Jerking restlessly at her mooring in Putiki Bay, Matari looks like an exotic seabird ready to migrate. Long, lean, double-ended and three-masted, she has the look of a purposeful ocean cruiser.
A few hundred metres up the road on Waiheke island, her owner and long-time skipper, Jack Hargraves, opens the door to his house and he has the same look. His eyes have the clear, faraway look of a man who has spent much of his life scanning the horizon and he has the slightly braced stance that comes from moving across dancing decks.
“I sighted Matari on the hard at Salthouse’s in 1981,” he recalls. “A more sensible man would have run a mile. She was a sorry, rust-covered mess. Water leaking through her decks had totalled her electronics and the uncovered sails looked hopelessly doomed. Common sense told me to walk rapidly away.”
But 37 years on, he and this singular cruising craft have completed 17 round trips to Fiji and many miles around the Pacific Islands and New Zealand coast.
“She was built in Bangkok in 1969 by the Pittisoori Boatyard out of 45mm changi [chengal] planking, fastened by steel lags bolts to laminated changi frames.” Changi (neobalanocarpus heimii) is a dense Malaysian/Thai hardwood.
She was faithfully built to a Marco Polo design drawn by L. Francis Herreshoff and named accordingly, but Jack renamed her Matari, Indonesian slang for Matahari – the sun.
The plans are featured in Herreshoff’s classic book – Sensible Cruising Designs – and also in a series of articles he wrote for US boating magazine Rudder. Every aspect of the design is covered; from the masthead fitting to scantlings for a cedar toilet bucket and metal coal scuttle.
“The joints at the corners of hatches and skylights are to be dovetailed,” he wrote, “for, if properly fitted, this type of joint is best to withstand shrinking and swelling without leaking.” And much more in a similar vein – not bad for someone who was profoundly dyslexic.
Jack’s ocean sailing career began in Invercargill, New Zealand, where he and three mates were busy building an 11.6m double-ender to a design by another American, William Atkin. The trio – Jack Hargraves, Jack Crooks and Peter Baxter – took eight years to complete Tuarangi and in the early 1960s they set off to circumnavigate the planet. After an extended stay in South Africa, Tuarangi sailed on to the Caribbean, but left Jack behind to replenish his coffers working in the charter trade.
About this time Matari/Marco Polo’s first owner, an American, set out from Singapore on a world voyage but was badly frightened by a storm in the Indian Ocean and towed back to Singapore by a Russian trawler.
Next, an English agricultural scientist based in Singapore bought the boat; re-rigged her with stainless steel, fitted electronics and winches and sailed her to New Zealand with Jim Malone in 1976-77 – but not before she’d been sighted by a young Jack Hargraves who was chartering his Herreshoff Tioga, Okere, in Singapore at the time.
After knocking about on various charter boats and delivery trips, Jack had returned to New Zealand to build his own Herreshoff. “I built Okere in ferro-cement – she was launched the same day in 1972 that Herreshoff died. I always wondered if he died from the pleasure of having another one of his boats launched – or from the horror of having her built in ferro.”
But Matari/Marco Polo’s New Zealand-bound voyage wasn’t incident-free either. After running over fishing nets, she bent a prop shaft and began to leak badly – and put into Surabaya for repairs.
The boat made a very rapid passage from Brisbane to North Cape but ran into trouble off the cape when the rudder fell off. Malone narrowly missed being crushed during a rescue attempt by a passing freighter and Matari/Marco Polo made an ignominious arrival at her new home port under tow to a fishing boat.
“The rudder was a weak link for ages,” Jack remembers. “Later, while we were leaving a windy reef anchorage in Fiji, it broke again. The previous day we’d traversed a tricky passage with lots of surf either side – if it had happened then we would have lost the boat.”
Temporary repairs were carried out in Ba and Matari sailed home to have a solid 75mm rudder stock fitted.
She’s fitted with a three-cylinder, 40hp Yanmar diesel – a Japanese fishing boat engine, says Jack. A small wing engine drives a lay shaft which can be used to start the main engine – to top up the compressed air bottles for its air start, drive an alternator to charge batteries or other applications. The main engine drives her at about 6.5–7 knots in flat water. She carries about 800 litres of fresh water and 1,300 litres of fuel.
“Over 120 people have made the passages with us over the years – some headed for the hills as soon as they got ashore – others fell for the lure of the ocean and came back for more. We only hove-to once – in 2008 – to let a storm pass below us. We had the headsail half out and aback – and the mizzen sheeted hard amidships.
“At one stage I stuck my head out the hatch and saw these big waves roaring towards us. Bugger this, I thought, and ducked down below – slamming the hatch behind me. If I’d known how comfortable she was like that, I would have done it years ago. We made 18nm overnight – in the right direction as well.
“It’s a beautifully balanced rig – Herreshoff’s raked masts mean you can drop sail at any time – even dead downwind. I think the masts are mahogany – well, it looks like mahogany to me – but they’ve had a fair few kauri rebuilds over the years. With their small, low-aspect ratio sails, it’s very easy to find the right sail combinations for any weather – she’s a great sea-boat and will often sail herself.”
Matari’s topsides have also been refastened with trunnels (“tree nails” – hardwood dowelling plugs) a time-honoured technique widely used throughout the world. “That’s why she’s lasted so long,” says Jack.
“I’m very fortunate – I’ve been able to spend most of my life mucking around in boats – but I’ve made it beyond 80 now. We still go to Fiji in winter – but it is a lot easier to fly.” Matari sits in Putiki Bay waiting for our return – but it’s time for someone else to enjoy her and look after her.”