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Much Ado Down Under

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While in New Zealand to sea-trial the new Dashew passagemaker, I had hoped to see other boatbuilding projects and people who make up our trawler lifestyle. I certainly don't make it to New Zealand frequently, so I also hoped to explore the many wonders- despite the winter season-of the country known as the Land of Rainbows.

What I found was a lot of diversity and great industry in the marine trades, as I toured a number of small yards building impeccable yachts. While there are large boatbuilders in New Zealand, it seems the cottage industry of smaller yards is quite significant.

During my stay, the hospitality of boatbuilder Kelly Archer was fantastic. He spent much time driving me around the countryside in his hot-rodded vintage Rover. We began with a tour of the Auckland-area shipyards, and then met with Dave De Villiers, the naval architect and chief engineer of several Archer projects.

After an early breakfast meeting, the three of us toured Onora, a Chuck Paine/Kelly Archer collaboration that embodies a really serious cruising sailboat. Intended by her American owners to cruise Antarctica, Onora is over the top in terms of redundancy, beefy systems, and gear-including a rig designed to stay in place even if the boat is inverted. The boat is an extreme expedition machine, with an inside steering station, multiple watertight bulkheads, and oversized everything. And the detail and overall workmanship are gorgeous. Kelly and his crew are quite proud of Onora.


While there is much to see right around Auckland in terms of boatbuilders and points of interest, Kelly was keen to take me up north to Whangarei. That is where we visited Bruce Farrand of Circa Marine & Industrial, the yard that does all the metalwork for Kelly's boatbuilding projects.

Circa Marine gets involved from the early design stages to evaluate the construction drawings and refine some of the solutions and approaches taken. According to Kelly, Bruce is valuable in fine tuning a design from the boatbuilder's viewpoint.

Even though the custom-boat business is all about one boat at a time, the process of building a metal boat is a standardized process of completing one step at a time and making each step work efficiently with every other step.

As you can see in the photos that accompany this article, the workmanship in an unpainted aluminum boat is clear evidence of quality construction, and of why New Zealand is so well known for top-quality aluminum yachts. These boats represent the inherent toughness of boats that are able to remain self-reliant at sea. Precise statistics are not available, but marine insurance companies tell us over 10,000 shipping containers are lost off ships each year. Metal boats are a good defense.

Keep the electrical systems simple, and keep the yacht out of marinas (which may have stray current) and away from copper (so the boat does not become a battery), and an aluminum boat will last forever.

Ripple is Kelly Archer's personal boat, seen under construction at Circa Marine. It is almost ready to make the three-hour truck ride to Kelly's shop in Auckland. The entire boat will be polished to a satin finish and left unpainted. Ripple is along the lines of the Dashew Wind Horse-but much less...well, intense. It will be more of a cruising boat for fun and socializing. He coined the boat as the first in an Adventure series of long, lean, shallow draft, shorthanded cruising yachts.

Kelly is working several features into the equation, such as a flat bottom to sit at low tide, an inverted-V bottom to protect the running gear, a tang on the bow to allow the boat to be towed up a beach if a storm is coming, and the capability of exploring high latitudes as easily as doing the French canals.

Malcolm Tennant is one of the pioneers of catamaran design and was kind enough to spend some time with me around the North Island. We even had a chance to go out in some rather sloppy weather aboard one of his designs-a 40-foot power cat owned by Jon Douglas. As Jon took us out of the marina, Malcolm's mantra of narrow hulls, focused weight management, and a high bridgedeck was revealed to perfection as we turned into 6-foot breaking waves just outside the breakwater.

With a pair of 200hp four-cylinder Yanmar engines, we made 16 knots and traveled on all points of sail in the large seas with gusty winds.

Beyond direct beam-to seas-which were simply awful-the cat was not fazed at all. The key, according to Tennant, is keeping at least one meter distance between the water and the nacelle of the bridgedeck-preferably even more.

Malcolm Tennant has been designing multihulls since 1964 and says the rise of the power cat is a major change in the multihull industry. And now he sees the power cats getting larger and larger, and more capable of ocean crossing-a direction he had decided to pursue. Tennant's designs are being built around the world, from Paraguay to West Australia, Brazil to Virginia- even Nova Scotia, a traditional boatbuilding center if there ever was one.

While in Whangarei, I stopped by the offices of Pacific Motoryachts, where Peter Watson took me to see the company's new steel 48-foot trawler under construction. This small ship seemed huge as it stood inside the construction building. With the steelwork nearing completion, the boat is slowly coming together. Watson hopes to have it in Seattle in time for the West Coast show schedule.


Back in Auckland, I met with Roger Hill, a prolific boat designer who is big into fast cruising power catamarans-his office is really busy these days. Hill took me on a whirlwind tour of small yards with a number of his boats under construction. From construction using DuFlex composite panels to coldmolded cedar boats to resin infusion, the variety of materials used to create beautiful performance catamarans is amazing. But each has it place, and these finished cats work.

In fact, so confident is Roger about his at sea experience with multihulls, he told me he would never go offshore again on a monohull-although he designs them as well.

A boat project I couldn't help but notice was a large steel trawler painted in primer sitting in the Viaduct area near my hotel. It turned out to be a Sea Navigator 80 by Saba Yachts. After making a phone call, I was introduced to Wayne Shaw, one of the men behind the yacht. Wayne took me through the boat-in-progress and impressed me with his company's commercial ship background and its experience creating a real expedition trawler yacht. The trawler will be a small ship when it is completed, incorporating many features seldom found on pleasure boats. I hope to follow up when it is done.

During my visit to this lovely country, I discovered some amusing oddities. Not only do they drive on the "wrong" side of the road, but this approach holds true on sidewalks as well. I was forever walking into people. And I found all light switches work the opposite from North America-ditto the water faucets.

Another thing I picked up on was a general rumbling about the changing state of New Zealand's boat industry. Many of the people I spent time with mentioned this subject. The currency exchange between U.S. and New Zealand dollars is much closer than ever before, which has had an impact on the industry. It used to make lots of sense to build a boat in New Zealand, at a time when the NZ dollar was less than $0.50 U.S. That is no longer the case.

To find out more about the state of the marine industry in New Zealand, I walked into the offices of Pacific MotorYacht magazine on Gaunt Street in Auckland, where I met publishing editor Barry Thompson. Barry recognized me right away, and we were soon deep in discussion on this very subject. As a gesture of friendly editorship from around the world, he arranged for me to interview Kevin McPherson, general manager of the New Zealand Marine Export Group. This organization's membership includes 135 companies that export marine products to countries around the world.

McPherson explained the differences between his organization and New Zealand's other marine industry group, the Marine Industry Association (MIA) whose 500 member companies manufacture or build products for the NZ domestic consumer market. There is also the Boating Industry Training Organization (BITO), which has an enormously successful world-class apprenticeship program that trains and produces highly skilled marine technicians and sends them out into a world greatly in need of such talent.

McPherson told me the export business represents a half-billion-dollar industry in goods and services. During the America's Cup in Auckland, that annual number was 20 percent higher-one reason the Kiwis are so enthusiastic about winning the Cup back; it's a source of intense national pride. McPherson then explained that the export group is trying to double exports in five years, by identifying growth sectors in niche marine markets. Two of these markets are training programs for apprenticeships and the growing superyacht market, in which New Zealand boatbuilders play well with the big boys. The third growth sector is the accessory and equipment industry, as so many New Zealand companies make equipment and gear for yachts being built around the world. The group is therefore expanding its presence with these products into Asia and Europe. A fourth sector is the trailer boat industry-a new opportunity for New Zealand.

Given the high skill level of its workforce, the group also sees great opportunity in the refitting and outfitting of the world's fleet of superyachts and commercial work boats.


"I believe the outlook is positive," McPherson told me, "and we feel confident we'll implement the objectives to reach our goals." As an example of why he is optimistic, McPherson spoke of strategic partnerships with great international companies, such as New Orleans/based Trinity Yachts, to whom the export group can supply most of the needed gear, hardware, and accessories. From windlasses to doors and hatches, New Zealand produces much of what goes into these large megayachts.

Everyone I met during my visit to New Zealand is hell-bent on getting the Cup back, and eager to meet the challenge. I view the exchange-rate issue as simply a wake-up call to those leading the marine trades who are also facing a challenge. And these folks are responding with all the focus and intensity of a Kiwi Haka, the ceremonial Maori war chant dance that signals victory against all odds.

With such enthusiasm, the odds are likely in their favor.