Many people started cruising the Hauraki Gulf in their homebuilt vessels after World War Two. The annual summer cruise became a feature of any families’ lives. Conditions on board were primitive. There was generally no standing headroom,the toilet consisted of a bucket and lighting was by a kerosene lantern. But the joy of cruising the islands more than made up for any lack of luxury.
The idea of building one’s own cruising boat had been popularised in the 1930s by adventurer Johnny Wray who, after losing his job in the depression, built his own boat out of scavenged materials. He used kauri logs washed up beaches for timber and fencing wire dipped in tar scraped off the road to staple the planks together. Wray sailed around the Gulf and across to the Pacific Islands. His boat Ngataki is still sailing in the Gulf, having being restored by the TIno Rawa Trust.
Boat designers Richard Hartley and Alan Wright produced boat building plans for the home builder with detailed instructions and full-sized patterns which could be cut out. Richard Hartley designed the hugely popular Hartley 16 foot trailer sailer which was promoted as being ‘For the man with limited means, who wants a boat for day-sailing and fishing with a guarantee of being home on time, this is the boat.’
Cruising is still a hugely popular activity on the Hauraki Gulf given the many sheltered bays and beautiful islands which can be visited.
The first New Zealand scow was built in 1873 by the Mieklejohn family at Omaha, inspired by the timber scows which operated on the Great Lakes in North America. They were ugly, clumsy square boats with flat bottoms designed to draw little water and to beach squarely on the beach. They also carried all their cargo on deck making loading and unloading easier.
Over 130 scows were built in New Zealand over a period of 50 years. They were a common sight around all the beaches and bays of the Hauraki Gulf. They were used to transport timber, sand and all manner of goods.
The remains of the last scow trading on the Hauraki Gulf under sail, Rahiri (formerly called Daphne) can still be seen on Blackpool Beach, Waiheke Island as shown in the feature image.
The scow Jane Gifford can still be seen sailing on the waters of the Hauraki Gulf. She was built in 1908 by Davey Darroch at his Ōmaha boatyard and named after the Scottish immigrant ship which had brought Darroch and his family to Auckland in 1842. She had a busy and varied life carting granite, shell, road metal and general cargo.
By the 1950s the Jane Gifford had reached the end of her working life. In 2005 Peter Thompson and Hugh Gladwell set up the Jane Gifford Restoration Trust and purchased the old hulk for $10. Through fundraising and volunteer labour they restored her to her former glory. The Jane Gifford can now be seen tied up to the wharf at Warkworth. She operates a full schedule of sailings for schools and members of the public.
The P Class yacht was designed in 1920 by Harry Highet as a training boat for children. Although it was first sailed in Tauranga, it was not until the Ponsonby Cruising Club adopted the small craft in 1941 that it really took off.
Many notable sailors trained in the tiny boats in the Hauraki Gulf including Sir Peter Blake, Dean Barker, Sir Russell Coutts, Chris Dickson and Leslie Egnot. They were difficult boats to sail, particularly in heavy winds, as they have a tendency to nose-dive going downwind. This honed the balancing skills of the young sailors.