 30 minutes from Twizel in the Mackenzie Basin is highly exposed to the predominant nor’west wind, which can thunder down the valley to create large rolling swells that pound the exposed beaches!

Admittedly, Ohau’s always been very popular with jetboaters because of easy access to the spectacular Dobson and Hopkins Rivers, but only in recent years has the lake become more popular with other boaties. That’s probably because of the huge growth in boating across all the lakes, including Ruataniwha and Benmore.

Lake Ohau is just that little bit more isolated than its neighbours, with limited and very basic facilities and just a few simple slipways serving this deep, cold stretch of water. All of them can be exposed to wind. The nor’wester can spring up suddenly, changing the water from flat-calm to rough in a matter of minutes.

I grew up enjoying summer camping on the shores of Lake Ohau and have vivid memories of nor’west storms battering the campsite, my father outside the tents at night banging in more pegs and fixing ropes while us kids pulled our sleeping bags higher around our ears, veering between excitement and pure terror.

Like so many of the lakes in this breathtaking part of the world, Ohau is a great spot to find a beach and spend the day picnicking, fishing and skiing.

The lake is home to good numbers of rainbow and brown trout, as well as landlocked salmon, that can be targeted from the shore or a boat. The top part of the lake is usually more productive for fishing but heavy rain can see the flooded Hopkins and Dobson Rivers discolour the lake for several weeks, adversely affecting the fishing.

WRITER’S TIP: Take insect repellent, especially if you’re launching from Round Bush.


Alex & Lesley Stone discover a boatie’s paradise, the Catherine Cove Wilderness Resort on D’Urville Island, while cruising the South Island.

Imagine grilling and serving platters of fresh crayfish, 20, 30 at a time! This is a regular occurrence and just part of the work at the Catherine Cove Wilderness Resort on D’Urville Island in the outer Marlborough Sounds.

Imagine running an accommodation business, with restaurant, where your nearest supply store is two-and-a-half hours away by car over winding dirt roads. And that’s only after a half-hour boat trip across one of the most notorious bits of water in New Zealand – the remarkable French Pass, where the tide can run at up to nine knots in a kind of horizontal waterfall across a line of rocks.

Craig Tatnell with bags belonging to guests who elected to be dropped off at Kapowai Point so they could walk the last few kilometres to the resort.

Imagine being part of a semi-community of only 60 souls in one of the most remote, most splendid locations in New Zealand. And remember too, that even in such a small community, social get-togethers are only possible a few times a year. One is a famous Christmas bash at the lodge.

And imagine doing all of this through the Covid years, which struck only a year after you bought the business.

This is the life of Cathy George and Craig Tatnell, proprietors of the Lodge in the eponymous cove.

It’s a good thing their combined skill set is well-suited to the tasks: Cathy is an experienced chef, while Craig is a mechanic able to figure out and fix just about any practical problem. She’s no-nonsense, straight-talking; they both have a fine sense of humour.

The couple bought the business from old friends, the Andressons, as well as a powerful aluminium boat, Manta Ray, which does service as a supply ship, water taxi and rescue boat. It’s fast and seaworthy enough to negotiate French Pass in most tides – for Craig, there’s no need to wait for the exact moment of slack tide, as all cruising yachts should do.

Manta Ray on Craig’s mooring in the cove

On occasions when they must both go to Nelson, one of three towns equidistant from them (Picton and Blenheim are the others), Cathy can see the small dot of Manta Ray moving SW along Current Basin from her vantage on the road that runs along the ridge of Saddle Hill. Craig, in the boat, beats her into town by half an hour. They usually spend a night in Nelson with whanau before stocking up for the return journey. Otherwise, they’re effectively working seven days a week. All recycling is taken off-island on Manta Ray.

Cathy does an amazing job at this. The menu at The Lodge’s restaurant is surprisingly diverse and affordable. A mains meal for $25. The same amount also buys a ‘cook your catch’ deal, served as a smorgasbord with salads and chips supplied.

The night we were there, that was the case with the big platters of crayfish. The clients were a group from a Wellington-based fishing charter company. The skippers of their boats are regular at Catherine Cove, and they know the operation well enough to help Cathy and Craig in the kitchen. We mistakenly thought they had a bunch of staff, but it was the fishing guides helping out! Still, Cathy and Craig were flat-tack. Which is why she wasn’t answering the cellphone or VHF when we called ahead.

Alex Stone.

No matter: she immediately offered us the safety of one of their moorings in the bay (the cove can throw up contrary winds for anchoring) and went back to grilling trays of crays amid the superlative aroma of her kitchen.

We had more time to talk the next morning, when the extraordinary circumstance and challenges of their working life were further revealed.

Cathy said that in the first year of Covid restrictions, they lost $65,000 worth of bookings through cancellations. But since the lockdowns have eased, they have been “really busy.”

“This is the closest thing to an overseas destination,” Cathy says. And looking around, I reckon she’s right. It’s a different world. D’Urville is New Zealand’s eighth-largest island and crossing Cook Strait on your own or a charter vessel, or leaving from the little village at French Pass on Manta Ray, gives it the special edge of arrival.

My Happiness anchored off Catherine Cove’s Wilderness Resort. The Knysna 50 catamaran was part of the Island Cruising Club's South Island Rally.

There’s a lot of native bush around the lodge, with streams and waterfalls, so some guests ask Craig to drop them off at Kapowai Point so they can walk the last few miles in. As we were chatting with Cathy, Craig arrived after doing exactly that, bearing bags. Then he flopped down with a grin for a self-made coffee, and a brief moment’s respite.

This is a boatie’s best stop. With the Marlborough Sounds just there, Tasman Bay on the other side of French Pass, good fishing, superlative sailing, it’s an all-round perfect package for cruising – or just chillin’ at the Cove.

Cathy’s info that the winter is the busy time for fishing charter groups surprised us. Their ‘downtime’ is September-October, before the summer sets in and visiting yachties and family groups arrive. And when we were there, a Russian couple had come on impulse and jumped aboard Manta Ray when she was loading others at French Pass. Craig obliged.

The lodge can accommodate 50 people in a variety of separate units. It also has camping sites. Though Cathy and Craig are careful not to take too many campers, relying on the safety factor of always being able to put them indoors should the weather turn crook, Cathy says the campers “bring a good vibe. They’re laid back.”

Catherine Cove at dusk.

She also praises the fishing folk on the charters. “We meet a lot of really interesting people. Well-read, not a stereotype at all. Mostly they’re smart people. They’re fishing because they love it. They love the outdoors.

“Most of our guests are already pretty capable and self reliant people.”

Speaking of reading, there’s a fascinating book displayed on a restaurant table. Angelina, by Kiwi author Gerald Hindmarsh, is the epic tale of his grandmother, who came all the way from the Italian island of Stromboli to marry her love, who was working as a farmhand on D’Urville.

“The film rights have been sold for the book,” says Cathy with gleam in her eye, thinking naturally of accommodating a film crew for the duration of the shoot. But that’s all in the future. Perhaps.

Craig Tatnell and Cathy George, owners of Catherine Cove Wilderness Resort, D’Urville Island

She has less time for sailing folk on tight budgets. “Wind-bludgers” she calls them and decries their habit of expecting to use the loos and toilet paper, without stopping to buy a drink or a meal. Be warned.

Another type of guest are the ones who come with tour groups who board vans that tour the island, using the lodge as a base. They usually come in May-June and spend three to five days on the island. But they were mostly international visitors. “Covid has put everyone in a holding pattern,” Cathy observes. Though the uptake in local visitors appears a boon right now.

One of their big challenges in the business, says Cathy, is compliance. “Although just about everything is different here, we still must comply with all New Zealand standards – serving alcohol, food, gas, safe workplace. We employ Johnson’s Barges to service the moorings. Otherwise, we do everything ourselves.”

My Happiness makes it way through French Pass.

Across the way, looking out from the lodge between Anatakapu and Stewart (Takuru Kuru) Islands, there’s the incongruous sight of a giant oil rig temporarily parked in Admiralty Bay. Complete with an escort of coppers, in case of a threatened Greenpeace action – which hadn’t yet happened. Cathy is happy to take their business, serving meals and drinks, but loathe to venture into the political controversy of it all.

Cathy spends much time working on the D’Urville Island Wilderness Resort Facebook page. “I like to keep it real.”

And she sure succeeds at that. The fishing group, heading out again, tummies full of fresh-grilled crayfish, the family group playing soccer on the lawn, or the Russian couple trying out the stand-up paddleboards, would all agree. So did we. BNZ


When Roger Hughes first started sailing years ago, it didn’t take him long to realise that it was much better to anchor securely the first time, rather than to be stumbling on deck at 3:00am on a blustery, rainy, pitch-black night, attempting to haul-in and re-set a dragging anchor.

Anchoring is a very important boating skill, since it’s just as important to be able to prevent a boat moving as it is to make it move. Whilst different boats react differently when anchored, there are still some

common tenets that apply to all attempts at anchoring. The main worry is always that the anchor will not dig into the seabed, or else uproot completely for whatever reason, leaving the boat to float away, sometimes with catastrophic and life-threatening results.

An objective is to get the anchor to lie flat along the seabed, where it has the best chance of scooping its way into the bottom. The way to achieve this to lay a good length of rode, about five or six times the anchoring depth (the rode being the total length of chain, or anchor line and chain, from the boat to the anchor). This is the reason for using a heavy chain with a good catenary (catenary being the curve or hang of the rode between the bow of the boat and the seabed).

Plenty of rode by itself doesn’t guarantee an anchor won’t drag but hauling in 200 feet (61m) or so of chain to do it again – especially in the above-mentioned conditions – quickly makes most people want to learn to do it right the first time.

In especially deep anchorages or strong winds, even a long rode can straighten out and lift, with a chance that the anchor will break free and drag. An age-old method to minimise this is to weight the chain about halfway along its length with what is generically called a kellet.

The kellet is a heavy weight, usually with a pulley attached so it can be slid down the anchor line and chain, helps to keep the whole rode flat on the seabed. Unfortunately, such a device offers no actual grip, so even when it touches the seabed it will not embed itself. A kellet, being heavy, unwieldy and often very dirty, is also devilishly difficult to store on a small boat. However, using a second anchor instead of a kellet would help the main anchor to hold, especially if it could be persuaded to dig itself into the bottom as well. But how to achieve this ideal state…?

Through much trial and error, I devised a simple method of using my second bow anchor in conjunction with the main anchor, which has proven to be drag-free, even in the most severe conditions.

Before explaining the method, I would say that I firmly believe any main bower anchor should be as heavy as the anchorman, or woman, can reasonably handle, irrespective of the boat size – within reason of course. Having said that, it is possible that some of the many, many different shaped anchors that have appeared in recent years may not need to be as heavy as the old styles. But for me, heavier will always be better.

Holding to the first anchor, top, and then to the second anchor off the bridle, bottom, after a 90° wind shift. The first anchor’s chain maintains the caternary angle.

An all-chain rode is likewise better than a chain and line combination, if only because of the extra weight. Most boats drag their anchors due to wind, and my schooner Britannia has above-average windage, with two masts, three rollerfurled sails, and a square sail yard, along with a large cockpit bimini. She also weighs 23 tons and when that lot gets moving, it takes some stopping.

Britannia has two CQR anchors on rollers, one on either side of the bowsprit. The main bower weighs 60 pounds (27kg) and the other anchor 35 pounds (16kg). I actually wish I had two 60-pounders, this being the heaviest I can handle safely.

The 60-pounder is attached to 250 feet (76m) of 3/8” (9.5mm) chain, with a further 200 feet (61m) of 5/8” (16mm) line for deep anchorages. The ‘little anchor’ is used in conjunction with the main bower and the idea is to shackle it to the rode in such a way that it not only works like a kellet as a weight, but also digs into the seabed.

I use a strong rope bridle, made of 16mm diameter nylon line, with stainless thimbles spliced and whipped on each end. One end is permanently shackled to the stock of the 16kg CQR, then passes around the underside of the bowsprit and bobstay, and up the roller of the main anchor on the other side of the bowsprit. On my boat the bridle is 2.13m long, but the length will vary with different bow configurations. Boats without a ‘sprit and with an easy to reach bow roller can use a shorter bridle.

Having set up this simple arrangement, here’s how I anchor – every single time for an overnight stay without exception – irrespective of the weather forecast!

The stainless-steel carabiner shackle.

After letting go the main anchor and paying out about two times the depth, I then allow the boat to fall back with the wind, or drive it back with the engine, until it feels like the anchor has begun to hold. I then shackle the rope bridle to the chain, using a galvanized steel oval carabiner quick-link shackle with a screw sleeve that is passed through a chain link and secured by the screw. (Steel carabiner shackles of this type carry greater loads than stainless varieties). The other end of the bridle remains attached to the shank of the smaller anchor. I then shackle a length of strong line to the shank of the second anchor, which needs to be at least as long as the length of extra chain I finally intend to pay out.

The second anchor is then released from its bowsprit roller, where it hangs by the bridle on the chain. I then let out more chain and allow the boat to fall back further. This is usually about two or three times the depth. When the second anchor touches bottom, which can be felt with the line attached to it, a hefty burst on the engine drags both anchors backwards and hopefully beds them both in.

I now have my main anchor well dug-in at the head of a good length of chain, with the second anchor attached to it by the bridle, now also bedded in, then another length of chain up to the boat. This gives Britannia a total anchor weight of 95lbs (43kg), complimented by a load of heavy chain. Is there any wonder we never drag?

Attaching the carabiner to the chain.

All this might sound a bit of a rigmarole to deploy, but it’s really very easy when organised properly beforehand. I can anchor using this method almost as quickly as any boat using a single anchor – but with much more peace of mind if the wind pipes up. This anchoring method can be adapted to any boat using two anchors – and who does not have two anchors on their boat?

There are other benefits in making the effort: If for any reason, whether wind or tide, the pull on the boat becomes strong enough, (always at around 3am, of course), the rode will straighten until the bridle becomes tight and tries to lift the second anchor. If this was well bedded in it will resist the chain trying to lift it off the bottom, dampening the effect of whatever is causing the rode to tighten, whilst also ensuring the chain leading to the main anchor remains flat on the bottom (Fig 1).

If the wind shifts or the tide turns, the boat might initially swing to the second anchor (Fig 2). If the wind or current is so strong that it dislodges the second anchor and drags it and the chain around, it will invariably dig in again. If it continues to slip, the whole rode will eventually straighten out in the new direction and the boat will lie to the first anchor, and most likely also the second. This has never happened in its entirety, but I have found the boat in the morning lying to the second smaller anchor, yet with the confidence of knowing there is also a load of chain out there somewhere, with another whopping great anchor on the end.

Both anchors laid out on the dock showing the bridle and the second anchor’s all rope rode – no chain attached.

If you normally anchor with chain and rope, you could simply shackle the bridle of the second anchor to the chain, to achieve almost the same degree of security.

Weighing anchor(s) with or without a windlass, is only slightly more work than a single anchor on chain. The rode is hauled in like normal, along with the rope on the second anchor until it appears on its bridle. At this point it can be hauled over its bow roller (or simply lifted on deck if no second roller is used), using the line attached to its stock. The bridle can then be unshackled from the chain and the end secured to where it normally sits. At this point, the boat remains securely anchored by the first anchor, and I usually take a breather. The main anchor is then brought up in a normal way, and off we go.

For me, the main point of doing all this is because the system has never dragged on Britannia, or any other boat on which I have ever employed it. I wonder how many people can say that about their anchoring successes.

There are other benefits as well.

In rough conditions, it is comforting to know you are lying to two anchors with a sturdy rope attached to the second anchor, as a backup. Who has not worried, just a little, on a wild night, if the chain or line will hold or a single anchor will let go? It is also much easier and quicker to use my method instead of laying two separate anchors, say at 45.There is no manoeuvring to be done, like when trying to lay anchors in different positions, and no chance of their rode’s tangling if the boat swings.

For an epilogue, I will recount this true story:

We were once anchored by my method in Cala Portinatx, a beautiful rocky cove in northern Ibiza, in the Mediterranean Balearic Islands. A Mistral had been forecast from the north, but it arrived in the night much stronger than predicted, and the cove was soon awash with boats dragging their anchors and heading for the rocky shore, accompanied by the usual associated mayhem. But not us. My only concern was keeping watch in case other boats crashed into us.

One small craft drifted close, the exhausted occupants unable to re-set their tiny anchor or even motor against the wind. I heaved them a line and attached it to our aft cleats as they drifted astern. Then a second boat scudded by and I passed them a line as well. All three of us remained like this during a very blustery night, during which a substantial motor cruiser was driven hard up a sandy beach by its frantic occupants – an effective way to stop their boat, at least. Two boats were completely wrecked on rocks, and one person lost his life.

It is certainly worth anchoring well, even in a flat calm with a good forecast, because old Neptune is known to frequently change his mind. BNZ

Man overboard!

Every skipper and his/her crew should practice man overboard drills regularly, because you don’t want to be doing it for the first time when it’s for real.

There are two methods I’d like to explain – you can see them both demonstrated in the videos. One is the Drift Down technique, which is recommended for calm conditions without too much wind for vessels with steerage astern. The other is the Upwind technique, which should be used in windy/rough conditions.


• All crew to remain seated at all times, except the spotter who should hang on securely

• Skipper should drive the boat in a fashion that doesn’t unseat or destabilise any crew (go easy on the power!)

• Tide is not a consideration for either manoeuvre as the boat and man overboard (MOB) move at the same speed with the tide – only wind needs to be considered, which pushes the boat more than the MOB.


• “Man overboard!” is called. One person in a safe location should assume role of spotter and point at the MOB

• The skipper should press the MOB button on the GPS (where available)

• If MOB is unconscious or out of sight, broadcast a distress call on the VHF while the crew prepares boathook/lines

• For conscious casualties, a throw rope should be used.

“Man overboard!” One crew member assumes the role of spotter.


• The skipper should manoeuvre the vessel upwind and beamon to the MOB

• The skipper needs to keep the vessel’s side perpendicular to the wind using the engine’s forward and reverse gears

• Allow the vessel to drift down onto the MOB

• Crew should confirm when they are ready to retrieve MOB

• Crew contact MOB and call to confirm; skipper to engage neutral and turn engine off if safe to do so

• Retrieve MOB over stern.

Position the boat well downwind of the MOB before attempting the Upwind method.


• Get vessel into a position downwind of MOB

• Approach at dead slow speed into the wind, bumping in and out of gear to maintain steerage and minimal speed

• Approach with MOB on driver’s side for visibility reasons

• Crew to confirm they are ready to retrieve

• Crew contact MOB

• Skipper should attempt to present boat’s shoulder to the wind on the MOB side, so the boat blows away from the MOB rather than drifting over him.

• Engage neutral and shut the engine off if safe to do so

• Retrieve MOB over the stern. BNZ

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Drifting down on the MOB, using the engine’s forward and reverse gears to hold the boat perpendicular to the wind. Retrieve the MOB over the stern with the engine turned off.

A fearsome reputation

Sometimes when you meet someone famous you can be disappointed. They seem shorter, uglier, or not as nice as their public persona. It’s all down to reputation versus reality and the power of the media to make ordinary people look extraordinary. At other times it is because they have two personas – their stage faces and their normal selves.

When it comes to lighthouses there is none with a more fearsome reputation than the one at Puysegur Point. On mainland New Zealand’s southwestern extreme, it is the Kiwi equivalent of Cape Horn and most of the time it is all violent seas, gales and horizontal rain.

The name Puysegur, while hard to spell, has a quirky history. Lieutenant Dumont d’Urville, while on his first South Pacific expedition aboard the La Coquille (later to become the Astrolabe) is said to have bestowed the name in honour of AntoineHyacinthe-Anne de Chastenet de Puységur.

The beach at Otago Retreat hut with our cruise vessel at anchor in the bay and Coal Island behind it

Puységur was from an aristocratic French family which had funded the expedition and, as is the nature of these things, he never visited the fearsome location that had been bestowed with his name.

At the time, much of the scientific investigation and geographic exploration of the world was privately funded by aristocratic families. Along with his brothers, Puységur was one of the founding members of the ‘Society of Universal Harmony.’ While this sounds a bit New Age, it was notable for many discoveries, none more so than the invention of ‘Animal Magnetism,’ or hypnotism as we would refer to it today.

The brothers funded the works of Franz Anton Mesmer who gave demonstrations on their estates of his hypnotherapy. In one such experiment, Mesmer hypnotised a servant of one of the Puységur brothers named Victor Race. Among other features, the Puységur brothers noted when Victor was hypnotised, he “Displayed a far brighter mind than in his normal condition; he spoke about the ‘normal Victor’ as a third person.” This phenomenon was called “divided consciousness” and was the beginning of the profession we now know as psychology.

Cape Brett – site of another lonely, windswept lighthouse.

In 1879, 55 years after it was named by d’Urville, Puysegur Point became the site for one of New Zealand’s most important lighthouses. It provided one of the last points of navigation reference for ships heading from Sydney to Cape Horn and the markets of Europe. It also gave warning of a fearsome coastline that had claimed more lives than most.

Construction of the wooden lighthouse was difficult because no suitable landing area could be found near the site. All materials and equipment had to be landed some three kilometres away at a thin section of Preservation Inlet named Otago Retreat and a track cut through the heavy bush to transport the materials to Puysegur Point. The Otago Retreat hut is still there and it served as covered storage for supplies that were taken out to the lighthouse by horse-drawn dray for over a century before helicopters took over the role.

Puysegur Point Lighthouse was built in 1883.

Lighthouse keepers by their nature were a tough lot. After the first year of operation, there came a note from the resident keeper to the Marine Department management in Wellington: “I think that the climate at Puysegur Point is seriously endangering our health. Both my wife and I have developed a form of rheumatism which we attribute to the very damp climate here, together with the absence of fresh fruit and vegetables, milk and meat.” He doubled down with, “We often have to work in very bad weather, besides being tormented with thousands of sandflies while working. Therefore I hope, Sir, you will grant us a rise in salary for each of us is doing our best to deserve it!” Then, as now, no good deed went unpunished in the bureaucratic world. All lighthouse keepers’ salaries were decreased shortly afterward.

There is nothing like poverty to focus the mind on other opportunities. Probationary assistant keeper Philip Payn noted the many gold prospectors that would visit on their way to and from Preservation Inlet claims. Payn started working a claim on nearby Coal Island in his spare time. By the end of 1887 he had become so consumed with prospecting that he was dismissed from the lighthouse service for dereliction of duty. Word got out and by late 1890 there were 120 miners camped on Coal Island.

At its peak, the lighthouse had three lighthouse keepers and their families on-site. It resembled a small village with the 12m tower of the light as its focal point. In 1942 all of this suburban paradise was thrown into turmoil when Lance Thomas, a psychiatric patient turned miner from Coal Island, decided that having the loom of the light flash through his window every 15 seconds at night was driving him mad. He set out to fix the problem by holding all the keepers hostage with a rifle, smashing the radiotelephone and setting fire to the timber lighthouse. It burnt to the ground and for nine months this section of the coast remained unlit.

Sunset in Preservation Inlet.

As you would expect, the lighthouse keepers found many distractions to while away the long hours off duty on the station. It was said that for a dose of adrenaline the younger keepers would crawl out to the cliff edge in one of the many raging gales and play a game of chicken, seeing who could lean out over the cliff the furthest before spreading their oilskin coats wide trusting the wind to sail them back to safety.

Technology showed its hand early at Puysegur Point. The Lighthouse boasted one of the most remote phone lines in the world. A single strand of Number 8 wire connected the lighthouse at Puysegur Point with the settlement of Orepuki in Southland. The line went live on July 20, 1908 and paid for itself handsomely 18 months later when the passenger steamer Waikare, on a cruise to the fiords, struck an uncharted rock near the entrance to Dusky Sound and began to sink. All 141 passengers and 85 crew were safely taken off the stricken vessel and landed on a nearby island.

To raise the alarm, second officer Appleyard set out in a lifeboat to Puysegur lighthouse, 60km to the south. Rather than land at Otago Retreat and make the long walk to the station, Appleyard beached his boat directly under the lighthouse and scaled the cliffs to send the mayday message over the telephone.

Now fully automated, Puysegur Point lighthouse is regularly visited by more adventurous tourists.

I had often listened to the marine weather forecast over VHF radio from the comfort of my bunk as the cold, automated voice had given a storm warning for Puysegur with a casual mention of 50 knots. I was intrigued to go there and when the opportunity came to guide a small group by boat to the southernmost fiords, I pounced on it.

We landed on the beach at Otago Retreat and chatted with the hunters staying in the hut that was redolent with the sweet smell of the cooked crayfish they’d eaten for every meal. We set out on the three-kilometre amble along the old bush-clad dray track. Puysegur Point Lighthouse was made automatic in 1980 and most of the houses and outbuildings were removed. As we emerged from the bush line it was the foundations of these buildings that led our eyes down to the stumpy lighthouse with its 35-watt tungsten halogen bulb and its entourage of solar panels.

I am braced for violent seas, 50-knot gales and horizontal rain. I have a vision of staggering to the last few hundred metres to the lighthouse like Captain Oates in a blizzard.

Instead, there is calm, blue skies, heat and a location that could have been a site for a well-appointed, high-end resort. The sandflies are out in force and our group talks in hushed tones, as though the place is in one of Puységur’s states of divided consciousness – hypnotised, perhaps, into a brighter, more reasonable version of itself. BNZ


Last month’s story on the restoration of Simon Ventura’s bridgedecker Altair prompted long-time Boating NZ subscriber Bryce Strong to get in touch and share with readers his personal memories of the boat.

I read this article with great interest and would like to add further information to it – and amend some small errors.

I believe I am qualified to comment as I had a very close relationship with a previous owner of Altair, and my brother Grant and myself served on board for the five years that she acted as a Coastguard cutter during their ownership. Additionally, I owned two boats (Apache and Matira) at separate times, both moored at Clevedon alongside Altair at this owner’s property.

Altair has certainly had more than four owners.

As per the article, she was built for Stan Horner, and while I do not know all the subsequent owners, she was at one stage owned by an airline pilot in the Picton/Nelson area (he had bought Altair in Auckland and moved her down there) and it was from him that Murray and Judy Inglis purchased her.

Murray and Judy Inglis. The couple loved and cared for Altair, using her regularly.

Murray and Judy were the owners of M & J Inglis Transport in Auckland, a mid-sized carrier transporting foodstuffs throughout New Zealand. I am not sure of the exact dates, but it was likely around 1986 when they bought Altair and they owned her until around 2007, so a period of about 21 years. Murray and Judy sold Altair to the son of a friend around 2007, and for some time she was moored at Westhaven. Later I heard that she had been on-sold to a cabinetmaker?

She has probably had 7-8 owners.

Of all the owners after Stan Horner, Murray and Judy probably carried out the most maintenance and improvements to Altair. When they bought her she had twin Ford six-cylinder engines that were getting tired, and after two or three years’ ownership Murray had them removed and replaced with the new Cummins engines and new gearboxes. And in later years he engaged a great boatbuilder, Wayne Avery, to construct the covered-in flybridge.

Altair at anchor before the enclosed flybridge was fitted.

Their home was alongside the Clevedon River, and Wayne and Murray mocked up full-sized panels in the silhouette shape of the flybridge, fixed them to the old flybridge, and then stood back on the adjoining main road to review and modify the shape until they were happy with the result. I believe that, while it altered the previous long and low shape of Altair, it proved to be a great safe and dry place from which to helm her!

Wayne Avery also carried out the replacement of a major section of the foredeck at a later stage. Murray also had the teak handrails and stainless-steel stanchions installed.

I first met the Inglises in Islington Bay in 1987, and we became friends and boated together a lot over the ensuing years. In the time when private boats were used as rescue vessels, they decide to offer Altair to Coastguard, and the four of us served aboard her about once every three or four weeks for five years. Murray was a very good skipper, handling Altair expertly.

Altair, then owned by Murray and Judy Inglis, with the enclosed flybridge built by Wayne Avery.

Murray and Judy loved Altair very much and used her very regularly. They were members of the Akarana Cruising Club and hosted some of a group of Americans who visited New Zealand. They took a couple on Altair for a cruise of the Hauraki Gulf. Later their hospitality was reciprocated in Seattle.

I am glad that the photo book of the tree and her construction have followed Altair, as it is indeed great provenance. However, I doubt if Altair is indeed 50 feet LOA. I understood that she was 42-43 feet at launch, and later four feet was added to the stern, to make the present stern cockpit. Perhaps a measure will show the actuality.

Jack Taylor must have been quite old and forgetful when he made his comments on Altair, as I remember him inspecting her on the hard at Murray’s home, so he certainly knew her – and he also socialised with Murray and Judy at their home on several occasions. He was a good surveyor and a nice chap.

It is great to see that Altair continues to be lucky – in the hands of owners who have the enthusiasm and the means to maintain and improve her, as these lovely classic wooden boats need and deserve. BNZ

Apache, Bryce’s first launch.


Apache was my first large launch, built in 1938 in Onehunga, reputedly used by American officers during the war for R&R, powered by a six-cylinder Ford Trader diesel. I owned her from 1987 to 1999 and sold her to a chap in Thames, where she still lives, very well looked after and I believe still owned by the same chap.

After selling Apache I bought Matira, a 43.5-foot ‘raised foc’sle’ launch designed and built by Collings & Bell in 1956. Single-skin kauri planked, she was powered by two four- cylinder, naturally-aspirated, 1976 Ford D Series, 75hp engines via Velvet Drive 71C hydraulic gearboxes with ‘V’ drive boxes.

She was a very attractive boat with an interesting history as a charter boat, variously running cruises in harbours down as far away as Gisborne and later dive trips from Tutukaka. I carried out much work on her during my stewardship, but that’s a story for another day. I always found her to be an excellent sea boat, never being concerned regardless of the sea state.

Since selling her she has had at least three owners. The first was a boatbuilder, who did a lovely restoration of her interior; the next owner installed new engines and gearboxes, and I last saw her swinging on a mooring in Kawau.

Matira, a very attractive and seaworthy ex-charter boat Bryce owned for many years.


No matter how many photos or videos you’ve viewed, I don’t believe you can ever be prepared for your first voyage through Te Aumiti/French Pass. The raw power and sheer violence of the monstrous volume of water cascading through the narrow 500m-wide passage is, quite simply, jaw-dropping.

Even in the ‘safe’ navigable passage closest to the mainland the turbulence is evident from inside the boat; the engine must work harder and, while the water is often flat-calm, the whirlpools and eddies are clearly visible. Large pressure waves off to the side add urgency to picking the right line. Sometimes it feels like you’re flying in an aircraft, hitting air pockets that punch you to one side.

But French Pass is just one small part of the overall D’Urville Island experience. Chances are, even if you’ve never been there, you’ve heard or read enough about Rangitoto ki te Tonga/ D’Urville Island to whet your interest in a visit. The question many people ask is whether it’s ‘do-able’ for the typical Kiwi trailer boater? The answer is yes, but with some caveats.

On the road to Okiwi Bay – the adventure begins.

Situated at the top of the South Island and exposed to the most extreme wind, sea and sun conditions imaginable, the island and its surrounding waters cannot be taken lightly. If you’re taking your own boat you need to carefully consider your trip and be flexible with your plans around both location and timing.

The adventure truly begins once you turn off State Highway 6 halfway between Blenheim and Nelson, because from Rai Valley your car engine has to work that little bit harder to tackle that long, steep, winding stretch of road.

Okiwi Bay is a popular destination and in favourable weather is often used as a gateway to D’Urville Island itself. While it was tempting to stop and have a break, we opted to push on towards our final destination. From Okiwi the road gets narrower, more winding and soon turns to shingle. But, the views are breath-taking as you make your way slowly along the narrow peninsula that stretches out towards D’Urville.

The wide expanse of Tasman Bay lies to one side with the myriad waterways of Keneperu Sound on the other and the island itself looming large in the distance.

Anaru, French Pass

In fact, the size of the island can be deceiving. Quite simply, it’s huge – about 150km2 or 16,000 hectares in size split pretty evenly between Department of Conservation (DOC) managed land and private farmland. While preparing for my first trip and poring over maps and charts, I figured I’d be able to travel certain distances, but the reality was rather less due to the ever-changing sea and weather conditions and the limitations of my 5.8m Fi-Glass Lightning. Again, this is something every boatie needs to take into consideration.

The small but quaint settlement of Anaru/French Pass is situated in Elmslie Bay and hosts large numbers of people and boats over summer. There’s a small store, a DOC-administered campsite, as well as several other accommodation options, but little else. And parking is at a premium, particularly when boat trailers are thrown into the mix.

The slipway [boat ramp] here is rudimentary. Narrow and facing into the prevailing wind and sea, it caused some anxiety for my 15-year-old son as he backed the boat off. The large nearby wharf can be used to load your vessel, or you can simply pull up onto the beach next to the slipway. It’s also important to note that there’s no wash-down facilities here.

I confess to an equal dose of anxiety and excitement departing the wharf, taking the boat around Collinet Point and heading through the famed French Pass for the first time. I couldn’t help wondering at the skill and sheer guts of Captain Jules Dumont d’Urville back in early 1827 when, after investigating the pass for several days, he took his sailing ship Astrolabe through for the first time.

Today, with navigation marks, the passage is a great deal easier but nonetheless can’t be underestimated. With the water travelling at around 8 knots and multiple, ever-changing whirlpools, pressure waves and eddies stretching hundreds of metres either side of the pass, you need to concentrate – and frankly – hold on. When there’s a strong wind against the tide, it’s even more impressive.

We soon pointed the bow along the eastern coastline of the island and made our way through a large and messy chop created by the strong south-easterly wind.

Kapowai Bay, just a short hop from French Pass, has a wharf, slipway and is also the end of the island’s road. A barge regularly takes cars and other goods between there and French Pass. Further on, Lucky Bay is the site of one of several small DOC campsites, but being exposed to the wind and waves made it unsuitable for us to go ashore and set up camp.

Lunch – a fat blue cod

Catherine Cove is a large, sheltered bay that’s also the location of the D’Urville Island Wilderness Resort offering food and accommodation options. But our first night was spent on the boat, anchored in a small, sheltered cove and catching our dinner within a couple of casts. It goes without saying that the fishing around the island is exceptional and many stories have been written and shared about the size and abundance of the staples – blue cod, gurnard and snapper – as well as the almost legendary opportunities available to target large groper, kingfish and other species.

Kingfish around the island are renowned for their size and sheer power, but while we tried, we were unsuccessful in catching one this trip. Meanwhile, those keen to explore under the water will be astonished at the clarity of the water and the abundance of sea life.

Our intention had been to boat as far up the eastern side of the island as possible and after looking at maps and charts and studying the weather I figured it wouldn’t be unreasonable to venture as far as the Rangitoto Islands lying just offshore of the main island.

A busy morning at the boat ramp, Okiwi Bay.

But the sea conditions dictate every decision and by the time we reached Half Way Point (yes, halfway up the length of the island) it was clear there would be no further travel. A quick ‘drop and go’ on the beach at Penguin Bay gave me an opportunity to check on the suitability of the DOC campsite, but again, it was clear that the wind and sea would make it an unsatisfactory anchorage.

The strong sou’easterly and messy sea saw us instead turn around and begin the long journey down the island and back through the pass. Once through, Current Basin was calm and we quickly made our way toward Sauvage Point and the western side of D’Urville. The sun came out, there was no wind and we enjoyed some wonderful time exploring, fishing and simply admiring the seascape, landscape and wildlife.

Interestingly, on another occasion we transited from the east coast to escape strong easterly weather only to boat straight into strong northerly conditions on the western side – and this seems one of the vagaries of the island; it can be blowing from one direction on one side but when you boat around to the other side to find sheltered water, you discover it’s blowing from another direction and the conditions are even more marginal! The fact the island is exposed to every facet of the weather should never be underestimated.

Edging into the shallows.

Our second night was again spent anchored in another secluded bay with a setting sun, fast dropping wind and fresh fish and mussels. Later, we fell asleep with the Milky Way bright above us. It was bliss.

Our final day dawned clear and calm, but with the nor’wester expected to pick up mid-morning we only had time for a quick fish before heading back to the slipway at French Pass to begin the long drive back to Christchurch.

Like with any boating trip, preparation is vital and, when visiting D’Urville for the first time, it takes on an added dimension. The internet is a treasure trove of information with plenty of reading and viewing about navigating French Pass itself, although the best and most up-to-date information can be gathered by asking locals or other experienced D’Urville boaties.

Accommodation can be sourced via Book-a-Bach and similar websites, while D’Urville Island Wilderness Resort at Catherine Cove offers a variety of options if you want to stay. Given a large part of the island is administered by the Department of Conservation, its website offers plenty of information on activities and facilities, including campsites.

The Marlborough Sounds Cruise Guide is an interactive and highly detailed website/app that offers descriptions, photos and even drone footage of bays, anchorages and facilities. The information is displayed in a map format that’s easy to use and navigate.

Exploring the island’s coastline and, inset, French Pass.

And it’s hardly surprising to discover that there are many dozens of videos on YouTube that provide a colourful glimpse into the fishing, diving, hunting and boating around the island. If nothing else, they’ll whet your appetite!

PredictWind.com, MetService and Windy.com provide good quality marine weather forecasting while VHF radio communication is available via numerous channels.

So yes, boating the island with a ‘typical’ trailer boat is manageable, but as I hope I’ve covered, it needs to be undertaken with a great deal of care and consideration – not to mention a dose of good luck with weather. You need to be flexible in your plans: have a general idea of where you want to go, but be prepared to shelve those plans. And, with no cell coverage, a secondary means of communication to complement your VHF radio takes on even greater importance. We had a Personal Locator Beacon onboard.

If you like long, windy and dusty road trips, then a visit to French Pass and D’Urville Island is just for you. You may well see me, but next time I’ll have a bigger boat and more time to spend.BNZ


Alex and Lesley Stone continue their exploration of the traditions of vaka moana voyaging in the Pacific.


When the tūpuna (ancestors) of today’s Māori people of New Zealand first arrived in Aotearoa New Zealand around 900-1,000AD, they were at the apex of a millennia of ocean voyaging traditions of discovery.

The two large islands of this southern land were the last habitable place on earth to be settled. Human expansion into the Pacific took place over several millennia. The oldest settlement sites in outer Melanesia (Vanuatu, Fiji etc.) date to 1,200BC, and in Polynesia (Tonga) to before 1,100BC.

Māori settlement of New Zealand – and later the more remote Chatham and sub-Antarctic Auckland islands – was founded on repeated journeys to and from an ancestral homeland, Hawaiiki, somewhere in Eastern Polynesia, possibly the Marquesas Islands. There could also have been influences on Aotearoa from Western Polynesia – the distinctive poi dance, and the name for owls (ruru) may have come from there.

In Aotearoa, Māori largely gave up on dual, lashed-together voyaging canoes driven by Oceanic lateen sails, in favour of paddle-powered, intricately-carved waka. The paddled boats could not be becalmed, and waka taua – war canoes – could slip around headlands for surprise attacks more effectively.

Haunui crew Vance Steele, Haylee Koroi and Joseph Upperton.

In 1990, the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840 was celebrated by the building of a great fleet of waka taua by different iwi (tribes). These congregated at Waitangi to meet the Queen on her visit here.

Since then, the Māori rennaisssance has continued to embrace their earlier tradition of oceanic sailing waka (the Māori spelling of vaka).

The first to be built was Te Aurere, fashioned from two massive kauri tree trunks, taken from the Herekino State Forest. Te Aurere is 57-feet (17.4m) long, and 18-feet (5.5m) wide – quite narrow compared to a more modern catamaran, as all traditional vaka are.

In charge of the building was Hec Busby, helped by several younger men, among them Stanley Conrad. Responding to a challenge from respected Māori leader Sir James Henare to re-discover their own voyaging traditions, they both went on expeditions aboard Hōkūle’a, sailing with Mau Pialug.

Te Aurere’s maiden voyage was to Rarotonga in 1992. Since then it has sailed over the Pacific to Hawai’i, Tahiti, Marquesas, New Caledonia and Norfolk Is. Te Aurere has also circumnavigated Te Ika a Maui (the North Island of New Zealand) a number of times. It usually carries up to 14 crew – since 1993, these have always included wāhine (women).

The waka hourua Tairawhiti rounds the mole at Gisborne. Credit: Gisborne Herald.

Speaking to Stanley Conrad, now a qualified kaihoutu (sailing waka captain), I learn about the challenges – and rewards – of traditional non-instrument Pacific navigating. He was aboard the Hōkūle’a on Nainoa Thompson’s maiden voyage as wayfinder, from Rarotonga in the Cook Islands, to Aotearoa New Zealand. Mau had said, “It’s time to navigate without your teacher.” And Nanoia and his crew had to rise to the challenge.

The voyage was built around a plan to first ‘sight the Kermadecs’ as a waypoint on the route to New Zealand. Stanley recalls being on watch with Nanoia one night, and the navigator being confused: “I know I’m close, but I just can’t see the island.” This was after a few incidents of an almost supernatural nature – a brush with a sperm whale that bumped them in a new direction; an arch of lightning-defined clouds that led them one way, and hooking a giant marlin that eventually “spat the lure.”

But Nanoia was right: in the murky night, sharp-eyed Stanley spotted a “dark cloud that didn’t move.” Landfall.

The matrix of clues and cues that inform a palu is complex; and Nanoia is unique among these navigators in being equally well-versed in the technical, mathematical aspects of navigation as Westerners know it, as well as the more complex, inter-connected world of the palu, which relies on all of what we would now call the natural sciences. And no, the supernatural doesn’t really come into it – although the intuition that an experienced palu might demonstrate, would appear to verge into that realm.

There are other direct connections between the traditional vaka and modern cruising catamaran design. Stanley tells me that daggerboards were not unheard of; on Te Aurere, and the later New Zealand-built waka moana, a steering oar would sometimes be jammed up against the leeward hull, in the manner of a leeboard, to facilitate a higher course to windward. (Te Aurere is on the hard on Stanley’s ancestral land in the far north of New Zealand, undergoing a refit. She’s due to be re-launched in 2022.)

Also many of the truisms of seamanship have endured through the centuries. Stanley tells me he’s much more cautious when coastal navigating a vaka. He prefers to follow the ancient practice of standing out to sea at night; “Better be in the open ocean, than up against a coast.”

Rakeitonga (Tikopia, Vanuatu) waka ama (outrigger) in Auckland Museum.

Most voyaging vaka these days follow one of two watch systems: either four hours on and eight hours off; or six hours on and six hours off. These are made easier with the bigger crew a vaka normally carries, relative to a modern yacht. But while on board, and navigating the traditional way, all personal timepieces are stripped off. So the watch timing is all done by feel. And as expected, the navigator stands alone and above the watch system.

As Stanley says. “At sea, the waka is your mother, the navigator is your father, and you’re just a child.” Onboard discipline is maintained strictly. “You know your place,” says Stanley. “You may share observations with the navigator – but never to question him. Decisions about the route to be taken, and the responsibility for landfall, are his alone.” That said, the modern re-creators of the vaka moana tradition are encouraging women to ever greater roles of responsibility. There are in New Zealand now a number of wāhine kaihoutu.

Another, perhaps unexpected connection between these traditional craft and modern yacht design is the reliance on testing with models and half-size craft. All Pacific nations have smaller versions of vaka moana in their traditional fleets – these used for inter-atoll trips. And in the tiny island nation of Kiribati in particular, it’s a popular pastime to experiment with (very fast) models of that nation’s remarkable sailing proas.

Taratai, a 75-foot (23m) re-construction of a Kiribati voyaging proa was the project of a New Zealand-based adventurer James Siers. It was built in 1977, using all traditonal methods, on the island of Tarawa. The boat made a 1,500-mile voyage to Fiji, but some deficiencies – mainly due to a rushed construction process – meant that Spiers and his crew wanted to start again. Taratai now takes up almost all the space in the Maritime Museum’s gallery. Spiers went on to build Taratai II – which capsized at sea. But he felt his point had been made with Taratai, that these proas could complete long ocean passages.

Haunui and Aotearoa One, the two vaka moana moored at the New Zealand Maritime Museum, both have fibreglass hulls. These were built by the Te Toki Voyaging Trust – Waka Hourua (waka hourua is another name for a catamaran), with generous financial support from Dieter Paumann. The skippers of these two waka houroa are Hoturoa Barclay-Kerr and John-Reid Willison

The stern of the waka hourua Haunui.

At the Auckland War Memorial Museum, pride of place in its Pacific Hall goes to a vaka tapu that was built by Pue Auekofe for Te Ariki Taumako, the chief of the Taumako clan of Tikopia.

This outrigger canoe named Rakeitonga is famous in Tikopian tradition, and made long ocean voyages to Anuta and Vanuatu in the early 1900s. In was acquired by the museum in 1916; in 1953, it was re-lashed and re-rigged in the Auckland Museum by Tikopian crewmen from the Melanesian Mission ship, Southern Cross.

Two features of this boat worth a closer look are the sailmaking skills evident, and the intricate lattice of load-bearing struts that support the waka ama (outrigger).

The link between the vaka of the traditional Pacific sailors and those of today is perhaps best shown in the display at the Auckland Museum, where models of a waka hourua and an America’s Cup foiling catamaran sit side by side.

This is a story that could go on to encompass many books (it already has) and cover many millennia (ditto). Suffice to say that it is thanks to the tradition of voyaging vaka in the Pacific that we now enjoy all the benefits of the modern cruising catamaran. They are both products of the very same, venerable lineage.

An addendum: In the early 1800s, Māori were quick to build European-style ships and trade far afield. Indeed, He Whakaputanga, the 1835 Declaration of Independence of the United Tribes of New Zealand, came about primarily because Māori ships visiting Sydney, Australia, were required to have a national flag. BNZ

Why settle for less?

There’s a growing group of older Kiwi boaties who appreciate our maritime heritage, writes John Morris. They take great pains to bring old wooden boats back to life.

Good on them, I say. They extend and often double the vessel’s life, reminding us of the days when boats were built as one-off works of art before fibreglass and carbon and new-fangled chemical aids. I have seen bronze plaques on bulkheads stating: “If God wanted us to have fibreglass boats he would have made fibreglass trees.”
As a keen ex-keeler yachtie I did not think that I would get personally involved in restoring a wooden boat, but fate decided otherwise. It happened while visiting an old business acquaintance of mine, Richard Leach, at his lifestyle block in Stillwater in 2020.
In his tractor shed, whimpering for attention, was a derelict, barely recognisable 3.2m clinker dinghy full of dust and hay and discarded implements. Sadly, she was also destined to be discarded. I felt a bout of nostalgia coming on – I used to row one of these during my boyhood.

“Must be 100 years old,” said Richard. “ I found her under a bach we bought in Cooks Beach in 1963 and in 1968 brought it up here with the intention of restoring her myself. But I decided that she was too heavy to transport up and down to the estuary, so I put the project in the ‘too hard’ file and bought an aluminium boat instead.”
Obviously the neglect had continued, so I asked if I could take it on “because it’s there.”
We took her up to a small, empty shed and water-blasted the dirt off the inside. At first the intention was to hand-strip the old paint. The project almost died right there because hand-stripping would take over a year at best. I realised that sand-blasting would ruin the timber, so I asked everyone in the business of paint stripping if there was a safe method. One of these people recommended a firm called Dustless Blasters, which agreed to take on the job although they had never treated a wooden boat before.

So we took her down to Pukekohe where they blasted off 99% of the rock-hard paint in two hours without damaging the kauri. Though costly, the process saved many months of hard labour, as well as eliminating an awful mess at our workplace.
Being a resident of Settlers Lifestyle Village in Albany, I believed that our well-equipped Blokes’ Shed would be an ideal venue as the workplace, but the job would need an expert’s TLC. A fellow resident, ex-master boatbuilder Alan Young, was asked if he would be prepared to take on the task. He used to build NZ 37s and Formula 4000s, among others, as well as single-handedly building his own 55ft (16.8m) ocean-going ketch. No one else had his expertise and experience, so he said he would be happy to be involved. The ultimate goal of the project was to produce a perfectly restored classic and offer it for sale with any proceeds going to the charity of Settlers’ choice.

There was still quite a lot of boat building to do such as clamping up a sprung gunwhale and repairing a cracked bottom board. Clamping back the gunwhale was a creative challenge in itself, as was the fitting of a new brace under the centre seat. After these initial boat building problems were solved, all graunched areas were filled with West System epoxy and sanded smooth. The bottom edges of the kauri strakes were also rounded off.
When this remedial work had been completed, the entire hull was sealed, inside and out, with West System epoxy resin – the boat should now last far longer than anyone could have imagined. Two coats of special marine undercoat prepared the inside, after which blue Sanding Guide was wiped all over so that the ‘sandman’ could monitor progress while removing all the blue stain. (Any remaining blue stain is removable with an Acetone wipe over.)

The final smooth surface was now ready for the finishing coats using Altex products. Properly applied, these finishes rival spray painting, so Sea Settler would live up to the highest standards of professional marine finishes. (We could not spray paint because it would have meant building a spray booth outside the Blokes’ Shed).
While all this work was in progress, the styling of the floorboards was discussed. Instead of straight rectangular slat-type, a particle board pattern was created by Alan and built as a template fitted inside the hull as an accurate guide. Sapelle mahogany timber was cut to shape, put through the thicknesser to around 10mm and built to fit the perfected template. This was an example of Alan’s master boatbuilding skill that would become a key feature.

Attention to detail such as the floorboards is vital to any restoration because prospective buyers of classics demand pefection.
The interior of the hull was painted Tropical Blue using Altex Carbothane 134 H G. The hull was turned over and finished with two coats of Altex Elite gloss-white and a stainless-steel keel strip supplied by Silverdale Sheet Metals. Sea Settler was then turned again and trimmed with a navy blue coloured gunwhale. The gloss varnished floorboards and hardware were then fitted as the final touch.

A research contact, a builder in Whangarei of new timber boats of classic design, believed that this larger style clinker dinghy was probably designed by Arch Logan and could have been used as a crew tender for one of the lovely A-class keelers of the era. The secretary of the Rotoiti Classic Boat Society recommended endorsement with the name of the artisan involved so a bronze name plaque was added. Any potential buyer would then know that the work had been done by a professional.
Regattas involving keelers and launches and small boats of bygone days are still a sight to behold. Some of these sleek old A-class keelers can occasionally be observed towing a classic dinghy, also brought back to relive our maritime heritage.
Who knows? Sea Settler may join this resurrection revolution some sunny day, enjoyed by a proud new owner who appreciates true craftsmanship. Why settle for less?


In an era when shipwrecks were regular occurrences and safety standards non-existent, a tragedy half a world away laid the foundation for new safety protocols that protect mariners everywhere to this day.

As the largest group of freshwater lakes in the world spanning an area of more than 244,000 square kilometres, North America’s Great Lakes are rightly known as inland seas. Befitting their enormous size, those five connected waterbodies contain one of the world’s highest concentrations of shipwrecks, some vessels lost to horrendous storms, others to unseen shoals. Yet among them one tragedy stands out – not just for its appalling loss of life, but because those losses played a significant role in establishing the maritime safety standards that protect boaties today all around the world.

Launched in 1848 for the Michigan Central Railroad, the 1,047-tonne side-wheel paddle steamer Atlantic was a big ship for its day, stretching 81.3m in overall length and riding on a substantial 10m beam. Designed to ferry both passengers and cargo the length of Lake Erie between Buffalo, New York in the east, and Detroit, Michigan near its western end, Atlantic was a well-built vessel, constructed with 85 comfortable staterooms. The design also included high density accommodation below, in what was unofficially referred to as the immigrant class. In all, Atlantic was built to carry up to around 300 people, plus cargo.

The moment of collision between the two ships is captured in this contemporary print from Gleason’s Pictorial.

At the time of its launch, Atlantic was valued at US$110,000 – an enormous sum in its day, and one which reflected the fact that its owners expected the ship to provide many years of service plying the lake.

Despite her considerable size, Atlantic turned out to be a surprisingly fast ship, typically completing the Buffalo to Detroit run in somewhere around 18 hours. Considering the speed record for that route was not much less – just 16.5 hours, a mark set by Atlantic herself in 1851 – the vessel enjoyed a well-deserved reputation as one of the speediest vessels on the Great Lakes.

But speed records could hardly have been top-of-mind for Atlantic’s crew on the afternoon of August 19, 1852, as the ship commenced boarding in Buffalo under the command of captain J. Byron Pettey. Even for the lax standards of the day, the vessel was seriously overloaded – every cabin was full and the belowdecks immigrant class was jam-packed. Atlantic’s cargo hold was full of baggage and freight, including at least a dozen horses. What’s more, a further 250 or so passengers – most of them Norwegian, German and Irish settlers headed west in search of a better life – were embarked and left to huddle out in the open on the main deck, fully exposed to the elements.

Although it’s the second-smallest of the Great Lakes, Lake Erie, displayed in this 1881 map, is still vast – more a sea than a lake

Beyond the heavy load reducing her speed, Atlantic was not doing the run straight through on this day, but making an additional mid-lake stop in Erie, Pennsylvania. There, the already strained ship was scheduled to take on even more passengers and freight, to earn the maximum possible profit for her owners.

Surely at least some of the people among the swarm of passengers waiting in Erie that evening must have recognised the clear danger as the heavily-loaded Atlantic arrived at the dock, lowered its gangplank, and not a single person disembarked. Yet dozens more piled on, oblivious to the obvious. In keeping with the standard practice of the day, no passenger manifest was filed with the Harbour Master and as a result, we will never know exactly how many people were aboard Atlantic as she prepared to depart for Detroit that night – estimates run from between 550 and 600 people, on a boat designed for half that number. What is known is that at least 70 people had to be left behind on the dock in Erie, after the vessel became so fully jammed with bodies that the crew had difficulty retracting the gangway.

Sandy beaches and rolling surf at Long Point.

Onboard Atlantic, baggage was piled everywhere on deck, and the newly-embarked passengers stood wherever they could – on top of luggage cases, on the roof of Atlantic’s cabins, and even atop the uppermost hurricane deck. The passengers left behind on the dock may not have appreciated it at the time, but missing that boat was the best thing that ever happened to them.


With no moon, the night of August 19 was very dark and Lake Erie mercifully as flat as glass when Atlantic rounded the pier shortly before midnight and sailed northwest for open water, making for the mid-lake shipping lanes. About 45 minutes later the vessel entered a bank of patchy but dense fog – a common occurrence on the Great Lakes in late summer, as bands of cool night air condensed above the warmer lake surface.

As the passengers exposed to the elements on Atlantic’s open decks settled in for a clammy night, the propeller-driven bulk freighter Ogdensburg was also powering through the mid-lake fog, sailing eastbound with a load of wheat.

Just after 2:00am, Ogdensburg first mate Degrass McNeil spotted a small cluster of lights begin to materialise through the haze off his starboard bow. The patchy fog made it difficult to estimate distance, but based on the spacing between the lights, McNeil guessed at perhaps three or four kilometres. Studying the lights for a few moments longer to gauge their speed and heading, McNeil determined that although the other vessel appeared to be approaching his own ship on a quartering course, Ogdensburg should pass ahead of it by at least a good kilometre.

Winter storms produce heavy waves at Fort Erie.

As McNeil continued monitoring the lights through the fog, it quickly became apparent that the other ship – which he now recognised as the Atlantic – was much closer and travelling a great deal faster than he had originally believed. Rather than clearing one another by a full kilometre, the two closing ships would now pass far closer than he was comfortable with.

Then to McNeil’s horror, Atlantic abruptly changed course, turning directly into the big freighter’s path. Perhaps her helmsman spotted Ogdensburg and thought they could pass in front. Perhaps the big steamer hadn’t been seen at all. What is certain is that the sudden course change virtually guaranteed a collision between the two vessels.

McNeil shouted for Ogdensburg’s engines to be turned to full reverse, and the vessel brought hard about. With its steam whistle not functioning, he ran onto the deck and yelled repeatedly, waving his arms over his head in a desperate bid to catch the attention of the Atlantic’s crew and alert them to the danger. But by then the ships were much too close and there was not enough time. McNeil could only watch and hold on as Ogdensburg drove straight into the Atlantic, its sharply-pointed bow cutting deep into the other ship’s port side just forward of the paddlewheel.

McNeil ran back into the pilothouse and ordered Ogdensburg to back away from Atlantic’s crumpled hull and stop, so the crews could assess the damage. To his astonishment, Atlantic simply continued on its way under full steam, as if nothing had happened.

But things had happened, and none of them good. With its port side buckled, water surged into Atlantic through openings on multiple decks, quickly flooding the lower compartments crammed with passengers, horses and freight. In only a few minutes the water extinguished the fires heating Atlantic’s twin boilers, bringing both engines to a halt before the ship had gone another two kilometres.

Bass Island Light on Lake Erie.

Exactly why Atlantic continued on at full power remains a mystery, but it is possible that Ogdensburg’s sharp bow could have severed mechanical linkages to the paddlewheel in the collision, leaving the Atlantic’s crew with a loss of control. What is certain is that with the ship obviously mortally wounded and already settling lower in the water, Atlantic’s passengers and crew began to panic.

Within minutes, people on deck were seen throwing anything that they thought would float over the side before jumping into the lake themselves. But many of the cargo boxes and wooden stools jettisoned as improvised life rafts promptly broke apart or sank, leaving dozens of people flailing helplessly in the water.

While its complement of just three small lifeboats would be of limited help to the more than 500 people still onboard Atlantic, Captain Pettey ordered them launched at once. The first boat capsized and sank almost immediately, as too many people tried to climb onboard at once. With frightened passengers now charging about in full-blown panic, Pettey was bumped from the hurricane deck while attempting to launch the second boat, falling head-first onto a steel gangway below where he lay either unconscious or dead. The boat was subsequently launched by some of the remaining crew, who promptly boarded it themselves and paddled rapidly away from the ship, leaving the remaining passengers on Atlantic to their fate.

The third lifeboat was launched by a group of passengers, including a young Norwegian immigrant named Erik Thorstad, who wrote to his parents about the tragedy on November 9, 1852. This third lifeboat was found to be in terrible condition, with multiple leaks and no oars. “We rowed with our hands,” he wrote, “and several bailed water with their hats.”

The paddle-steamer Atlantic was large and very fast for her day. She was designed to carry 300 passengers, plus freight, but on the night she was lost carried more than twice that number.


Having assessed the damage to the bow of their own vessel, the crew of the Ogdensburg was just about to get back underway when someone onboard realised that the Atlantic hadn’t simply steamed off into the night as was initially thought, but was still close by and in serious trouble. Turning around quickly, Ogdensburg caught up to the stricken paddle-wheeler within 10 minutes. But by this point Atlantic’s bow was completely submerged, the midships awash and only the stern still clearly visible above the lake surface. Everywhere in the water was debris, cargo boxes, and people screaming for help.

In spite of the darkness, the damage to their own ship and the thickening fog as the air temperature dropped, Ogdensburg’s determined crew pulled more than 240 people from the water, hauling the last survivors aboard just as Atlantic belched a final gush of air and slid beneath the surface.

Searching for some time longer and finding no one else in the water alive, Ogdensburg steamed immediately for the closest port – Erie. Some of the Atlantic survivors were thus reunited with friends and family members they had left behind on the very same dock only hours before, while others who missed the boat searched frantically among the rescued for their own friends and relatives, many to no avail.

News of the Atlantic disaster spread quickly, and the sinking headlined newspapers across the US and Canada the following day, its horrific death toll sparking an unprecedented public outcry. A scathing story published in the Buffalo Daily Republic on August 21 – titled “The Appalling Calamity on the Lake” – reported dozens of survivors coming forward to accuse the Atlantic’s officers and crew of gross incompetence, with the exception of the captain and the ship’s clerk, one Mr. Givon, who was widely praised for his efforts to help the passengers. Sadly, neither captain Pettey nor Mr. Givon made it off the ship alive.

An official inquiry into the Atlantic catastrophe brought widespread condemnation of the ship’s owners for failing to provide adequate lifeboats and lifesaving equipment. Conversely, survivors commended the captain and crew of the Ogdensburg for coming immediately to their aid, and for successfully rescuing as many people as they did.

What the loss of the Atlantic did generate was unprecedented dialogue about the near total lack of anything resembling safety standards. Searing depositions from dozens of survivors led to a number of recommendations being made, including mandating the provision of adequate numbers of life boats and life preservers for all passengers onboard, implementing the use of onboard fog horns to make other vessels aware of a ship’s presence in conditions of reduced visibility, establishing capacity limits for passenger and cargo volumes, and requiring crews to render aid to passengers in need, and to be formally trained in how to do so.

It seems unthinkable that such basic measures did not exist at the time of the wreck of the Atlantic, but its loss – and the loss of up to 400 people aboard her – are a key reason that they do exist now. Of the 17 recommendation that arose from the Atlantic tradgedy, 14 were ultimately passed into law and formed the foundations of safety standards now observed all around the world. BNZ


Harry Reginald Jenkins was a prominent Auckland businessman, launch owner and yachtsman for 30 years from 1916.

Harry Jenkins in the late 1920s.

Harry was born in Eltham, Taranaki, in 1881, the third son of a pioneer farming family. His first experience of the sea in small boats was on a trip to Kapiti Island from Waikanae around 1893 with his uncle Frank in a dinghy borrowed from a local fisherman. Frank rowed the six miles while Harry bailed with a rusty fruit tin. It was calm at first, but the wind picked up and Harry was busy with the bailer.

They stayed on the north end of the island with his uncle’s friend, Mr Lowe and helped him build a 30ft boat to be used as a lighter to carry Lowe’s sheep out to steamers. In his memoirs, Harry wrote, “Adze, axe and hand-saw were the principal tools. Much of the timber was driftwood from shipwrecks, mainland sawmills, or some jetty or bridge that had been washed out to sea by flood or high tide. The aroma of red lead, pitch and tar, the ping-ping of the caulking hammer, the heaving of ropes through block and tackle, were new experiences.”

This sojourn on Kapiti left an indelible impression on Harry. Back in Eltham, he made his first boat by hollowing out a log for a canoe that he messed about in on nearby Lake Rotokare.

Once dairy factories and creameries were established in Taranaki, Harry’s father turned to dairy farming. Instead of the uncertainty and seasonal income from wool and cattle sales, dairying provided a regular monthly income. It was highly labour-intensive as the cows had to be milked by hand, the milk separated by the new Swedish-built Alfa Laval separator, and the cream transported to the local dairy factory by horse and wagon. The labour often came from the farmer’s children.

On his marriage to Dot White in 1906 he received ‘Dovedale’ at Maata, a dairy farm of his own, split off from his father’s now extensive holdings. He quickly showed his entrepreneurship by buying two more farms and running them with sharemilkers, milking 240 cows. In 1907 he heard about a complete milking machine system invented by Cyril Gane of Normanby, north of Hawera and put £9,000 into the project. Harry had to borrow extensively but proved to be a superb salesman with his existing dairying knowledge. He founded the Gane Milking Machine Company.

Shenandoah going down the ways

The heart of the system was the vacuum pump which was first built in Auckland by City Engineering Ltd, which later became Mason & Porter. Another major element was a power source, which required several horsepower, often supplied by the Christchurch-built Anderson or other locally-built petrol engines like the Zealandia. Harry demonstrated the plant all around the North Island in his Cadillac car, a technological novelty in itself for the ‘cow cockies’. Not one to do things by halves, he took the machine to Australia in 1912 and to England to demonstrate it at the Royal Agricultural Show in 1913.

In 1916 Harry moved the entire family to Auckland and set up the Gane Engineering Company Ltd to take over the manufacture of the machinery in the former premises in Stanley Street of Hoiland & Gillett, which had manufactured the range of Zealandia marine and stationary engines.

Niagara II with a picnic party at McKenzie’s Bay, Rangitoto in 1919.

Auckland’s attraction was better control over the production of Gane milking machines, better schooling for his three young children, and access to the harbour and the Hauraki Gulf to fulfil his passion for the sea. He satisfied the latter by buying his first serious boat, the 25ft launch Niagara and joining the N.Z. Power Boat Association. There were many launches named Niagara, most of them because they were launched fitted with a Niagara marine engine, to advertise the brand. At the time, the value of the engine was usually at least the value of a new hull and fittings, sometimes considerably more.

Sinton & Fisher, of Endean’s Buildings at the foot of Queen St, were boat designers and brokers and also agents for Niagara marine engines, simple but high-quality four-stroke engines built in Buffalo NY in two to six cylinders, 5hp to 100hp. Sinton & Fisher designed two 25ft launches named Niagara and Niagara II fitted with 5hp two-cylinder Niagaras. They commissioned Harvey & Lang, then of Customs Street West, to build the pair which were launched in December 1911 and March 1912. The first went to Izard of Russell and Sinton & Fisher kept the second. She was sold to a resident of Kaiwaka and railed up in August 1912. She must have been for sale again through Sinton & Fisher when Harry Jenkins bought her in 1916.

A newspaper photograph of Chas. Bailey with his model of Shenandoah.

The Jenkins family took to Auckland boating with huge enthusiasm – their favourite learning spot was Islington Bay. Their daughter Thora later wrote, “Equipment was primitive, and on more than one occasion the steering chain broke, and we were left wallowing. Father would rush to the stern, open a hatch and insert a broomstick into the rudder shaft… cooking was always done on a Primus, and the smell of kerosene from that and the marine engine was all pervasive.”

On 25th June 1918 Harry and Dot left Auckland on the Huddart Parker steamer Wimmera for a trip to Sydney on Gane business. Off the Three Kings at 8pm on 26th June Wimmera encountered a minefield recently laid by the German raider Wolf. She hit the cable joining two Herz contact mines which wrapped around her hull and blew her stern underbody off. She sank in 10 minutes in rough conditions. Harry and Dot were in the last lifeboat off. All boats got ashore, most to Tom Bowling Bay. 26 died aboard including two children, Captain Kells and officers. There were 125 survivors which the steamer Clansman brought back to Auckland.

Wimmera sinking by the stern, Three Kings, June 26, 1918.

Despite this experience, the Jenkins family’s thirst for the water was undiminished. In 1920 they sold Niagara II and bought a bigger, 32ft launch which they named Thora after their third child, then 9. I wish I could tell you more about Thora. Was she built new for Harry or was she a second-hand launch they renamed? In any event, Harry became an important addition to the NZPBA’s officers, as Vice-Commodore. Thora was mark boat for many races but did not take part. Fishing and cruising seem to have been more important.

The family had their own enchanted hideaway, camping off Thora in Garden Cove on the north coast of Waiheke. But Thora had become a small craft by the standards of the mid-twenties. Harry wanted a bigger launch to cater for his family of now four children, and the entertaining of Gane’s customers in some style.

Chas. Bailey’s drawing of the layout of Shenandoah.

In 1928 Harry Jenkins entered politics and became MP for Parnell on the United Party ticket. He sold Thora and planned his next launch as a tour de force from Chas Bailey Jr. Shenandoah was a 55-footer with a 11ft 6in beam, 4ft 6ins draught, a large deckhouse with forward control in the latest express cruiser style, capable of 12 knots. Instead of the usual huge American petrol engine from manufacturers like Sterling or Lycoming, Gane Engineering Company, now with Eric Paton on staff, fitted her with a diesel, a Cummins 110hp Model U four-cylinder. Cummins, of Indiana, had been struggling to break into the lightweight high-speed diesel market since 1919, but had a series of setbacks with design and production faults. The Model U was touted as the breakthrough, but still had issues, particularly as it relied on compressed air starting.

Since Bailey had just emerged from bankruptcy after a disastrous contract building the big ketch Hifofua for the Tongan Government, the prestigious Shenandoah job was most welcome. She was launched from his yard in Beaumont St on December 21st 1929. Harry took her for a spin to Islington Bay on Christmas Eve with his family and friends on board. Shenandoah returned to Mechanics Bay on Christmas Day for Harry to telephone from the NZPBA Clubrooms for more supplies. Getting back into his dinghy from a moored fishing boat, Harry slipped, struck his head, broke his arm in two places and disappeared under the water. His crew rescued him, unresponsive, and whisked him to Auckland Hospital in a taxi, where he was revived after artificial respiration. Not a great start to boat ownership! BNZ

Thora coming out of Garden Cove, Waiheke.