The Early Years
The post-war years of the 1950’s and 60’s were boom times forNew Zealand. Kiwis were prospering in a strong economy and enjoying their new found leisure time. For many, that meant weekends and holidays devoted to yachting. Due to post-war shortages of some materials, professional boatbuilders were scrambling to meet the strong demand for new yachts. In typical Kiwi fashion, if one couldn’t buy what they wanted, they would make it themselves. Do-it-yourselfers all over the country harvested, scrounged or reclaimed timber and built their own boats in sheds, garages and backyards. Modern materials and fresh ideas begged for a new generation of yachts that were lighter and faster than the rather clunky pre-war “classics.” While yacht racing was experiencing an unprecedented period of growth, even more Kiwis were building yachts for local and world cruising.
In 1956 the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron organised their second yacht design competition. The first, held in 1942, in which Bob Stewart placed second, had produced the sleek “K” Class yachts. They requested local and international designers to submit plans of a yacht which could become the next generation racing fleet, replacing the maturing K class, and hopefully injecting some adrenaline into its race programme. In addition to spirited sailing performance, the other stipulation required that the boat also could double as a comfortable family cruiser. A special committee was established to draw up the conditions and specifications. The Committee was impressed with the submission of a Scottish designer named James McGruer, and by January of the following year he had been instructed to prepare a design for a new keel boat class at a fee of 200 guineas with a royalty fee of 5 pounds for each boat built. The process took 18 months, with letters traveling to and from Scotland, until the plans and class restrictions were finally in the Squadron’s hands. By November 1959 the Squadron had paid for the plans but after that nothing more was heard about this new boat design. The launching of Patiki a month before may have shadowed McGruer’s efforts. The adoption of this “stepchild” may have also been the seed of an anti-Stewart sentiment that would ebb and flow through the ranks of the Squadron for the next forty years.
Peter Colmore-Williams owned a company called Sonata Laboratories, through which he had introduced, among other things, the Epiglass line of fibreglass and related products to theNew Zealandmarket. The company had already began production of moulded items in glass reinforced plastic (GRP), such as car bodies and washbasins for hair salons, and had even ventured into the boating scene with a fibreglass dinghy tender called the Parsons 9. With a stockroom full of waterproof polyester resins and big rolls glass fibre cloth that he had imported from theU.K., Colmore-Williams had in stock all the materials necessary for the making of a fibreglass yacht.
A keen yacht racer, Colmore-Williams become frustrated with finishing on the trailing edge of the Squadron’s 4th Division on his yacht Taurima. He approached his friend Bob Stewart and asked him if he would design a light-displacement 34-foot racer/cruiser, employing his space age materials, a yacht that could conceivably finish more towards the front-end of the Squadron’s 3rd Division. It was pay-back time for Colmore-Williams and Bob Stewart accepted the challenge.
Late in 1958, Stewart commenced design work on his most famous boat, Patiki, a new type of light displacement boat with a fin keel. Patiki’s bow was nearly plumb, and her stern was short and straight. Stewart considered any overhangs to be redundant, fully appreciating that every inch of waterline equated to more speed. Her beam, rather full for a keeler of the era, afforded her stability while sailing on the wind against her powerful sail plan. Her light weight construction would not only require fewer materials, making her more affordable, but would allow her to be easily driven in all conditions. Stewart’s thinking was perhaps a bit unconventional, if not radical in his day, but is almost universally accepted by modern yacht designers.
Stewart was convinced that the key to the success of this new design was in her light weight. He took his line drawings to the talented young boatbuilder and designer, John Lidgard, with whom he was familiar. Lidgard had also been pondering the revolutionary fin keel design for a larger keelboat of his own design, but was talked out of it by his more traditional-thinking father. Lidgard was impressed with Stewart’s concept and believed that by building the new hull using the latest cold-moulded method employing three diagonally arranged layers of timber strips bonded with the new polyester resins, that the designer’s target weight could be achieved. Lidgard was able to fully interpret Stewart’s line drawings and assist him with the creation of detailed plans to be used to build future Patikis.
Technology had finally caught up with the concept of a light, strong and fast, yet seaworthy boat. According to Stewart, “keel ballast was kept as light as possible so that a fibreglass hull would not have to be unduly reinforced to take the strain of a heavy keel. As much stability and stiffness as possible was thus provided by the sections and a fairly wide beam, which was also chosen for room and comfort.”
Stewart continued the trend his mentor Arch Logan had started with the mullet boats; a wide beam, a fin keel replacing the centreboard, the rudder placed as far aft as possible and a long flat run under the hard bilges for planing speed. Loganhad designed small skimmers at the turn of the century and called them Patikis, the Maori name for flounder or flatfish. By applying the name Patiki to his new boat, Stewart honoured this heritage. These early Patiki skiffs later developed into the M class, called the “Restricted Patiki Class” by the Squadron, which to this day is one of the most active one design classes in New Zealand.
John Lidgard commented: “The fin-keel was influenced by the flying l5’s popular in the early 50’s. Bill Endean has written that Bob was influenced by the American designer Phillip Rhodes who, in 1933, designed a boat with a separate keel & rudder which is very similar to the Stewart 34.” Apparently Stewart had been musing with designs for a fin-keeled yacht for some time. Among his plans there is a drawing, dated 1950, of a small fin keeler for Robin and Patricia Miller.
Boatbuilder Neil Mills commented: “The old fin keels had a history of falling off. The strength needed to support a keel which was not ‘integral’ to the main hull shape required extra strength. The new laminated hull provided such and so did away with having to carry a greater weight in wood for that strength.”
Stewart reflected on his design: “The thoughts that went with this boat were along these lines: The earlier LD (light displacement) boats had normal beam for that time. Therefore they were very fast off the wind, but lacked somewhat in ability for windward work. What about increasing stability with extra beam? How would a boat go with something like a fourteen-footer hull? Or what about the mulleties? Twenty-six foot mullet boats with ten feet of beam and two tons of inside ballast could carry up to 800 square feet of sail.
Going back to the thoughts that went into the features of these boats, I was impressed by the 18ft M class and the H and L class mullet boats. On occasion they could beat boats like [the 50-footer] Rawene which was, of course, one of the fastest keelers on the harbour.
I would watch Ned Parker’s Starlight (a champion mulletty built by Ned in 1919) returning to her moorings off Wallace Street Beach and appearing to hold her own with Rawene which also moored in the same area.
I could also remember my own [M-class] eighteen-footer, Manene, doing the same thing. Why couldn’t a boat combine the good qualities of all these?
How would a shallow thirty-four-foot hull go with ten feet of beam and one-and-a-half tons in a fin keel? The fin keel would be more efficient than a centreboard and would also keep wetted surface down to a minimum compared with the normal keelboat profile.”
It was Christmas 1958 when Stewart completed the design of Patiki, putting finishing touches on the plans as the boat was being lofted. Lidgard commenced work on23 April, 1959. Beautiful heart kauri was used, making her a little heavier than the later wooden boats which used tanalised sap kauri. Colmore-Williams had the floor boards fabricated out of an Australian hardwood which actually shrank after they were cut to size. He solved the problem by raiding his factory for filler.
John Lidgard was a couple of months ahead of schedule on the construction of Patiki, finishing her in October, well in time for the 1959/60 racing season. He recalls: “Patiki never became the plug for fibreglass production. When we finished the hull, he (Colmore-Williams) was so keen to get sailing that he said, ‘To hell with it, let’s turn it over and finish her off. Colmore-Williams’ neighbor and crew member, Brian Craies was called on to paint out the interior.
John Buttle recalled: “The keel was an experiment. John built the wooden boxing, taking into consideration any expansion the hot lead would create but as he didn’t have the facilities to pour the lead in all at once, and evenly, the keel set rounded on one side and straight on the other – a little lopsided!”
The month before Patiki was launched, the Squadron’s Handicapping Committee resolved that, “the new yachts, Scimitar and Patiki be put in the 3rd Division.” The motion was raised by Bob Stewart and seconded by Bressin Thompson.
Patiki was launched on Guy Fawkes Day, 5 November 1959 and after commissioning went for her first sail on 20 November. Her log reads; “First sail wind is light but Patiki seems lively and fast. . .”
Patiki on launch day
“Designer Proved Right – R.L.Stewart deserted Helen for the day to try out Patiki, the new craft he designed for P. Colmore-Williams. Whether or not it was Stewart’s guidance or her trim and handsome appearance, Patiki proceeded to bolt away from the third division, finishing more than 12 minutes clear of the pre-eminent third division craft, Gleam and Freya.
Just when it seemed that Patiki would win twice in her debut, Spray, lately promoted from the fourth division, came hustling in and Patiki, on scratch, was no match for Spray on 10 ½ per cent [handicap].” Auckland Star Sat28 November, 1959
According to her logs, Patiki was the gun boat in 3rd division in all of her races the first season. Not only had she exceeded her owner’s expectations, she was clearly a “breakthrough” boat.
“The advent of the Patiki, the 1st of her class, cast more than a ripple through the Squadron fleet when launched in 1959. Reaction from conventional keelboat sailors was vocal. The tendency of the new design to perform spectacular broaches under spinnaker enlivened the harbour scene and I once overheard past-commodore, Alf Miller (Moana), refer to them as ‘double-decker mullet boats.’ But in no time they established themselves as highly competitive class racers, with sound cruising qualities too. Their popularity has not diminished over the past 30 years. (If I sound prejudiced, I am. I raced one for 11 years.) Today they are known internationally as the boats used in our Citizen match-racing series.” Wilf Beckett, Breeze
“With her big beam she needs plenty of sail and with an inboard rig on short overhangs … with a masthead rig it has been a problem to design a spar man enough for the job without too much weight aloft. Calculations into taper, wind shadow, effects of recessed track and various mast scantlings down to differences of 1/32 of an inch, have proved to be among the most searching calculations in the design. With such a shallow hull and quite pronounced sheer, the doghouse had to be fairly high to give over six feet headroom, but this is only apparent in a section of the hull through the doghouse and dose not look at all out of proportion in the profile … Although the hull is of the big dinghy type with fin keel attached, no attempt has been made to give her a flat run aft, but given plenty of sail there is no doubt that in a strong enough wind she should be capable of exceeding her theoretical hull speed.” Sea Spray, December 1959
It didn’t take long for Patiki to capture the awe and attention ofAuckland’s yachting cognoscenti.
“He [Jim Davern] was cruising in an outboard runabout at GreatBarrierIslandand it was blowing a little. There were several keelers waiting to come back to Kawau and the last to leave was Patiki with Peter & Noreen Colmore-Williams and their dog, Mitchell, as crew.
Jim watched them start and then followed them in their runabout. The best any boat could lay was Whangarei Heads and Patiki arrived there considerably first. This made quite an impression on him. On his return he set about organising the building by John Lidgard, of course, of three hulls identical with Patiki.” Bob Stewart in Breeze, September 1962
Like a lot of other keen yachties, Davern had been along to Lidgard’s shed on Lynwood Road to check on the “new boat” and its progress, “I first thought Bob Stewart had more brains than to design a boat like that, but then Patiki beat everything in sight and began to look interesting, so a few of us formed a syndicate and built three of them at once, mine being Princess.”
John Lidgard set himself up in an old factory shed behind Ron Neil’s factory in Portage Road New Lynn to build the three boats. Davern had talked Neil into buying one and then persuaded Boyd Hargrave to put his money into the other. Hargrave, who was fiercely competitive but new to sailing decided “if Jim & Ron were game enough he’d be in there too.” Basil Kelly was having Maurie Palmer build him one (Pania) so a date was set to have a collective launch of four new Patikis.
It was a big deal for Davern to finance the building of a boat as he had a young family and a very young and struggling construction business. At the same time he acted as project manager for the new Patikis so that Lidgard could concentrate entirely on the construction of the three boats.
All the timber came from theThames. The others chose heart Kauri but Davern, being a builder, decided on sap and medium Kauri treated especially by Hicksons. He wanted to experiment with this lighter wood and the new treatment, and it didn’t let him down. It actually proved more durable with no signs of plank distortion and gave a lighter boat whose class weight could be placed more efficiently.
John Lidgard recalls; “Jim Davern arranged the lead pour for Princess, Patiko and Pim and decided the boats would be better for extra lead. Princess and Patiko got the first keels and Pim we always reckoned, missed out and was lighter.”
When it came time to choose boats, the three owners showed up at Lidgard’s shed. Davern explained to the other two that they could have any of the boats they wished, “except this one”, pointing to Princess.
Launch day, November 5, was to be John Lidgard’s big day, but he had been run over by his work van the previous day and attended as a spectator only. The four new Patikis were launched by crane from Princes Wharf, minus their rigging and still without their engines, which hadn’t arrived fromEnglandin time. A fortnight later they were racing.
Over a lunch at the Squadron, Jim Davern, Ron Neil and Boyd Hargrave decided they would all call their new boats by names beginning with the letter P, paying tribute to Bob Stewart. The tradition of naming all the boats of a class with the same first letter was established by the M-class. Stewart was a mainstay in the M-class, having raced, designed and been the class measurer for some years.
Jim Davern commented: “The first season’s racing was quite dangerous as nobody understood spade rudders. Princess had a diamond shaped rudder, which was far too small. It would have been okay with little sail but with more sail area you lost control. The rudders were about half the size they should have been and with the boat so full and wholesome most of the rudder was out of the water. The following season we had a redesigned rudder and had control.”
John Lidgard recalled: “The original [Bob Stewart designed] skeg rudder was inadequate, partly I suspect, because we had little idea about sailing fin keelers. When Jim Davern elected to fit one (a long balanced spade rudder) to Princess, Peter decided to change Patiki’s. He used the original bronze shaft with a bit brazed on. I remember my foreman, Dan Cottrell, telling Peter it would fall off and that is just what it did, just off Princes Wharf on the way to the first time out [after installing the new rudder]. We returned to our mooring, and the entire crew flew to North Harbour, Ponui [by seaplane] – two trips with Fred Ladd – and spent the night on my father’s motor sailor.”
By March 1960 the Squadron’s General Committee expressed “its concern at the difficulty being experienced in handicapping fin keelers” and desired “to receive the recommendations of the Sailing Committee on the advisability or otherwise of incorporating in one division, all fin keelers with planing hull capabilities.” When Neil Mills advised the Squadron in a letter dated 5th May 1960 that his boat Fandango was for sale, he asked what the Squadron’s proposed to do about the establishment of a one-design class to cater to the Patiki boats, as more were being built. The Mark Foy General Handicap Race on the 2nd of April had been won by the B Division Fandango, which narrowly edged the new fin keeler; “After rounding the Haystack, we had a hard time shaking off Patiki and it wasn’t until she went into the tide that we managed to creep past and get the gun.”
Patiki took the 3rd Division prize ahead of Scimitar and Gleam. The General Committee’s reply was, “that while the interest in the Patiki class is welcomed it is not proposed at this juncture to establish a one-design class. Patiki boats owned by Squadron members will race in the 3rd Division. All boats will be re-classified from time to time according to performance and availability.”
In June the Squadron had received a letter from Peter Colmore-Williams requesting his yacht Patiki be classified in the 2nd Division for the 1960/61 season. The problem was passed on to the Sailing and Handicapping Committee. Colmore-Williams donated his prize money from the Mark Foy Race to the Ways and Means Committee.
On the 9 November 1960after much discussion the Sailing Committee and the Flag Officers of the Squadron resolved to place the Patikis in the 2nd Division.
Bob Stanton noted: “When first raced in this 3rd division, being based on the LWL (length on water line) Patiki was so far ahead of the fleet the race officials couldn’t believe she had been round the course!”
In the summer season Princess won four races and was 3rd in two. Patiki and Patiko also held their own and were strong competition to Ngatiwa and Rambler, both crack boats in the 2nd Division.
At a Squadron Boat Owners’ Meeting on 24 May 1961it was decided “that the Patiki class be placed in a separate division for the next racing season.” The motion was carried 45 to 5. But the Sailing Committee was not convinced. They claimed; ” … the Patiki type yachts have not yet justified their claims to be recognised as an independent division, the yacht owners’ recommendation should be deferred a season.” By July the Sailing Committee had decided, instead, on a separate light displacement division “complying with the intention of the Planing Hull Formula” to consist of the now 5 racing Patikis, Shemara, Scimitar and Vim. The motion was carried but Bob Stewart wished to have his opposition recorded.
Stewart’s other successful yacht, Helen, was the first of the K Class boats, which had established a restricted, but not one design keeler class for Squadron racing. The Stewart 34 was another chance to bring tough competitive racing toNew Zealand. Stewart was especially keen after experiencing hard and professional competition among the Dragon Class at the 1956 Olympics.
The Patiki owners themselves didn’t initially press the issue, but in the winter they held a meeting to discuss the future of the class. Jim Davern anticipated there would be 10 Patikis racing with the Squadron by the start of the 1963/64 season, as there were already seven regular starters. At the time there were eleven Stewart 34’s in the water and four more boats under construction, so the group decided to form the Patiki Owners’ Association. Davern became the Chairman and the secretary was Milton Miller, who was having his Patiki built. Bob Stewart accepted an invitation to act as their technical adviser.
Among the initial agreements or “Class Rules” made was one limiting the number of sails to be carried, in order to put an end to some of the “wallet-based” competition that was beginning to creep into the class. The Association limited the yachts to four headsails and two spinnakers. A minimum standard of construction was set. All boats were required to have an engine and full compliment of cruising gear. The Association decided to oppose the building of any more modified Patikis with raised decks or any other significant alterations. They felt that a Patiki should be a Patiki, and if anybody wanted a different boat, then a different design should be used.
Jim Davern commented: “The Patiki class was so much faster than the pre-war keelers that we felt that we were spoiling the racing for the other boats. So we agitated for another division. That was when the Squadron decided on a light displacement division and after a few years actually made a completely separate division for our boats – called the Patiki Division and later renamed the Stewart 34 Division and we became a one design class.”
“Looking back now, it’s fair to say that the advent of this little fleet of keelers heralded the start of a new era in Auckland Yachting – the light displacement era.
But at the time the boats had a mildly freakish air to them and old-timers were not greatly impressed. The Patikis, they reasoned, might offer a bit of sport in the harbour races held in light conditions. But in the heavy going outside they’d simply sail on their ears and pound themselves to bits.
Some of these comments, of course, got back to the Patiki boys, which accounts for a wry speech I heard one night in the Royal Akarana (Yacht Club) clubrooms.
The speaker was Jim Davern. And he was being very modest. He said: ‘Of course we’re a bunch of Idle Along boys. We don’t know our way around the Gulf. And we’ve got to cope with sailing in a big bass drum. All that pounding … but give us time. We’ll learn.’
There was some wriggling among the audience. For the occasion was one they hadn’t anticipated – the presentation of the Balokovic Cup to Jim Davern.
And it wasn’t a fluke, for Princess won the next two Balokovics as well. ‘I still say he sails the damn thing like a damned Idle Along’, snarled one of the old-timers. But his tone held grudging respect.” -Noel Holmes A Century of Sail
” … Princess still further consolidated her claim to being one of the most successful keel boats ever seen on the Waitemata when she won the Royal Akarana Yacht Club’s Balokovic Cup 100 mile cruising race for the second time in three years, this time gaining line honours as well.
A few weeks later she was the first home in the combined fleet in the Devonport Yacht Club’s Duder Cup race, again beating much bigger and supposedly faster boats, including several A Class.
The Duder Cup went on corrected time to Gleam (R.R. Woods).” Sea Spray April 1963
“Losing a man overboard when the boat was moving at speed with her spinnaker set did not prevent J.V. Davern’s Princess finishing first. . . Remarkably, the man overboard, Peter Kingston, retained his hold on a rope and after being dragged through the water a quarter of a mile, was hauled back on board. Kingston is an experienced yachtsman.”
“At first rivalry between Jim Davern & Ron Neil was intense. Spinnakers got bigger, Genoas grew and the early boats earned a reputation of rounding up in squalls. This did the class no good so at the request of the Owners’ Association I drew up a sail plan with maximum and minimum measurements plainly marked, as also were the measurements for a No. 1 & No. 2 Genoa and the No. 1 working jib. This seemed to quiet things down a bit.” Auckland Star
“On shore we were a friendly bunch, on the water, enemies. We were a great social group with functions and parties at Westhaven. Both Frank and I had big families of much the same age. The main reason for the Association was to keep the boat one-design, to save money as we were all young and most had young families, and to advance the value of our boats. And it was fantastic racing, there was nothing like it on the water. The first six boats were usually across the line within 2 minutes.” Bob Stanton
”Nowadays all sails must be signed by the official measurer, who is also responsible for checking the hull construction, position and weight of motor and any other thing that could effect the speed of the boats.
The result is that there are some 20 starters in a race and they usually finish with about four minutes between first and last boat in a harbour race.” Bob Stewart
The most cherished trophy in the class was the R. L. Stewart Championship Plaque, donated annually by Stewart for many years, and awarded to the boat with the best line honours record for the season. This was first competed for in the 1965/66 season and was won by Frank Innes-Jones on Patea and then, for the next three years in a row, by the Squadron’s Rear-Commodore, Wilf Beckett on Panui.
In 1965 the Patikis were still racing in the Light Displacement Division, making up more the half the fleet. Frank Innes-Jones took the case of having a separate Patiki Division – by then twelve boats were racing – to the Squadron’s flag officers arguing that, at the present rate of building they’ll be too many to remain in the Light Displacement Division.
Bob Stewart donated a trophy, the Stewart Cup for the Northcote and Birkenhead Yacht Club for competition by Patikis at a time when the boats were not recognised as a separate class and to provide the best racing for these boats alone. The Stewart Cup was raced for until 1980 when the Association suggested the For’ard hands Race combine with the Stewart Cup, the former being a scratch race and the Cup going to the best on handicap. The Cup since has gone missing and anyone knowing of its whereabouts is requested to contact the Stewart Association.
Innes-Jones commissioned the now very familiar Stewart 34 sail logo in 1966. Designed by Ted Tabuteau it was carried on the mainsail of the Stewarts in anticipation of gaining their own division.
Later that year Poseidon, dressed with the new emblem on her mainsail, headed off across the Tasman to compete in the grueling Sydney to Hobart race. Poseidon placed 24th in the Open Division and 14th in Division 1 with an elapsed time of 5 days, 8 hours, 16mins and 37 seconds, and was the 9th boat over the finish line.
In 1967 the Patikis became the first New Zealand keel boat to be recognised as a separate class for racing. Along with the new Stewart 34 sail logo, the class had their own sail numbers with the prefix of PAT. Patiki, of course, was given sail number PAT 1.
Bob Stewart’s wish had come true. By then sixteen Patikis were regularly racing and there had been a lot of interest from overseas. There were still just 12 in Auckland, with 6 more being built, two in Whangarei, one in Tauranga, one inWellington, one under construction in Melbourne and another under construction in Scotland.
“NZ yachting history will be made on Monday when 17 Patiki class keelers cross the starting line in the Auckland regatta. The fleet will represent the largest number of one-design keel boats to a local design ever to race in this country. Originally designed more than 10 years ago as a fast racer-cruiser by Auckland’s Bob Stewart, the 34′ Patiki was intended for mass-production in fibreglass. So successful was the wooden prototype that construction was limited to wood, and more boats have now been built to this design than any other keel yacht in N.Z.”
”Noted U.S. designer, Olin Stephens visited Auckland last season – was very impressed and said they were the ideal boat for the local conditions. They were attracting top yachtsmen from the centreboard classes such as Lloyd Brookbanks, the Finn skipper who was having his first start on the following Monday in Patari.” Star24 January 1968
“Saturday was one of those rare occasions when the royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron opened its heart to the ladies. But it was no tea and cake party as the women manoeuvred the big keelers with effortless ease.
For the male of the species it was time to take the back seat and offer advice on the right-hand rule and the correct method employed in making U-turns.
With spinnakers somewhat dampened by the bleak weather, sailing in a lighter vein was a fitting finale to a successful season for the yacht squadron.
Nevertheless, racing was of a high standard, particularly in the Patiki class. Panui (Mrs. C. Spannake) and Princess (Miss R. Littler), having the singular distinction of dead-heating for line honours in the finest finish seen off Orakei this season.
Sailing conditions, hard on the wind on the short leg to D buoy and then eased sheets for the remainder of the eight-mile course suited the Patikis, less than five minutes separating the eight contestants at the finish. Pacquita (Mrs. C. Laird) took the handicap prize ahead of Princess with Phoenician third.” New Zealand Herald, 8 April 1968
“During the 1968 season an Inter-dominion series was arranged within the class and ten Australian skippers from the Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club on Pittwater inSydneycame toAucklandto take part in a closely contested series. The winner of the inaugural event was the Stewart Class secretary, Bob Stanton.
For the first time in New Zealandwaters there now existed a one design keelboat where no one had the advantage of a greater sail wardrobe, larger sails, or more beam. The keen racing that followed enticed a number of dedicated skippers into the field, notably Jim Davern (Princess) and the late Ron Neil (Patiko).
In August of 1968, the Patiki Owners Association decided that the official name for the boats would be changed to the Stewart 34, in honour of Bob Stewart, and they would now call themselves the Stewart 34 Owners Association.
In September 1969 Bob had given the plans of the Stewart 34 to the Association asking them to ensure that “all boats are built to the spirit of the class restrictions.” The Association then made the plans available for $30.00 a set, the money going towards running the Association and ensuring any new boats meet the Association’s criteria. By the end of 1969 at least 24 boats had been built.
There are now twenty-five Stewart 34’s on the Squadron register, with numbers growing rapidly.” Noel Holmes in A Century of Sail, 1971.
In September, 1969 the N.Z Yacht Association brought in a new numbering system controlled but the Auckland Yacht Association. No longer would there be a class number on the sail, just the newly assigned K registration numbers. Identifying pennants were hung from the backstay to distinguish the division and classes racing.
For the Squadron’s Centennial Year racing calendar there were 19 boats starting in the Stewart 34 Division.
1972 saw 23 Stewart 34’s in the Squadron’s yacht registry, with three new ones launched and another five, including Bob Stewart’s own Precedent, under construction. The Squadron was attracting up to 20 starters in the Stewart 34 Division. For their size, they were the fastest yachts inAuckland, the least expensive to build, and they were a great hit with cruising families.
The Stewart 34s were the only one-design class with sufficient numbers to be given separate race starts by the Squadron. Four new boats had been launched before Christmas in 1975 and already there were rumours that fibreglass hulls would become available very soon! Bill Miller did the class proud when he set a new record sailing the 25.5 nautical miles Kawau from Aucklandin just 2 hrs and 49 minutes on Pimpernel.
Violating the “Rules of Racing”
While the Stewart owners have usually been a harmonious group, sometimes some arguments have erupted over rules violations. At the Ponsonby Cruising Club after a day of racing a group of Stewart owners were discussing one of their number who wasn’t present (and who shall not be named), saying how terrible he was, how he never gave way when he was on port and how, one way or another, he was a real nuisance on the race course. The Club President at the time said “hang on, he seems like a nice guy, he might not know the rules very well but we shouldn’t criticize him so much.” However one of the other said “No way! He is the worst sportsman I ever met, and I cannot stand him” and continued to trash this guy, right and left. The President, sensing there was some hidden agenda, finally said “what is your problem?” “He ran off with my wife!”
A Cat Man Looks at a Princess
The first time I crewed aboard the vintage Princess was earlier this season in a winter race effacing a mixed Akarana division in southwest gusting twenty. By the time we settled for the right kite (choice of two) a quick glance beyond our gunwales showed us to be marginally in front downwind to Motuihe channel. We were the oldest lady in the fleet and our greatest threats were the possibility that the sheet winches might lift off or we would be blinded by flaking varnish rather than flying spray as we rounded the leeward mark and adjusted to bits of string (sail controls) for the beat up to Navy buoy. Our rival on the day was to be the latest one ton thinking off Doug Peterson’s board complete with crack crew doing multiple slippery sail changes. The did in fact slip through our lee to cross the Orakei line later that afternoon four minutes sooner than we did; and if four minutes is the only difference seventeen years of design, rig development, technology and money has made, then its time to look at the Patikis again!
An English yachting correspondent wrote that the tomb-like interiors of modern raters were compensated for by their extra speed and therefore crews had to suffer for less time than in the old days. There is no evidence. Squadron handicaps indicate the opposite to be true. At least three local designers, Young, Townson and Stewart have almost unwittingly cranked out “domesticated” yachts that can out sail the test bed machines presently rivaling for international rating design trophies. And when it comes to the bread, there is no contest. While twenty three thousand dollars (in 1975) puts you within seconds of the top Stewart 34, length for length twice that price won’t get you near a team of IOR reps.
So that’s why the Patikis mostly sail as a one design division (the only true test of sailing skills) in Squadron race programmes. They don’t rate well anyway. Yet they are cruisers whose racing days never end. They are a ‘lucky’ design that has stood the test of time, sailing thousands of miles in the sun for fun, clear of the clouds of design obsolesences. The almost historic layout must have sound foundations to survive the fads and the fashions of seventeen years. They still carry proportionately big mainsails and strictly limited wardrobes below decks (leaves room for the wives though).
Tradition dies hard on the sea and a sense of tradition would be essential to like a Patiki, a feeling and preference for lots of glowing teak inside and out, steep coamings with plenty of windows letting in views of our beautiful gulf, and a simple tiller. Electronic aids for those who forget what wind feels like are never seen, apart from pulpits, fencing is optional and two or three winches aft and two forward are standard.
Below are deep freeze, oven baking bread, toilet compartment, lockers for everything, bunks for everyone and even after ten years with all these home comforts aboard, a Patiki is competitive and tough.
Tight though class rules may be, there are ways in which the boats have developed – flexy masts, rod rigging, sail cut and handling systems. An owner’s association nourishes the social side of sailing besides which they’re not a bad crowd to sail with, few extremists, owners that know their boats well because news doesn’t have to come from overseas on what to do next. They know their rules because racing is crowded at the marks, and know their coast because their boats make good floating summer homes.
The critics note a tendency to pound the full forward sections going upwind and others will say, O.K. around the gulf but not for the heavy stuff outside. While conceding the first vice, I know one boatbuilder at least who could build a “true” Patiki for any ocean – he has smashed his own boat around enough to know what’s needed. Some wonder what would happen if the class adopted fibreglass or “liberated” rig restrictions for those with unlimited finance, or simply restyled the cabin top profile?? Present owners, who as a group administer and measure the fleet with one vote per boat, would probably leap up in outrage, others simply drink at another pub or in another corner of the same pub, most would hold a meeting of solidarity to keep the Patiki as it is. Safely within the original Stewart concept of a happy hybrid of kiwi hull design, daring and decent living afloat.
Not wishing to go on in rapture or defence, it seems in a yachting scene in which the sailor of today is so easily dazzled by the big name designers, syndicate antics, press promotion, glossy yachting publication jabsell of all that corrective gadgetry, and the visionless formulae makers, he may drift bewildered away from wind and ware in into the big spending currents of trend. So the thirty-four foot Patikis do make more than a little sense to an outsider looking in . . . . . – David Barker
The Stewart 34 Story
In early 1959 I was approached by Mr. Peter Colmore-Williams founder of Sonata Laboratories and invited to build him a 34 light displacement yacht to a design by RL Stewart.
Peter would provide a building shed and lines plan/general arrangement and would like the cast cold moulded, using the epoxy glues and resins, which his company manufactured. I was to decide on construction details and Bob would follow up with drawings so future boats would conform.
The boats were quite radical as we eliminated rabbit lines and many of the sacred cows of conventional wooden yachts. We used 6mm skins, the first (inner) from chain plates to waterline forward. The second square off centerline and the last at approx 90 degrees to the first. We skinned the finish all with 10 oz glass boat cloth and epoxy resin. I built the boat mostly on my own but were assistance was required Peter was a willing helper. It was meant to be a plug but Peter said “not this one”.
Construction began shortly after Easter 1959 and the boat was launched in October, fitted her out with the spruce spars that we built alongside her.
Bob Stewart sailed the boat in the first race a Squadron Harbour Race. They started in the 3rd division with all other 36, 34 and 32 footers of the day.
It was a complete rout. Patiki as she was named, not only thrashed all of her division by about 15 minutes but also caught up to and passed all of the division ahead, which had started 10 minutes ahead of her.
The early comment by the skipper of the Logan classic Queenie “She looks like a bloody launch” was grudgingly given the appendage “and what’s more she goes to windward like a bloody launch as well”. Patiki was moved to 2nd division but had already caught the eye of James Davern.
Jim Davern contacted me in January 1960 proposing a similar arrangement to my earlier one with Peter. In a very clever move he also persuaded his friend Ron Neil to build one. This was particularly favourable for me as Ron had a suitable building shed unused at his yard. Peter Colmore-Williams also put me in touch with a former school friend of his Boyd Hargraves who contracted with me to build a third Stewart 34.
By this time I already had one employee but within weeks there were six of us and by October 1960 Princess, Patiko and Pim for Jim, Ron and Boyd respectively were finished and launched along with a modified version built by Morrie Palmer for Basil Kelly, by crane from Queen’s Wharf. Jim had been quite innovative and against Bob Stewarts advice had decide on a spade rudder.
The Patikis as they were known in the 60s had a reputation for being hard to control downwind. This was probably due to the shape and construction of sails in the sixties and the fact that few of us were used to light lively boats. However they were still winning and it was obvious that the spade rudder made them move maneuverable.
Peter decided Patiki would have to have a spade, but wished to use the existing rudder stock, which was bronze, and only about 40mm round. It needed extending and he had the old shaft drilled out about 20mm and the extension turned down to fit. He then braised the joint. This caused a great deal of mirth and good natures chaff amongst my workers but Peter optimistically carried on.
I joined the crew for the first race a cruising race to North Harbour on Ponui.
We didn’t make it past Queen’s Wharf from our Westhaven mooring. The rudder blade floated up astern and we beat back to our mooring backing the headsail for steerage. Somehow we managed to regain the mooring and after immediately consuming the weekend’s beverages we decided to hire the Grumman Widgeon (flying boat) which in those days serviced the gulf and flew to Ponui where we inflicted ourselves upon the other Stewart 34’s and anyone else with a spare berth.
Princess was the top boat in those days although the others had occasional wins. We then moved to new premises and built Pamoana, Panui and Patrician shortly after.
Of the others sailing at the time Posiedon which Keith Atkinson built for Milton Miller, joined Princess and Patiko competing in the short offshore races then regularly held. In 1966 Posiedon competed in the Sydney Hobart race. I was aboard Poseidon when Ted Kaufman the owner of the top Sydney 40 footer Mercedes lifted a floorboard. “The bloody thins got no bloody bilge!” he exclaimed” What are you bastards, bloody suicidal maniacs?!!” Milton got to Hobart not to far astern of Mercedes.
Although Patiki had originally been built with the idea of taking a mold off the hull before it was turned over, Peter had been too impatient to get sailing and it was not until Bill Miller took a mould of Princess that the original intention was carried out. – John Lidgard
Jim Davern, “Father of the Patikis”
Of all the great sailors who spent time on Stewart 34’s during their careers, Jim Davern undoubtedly was the first to help propelNew Zealandto its pre-eminent position in international yacht racing.
Davern was born in 1932 and typical of many young sailors of the day, he started sailing in P-Class, progressed to Zeddies, but by 1950 had elevated his game and achieved a second place in the Idle Along Nationals, behind Olympic silver medalist Peter Mander.
At age 21 he had just finished his apprenticeship as a builder. His interest in sailing led him to apply for a position as a boatbuilder. He missed out on the job and decided to form his own business shifting houses off land that was being cleared to make way for the Southern Motorway. He relocated them on empty blocks of land (some of which he owned, and most of which he didn’t) all overAuckland, keeping some as rentals, and selling others to acquire capital.
In 1959 Davern was ready to step up from centreboard boats to something more substantial. He recalls “I heard about this boat that Johnny Lidgard was building out on the WhauRiverfor Peter Colmore-Williams from Sonata. I wanted a keelboat and the things I was looking at were boats like the scout which were like a pencil, skinny like Fidelis. I went out to look at this and when I got in the shed that they’d put up I saw this big Mullet Boat. I thought, this is a bloody Mullet Boat. I don’t want a Mullet Boat, I want a nice sleek keel boat! When they launched it I went down to watch the first race against the A Class and all the rest of them. It was so bloody fast that they didn’t give it a gun. Johnny Lidgard went up to the control box onOrakeiWharf and said ‘hey what are you doing, where’s our gun?’ They said ‘oh, we didn’t think you were racing. How did you finish up there?’ ‘We just sailed past them’ said John. After that, I said, I’ll have one of those, and that was the start of the Stewarts.”
Davern convinced two other friends to do the same and John Lidgard was in business building three more boats.
When the yachts were nearly complete, he and the other two prospective owners paid a visit to the Lidgard yard where they would each select the yacht of their choice. Davern declared that the other two owners could have any yacht they wanted, except this one, pointing to the splendidly constructed Princess. The three new Stewart 34’s, Patiko, Pim and Princess as well as Pania, a slightly modified version built by Basil Kelly, were all launched from Queen’s Wharf in Auckland by crane in October of 1960 in time for the summer racing season.
If Peter Colmore-Williams won races on sheer boat speed, Jim Davern would add his immense skills to the equation. He and Princess became literally unbeatable. He went on to show that he could not only out-sail the venerable Patiki, but just about every other similarly-sized keel boat on theWaitemataHarbour. During that period, he won three Balokovic Cup Races, two Duder Cups, successive Light Displacement R.N.Z.Y.S. Summer Championships, the Hodgson Memorial Race and many others. In a 1963 newspaper article, comments were made to the effect that Jim shouldn’t have to absolutely thrash the rest of the fleet as completely as he does so that he may occasionally get a landmark win or the double (first on line, first on handicap).
Of course the phenomenal speed of Princess encouraged many other keen yachties to enter the class. Within a few years, an entire fleet was launched and Jim Davern, who formed the Patiki Owners Association, was hailed as the “father” of the Patikis. It took four or five years for a decent set of class rules to be drafted for the Stewarts, and as much for the R.N.Z.Y.S. to grant the Patiki Class it’s own racing division.
By this time, Davern grew bored with the regular wins in the Stewart class and decided to go hunt bigger game. He decided to have a go and try to beat Ranger, a long, narrow and fast yacht that had been Auckland’s A Class champion since 1936. He learned that the 61 foot Fidelis was up for sale. She had been built expressly to beat Ranger, buthad never delivered on the promise. Flush with more bravado than cash, he convinced owner Vic Speight that if he were driving Fidelis, he could beat Ranger. Speight said “OK, you beat Ranger and you can have her.” In their first match up with Davern at the helm, he did just that. During a 16 month period, Jim Davern and Fidelis completely dominated offshore racing in the South Pacific. In 1966 he became the first New Zealand skipper to win the prestigious Sydney to Hobart race, and by a margin that was so massive that it remained intact for nine years. He returned to Auckland to a hero’s welcome, sailing Fidelis into the Harbour with thousands of well wishers cheering the yacht from North Head and Orakei Wharf. He also won theAuckland toSuva (Fiji), theHobart toAuckland and the Whangarei toNoumea (New Caledonia) races, and came in second place in the 1967Sydney toHobart. Not surprisingly, Davern was awarded the 1967 New Zealand Yachtsman of the Year.
In Aucklandfor the next couple years he quite often beat Ranger and had some great contests against Tom Clark’s “Ranger beater,” the plywood flyer called Infidel.
In the early 1970’s Davern’s successful and demanding business interests began to interfere with his offshore yacht racing aspirations, so he eventually sold Fidelis to his lawyer/barrister Peter Williams, Q.C.
Unable to shake his yacht racing addiction, Davern soon built and began racing a fibreglass Mullet boat, called Honey. Honey was faster and lighter than the older kauri Mulleties, andstirred quite a bit of controversy, something that Davern seemed to thrive on at the time. It seems that somehow or other the stories of his yachting exploits seemed to regularly make their way into the media.
Davern’s yachting exploits also won him an invitation in 1972 to participate in the prestigious Congressional Cup Match Racing series held inLong Beach,California, an event which he enjoyed greatly. This inspired him to organize a fleet of Cavalier 32’s for a match racing event in 1973. Although the event was a success, it was never to be repeated.
For some reason, Davern just couldn’t leave the Stewart 34’s alone. In 1976/77 he chartered Pahi from owner Ken Allen. Although he sailed well that season, the intense competition the Stewart fleet had endured during his 12-year hiatus had raised the bar to the point that Davern was no longer the top dog.
Fast forward to the 1980’s and along came fibreglass Stewart 34’s and the Citizen Cup. Davern got excited again and in 1982 ordered a new Stewart to be built by Export Yachts, naming it Psyche II. With his son Ken on the helm, and a hot young crew including prominent Auckland sailmaker Rick Royden, Psyche II and crew sailed on to win two successive Stewart 34 Championships in 1983/84 and 1984/85. Davern was not on board, but usually followed the fleet around the course on his motor launch Voltaire.
Davern could no longer stay on the sidelines, so the following year he then ordered yet another Stewart 34 to be built-this once called Psychic. Davern was keen to match race against his son, but admits that Ken usually got the better of him. He raced her for a couple of years with mixed success before acquiring Cobalt, a 50’ Alan Warwick designed cruising yacht. He retired from racing and spent the next few years cruising in the South Pacific islands.
Jim Davern is enjoying his retirement, splitting his time between his gorgeous beachfront home in Takapuna and his “bach” in Musket Cove on the islandof Maloloin Fiji. He says he’d still like to buy back his Princess and have another go with the Stewarts.
Modifications and Improvements
Over the years, countless opportunities to improve upon the original Stewart 34 design have presented themselves. While the Association has passed on many of these in an effort to remain true to the intent of the Class Rules, many have been adopted not only in the interest of performance, but also to improve safety and reduce cost of ownership. This chapter will discuss some of the more important changes that have been adopted over the years.
The drawings for Patiki specified a mast of 48 feet, 10 inches in overall length, fashioned from spruce wood. After she launched, this proved to be a bit too tall, as the boat carried too much sail for her ballast package to counteract, so the mast height was soon after reduced to the current 47 feet 6 inches from the mast step. The single set of spreaders was also slightly reduced to the present 4-foot width.
Classic yacht enthusiasts often quip “If God would have wanted aluminium masts, he would have made aluminium trees.” This light-hearted banter between traditionalists and modern thinkers may carry on forever. The fact that remains is that the original spruce masts on the early Stewarts tended to have a fairly high failure rate when they were subjected to extreme loads, causing some rather spectacular and frightening gravity storms.
Stewart owner John Taylor introduced aluminium masts to the class in a somewhat peculiar manner. During a visit to the sailing mecca ofPerthinWestern Australiain 1968, he discovered some masts, fabricated from aluminium extrusions, in the boat yard of the legendary Australian sailor Rolly Tasker. Taylorpurchased one to “take away,” carrying the 47-1/2 foot rig back home toAucklandas checked baggage on his flight.
He fitted the mast to Paprika and the lighter, stronger spar proved to be an immediate success on the race course. Recognising the benefits, soon the entire class switched from wood to aluminium masts, many being fabricated by the Auckland manufacturer Yachtspars New Zealand. Rolly Tasker also sold a few more of his masts to Stewart owners over the years, and these “T-10 section” masts proved to be quite satisfactory for many years.
Strict rules were made in a Committee meeting on the 6th July 1971 relating to the weight of the mast section, as any reduction in weight aloft would have given a boat an unfair advantage. The G2 section that was initially used made for an excellent rig, but at 2.81bs per foot, was well below the 3.5 lb minimum specified in the Class Rules. To accommodate boats with aluminium masts, the Class Rule was amended to permit the use of this mast as long as two aluminium tubes were fixed up inside the extrusion, increasing the mast weight to the required 3.5 lbs per foot. In theory this was fine, but in practice, there was always suspicion that on the odd occasion the installation of thes tubes may have conveniently been forgotten, giving a boat an advantage of a 25% reduction in weight aloft.
When fibreglass Stewarts were eventually launched, Yacht Spars recommended “Die 18” section, which at 3.5 1bs per foot have also have proven to be quite satisfactory. Considering the many thousands of races these masts have endured, the incidence of failure has been minimal.
While most of the original-design skeg-hung rudders had been replaced early on, the challenge of developing the ideal rudder for the Stewarts persisted into the 1980’s. On one occasion while Pionnier was out of the water undergoing osmotic blister repairs, Bill Miller had requested that the Auckland hydrodynamics guru Gray Dixon design a new rudder for her. Miller wanted a rudder which would not only give the boat a smaller turning circle, allowing for quick mark roundings with total control, but one that would also help to eliminate the persistent broaching issue. Deep spade rudders had made an appearance overseas but they had yet to be fully refined. Dixon’s long, high aspect ratio balanced spade rudder was fitted to Pionnier, and Miller was pleased with its performance. Of course others owners wanted one, so the Class Rules were amended accordingly. Dixon was thankful that his fist design was used on a Stewart 34 commenting; “They’re (the Stewarts) so well balanced that any little thing affects their performance, so you know when you’ve got things right. When I fitted one to another boat I had to go back and really study the design to understand why.”
The original sail plan devised by Bob Stewart for his 34-footer was nearly ideal for the yacht as it is sailed today. While other parts of the boat’s configuration have been tweaked a bit, the overall sail plan remains fairly true to Bob Stewart’s original design.
In the early years however, the Stewarts were configured with only 2,800 pounds of lead in the keel and a 16 foot long spinnaker pole. This was on a boat with a mast to bow or “J” measurement of only 12 feet and whose “barn door” rudder was mediocre at best. When steering down wind in a fresh breeze, the boat was a handful. The Patiki’s tendency to perform spectacular broaches or “spin-outs” when under spinnaker, earned the class the nickname “tip truck” for the first 10 years of their history. This rather undesirable and embarrassing handling characteristic no doubt put off many potential owners/skippers and, more importantly, their wives/admirals.
When Lloyd Macky became Secretary of the Stewart Association in the early 1970’s he began a campaign to update the class rules so that the Stewart boats could be appropriately modified to their betterment.
Three of the positive results, which took place during or soon after his term as Secretary were:
Lead ballast in the keel was increased by 560 pounds to 3,360 pounds which lowered the center of gravity, increased righting moment, and reduced heeling.
The adoption of a one design, high aspect ratio spade rudder. This greatly improved steering control of the boats while reducing helming effort.
The length of the spinnaker pole was reduced to 15 feet. This made gybing easier and improved the ability to control the boat when sailing under spinnaker.
All of these advancements not only improved the performance and handling of the boats, it made them safer.
In addition to these three changes, local sail makers gradually designed and built better shaped sails while the yachtsmen sailing the boats improved their knowledge of how best to sail the boats. This eventually led to the elimination of most of the negative handling characteristics that the original Stewarts suffered in more than 25 knots of breeze. However, hair raising broaches can still be witnessed when fanatical Stewart racers fearlessly hoist a spinnaker in 25+ knots of breeze, but probably no more so than in any other local keelboat class.
In spite of the fact that the Stewart’s have performed some of the most spectacular, or ugly broaches, depending on how you look at it, the boats are more or less bullet proof. Despite occasionally being laid virtually on their side with spreader tips touching the water, this very seldom results in any damage. The same may not necessarily apply to the flesh and nerves of the souls who happen to be on board.
During a broach, the load on the spinnaker pole brace or after guy is enormous, but over the years amazingly few lines or poles have broken. On the few occasions when the pole has broken, it is usually the result of poor crew work, where the boat has been allowed to go into a totally uncontrolled or “Chinese” gybe. Tremendous heeling of the boat can result in the last three feet of the pole being buried the water. With the boat still traveling at up to 10 knots, the pole is then unable to withstand the extreme loads induced by the water pulling it aft, causing it to bend or break.
With the improvement of the boats, skippers and crews, this seldom happens any more, but many stories are still told, and perhaps slightly exaggerated by a few post-race rums, of the countless spectacular spinnaker “incidents” in the early years.
In the early 1960’s the entire text of the Stewart class rules were probably written on the back of a beer mat. The two top boats were Princess sailed by Jim Davern and Patiko, sailed by Ron Neil, and the rivalry between these two was intense. Slowly but surely, in light winds the size of the No. 1 genoa, the largest upwind sail permitted, grew in size while the weight of the sail cloth became lighter. In less than 10 knots of breeze these light No. 1’s had a distinct advantage over their smaller and weightier counterparts, improving the speed of the boats and of course doing the skipper’s reputation no harm at all.
When Ron Neil stepped up to the Stewart 43 Carmen, he sold Patiko toBert Christensen. Christensen reckoned that the there was a No. 1 genoa on board which, when sheeted home, nearly reached the cockpit. This meant that the foot of the sail would have had to have been nearly 30 feet long! It was made of 3 oz. Dacron, which is just a bit heavier than heavy spinnaker cloth. Since the Class Rule was amended in 1986, it states that the No. 1 is to be 22 feet on the foot and to be built only from 6.5 ounce Dacron.
This sort of mischievous behavior, including smuggling in lightweight sails fromAustralia, forced the class to introduce some firm but sensible rules when the Patiki Owners Association was formed in 1964. While this helped to level the playing field as it relates to sails, nevertheless there was continued controversy about their design and measurement.
For many years up until the mid 1970, when an owner ordered a Stewart 34 sail from his sailmaker of choice, it was the responsibility of the sailmaker to certify that the sail was in accordance with the Class Rules. One of a sailmaker’s prime motivations is to make winning sails, which on occasion has posed a conflict of interest with the Class Rules.
This whole issue finally came to a head when Paprika hoisted a brand new spinnaker in a 10-knot southerly off of Orakei Wharf. Two-blocked at the masthead and beautifully set, it was apparent to all that this spinnaker was unbelievably oversized. The foot drooped well below the bow, nearly touching the water. Owner John Taylor’s face went as red as paprika with embarrassment and of course he immediately agreed to have it re-measured. According to the Class Rules, the maximum diagonal butt-seam measurement for the No. 1 spinnaker is 49 feet. Paprika’s measured 54 feet, 6 inches, about 5-1/2 feet oversize!
The class decided it was not willing to permit these infringements any further and appointed their own measurers from amongst the ranks of the membership. Only sails that had been personally measured and indelibly autographed by the duly appointed measurers would be allowed for use in class racing. While the Class Rules do not specify a measurement fee, it is generally accepted by Association members to be one bottle of rum.
New measuring rules were drafted by the Class which were simple to understand and easy to apply. Some sailmakers did not approve of the new rules, claiming they were contrary to good sailmaking practices. While this may be arguable, the rules are clear and unambiguous and as such have been left virtually unchanged since 1975.
On numerous occasions since then, while measuring a sail on the floor of the sail loft, a sail has been determined to be oversize. The sailmaker, at his own expense, has been required to re-cut the sail and then ask for a re-measure. Recidivist infractions are now unheard of.
Not all the issues that have arisen were a result of sails being made too large. In the early 1970’s a few owners ordered new mainsails that were full length on the hoist, but approximately 4 feet short on the foot. Calling them “storm tri sails,” they were meant to be used when cruising or racing in winds of 30-40 knots. Any reasonably knowledgeable sailor would know that a proper storm tri sail is usually less than half the height of the regular mainsail on the hoist. In practice, these sails performed significantly better in heavy air than any single-reefed mainsail. These owners promptly started using them in races when the winds freshend to above 28-knots. They became winning sails when conditions became fresh, giving an unfair advantage to a few boats. Princess once beat the near-invincible 37-foot Jim Young-designed Namu in a race to Ponui when winds piped up to 30 knots. In a true example of “less is more,” Princess’ smaller main enabled her to remain well-balanced while an overpowered Namu struggled against her helm and continually rounded up.
Once again, a few boats having an unfair advantage caused consternation within the Association members. In order to remain competitive, a boat would now need two main sails, adding to the cost of racing. Lloyd Macky as Secretary calmly came to the rescue. He canvassed the group of owners supporting the use of the smaller mainsails, as well as those opposing, to ascertain the reasons for their relative positions. Before holding an Association meeting to discuss the issue, he circulated, in writing, everyone’s opinions on the matter for preview. At the meeting, everyone was clear on the issue at hand. The group made their decision based upon Rule 1 of the Class Rules, “Intent.” The rule to avoid “unnecessary expense” was upheld and the small mainsails were banned from use in Class racing from that point forward.
Thirty-five years down the track, some owners still use these small main sails for cruising, and claim that to this day, hardly anyone passes them when they’re sailing in a blow.
Paprika’s spinnaker fiasco illuminated the fact that it was time to tidy up the Stewart Class as it related to equalising the fleet’s sail inventories. OnJune 8, 1974, Lloyd Macky organised what would turn out to be a sail “measure-a-thon.” On this Saturday, he managed to borrow the entire Hood Sailmakers loft, which was at the time the largest inAuckland. He tacked leech cord to the floor, outlining the correct dimensions for each of the regulation Stewart sails. He then organised a group of measurers to meticulously measure each and every sail in the racing fleet’s inventory, and record the results of those measurements. All owners wishing to comply with the Class Rules, in other words, continue racing, had to come to the party.
Nearly one hundred sails were measured on that day, and 75% of the owners who showed up were required to remedy one or more of the sails in their inventory. This was probably the largest keelboat sail measuring event inNew Zealandhistory.
With the 1980’s came the advent of Kevlar/Mylar laminated sails. These sails clearly would have improved the Stewart’s sailing performance. Unfortunately, there was a significant increase in cost as well as a decrease in useful life. Other one design class boats began sporting Kevlar/Mylar sails, and naturally some of the Stewart owners suggested that they should be allowed to be used for racing on the Stewarts. Once again there was a long discussion about one design principles, and the cost and durability issues. Once again the Stewart Association decided to continue using Dacron sails based upon proven longevity and economics.
Chris Bouzaid from Hood Sailmakers sent a letter to the Association, dated 27 October of 1980 suggesting that the Association had made a bad decision and that Dacron sails would have a significantly shorter useful life. To date, the Association has yet to see any evidence backing this claim. In fact, some Stewarts racing are using Dacron sails that are up to 20 years old, and still competing quite nicely on the race course against boats with Kevlar/Mylar sails that cost three times as much to build and last one third as long. After some 30 years of improvement in sail cloth technology, the Stewarts remain competitive with their entire sail inventory built with tried and true Dacron sail cloth.
In the spring of 1984, the Stewart Class was on a roll. Coming up were the Citizen International Match Racing Series as well as the Stewart 34 Summer Championship. Recognizing this as an opportunity, one enterprising staff member at Hood Sailmakers came up with an idea to help boost the year end sales figures. He offered a group of top Stewart owners a deal on new number 1 genoas using 5.4 ounce NYT Dacron sail cloth. The Stewart class rule specifically states that the weight of the sail cloth is to be 6.5 ounce Dacron.
When asked by one of the owners how this sail would meet the class rules, Hoods sidestepped the issue by claiming that British and US sail cloths of the same weight actually varied, that this would be a legal cloth. Soon after, Pahi, Patiko, Phantasy and Premier all rocked up to the start line sporting these new lighter weight genoas.
North Sails answered with a similar sails built for Phlyer, Psyche and Psychic. Clearly these sails gave their owners a speed advantage in lighter airs, resulting in discontent amongst the class. Finally, in a race in late November of that year Pahi flew her new 5.4 ounce NYT genoa to a victorious finish and the contentious Chris Packer, owner of Prince Hal, responded with a protest.
The Squadron protest panel threw out the protest on the grounds that there was ambiguity in the rules and that there was some doubt about the actual weight of the 5.4 ounce NYT cloth. This only served to create more dissatisfaction for Stewart owners who did not have the faster, but questionable sails.
The Stewart Association called for a Special General Meeting to address the issue with a firm new rule. The motion was made to require the sail to be built from cloth with a minimum true weight of 6.5 ounces. To pass this rule required a 75% majority according to the Constitution of the Stewart Association. With seven owners now in possession of the new sails, and only 12 members racing at the time, this seemed nearly impossible.
In preparation for this meeting, efforts were made to get accurate information from the sailmaker’s overseas suppliers regarding the actual weight of the cloths being used. BainbridgeUSAclaimed that their 5.4 ounce cloth actually weighed 5.9 ounces. Bainbridge Holland said that their 5.4 was actually 6.2. Both of them asserted that it was “close enough.” For government work, perhaps, but not for Stewart Class yacht racing! To the amazement of all, world renowned sailmaker, designer andAmerica’s Cup tactician Tom Schnackenberg, at the time working for North Sails, claimed probably with tongue-in-cheek, that he could, upon request, get Bainbridge to send a telex to the Association saying they would be happy to put a 6.5 ounce label on their 5.4 ounce cloth. This only thing about the whole situation that became any clearer than mud was that “truth in labeling” didn’t seem to be embraced by sail cloth manufacturers.
Arguments became heated, and all thanks to a couple sailmakers and a few owners who were trying to get an edge on the opposition. Some found this situation unbelievable considering all the efforts that had been undertaken to measure sails, correct illegal sails and let local sailmakers know that sails not conforming to class rules would not be allowed. In an incredible display of spirit, even some of the most passionate defenders agreed to put the good of the class ahead of their personal desires, and ultimately voted in favor of a ban on lightweight sails.
They further went on to amend the class rule to read: “If a measurer suspects the cloth is not up to the minimum actual weight required he may request that a sail maker’s half yard be actually cut from the brand new sail and weighed to test that weight.” This effectively sealed up any “ambiguities” in the rule and since 1985 no significant attempts on the part of sail makers have been made to breach the Class Rules. Nonetheless, at Annual General Meetings it is often mentioned that sailmakers occasionally may consciously or unconsciously act in conflict with the Class, so it is important to remain ever vigilant.
Following the 1984 “Genoa-gate” fiasco, the Stewart Association re-focused itself on the “intent” rule that stated that all boats should be as equal as possible, so that racing would be a test of sailing ability only. To this end, a member came up with the idea of creating “one design No. 1 genoas.” He suggested that the Association go to a sailmaker and buy up to 20 genoas at one time. Not only would there be a volume discount, but the sails would all be identical. On race day, each skipper would draw for a sail and in theory, each boat would sail with a different sail each week, eliminating any advantage do to a newer sail inventory.
While this revolutionary idea was well received by the association it was defeated in a vote cast on21 April, 1985. The idea was allowed to germinate in the minds of the owners and was brought to a vote again in December of that year, when it passed by a small margin. It took some time to work out the fine details of the program, and develop rules to govern it, but it was put in place for the 1986/87 championships:
It turned out to be a great success for the following reasons.
- It made the racing much closer.
- The sails, made by Rick Royden, appeared to be identical. Racing results showed that no one boat had an advantage due to sails.
- Very little damage was done to the sails. Two additional sails were ordered and rotated through the pool. The entire pool of sails was still in excellent condition at the end of the season, perhaps due to good care as well as not being used for cruising.
- Sails were more economical because by buying in bulk the price savings was 25%. The sails also lasted a full three years. Previously, owners were replacing sails every 18 months at a cost of $1950. For three years that would mean an average cost of $1300 per year for sails. With this scheme, the cost for three years was just $467 per year. The sails were paid for by the championship entrants, but other non-racing owners also bought sails to take advantage of the volume discount. In normal use the sails might last ten years or more. After three years, the sails were handed back to the owners who used them for many years in Rum Races and for cruising. The second series of pooled sails were actually used for seven years, bringing the average cost per year down to $229.
- The draw organiser maintained the option to repeat the previous weeks draw, which would discourage anyone from abusing a sail with the thought in mind that someone else would get it the following week. Further, if a sail was damaged and not reported, in accordance with the rules, the sail went back to the boat it was damaged on the previous week.
All in all, the scheme was quite innovative and successful for the one-design racing. To our knowledge, it has not been used by any other one design fleet anywhere in the world. The primary disadvantage was logistical, with storage and handling being a constant issue. This eventually proved to be the downfall of the scheme, as there was no longer a place to store the pool sails.
SomeAucklandsailmakers did not particularly like the scheme and made their dissatisfaction publicly known. From the point of view of the Stewart Association, they have no basis to complain.
First of all, Rick Royden Sailmakers submitted the lowest tender in both series. In the second series, four other sailmakers were invited to build a specimen sail and then bring their own crew and test them against each other.
RoyDickson on Playbuoy and Bill Miller on Pioneer went out with the fleet as observers. Six short windward/leeward races were sailed in a light easterly breeze. Rick Royden’s sails won five of six races. Bill Miller, unable to resist, joined in on the last race and won it wearing one of Royden’s sails from the last series. This proved that not only were Royden’s sails the fastest, they were also being replaced too soon!
Some time later, Dave Schmit of Sobstad Sails wrote an article which appeared in Breeze, the Squadron magazine, asserting that that the lack of sailmakers on the crews on the Stewart’s was affecting their performance. Backing his claim were results for one race. A couple of months later when the season’s results were tallied and published by the Squadron, they showed in fact that the Stewart Class had defeated their rivals by an even larger margin than the previous year.
The principle sail makers used over the years were:
Bouzaid’s and Hood’s from 1960-1978
North Sails and Rick Royden from 1978 to present
Lidgard Sails from 1984 to present
Some owners including Roy Dickson, Bill Miller, Wayne and Mark Taylor felt there was no point buying from Rick Royden as he was a top sailor, building his own sails, and racing against them. Over the years, many Stewart owners, including the above mentioned, have opted for Rick Royden sails due to their low price and high performance. Royden estimates he’s built more than 400 sails for Stewarts to date.
In the eighties Ross and Jones made some winning sails for Tim Sneddon’s top performing boat Pahi. It is hard to say whether Tim’s phenomenal multi-year winning streak was due to the boat, the sails, Sneddon’s expertise or a combination of the three. At about the same time in 1981 Murray Ross made sails for the Stewarts finishing 1st, 2nd and 4th in the championship.
Some of the Stewart owners actually made their own sails. Patari owner Lloyd Brookbanks had a special sewing machine set up in the attic of his home. One of his crew, Geoff Smale designed and patented a No. 1 genoa, which Lloyd then built. Like Lloyd, the sail enjoyed a remarkably long life.
From Wood to Fibreglass
Although fibreglass boats began to appear in the early 1940’s, it would take another twenty years before “plastic” would become universally accepted as a viable boatbuilding material. In 1958 when Bob Stewart designed his first 34-footer, it was to be constructed of wood with fibreglass sheathing. That said, a boat built entirely of fibreglass was definitely on his radar screen. According to her builder John Lidgard, the topsides of Patiki were drawn with no tumblehome so that when it came time to fabricate the hull in fibreglass, it could more easily pop out of a female mould. Although Bob Stewart had wanted to have a mould taken from Pataki’s finished hull, her owner, Peter Colmore-Williams was keen to get the new boat sailing, and it was his impatience that denied Stewart this opportunity. If the instant success of the Patikis made them popular among sailors, the simplicity of the design made them attractive to both professional boatbuilders and do-it-yourselfers.
Fast forward to 1973, when suggestions were made in a Stewart Association meeting by keen racer Ken Allen to build Stewarts in fibreglass. Fibreglass boats had many advantages over wood. Once there was a mould, they were easier and less expensive to build and their hulls would be identical from a “one design” point of view. Furthermore, they had a higher strength to weight ratio, required less maintenance, and since fibreglass didn’t rot, they would, in theory, last many times longer, if not forever. The boat-buying public seemed to accept this as well. New Zealandbuilt fibreglass boats such as the popular H-28’s and Cavalier 32’s, were selling as fast as builders could pop them out of the moulds. While Stewart 34 owners were usually early adapters, in this particular case nothing much happened for another three years.
It was at the Squadron’s Kawau weekend in 1976, where a group of 8 Stewart owners were socializing in the cockpit of one of the Stewarts after a race. Once again the subject of building Stewarts in fibreglass arose. Ken Allen suggested that all those present should each put up $500 to fund the fabrication of moulds. There was enthusiastic agreement by all, undoubtedly lubricated by a few post-race rums.
On the strength of this agreement, Bill Miller offered to take the lead role. Imagine his surprise, when a few months later, after finding a willing fiberglass builder and committing himself, when none of the other seven owners, apparently afflicted with temporary amnesia, could remember any conversation about the $500 commitment. Nevertheless, Miller passionately pressed on.
The Stewart Association granted Bill Miller and Ian Fish permission to build fibreglass Stewart 34’s, providing they would not weigh less than the existing wooden yachts. While they could have been built lighter, it was decided that this provision would not only keep the boats similar to their wooden predecessors, but would allow them to meet Ministry of Transportation Marine Division requirements for charter purposes.
At the time, Miller owned Princess, one of the fastest and best-built Stewarts in the fleet, which made her an ideal candidate for use in the creation of a mould. This was, however, no easy process. Princess was hauled out and her mast, keel and rudder removed. Most of her internal and external fittings also had to be removed so that she could be turned over again. Her upturned hull was then used to create a plug.
With her keel removed her ballast could be accurately weighed. The amount of lead in her keel had been tweaked to the point where there was 3360 pounds of lead ballast and she was felt to be at optimal performance. The class rule was fixed at this figure for all new boats.
The first bugaboo occurred when the mould was being fabricated. Roger Land, the boatbuilder who had been commissioned to build the fibreglass Stewart hull and decks, insisted that, when making the hull mould from Princess, the top six inches of the keel should become part of the hull mould. In order to accomplish this, a “mock keel stub” was attached to the bottom of Princess where the keel was meant to be placed. NorthShore boatbuilder B. Pelham was engaged to fabricate and attach this stub, which he did.
Some months later when the keel was being fitted to the first fibreglass Stewart, Pionneer, it was discovered that Mr. Pelham had made a “slight error” and attached the stub some 13 inches too far aft. In order for the keel to fit in its proper place, it had to be modified slightly. While the total area of Pionnier’s keel is about the same as the other keels, it has a slightly different shape. The next boat taken from this mould had the same problem and was treated accordingly, until the mould could be corrected. Eventually, the stub was cut out of the mould and placed in the correct location, at a cost of $10,000 and much to the displeasure of everyone involved.
Miller began to promote fibreglass Stewarts, sending a letter to interested parties. “We have about 30 reasonable enquiries so far, but no definite orders. The price is $6.950 for a hull, which includes two bulkheads, floors, chain plates, keel and skeg stub and $12,500 for a hull and deck temporarily joined together. To get things cracking, we would give a discount of $500 on a hull and $1,000 on a hull and deck to the first three purchasers. From that stage on we can complete if required and the price varies from approximately $21,500 bare sail away to $34,000 or $35,000 for a finished boat.”
Pionnier was launched in 1978 and displayed at the 1979 Auckland Boat Show with about 3,000 people going on board. Two others had taken delivery of their hull and decks but there were no other orders coming in. Miller commented; “Unfortunately, the 20% Sales Tax has killed this venture and Ian Fish, the builder, is now working at the Toy Dept. of Tanner Couch. However, the moulds are safely stored and are available as soon as new customers appear. Wouldn’t it be great to have ten glass boats off the moulds for Match Racing!! Fully completed new glass boats with Sales Tax on, would now have to retail at least $50,000, so hang on to your timber boats. They are money in the bank.”
This pamplet shows the line drawings of the fibreglass Stewart 34
In its infancy, the fibreglass boat industry was plagued by inexperienced workers and poor lay-up procedures. Small air pockets or voids within the laminations would result in osmotic blisters or “pox” forming in the polyester resin. In all but the most extreme cases it was repairable, but unfortunately it required significant time and money. Because the early boats built by Roger Land had osmosis issues, the Stewart Association eventually made it compulsory to employ an independent fibreglass consultant, Mr. Mike Menzies, to supervise the lay-up of Stewart’s hull and decks. Menzies expertise largely solved the osmosis issue, but added an additional $500 to the cost of each boat.
At the time Stewarts were evolving from wood to glass, the New Zealand government, in its infinite wisdom, imposed a 20% sales tax on the yachting industry, elevating the price of a new boats to the point that they became unreachable to all but a few, and sending the marine industry into the doldrums. Despite all this, the first four fibreglass Stewart hull and decks, produced by Roger Land, sold very quickly. With no more firm orders, production was halted and the moulds went into storage at Alan Reid’s yard onHillside Road.
Don Brooke, a very accomplished racer and well known yacht designer, spotted the Stewart 34 moulds in Reid’s yard in late 1979 and thought to himself that he would love to have a Stewart 34. He negotiated with Bill Miller to use the moulds so that his company, Export Yachts could build Promise.
Some months later, Jim Lawry became owner of Export yachts, and Don Brooke remained as a director. Lawry negotiated an agreement with the Stewart Association to build fibreglass Stewart 34’s to the class specifications.
Soon after, well-known Auckland yachtsman Richard Endean assumed the position of sales manager at Export Yachts Ltd. Endean was an excellent salesman, and aided by publicity for the boats created by the Citizen Watch Match Racing Series, sold 14 additional hull and decks over the next three and a half years.
Endean felt that balsa-core boats were stiffer than those built of solid fibreglass, so he prepared detailed plans and specifications and submitted them to the Stewart Association for approval. They were approved, and all subsequent fibreglass Stewarts were balsa cored.
It was not all smooth sailing for the growing fleet of fibreglass Stewart 34’s. All of the first four Roger Land-built hull and decks weighed in slightly above the 3000 pound minimum specified in the Stewart Class Rules. On the other hand, all of those built by Export Yachts came in an average of 194 pounds too light despite having a firm contract stating that the hull and decks were to be built exactly to class specifications.
It is not known if the yachts were built lighter than the specified weight in order to increase profits, to please owners who wished to have advantaged boats, or both. Regardless of Export Yacht’s reasons, the challenge of equalising these under-weight boats with their heavier predecessors is one that remains to present times.
In retrospect, the Stewart Association say that they should have weighed these boats immediately upon completion and rejected any boat constructed by Export Yachts that was not exactly to specification. Instead, the Association compromised by allowing owners of underweight boats to equalise with lead weights permanently fixed into the hull and decks. Obviously this has required a tremendous effort on the part of the Association and their measurers.
One owner actually borrowed the moulds to build his own Stewart 34. Passion, built by the reputableAuckland boatbuilder Mick Cookson weighed in very close to the class specifications, just 28 pounds over the minimum specified weight, demonstrating that it was certainly possible to build the hull and decks out of fibreglass to the Class Rule.
Ken Allen, the instigator of the idea to allow fibreglass boats into the class returned to Stewart racing in 1983, and decided to build a brand new Stewart 34. In an ironic reversal of course, he spurned fibreglass in favor of wood. His ultra-light flyer Pendragon would prove to be the lightest and fastest Stewart 34 ever built, but her significant departure from Class Rules would also make her arguably the most controversial.
Eventually nineteen fibreglass Stewart 34’s were built, the last one being Pindaric which was launched in 1985. Unfortunately, Coastal Yachts wasn’t a profitable venture. Despite the continued success of the Citizen Watch Match Racing Series, the departure of Richard Endean from Export Yachts coincided with the lack of any further orders for Stewarts and the company was wound up.
In 1986 Bill Miller gifted the moulds to the Stewart Association. No further boats have been built since, but on a few occasions, the moulds have been used to facilitate the repair of collision damage, and recently the wooden Stewart 34 Pukka Sahib was fitted with fibreglass decks taken from the mould.
When Ian Fish and Bill Miller were granted permission in May of 1977 to build Stewart 34’s in fibreglass, it was specified that they were to be similar in weight to the existing wood boats. Through equalization, this has more or less been achieved. Most of the fibreglass Stewarts are now more than 20 years old and have held up well.
Of the 19 fibreglass Stewarts built, two have ventured across the Tasman toAustralia. Of the 17 remaining inNew Zealand, 13 form half of the very competitive Monday night Championship fleet racing inAuckland. The older wooden boats making up the other half of the fleet remain competitive with a few of them regularly sailing to podium finishes.
If fibreglass Stewarts have been successful from a sailing point of view, they have not been a brilliant financial venture. It cost Bill Miller $26,000 to fabricate the moulds in 1977. Royalties of $1500 were meant to be paid for the use of the moulds; however a few well-known yachtsmen were able to negotiate lower royalties, claiming that their ownership of a Stewart would add value to the class. In any event, total royalties collected over six years amounted to $26,400. Miller feels that $400 is a rather meager financial return for the effort. Nonetheless, he reckons that the thirty years he’s enjoyed sailing Pionnier has been absolutely priceless.