THE SWALES FAMILY PART 2 – Change of focus

A second installment about the maritime legacy that was the Swales family – and in this one the focus shifts to their launches.

Job Horton (Joe) Swales, the eldest of the Swales siblings of St. Mary’s Bay, had built the jewel of a 25ft launch Vaiti in 1907 and enjoyed her with his family – his wife Eva, sons Leo and Fred, daughters Aline and the toddler Alwyn, who was born in 1905.

But although a beautiful piece of amateur building with stylish lines for the time, varnished coamings and a powerful Doman engine, she was too small for the boys. Leo cruised and raced on several of the new breed of keelers, particularly the Logan-designed Wairiki.

Joe’s music-teaching practice had become so busy that he no longer had the time to build another boat in his backyard. In July 1911 he commissioned Logan Bros to build a 32ft tuck-sterned launch. He sold Vaiti to the Edwards brothers who appear to have renamed her Sparks and, in 1920, sold her to Charles Palmer who renamed her Wai-iti.

As a good marine engine was at least half the total cost of a new launch at the time, Joe recycled the 10hp Doman from Vaiti into the new craft, which he named Alwyn after his baby girl. Right at this time, Logan Bros had decided to cease boatbuilding at the Railway Wharf in Mechanics Bay.

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Robert Jr and John Logan concentrated on property development while their genius brother Arch elected to carry on with bespoke boatbuilding from his shed on Ngataringa Bay. It was Arch who completed Alwyn and launched her in late January 1912.

With his sons Leo and Fred, Joe Swales owned Alwyn for 11 years, cruising extensively and occasionally racing her with the New Zealand Power Boat Association and Ponsonby Cruising Club. Leo was a member of the Squadron, nominating Alwyn as his boat from the 1911-12 season until the 1914-15 season when Leo’s insurance company employer sent him to Dunedin, where he sailed in local yachts.

Joe’s daughter Aline married in 1915. Shortly after, Leo and Fred left to serve in the Great War. On return from France, Leo was posted to Buenos Aires. When Fred went farming at Ruawai, Joe was left to handle Alwyn with his wife and daughter Alwyn. Until the boys went overseas, Joe kept Alwyn in St. Mary’s Bay and hauled out in the yard there, but after the war Henry Thode hauled her out every winter at his snug yard in Cox’s Creek.

Joe sold Alwyn in 1923. She changed hands a couple of times in Auckland, finishing up with Tui Waldron who sold her to Whangarei when he had the planing launch My Girl built by Dick Lang in 1925.

Alwyn stayed in Whangarei until well after WWll and is now happily resident at Picton in fine shape after a brief spell on Lake Taupo. She has a close resemblance to Arch Logan’s next launch, Doreen, built in the winter of 1912, later renamed Haku, then Coquette and recently successfully commercially reproduced as the superb Logan 33.

Leo Swales

Joe had one more boat in him. In January 1931, at the age of 76, he launched from the Victoria Cruising Club’s slip a 22ft dayboat he had built for use at the family’s Waiheke property. She had a 10-15hp Universal engine and he called her Playmate. Joe died in April 1936.

Joe’s younger brother, John William (Bill) Swales ran a successful plumbing business from premises in Jervois Road, Ponsonby with his sons Albert Victor (Bert) and William Roy (Roy). Roy had raced the 16-footer Sceptre, reckoned to be the crack 16-footer of the southern shore of the Waitemata, from March 1911 to October 1913 when he sold her to John Currie of Stanley Bay.

Bill and his sons had recently ordered the hull of a 38ft launch with 10ft beam from David Gouk and Sons of Beaumont Street. Her engine was a 24hp Rochester, a somewhat orphan two-stroke American engine for which Johnston Engineering Co. of High Street were the agents. This engine was probably salvaged from the Hare Bros’ 38-footer Rochester that had been smashed to pieces in a gale in March 1908.

When the hull was launched in December 1913 they named her Sceptre; she was incomplete but that did not prevent the Swales having a cruise to Kawau at Christmas and the following Easter. Over the winter of 1914 the Swales hauled Sceptre out at Masefield’s Beach, St Mary’s Bay and completed her fit-out.

Sceptre was put to good use by Bill Swales’ family. A lot of fishing was done. Bill was a keen lawn bowler with West End Bowling Club and Sceptre took many West End teams for matches around the Gulf, to Coromandel, Thames and Whangarei. Young Bert became Commodore of the Victoria Cruising Club for the 1914-15 season and used Sceptre as the flagship or markboat at the Club’s races.

But as the war wore on, both sons volunteered. Bert joined the highly successful RNZYS-sponsored scheme to place skilled yacht and launchmen into the RNVR to operate Motor Launches patrolling around the coast of Great Britain and in the Mediterranean. While Bert and Roy were away their father kept Sceptre in commission. The Rochester had been replaced by a 30hp Winton.

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While hauled out at the VCC’s yard in May 1917, one side of Sceptre was stove in during a hard gale. It wasn’t until October 1919 that Bert, back from England, could get her repaired and back in the water again, with yet another engine which was replaced again by an 18hp Union in the winter of 1922. Bert had married in 1919 and Roy in 1921.

In May 1923 Bill Swales and his sons Roy and Bert founded New Zealand Lead Works Ltd, a substantial enterprise with premises in Newmarket but Bill died just months later in September 1923. In November the family advertised Sceptre for sale.

In early 1924 the Mason brothers bought her for towing and passenger work in Whangarei. She subsequently went through many hands in the North but the trace is lost after 1949 when owned by I. Covacich, although it’s possible she had survived in Dargaville as Llandallah.

Bert died in 1933 but Roy lived on until 1978 and later owned two significant launches. In August 1936 Sam Ford delivered to Roy’s home in Fernleigh Avenue, Epsom the hull of one of his 34ft “standard cruiser” bridgedeckers which Roy quickly finished off to a high standard, in the Swales’ tradition.

He called her Playmate after his Uncle Job’s runabout and fitted her with a 20hp Ailsa Craig diesel. He did not have long to enjoy her, however, as she was laid up soon after the outbreak of WWll. In 1942 the RNZAF bought her for £2,000 and took her to the seaplane base at Laucala Bay, Fiji, as a control launch and for towing, numbered W72. After the war Playmate was returned to Auckland and sold to M.V. Wilson of Parnell, re-engined with a Chrysler, the standard US Navy unit. She survives today as Ida Mae, owned by Peter Sample.

Roy’s son Edward Lloyd (Ted) Swales was born in 1922. With such a tradition of boating behind him, it was natural that he should want to sail. Roy and Ted first built the Zeddie Billy Boy (Z11), another beautifully finished boat in the Swales’ tradition.

Ted first raced Billy Boy in the Combined Closing Day events in April 1935 on scratch. He carried on racing Billy Boy until the Anniversary Regatta of 1939 but, during the winter of 1939, Roy and Ted built a 12ft Silver Fern dinghy, another Billy Boy (Silver Fern 33).

They took her to Wellington for the Centennial Regatta in January 1940 with four others of the class to demonstrate their Arch Logan virtues as the “Rolls-Royce of small centreboarders”. Again, war intervened. After sailing the new Billy Boy in the 1943 Regatta, Ted was called up.

Owning an essential industry, Roy had a busy war. Rather than buy back Playmate from the War Disposals Board he bought the 1927 45ft Colin Wild launch Linda from her original owner, E.J. (Manny) Kelly.

A powerful “express cruiser” with a 50/90 Loew engine, Linda was one of the Waitemata’s top launches. An article on her alone is deserved (and isn’t far away). In 1959 Roy was 67 and decided to sell Linda. An experienced launchman bought her, Reg Fisher of Whangarei.

The Swales’ genes continue with the love of the sea. Job Horton Swales’ great granddaughter Marlene Kendon, who supplied many of the images I have used, and her husband Stuart, sail a Beale 38 from Westhaven.