THE JIM LOTT STORY Lifelong voyage

Jim Lott’s had a diverse career – teaching navigation and seamanship, helping establish boating regulations, advising national bodies and countless 10-day voyages with the Spirit of New Zealand. He’s also built a 15.2m yacht in which he and his wife Karin sailed for more than 150,000 miles offshore. Here’s his story.

Born in 1947, Lott started messing around in boats during holidays at the family bach on Waiheke Island. After learning to sail in various dinghies (including an elderly X Class) he graduated to crewing aboard the keeler Caprice, a Knud Reimers design built in Norway.

Captain Noel Baddeley, a family friend who headed up the Auckland Nautical School, inspired Lott to learn celestial navigation as a teenager. His first ocean voyage came in 1966, when he helped bring a yacht from Suva to Auckland. “It was on the nose the whole way and I didn’t enjoy it much, but you quickly forget the bad bits and I wanted more.”

Lott shooting the sun

Back home he began an architectural degree at Auckland University and, with his father John, started building a Des Townson 7.9m Serene. Sadly John unexpectedly died a year later and, with money tight, Lott dropped out of university to finish what became Andromeda.

Working for Fisher & Paykel during the day, Lott eventually got a part-time job teaching seamanship at night school classes, then a popular government initiative. He met Karin Houghton and, intending to voyage offshore, sold Andromeda to buy the 9.2m Woollacott keeler Vectis.

Built in 1929, Vectis needed a two-year restoration to bring her up to offshore standards. In 1975, now married with a 15-month- old son, the Lotts headed to Noumea. “Due to the winds we ended up closer to Fiji than Noumea, so we went there instead.”

Karin and Jim with 15-month- old John departing Auckland in 1975

They spent 12 months teaching in Fiji before sailing Vectis home via Noumea. They sold her to buy a house, but a subsequent owner sailed her to the USA. Lott recently discovered that Vectis – now 92-years-old – has been restored and is still going strong.

Keen to generate the funds to build his next yacht, Lott started working at various boatyards during the day, while teaching navigation at the Manukau Technical Institute at nights. He also continued volunteering for the Spirit of Adventure and obtained his commercial maritime qualifications.

Inspired by the famous offshore writers – Eric Hiscock, WA Robinson, Erling Tambs and others – he began sketching his dream yacht. In 1978 he met John Goldwater, then running the naval architectural module incorporated within the architectural school at Auckland University. After seeing the sketches, Goldwater offered to design the yacht with the understanding Lott would do the scantlings, engineering and construction detailing.

Vectis in Fiji in 1976.

Needing somewhere to build the 15.2m yacht, Lott bought a house in Howick with a big back yard, where he built a 16 x 6m shed. “In those days you just approached the building inspector with an A4 drawing, told him how much you admired his boat and away you went.”

His friend, the late Sandy Sands, founder of Seacraft (now Miller Moyes Seacraft), supplied kauri from his forest at a very generous price and, over the next seven years and 14,000 hours, Lott built Victoria.

By now he was teaching and examining the Coastguard qualifications, plus the commercial qualifications for fishermen and ferry boat operators. He proved to be a popular and successful teacher – besides his solid knowledge base, he deliberately set out to inspire his pupils. “I wanted to instil an enthusiasm in them, because if you think back to the teachers at school, the ones you remember were the ones who inspired you.”

Turning Victoria’s hull in 1994

In addition to his teaching, Lott earned extra money helping other amateur boatbuilders with their rudder, skeg, keel and engine installations. He also managed to find time to crew in eight Auckland to Suva races, the odd delivery voyage, helped found the NZ Yacht Navigators’ Society and undertook regular, voluntary 10-day voyages on the Spirit of Adventure and, later, the Spirit of New Zealand.

Victoria was launched in 1988 and, after a quick shakedown cruise to Napier, Lott and a crew of six entered her in the inaugural Auckland to Fukuoka (Japan) race. After reaching Japan, the rest of the Lott family (Karin and their sons John and Andrew) joined Victoria for the trip home.

Four years later he entered Victoria in another Auckland to Japan race. This time, instead of coming home, the Lotts sailed Victoria to Alaska, the Aleutians, Panama, the Caribbean, New York, Boston, England, Scotland, then on to the Mediterranean via the French canals. Given Victoria’s 1.95m draft the canals proved more than challenging. “We did a fair amount of mud-ploughing, but we eventually got through alright.”

Victoria in the Beagle Channel

From the Mediterranean they returned to New Zealand via the Atlantic, the Panama Canal and the Pacific. In all they covered 40,000nm over the two-year voyage.

Back home Lott joined Yachting New Zealand as a Safety Officer and Trainer. A strong believer in skipper responsibility and pragmatic solutions, he had considerable influence in the regulations. One example was when the Ministry for the Environment began talk of implementing regulations requiring all boats to discharge their sewage more than three nautical miles offshore. Lott and Richard Brabant were able to tone this draconian approach down to the regulations that are in force today, which aren’t hard to live with.

He was still volunteering regularly – skippering the three- masted barquentine Spirit of New Zealand, undertaking Category One inspections, and teaching and serving on the Board of Auckland Coastguard.

the track of the voyage

In 2000 he was offered the position of Manager Recreational Boating for the then Maritime Safety Authority (MSA) – now Maritime New Zealand. At the time there were around 25 deaths per year from boating-related accidents and Lott was determined to help bring the numbers down.

“There were many opinions from those who wanted to see licencing brought in which wasn’t based on evidence. Opinion’s useful but not nearly as good as evidence. Evidence and facts are what you should base legislation on. Yet more and more, we’re seeing is opinion-based legislation – a blunt tool which often has unintended consequences.”

Through research, Lott and the MSA team were able to show that 95% of New Zealand’s boating-related deaths had two common denominators: “We found that 95% of the deaths wouldn’t have happened if two things had been in place – wearing a life jacket and having a waterproof means of communication.”

Through the MSA, Lott helped implement a PR campaign to promote the use of lifejackets and having a waterproof means of communication including the use of Ziplock bags for mobile phones. Contrary to popular opinion, he believes pyrotechnic flares are obsolete. They only work for about a minute, are expensive and are very rarely involved in a rescue these days. “When are we going to get rid of flares as means of communication? They were invented for the Napoleonic Wars. We have got so many other more effective things we can use now.”

The safety promotions saw recreational boating deaths drop by more than half without either skipper licencing or boat registration. Space prevents a full list of the pragmatic, practical and cost-effective influences Lott helped bring to MSA and other government departments over his 11 years with them. Suffice to say without his input today’s boaties might have to deal with all manner of draconian, impractical regulations.

“With any regulation, you have to aim for at least a 75% compliance rate otherwise you’re wasting your time.”

During these years Lott had been quietly readying Victoria for what had been his 30-year dream – to sail to South America. In 2009 he changed Victoria’s rig from a cutter to a ketch. “She didn’t want to heave-to with the single mast, the bow just blew off and she needed more sail aft.”

Jim and Karin Lott

It all came together in June 2011. Lott and Karin both retired one Friday and on the following Monday hauled Victoria out to attend to the last details. They set sail in August that year bound for South America with weather guru Bob McDavitt doing their routing. “I told Bob we wanted 15 knots aft of the beam and no gales, which – one gale aside – we got.”

Over the next seven years they sailed Victoria to South America, around the Horn, then on to the Caribbean, USA, Canada, England, Scotland, Scandinavia, France, Spain, the Mediterranean, back across the Atlantic and home via the Pacific. And between July 2011 and January 2015 he wrote a monthly column in this magazine about their travels.

They returned home every northern winter, leaving Victoria on the hard in whatever part of the world they’d reached. For six years they enjoyed an endless summer. “Even in Europe or the Mediterranean, it wasn’t expensive to haul Victoria out for the winter – it’s much more expensive here.”

While family members and friends joined the boat at various times, all the ocean passages were generally sailed two-up. “The good thing about a 15.2m yacht is it’s not too big for a couple to handle, yet it’s great at sea because it sails so easily in the 7- to 8-knot range without pushing.”

The couple settled into an off-watch-on-watch routine, simplified by Victoria being steered by an electric autopilot. “The novelty of steering offshore wears off after five minutes.” The yacht’s ketch rig proved a great success and the three forestays meant the main could be furled in winds aft of the beam, removing the risk of accidental gybes.

Victoria carried them safely for more than 150,000nm.

While visiting home during the summer of 2014, they bought another yacht, the 11.8m Bob Stewart-designed Camalot named Mokoia, built by the late Max Carter in the 1960s. “Some people call the Camalot a motor-sailer but she sails surprisingly well.”

In 2018 they returned Victoria to New Zealand, having clocked up another 60,000nm, taking their total to 150,000nm. With deep regret they sold her a month later to a delightful English couple with three children. Victoria is now based in the Beaulieu River in the Solent.

The couple haven’t swallowed the anchor yet: they still own Mokoia and Lott is still sailing as “the old man” on the Spirit of New Zealand. No surprise then it’s the 10-day youth development voyages on the Spirit of Adventure/New Zealand that’s proved so pleasing.

“Seeing 16 and 17-year-old kids – from all walks of life – being forced to give up their cellphones and have to talk to each other, learn to accept each other and then work together – it’s incredibly rewarding.”

In a life messing about in boats, Jim Lott’s had many roles – boatbuilder, volunteer, sailor, navigator, skipper, teacher, trainer, educator and governance. Through it all is one common denominator – he’s passed on his skills and wisdom wherever he’s been, leaving boaties better off.

He’s a thoroughly good bloke. BNZ


Apart from those in know, architect/designer Gary Underwood flies under the radar. But over the last 40 years he’s designed many fascinating and innovative boats, often for those on limited budgets. Here’s the story of a man who loves his boats, by John Macfarlane.

Underwood was born in London during the dark days of 1942 when Germany and her Axis partners seemed unbeatable. After the war ended the family emigrated to New Zealand and settled in Wellington.

Inspired by the dinghies sailing out of Worser Bay, Underwood’s first boat was P Class #7, a gunter-rigger which he stripped back and re-painted. Showing an early interest in cruising, he sailed his P to Kapiti Island. Because he told no one he was going, his parents organising a search party.


By 1960 he had joined the RNZNVR and was seriously considering yacht design as a career. His father sought advice from Christchurch yacht designer Eric Cox, who said as there was no money in it, better that Underwood get a real job and keep boat design as a hobby.

So Underwood moved to Auckland for three years to gain a Diploma in Architecture. Besides getting married, during those years he owned the mullet boats Sun and Lady Ruia. A few years later the couple had three children and he was working for architect Nyall Coleman designing churches.

Seeking change, in 1970 he got a job designing houses for the Fijian Housing Authority. It was in Fiji that he bought his first real cruising yacht, the 10.6m Chilean-built Terral. The dream of sailing oceans remained paramount, so after gaining offshore navigation experience on George Kelsall’s 14.9m schooner Lady Sterling, Underwood sailed Terral to New Zealand, back to Fiji, and on to Vanuatu, New Caledonia and Brisbane.

In Brisbane (1974) he swapped Terral for the damaged 17m gaff ketch Utiekah III, which had been built by the Wilson Bros in Hobart in 1927. Built in Huon pine and displacing 47 tons, Utiekah III had lost her keel and rudder during a grounding on the Great Barrier Reef.

Utiekeh III

While Underwood located her rudder, he couldn’t find her keel. So he fitted a temporary rudder, filled the saloon with 60-litre drums of diesel and motored Utiekah III from Brisbane to Whangarei via Lord Howe Island.

He spent the next 12 months restoring her at Jackson’s slipway in the Bay of Islands, including re-fitting her rudder and installing a new keel to his own design built in concrete, steel reinforcing rods and cast-iron weights.

He helped found the Tall Ships Regatta in 1975 and raced Utiekah III in the inaugural event. Following a suggestion from the visiting Tasmanian yacht Saona, he sailed Utiekah III to Hobart. By now Underwood had a new partner, Robyn Lewis, and they discovered the 47ha Huon Island was up for sale.

As part of a complicated deal, they sold Utiekah III and bought the island and the sailing cray boat Casilda. The couple lived on the island for two years while they rebuilt the original house and had a child together, all funded by cray fishing in the engineless Casilda.

But Underwood got the urge to go sailing again so they sold the island and Casilda and bought Gudgeon, a John Hannadesigned 9m Tahitian ketch, with a new rig designed by Alan Payne. After sailing her from Brisbane to Hobart, Underwood sailed to Fiji and then to the BOI for the 1980 Tall Ships race.

He then did another Pacific cruise in Gudgeon, eventually arriving in the Solomon Islands. There, at Taviulo village on Malaita Island, he met a group of local boatbuilders and, impressed by their workmanship, asked them to build him a new timber yacht.

Wanting a long, lean and shallow yacht for a trade winds circumnavigation, Underwood turned to L Francis Herreshoff’s last design, #107, an 11.6m leeboard ketch. While he used Herreshoff’s hull lines and single skin carvel construction, he added bulwarks, an additional 200mm to the keel and installed free-standing masts with sprit-rigged sails.

He also eliminated the lee-boards because a deep draft’s unnecessary for a trade winds circumnavigation. The slightly deeper keel gave a loaded draft of only 1.14m, which proved sufficient to beat to windward in flat water. As Underwood puts it, “Why would you dig a 1.8m hole across the Indian Ocean?” Built over 12 months in Vitex coffasus (a Pacific hardwood), the engineless Alice Alakwe cost NZ$27,000 and became Underwood and his new partner Beryl Sampson’s home for seven years. Their circumnavigation took the classic trade winds route – Australia, Indian Ocean, South Africa, Brazil, West Indies, Rhode Island,

USA, Azores, UK, Spain, Portugal, West Indies (again) Panama, Galapagos, Gambier Islands, French Polynesia, Tonga, Fiji and then home to New Zealand.

In all they sailed Alice Alakwe 56,000nm, with a best day’s run of 208nm. As an aside, Underwood completed a yacht design course while in Maine USA, which proved more than useful later.

In 1990, back in New Zealand, Underwood and Sampson chose something completely different for their next yacht – a 16m trimaran inspired by Chris White’s Juniper. Interestingly, the late Digby Taylor, who headed two New Zealand Whitbread campaigns, helped Underwood with the CAD design of what became S.W.I.S.H. Instead of White’s constant camber construction method, Underwood used strip-planked cedar and glass and he completed S.W.I.S.H. in only 18 months.

But they didn’t enjoy the powerful S.W.I.S.H, finding the large trimaran scary in blustery conditions when her 700mm-deep wing mast proved excessively powerful. “When she was good she was great, but when she was bad it was horrible.” So S.W.I.S.H. was sold to the South Island, but sadly her new owner wrecked her on rocks off Torrent Bay in the Abel Tasman Park.

Then in the early 1990s Underwood designed a 10m, junk-rigged cruiser for Keith Levy, who’d abandoned his yacht Sofia during the infamous 1994 Pacific storm while voyaging to Tonga. Built in double-chine plywood, Shoestring’s raised topsides gave an interior accommodation equal to many 12m yachts, while her expansive decks allowed plenty of room for a decent dinghy. Shoestring was launched for under $10,000 in 1996 and inspired several sister yachts, including one built in steel.


After a stint in Auckland as yacht broker during which time they restored the 1937 Fred Lidgard-built 8.5m Taioma, Underwood and Sampson moved back to Whangarei and started building their next yacht, a 12m version of Shoestring, called the Bootstrap.

Built in only 18 months from timber and plywood and launched for under $40,000, Ava Aakwe’s huge interior was big enough for the couple to use as a floating home. Rigged as a gaff cutter with lee boards, she was powered by a lowrevving Lister diesel.

The couple sold Ava Alakwe to fund the building of a house in Whangarei and bought a boatshed in the town basin. With a partner Nigel Clarke, in 2005 Underwood bought the Jim Young-designed-and-built 16m canting keeler Fiery Cross. Launched in 1958, Fiery Cross was the first canting keeler ever built, and while Underwood appreciated the innovative concept, he was less impressed with its shape. “That keel was a terrible shape, we had to re-fair it with cedar.”

He replaced the boat’s original Ford 10 petrol engine with an 18hp Kubota. He also fitted one of the original bronze Aries wind vane self-steering units, which are highly-prized these days.

Then, after losing a $20,000 inheritance through financial company shenanigans, Underwood decided he’d rather keep his money under his own control, and bought an ex-fishing boat, the 14m, 22-ton Mason Bay.

Originally built in 1956 by Nelson boatbuilders Curnow and Wilton and launched as San Guiseppe, Mason Bay went through a number of different owners during her commercial fishing career. She was located in Bluff and early in 2010 Underwood motored her to Whangarei for a 20-month restoration and pleasure craft conversion. He had considerable help throughout from shipwright Marcus Raimon.

These days, Underwood spends most of his time living aboard Mason Bay in the BOI, returning to the couple’s flat in Whangarei every few weeks to spend time with Sampson. He’s still designing boats, selling plans and has recently self-published a design book with over 70 designs. While a number of these are complete, many others are concept sketches and ideas.

Mason Bay.

There’s a massive variety; long lean schooners, fast trade wind cruisers, motor-sailers, launches, houseboats, catamarans, trimarans, day-sailers, an OSTAR racer, a three-part dinghy that’s a tender as well as lifeboat and much more.

Despite the variety there are some common traits. Underwood abhors the Swiss army knife approach to boat design – he likes to start from square one: how will the boat actually be used? “The closer you can pin down that purpose, the better it will be solved.”

Most of his boats are designed to be built from plywood – “laminated cellular fibre” he calls it – which is strong, light, easily worked and, provided it’s coated and/or sheathed in epoxy, long lasting.

He believes full headroom is over-rated. Naturally it’s needed in the working areas, but there’s no need for it over bunks or seats. “I quite like deck beams right across the hull, you can lift them up or drop them down. They’re great structurally and don’t leak.”

Raised beams in the accommodation areas add hugely to the feeling of space downstairs, while dropping them in the lower areas provide bulwarks for on-deck security. Alice Alakwe was built this way and it worked really well.

Underwood hates liferafts and inflatables – “deflatables” he calls them – better to invest in a proper dinghy that can be used every day. In the event of an emergency this can double as a lifeboat and be sailed to a shipping lane, rather than waiting around hoping to be found.

Skin fittings are another Underwood no-no, each one costs a 1% speed loss as well as being another maintenance item. Wind vane self-steering is essential for cruising, which he prefers to address with a stern-hung rudder with an external flap driven by a wind vane – simple, reliable and fixable at sea. He snorts in disgust at those who use electronic autopilots – they’re usually the first thing to fail on passage and require professional repair.

So, there you have it. If you’re a left-field sort of boatie, or even a bit of boating lunatic, and/or if your pockets aren’t too deep, a chat with Underwood could well kick-start a boating dream. And if you’re clever enough to dream it, you’re certainly clever enough to build it.

World famous in Paeroa

According to official sources, Paeroa’s home to just over 4,500 people. Besides the soft drinks, it’s also home to New Zealand’s longest-serving Yamaha dealer, Gary Johansen’s Paeroa Marine and Cycle Centre. John Macfarlane tells Gary's story.

Born in 1959, Johansen’s parents were farmers who taught him from an early age the value and importance of hard work.

“If there’s one thing my parents taught me it was commitment. I might not have been too bright but I’ve always known how to work. If you get off your arse and work you’ll get ahead. If you sit back bitching and moaning you’ll go nowhere.”

This lesson’s been doubly important to Johansen because 45 years after leaving school he still has difficulty reading and spelling. But make no mistake, what he may lack in those skills he more than makes up for in good old-fashioned street smarts.

Given the reading and spelling issue, Johansen unsurprisingly left school as soon as he found a job, which was mixing mortar for a bricklayer. But he really wanted to be a motor mechanic and within months was working for Graham Dixon Motorcycles in Paeroa, the local Yamaha and Kawasaki dealer. In those pre-quad bike days, two-wheeled farm bikes were extremely popular and qualified for tax rebates.

After two years with Dixon, Johansen gained an apprenticeship with Graham Trembath at Valley Mazda. It only lasted 10 months before Valley Mazda closed and Johansen was out of a job. He eventually joined John Coach at his Yamaha dealership, but when Coach’s marriage ended some months later he offered Johansen the business for $7,500.

Johansen recruited a partner and borrowing all the money the pair began building the business. Within two years they were ranked in the Top Ten Yamaha dealers in New Zealand.

While the bulk of their business was Yamaha farm bikes, as part of the franchise they also had access to Yamaha’s outboards.

Following a fire in their shop in 1981, his partner wanted out, requiring Johansen to borrow more money. He was just starting to get on top of things financially when his landlord – a National MP – doubled the rent overnight. This might have been manageable but around the same time the dairy payout halved and local farmers put away their cheque books.

“I basically went broke, I was that close to going bankrupt,” he recalls. “I had to run to work because I couldn’t afford to put petrol in the car.”

Sometimes problems have a way of compounding and in 1985, through an administrative error, he lost his Motor Dealer’s Licence. Fortunately, Yamaha New Zealand allowed him to continue selling farm bikes until he could sell the motorcycle side of the business to Neville Kingsford. Cunningly, he included his lease as part of the deal which got that monkey off his back as well.

Focused solely on outboards and bicycles, Johansen managed to scrape together enough to buy his own, albeit humble, premises. Interestingly, the payments were only $10 more a month than he’d been previously paying in rent.

Wisely, he looked to expand his business further afield than Paeroa. Over time he also added new boats, hunting and fishing to the line-up. “I’ve tried to make it a one-stop-shop and as I’ve made money I’ve put it back into stock. If you don’t have it you can’t sell it.”

But the core business has always been servicing outboards and Johansen loves Yamaha outboards – “If I couldn’t sell Yamaha I wouldn’t be in the outboard business.”

While Johansen will service any brand of outboard in the workshop, his mobile truck is set up only to service Yamahas because keeping parts of other brands in the truck is too difficult.

He has well over 3,000 customers on his database, from some surprisingly far-off places. Besides Paeroa, they come from all over the Coromandel, especially the popular holiday beachside towns such as Waihi Beach, Whiritoa, Whangamata, Opoutere, Pauanui, Tairua, Hahei, Cooks Beach and Whitianga.

Many of his clients live in Auckland but have local holiday homes so they can drop their boat/outboard off in Paeroa for servicing during the week and pick it up a week later.

He also has clients in Samoa, Aitutaki and the Chatham Islands, which have all come via word of mouth. Once a year he flies to the Chathams to spend a frantic few days servicing the locals’ outboards. You don’t get flown to the Chatham’s unless you can deliver the goods.

He has a simple yet effective business philosophy – it’s all about how he treats people. As he puts it, “It’s not rocket science. All I do is treat people how I would like to be treated. And when I do a job I ask myself ‘would I be happy paying this much for that job?’ And if that means I have to knock a bit off, then I knock a bit off. I charge what I believe it’s worth, simple as that.”

Of course, drilling down there’s a few other things he brings to the table – an excellent work ethic, a love of the Yamaha brand, owning his own building, watching the overheads and making sure his business is a one-stop shop for anyone boating, hunting, fishing or cycling.

He’s been selling new boats since 1995 when he asked Bill Mackrell of Ramco boats for a dealership. While Mackrell declined a full dealership, he allowed Johansen to become a sub-dealer for Mike Demby of Cambridge Marine. He promptly sold 12 Ramcos within nine months, forcing Mackrell to make him a full dealer.

Another good move happened in 2002 when Johansen sold his other buildings in Paeroa to buy a commercial section on the outer edge of town where he commissioned and built the premises where Paeroa Marine and Cycles now resides.

No question he watches the numbers closely and his profits have come as much from tightly controlling overheads as chasing sales. “I might not be able to read and spell but I can [expletive deleted] count,” he says. “I’m as frugal as.”

Low overheads, plus owning his own premises, means Johansen’s under no pressure to sell to make financial targets so he can afford the luxury of making sure any sale is the right one for a particular customer’s needs.

“My aim is to have a happy customer who keeps coming back – not like Auckland where you can burn them off and get more. This is a small town.” (Oi! Auckland’s not like that!! Ed).

“That was the real turning point in the business. I had a really good boat franchise to go with the best outboard franchise, so the two just gelled together.”

It was around this time Johansen met and married his late wife Raewyn, who with her banking and financial experience became a big asset in building the business.

His team – Janine, Cath, Sam and Dylan – all seem equally at ease dealing with customers – and the shop has a happy, friendly vibe.

Handling adversity well is another Johansen trait, none more so than when he lost wife Raewyn to cancer two and half years ago. “This whole journey in life is character-building and it’s what you make of it. Every negative you’ve got to turn into a positive. No one wants to come into the shop and see you all miserable.”

So now, aged 60, is he thinking about retirement? No, he still loves his business and is keen to see it continue. Which is highly likely as son Sam is part-way through his apprenticeship and showing a real aptitude as an outboard mechanic. Sam’s also inherited his father’s ready smile and ability to relate to customers.

Actually, Sam’s experience with boats and engines goes back a goodly number of years, when Raewyn would leave him with Johansen for the day. "He's Been brought up in a workshop. When Raewyn went back to work at the bank I used to park Sam in the boats while i was working on their engines. Boats make great play pens. So there you have it, doing business  Johansen style and proof – once again – that a successful business doesn’t have to be complicated. A great attitude towards people, an excellent work ethic, being skilled at your profession and having a ready smile can take someone a very, very long way, even in Paeroa.

Well done Gary Johansen, 40 years and counting.


Anything but plain

Some yachts seem to attract bad karma and wind up forgotten, rotting away on a backwater mooring. Others lead lucky, charmed lives. Words and photos by John Macfarlane.

Back in 1974 Auckland boatbuilder Chris Robertson designed and built a model of what was intended to be his next yacht, a fast 11.8m cruiser/racer. The inspiration came from two of his previous designs, Spectrum and Quando, but he massaged the model’s lines slightly to better suit the then popular IOR rule.
This hull was being planked when Robertson’s good friend and client Don Harland walked into his shed, saw the yacht and said, “I wouldn’t mind a yacht like that.” Robertson’s pragmatic reply was, “You can have this one if you like and I’ll build myself another.”
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Harland bought the yacht and finished off the bare hull and decks. Named Plane Jane, he launched her in 1976, and so began the start of 40-year old love affair between a man and his yacht.
Harland’s previous yacht was the Robertson-designed-and-built 11.8m Susan Jane, named after his daughter Susan Jane. Plane Jane partly continued the naming theme, but the addition of ‘plane’ was more about Harland’s hopeful wish his new yacht would plane downwind rather than being plain viewing.
Plane Jane was designed as cruiser/racer with offshore capabilities and Harland had visions of doing some offshore races in her. But after the 1979 Auckland to Suva race and the 1984 Auckland to Nelson race, he decided to stick to local waters and, over the next four decades Plane Jane became a regular sight on the Waitemata Harbour and Hauraki Gulf.
Plane Jane became an integral part of the Harland family. Besides successful local racing, she was regularly cruised to the Bay of Islands, Whangaroa, the Mercuries and Arid Island. But by the early 2000s she was looking increasingly plain and Harland was struggling to maintain her. A motor mechanic by trade, he had designed and built most of the boat’s original gear including the winches, headsail furler, anchor windlass and deck fittings.
While these fittings may have lacked finesse, they were strong and worked well in their owner’s hands, at least in the early years. But as they aged they became less than reliable – especially the elderly Yanmar engine.
Don Harland died in 2016, leaving his wife Wilma with a quandary: what to do with Plane Jane? Many yachts in this situation are sold off for a song to an uncertain future and the next owner determines their fate. A few are restored, others butchered, many rot away forgotten.
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Fortunately, Susan and Stephen Harland-Smith had founded what had by now become a successful business importing medical diagnostic equipment, and decided to buy and restore Plane Jane to her former glory.
To avoid any family ill feeling, they wisely purchased Plane Jane from Wilma at a fair market price, and even more wisely, commissioned Chris Robertson’s son Conrad and his team at Robertson Boats to undertake a full restoration. The wheel had come a full circle.
Like countless owners before them, the Harland-Smiths approached the restoration full of enthusiasm and wearing the customary rose-tinted glasses. “We thought it would take three months – it took eleven,” laughs Susan.
The Robertson team discovered that several of Plane Jane’s keel floors and her timber deadwood had fractured. Someone in the family – no one’s quite sure who – had apparently put Plane Jane onto the bricks some years ago.
Thanks to her solid construction there’d been no sign of damage at the time. Robertson had built Plane Jane with triple skin, glued kauri planking over laminated ribs at 150mm centres, with three bilge stringers either side of the keelson and transverse keel floors. While the use of numerous laminated ribs rather than the more typical longitudinal stringers is very time consuming, it does provide tremendous extra strength.
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To repair the damage, Robertson’s rebuilt the entire keel and mast step area with new deadwood, keelson, laminated yellow cedar floors and a longer, stronger mast-step. The upper keelson – jarra – is also new and while most of the original monel keelbolts were retained, some were replaced with 2205 stainless bolts. They also re-glassed the entire hull, a big job in itself as the boat was sitting upright.
To facilitate cruising and swimming, the hull was lengthened some 600mm with a closed cell foam and epoxy extension incorporating a walkthrough transom.
In common with most yachts of the era, Plane Jane was fitted with a skeg-hung rudder. This skeg’s been retained and strengthened, while a new, deeper rudder with a more modern profile and better aerofoil sections has been built in closed cell foam and epoxy over the original stainless shaft. The lower portion of the rudder extends forward of the skeg to provide some balance to the helm.
The companionway, originally offset to port, was relocated centrally. The original cockpit was floating, i.e. not braced to the yacht’s frames. But it’s now been fitted with twin struts at the forward end incorporating the companionway ladder.
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The original mast was retained, but required considerable work including new spreaders and a new base with turning blocks. After being stripped back, the mast was painted white and installed with new standing rigging, turnbuckles and stainless chainplates.
Harland’s original homemade carbon fibre boom was replaced with aluminium, also painted white. Robertson’s crafted all new stainless steel fittings including stanchions, cleat bases, chainplates and other deck fittings. The toe rail was replaced and a stainless steel rub rail added.
Sail handling systems received a major upgrade with a Profurl headsail furler, new Lewmar winches, headsail and mainsail travellers, cars, turning blocks and jammers. There are new opening hatches throughout, along with dorade vents. A Maxwell anchor windlass has a remote control switch in the cockpit for hassle-free anchoring and the anchor locker was rebuilt.
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One of many neat touches are the hardwood blocks beneath each stanchion base raising them off the deck. This will prevent freshwater leaks around the stanchion bolts into the yacht’s structure, an all too common occurrence with timber yachts.
A number of GRP fittings were custom made including winch handle holders, a pod over the companionway to house a chartplotter and a recessed housing for the engine throttle/gear lever in the starboard cockpit side.
After glassing, the entire boat was repainted in International two-pack paints, but apart from the name there’s no graphics, giving a refreshingly clean look. Below decks, the original interior layout was largely retained apart from removing part of a bulkhead aft of the galley/chart table area to open the area visually.
The heads compartment was completely rebuilt, then epoxy coved, glassed and painted in two-pack, so it can be used as a shower without the risk of rot. The remainder of the interior was stripped back, before being painted in single pot paints and varnishes. The saloon, with its crimson squabs, is very traditional.
The galley stove is now LPG fired and the LPG bottle has been located in a dedicated cockpit locker. Any escaping LPG drains into the cockpit and then overboard through the transom opening.
The engine was replaced with a new, four-cylinder 38hp Nanni diesel in the original position under the galley bench. There’s also a new propeller shaft and dripless coupling and, on the business end, a three-blade Kiwi propeller.
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All the electrics are new including twin, higher amp-hour batteries, tinned wiring, LED lighting, smart charging system, comprehensive switch panel, stereo and full sailing instrumentation, including twin chartplotters. One of these is mounted in a custom GRP pod over the companionway – the other is mounted downstairs at the chart table.
Typically for these restoration projects, both time and financial budgets went out the window, but as Stephen Harland-Smith points out, this project was never about money. Rather it’s been about the couple restoring and protecting a family heirloom – which happens to be a yacht – for future generations.
“It’s been a marvellous experience and a lot of fun,” says Susan Harland-Smith. The relaunching ceremony was an emotional time, the common thought from several family members being how pleased Don Harland would have been seeing the boat looking so good.
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In terms of equipment and systems, Plane Jane’s in considerably better shape now than when she was first launched and, given a modicum of care and maintenance, should be around for at least another 42 years. Certainly, that’s the intention of the Harland-Smiths.
I came away thinking Plane Jane’s a very lucky yacht. Not only has she been loved by her original owner for over four decades, she’s just as loved now by his daughter and son-in-law. Additionally, the son of her original designer and builder has fully restored her with integrity and craftsmanship. Given the pride of her new owners in the end result, it’s hard to see her luck changing anytime soon.
Plane Jane, a blessed yacht, now anything but plain.