Harold George had a busy decade in the 1930s. Despite the Depression the Lovegrove & George legal practice in Queen Street flourished and his yachting in Victory was at the highest level that the Auckland yacht clubs and the Hauraki Gulf could offer.


Harold George as Acting- Commander RNVR.

Victory’s exploits in the semi-secret trip to Norfolk Island and back in December 1928 had a profound ripple effect in Auckland yachting circles, particularly on the many cash-strapped yachtsmen who could see themselves transported into the magic of the Pacific Islands with a well-found yacht and a heap of courage.

An immediate follower of the faith was Whangarei yachtsman Hereward Pickmere who bought the big cruiser Arethusa in the winter of 1931 to fit it out to sail to Fiji to take up a job there as a surveyor. At the same time, Johnny Wray famously set to work on his home-built Ngataki to become the archetypal Kiwi battler offshore cruiser. Then, with the additional ingredients of the visiting Australian yacht Oimara and Erling Tamb’s yacht Teddy and later, German yachtsman Georg Dibbern and his Te Rapunga, the Trans-Tasman races started. Coupled with the wholesome designs of Bert Woollacott, this led to an explosion in yacht-building and offshore cruising in the post-war period.

Harold George raced Victory at every opportunity, mainly with the Squadron, Devonport Yacht Club and Akarana Yacht Club. Because she had just that extra foot of beam over her Logan and Bailey harbour racer contemporaries, she stood up well to her canvas and excelled in offshore conditions. The first regular ‘Ocean Race’ in Auckland was the Tauranga Regatta Club’s Auckland-Tauranga race in which Victory took line honours in the 1921 inaugural event, typically carrying her topsail from start to finish.

In August 1931 the Yugoslavian violinist Zlatko Balokovic played three concerts in Auckland. He arrived in his wife’s 250-ton schooner-rigged yacht Northern Light. Madame Balokovic, an heiress from Chicago, was an experienced yachtswoman. She decided to mark her visit by presenting a silver cup, the Balokovic Cup, for a 300-mile offshore race to be run by the Akarana Yacht Club. Akarana had the experience of running the first TransTasman race in March 1931 between Teddy, Oimara and the local yacht Rangi. Rangi, like the Logan-built Victory, had fishing yacht origins, as did the Bailey & Lowe built Schopolo, and was similarly suited for offshore work.

Victory coming up harbour after the 1932 Balokovic Cup race carrying her old vertical-cut mainsail.

The first Balokovic Cup race started into a full-sail NE breeze from Judges Bay at 7.45pm on Friday 15th January 1932. The entrants were Moana (scr) Victory (20m) Ida (50m), Waione (1hr30m), Little Jim (1hr30m) and Rangi (4hr30m). The race length had been reduced to 180 miles, still the longest offshore race yet held in New Zealand. The course was: start to Sail Rock, to Cuvier Island outside Great Barrier and back to Auckland. The NE turned into easterly gale.

At 4.30am on Saturday January 16, Harold George radioed that he had rounded Sail Rock in the lead, but Victory soon had to shelter in Kawau when her mainsail split. The same happened to Moana which was having her first race under Bermudan rig. All the other entrants had to shelter as well. The wind then went light from the SE. Victory arrived back in Auckland at 9.17am on 18th January. Waione was the only other finisher, many hours later.

Harold entered Victory in most of the Ocean races up until the war in 1939. The Tauranga race was joined by a race to Whangaroa in 1937. Victory was by no means a dry boat. Partying was encouraged, especially after a lengthy passage when the crews exchanged visits with other yachts and launches. Indeed, on the 1937 Whangaroa race, there was criticism that the gramophone on Victory was played loud and far too long into the night.

The Balokovic Cup.

As the thirties progressed it was hard for anyone, especially ex-servicemen, to ignore the signs of another war brewing in Europe. Harold was preparing for it by quietly laying the groundwork for a commission in the RNVR in which he confidently thought he would be useful. He passed his Yacht Master’s Certificate. During the 1930s he rose through the flag ranks of the Squadron and was Commodore from 1937 to 1939.

In April 1940 he was chosen for an RNVR temporary commission along with two other RNZYS yachtsmen, Scott Wilson of Tawera and Stan Jervis of Little Jim. The intention was that they would serve in minesweepers and patrol craft in the Atlantic. Harold was so eager to get to England that he paid his own passage in May 1940, as did Con Thode of Iorangi who later commanded the S Class submarine HMS Scythian.

Once in England, Harold found that Winston Churchill had called for “specially trained troops of the hunter class who can develop a reign of terror down the enemy coast.” This initiative led to the formation of the Commando force to harry the Germans’ outlying installations. It was far more daring than driving a minesweeper, so Harold volunteered, along with fellow Squadron member Bunty Palmer (Minerva C32), who had often crewed on Victory.

Bunty Palmer at sea.
The oil tanks blazing on the Lofoten Islands, February 1941.

The first major target was the Lofoten Islands off the north coast of Norway which produced large quantities of fish oil and glycerine, essential for Germany’s munitions. The taskforce, codenamed REBEL, trained in Scotland and set forth on February 21, 1941 from Scapa Flow. After refuelling at the Faroes, the two assault ships and the five covering destroyers turned hard right and made straight to the Lofotens. Harold led one landing party ashore at daybreak. Their surprise was complete.


The German armed trawler Krebs fired four rounds at HMS Somali before she was sunk. The destroyers sank nine merchant ships. The landing parties destroyed several factories, set ablaze many tanks of fish oil and paraffin and captured 228 prisoners of war. 314 Norwegians volunteered to come back to England. But probably the most significant result of the raid was the capture of a set of rotor wheels and the codebooks for the Enigma cypher machine from the sinking Krebs. This enabled the boffins at Bletchley Park to read all the German naval codes for some time and provided vital information on U-boat activities.

The rest of Harold’s war is a kaleidoscope of high-level involvement. In brief, Harold missed out on the disastrous Dieppe raid as Lord Mountbatten had arranged for him to be seconded to the Royal Australian Navy. Passing through New York on the way to Melbourne, he married Edith Taylor Sturtevant, a mature American lady of considerable style whom he had met at a Seabrooks’ party at Omana Avenue, Epsom in March 1939. With the RAN, Harold took part in several landings against Japanese positions in New Guinea but finished the war at Mountbatten’s HQ in Ceylon alongside Keith Park.

Harold George married Edith Sturtevant in New York, 1941. Photo courtesy of Karen Yates and her late husband Jack.

Returning to Auckland after being demobbed in 1945, Harold went back into legal practice only briefly. He was elected as Commodore of the Squadron again in 1946, an impressive honour. Then Sir Ernest Davis headhunted him to be Managing Director of the Devonport Steam Ferry Company, a job which involved battling with post-war restrictions and the looming certainty of the Harbour Bridge. He was also a director of the family company, Auckland Launch and Towboat Ltd, which ran the Blue Boats.

In October 1939 Harold had decided to leave Victory hauled out at Shoal Bay. She now needed a lot of work to get her fit to race and cruise again. She was still gaff-rigged, engine-less and without electric light, but Harold had his cousin Arnold (Bill) Couldrey design and carry out a conversion to Bermudan rig for her. Racing and cruising resumed as before. In calms, Bressin Thompson often had to provide a tow into Mansion House with his auxiliary on Prize. On cake days, Edith, dressed as for a cocktail party, would accompany Harold and crew and object when the yacht went about and adopted another lean. “Stop it, Harold.” “Yes Dear,” he would reply.

Like their father, Harold’s brother Geoff died early of a heart attack. Harold had the heart condition too, so the racing had to tail off. But the cruising continued. At Easter 1964, Victory cruised to Great Barrier. Anchored near Smokehouse Bay at 5pm on the Saturday evening, with the dinner cooking on the gas stove in the cabin, three of the crew were by the mast, one aloft in a bosun’s chair. Harold, Frank Thorpy and K.B. Anderson were in the cockpit.

Waione, second in the 1932 Balokovic Cup race.
Harold at the tiller of Victory on a summer’s day. The explosion blew out the skylight under the cover and smashed the boom in two.

There was a violent explosion as gas in bilges ignited. The deck lifted off. Harold was hurled overboard, catching his foot in the rigging and breaking three bones in it. He swam back to the boat calling “Fire” as the yacht was on fire forward. Help arrived smartly from the Hargraves’ new Northerner and other yachts. They extinguished the fire and tended to the wounded. Victory was towed to Flinns’ and tied to the wharf.

Victory was repaired but, with his heart condition, it was the end of sailing for Harold. He died in December the next year. Victory was sold. She gave several yachtsmen many years of pleasure. She is now in the good hands of yacht restorer Marco Scuderi and will sail again. BNZ