Laughing Lady


A ‘new’ lady from the USA joins the NZ classic fleet. But first stop is the Whangateau Traditional Boat yard. Click any image to enlarge.

Luders built the motorboat Laughing Lady in Connecticut in 1949 as a day fishing boat for a wealthy American socialite. A few years later she sold it to David Gardiner, who considered himself the 16th Lord of Gardiners Island. The island has an interesting history. As Americas largest private island, It had been in the family ever since his ancestor, the English settler Lion Gardiner, bought it from the Montaukett Indians in 1639 for ”one large dog, one gun, some powder and shot, some rum and several blankets”. He also obtained a charter for the island from King Charles I of England. Captain Kidd once buried treasure there, and the family withstood several attacks by pirates. Gardiner used the Laughing Lady to commute from the Island to New York where he worked as a stockbroker and also across to the up market Hamptons to ferry his guests to the Island, including Jacqui Kennedy-Onassis. Before David Gardiner passed away in 2004 the boat was sold and transported to a yard in San Diego where it underwent significant restoration of the hull before the restoration eventually stalled.

Enter Kiwis, Michael & Katy his sister-in-law who have both worked in the yachting industry and found a love for old boats working as crew on the historic 142 foot Dutch built Feadship Istros and also crewing aboard Fife yachts in various classic yacht regattas around the Mediterranean. They were looking for a small-scale project of their own and found the Laughing Lady languishing in a yacht yard in San Diego last year. They made an offer and the boat was theirs. The boat was then loaded onto a cargo ship in Los Angeles and shipped to Tauranga in March 2014, then towed on a large trailer up to Whangateau in early April (refer photos above). After being shoehorned into the main shed at Whangateau Traditional Boat yard, work will now commence returning the lady back to her former glory.

Luders stopped making boats in the 1980’s but had a fine pedigree in boat building, pioneering hot molded construction and the use of plywood during WWII.  The yard built and designed, fast commuter yachts, Navy patrol boats, tugs, launches and racing yachts including the 1962 America’s Cup winner Weatherly.

Laughing Lady is 32 foot long and was originally powered by Packard straight 8’s, nowadays is powered by twin Volvo turbo diesels.

Built of double planked cedar and mahogany with oak framing and a unique hot molded cabin trunk, she still has the basin that was used for shaving on the way to work and cast bronze fish fighting chairs. The boat will be kept as original as possible, but they will add some modern navigational equipment and something to cook on for overnight trips. Aside from that there is a lot of wiring, wood working, plumbing, paint and varnish to be done before she is completed and back on the water and turning heads as a fishing boat on her new home – the Hauraki Gulf.

Waitematawoodys will follow the work her owners will be undertaking with the assistance of Pam & George at the Whangateau Traditional Boat yard.

This might be easier to read



20 thoughts on “Laughing Lady

  1. Pingback: LAUGHING LADY – 1949 33’ USA LUDERS – COMMUTER / SPORT MOTOR BOAT REFURBISHED IN NEW ZEALAND | #1 for classic wooden boat stories, info, advice & news

  2. Please tell Pam that the Z Class I learnt to sail on was re-named ‘Kathy-O’ because my friend (John Chittendon who owned the boat) had a girlfriend called Kathy but it’s original name was ‘Valencia’ (not Granada as I accidentally called it when we called in today (31 December 2017).
    Regards and thanks,
    Rob Buckett


  3. Hi Chris, very pleasant to hear from you. As you can see George and I are part of the team effort to returning Laughing Lady back to the sea. I just wanted to acknowledge your message as James has just popped away for a few days. I’m sure he shall be in touch with you as soon as all the same.


  4. i grew up seeing this boat every day at our club, Devon Yacht Club, where I learned to sail and where Robert Gardiner (the blog has him as David, but that was his middle name) was also a member. He did not use it to commute to Manhattan, but to get to his island about three nautical miles off the club dock. Gardiner also owned a marina in Three Mile Harbor, East Hampton, NY, where my family kept a cruising sloop for twenty years. As a kid and later as an adult with a kid of my own, watching Laughing Lady slice across the waters of Gardiner’s Bay and glide up to the club dock was a natural part of the summer scene. Since Gardiner’s passing I have always wondered what became of Laughing Lady, the most perfectly-proportioned power boat I have ever seen, even to this day. It’s great to find out that she will have a second chapter in the hands of loving owners on the other side of the world.


  5. Pingback: Laughing Lady Catch Up | – the classic wooden boat blog

  6. It is so great that LAUGHING LADY is getting the attention she needed! Please keep us up to date and perhaps Doug and I will come to the launching! Have fun and congratulations!


  7. Thats great thank you both.
    Reading some papers James had sent me, yes, I noted she was built for a lady and I thought it sweet as James had mentioned Laughing Lady was very much his Katys boat and project.
    Well at the risk of sounding slightly eccentric, I heard that Russell, when in the work shop with her she has the most wonderful calm presence and is very pleasant company when working at the bench’s and simply makes your heart sing. I shall be makeing you both quite homesick for her.
    Thank you, Harold, James, Alan


  8. Hi Pam, I have “yachts in a hurry” coming in the post. Once we have had a good read, we will post it to you.


  9. My favourite is “Yachts in a Hurry”, by C. Philip Moore, W.W. Norton & Co, which mentions LAUGHING LADY specifically (but says she was built for Mrs. Bradley in 1947 and refers to Lloyd’s Yacht Register on that). Another great book is “The Legend of Chris-Craft” by Jeffrey L. Rodengen, Write Stuff Syndicate, 1988. ANY copy of RUDDER magazine is a gold-mine, showing how much our launches and yachts owe to US influence. RUDDER was the source book for many of our designers, from the Lidgards to to Tercel brothers.


  10. Thanks for the story Alan, and thanks to all for the words of encouragement. It’s a huge relief to have her safely tucked into the shed at W.T.B and in Pam’s capable hands. I just been in Florida for a few weeks, and seen numerous modern custom boats of a similar size from Famous american yards such as Rybovich and Hinckley that feature startling similarities. Both express cruisers & sport fishers, all combining speed, a lovely flare, tumble home, broken sheer line and varnished transom she really sits right at the beginning of a strong line of beautiful yet functional design. We can’t wait to make a start and eventually have her on the gulf, attending CYA events and turning heads as she used to on Long Island sound many years ago. Do expect us to relax the onboard dress code a little from the days of Mr Gardiners blazer ensemble.

    The Laughing Lady team.


  11. Luana Hi there, I was wondering if you would put up the titles and authors names of those books please. I have Wood Through Water and a Hackercraft book by James Barry, both nice books to show folk as they come through.
    Thank you for the kind words folk and, fancy, I thought we were going to be divorced from ‘The Ol Kiwi Wooden Boat Society’ for the duration of Laughing Ladys repairs. Cheers


  12. Absolutely brilliant, fabulous,, & totally intriguing, — can hardly wait to go up & see her. I also think she is in a very special place, for her restoration, as my own TIARRI was built there by Rex Collings & Barry Jones, in 1977-79, & it is very dear to my heart, to be involved with boats, even the tiniest bit, in that special place to me. — KEN RICKETTS


  13. Wonderful looking boat with great heredity. I have books on the majestic New York commuters many of which were built by Luders in the 20’s and 30’s. Imagine a 90 footer crammed with up to five WW1 V12 aero engines, petrol tanks overflowing with gasoline and the owner wants to light his bloody cigar. Many exploded on starting up. Great. Go you good thing.


  14. We are realy proud to be the yard chosen to undertake the Laughing Ladys restoration with the family.
    We expect the project to last well through the winter,plus,and we welcome your taking a wee peek through our open door. Here you shall find us fashioning timbers for her to flourish and hear the sound of Frank Sinatra singing “fairy tails can come true it can happen to you if your young at heart…” and whistling to ”Heaven knows anything goes”… for our Laughing Lady.


  15. Grand & Glorious team, all the best with the rebuild just amazing to have her in NZ, imagine heading off to Wall St for a days toil in such a craft, wind in your hair ash flying from your cigar we are so conservative these days! updates appreciated Alan, well done.


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