THETIS (II) & The Lane Motor Boat Co.

THETIS (II) &  Building Motor Boats at The Lane Motor Boat Company

thanks to current owner Paul Harris & indirectly Max Carter for photo & details

Thetis was built by the Lane Motor Boat Company in 1955. In a 2004 note to Chris McMullen, Max Carter describes the ‘process’ i.e. like all LMBC boats they came off a model. A solid 1/2 model was carved, usually 3/4″ to the foot – a convenient scale. All these Lane models were unfortunately most likely destroyed when the Panmure office (Riverview Road) & workshop burnt down.

In terms of design style – Max commented that American magazines like ‘Yachting’, ‘MotorBoat & Rudder were always lying around & inspiration for Thetis may have come from these & past models on display.

It worked like this (Max Carters words) – “a solid half model was built from a block of kauri & once the modeler was satisfied, the profile & deck line were penciled around onto the ‘plan’. After an assured waterline & the mould station intervals had been marked onto the model a saw kerf was made part way into the model. Pieces of stiff thin card were rough cut & inserted into the kerfs – a pencil run a around the section & the centre line, deck line & assumed waterline marked on. The card was then very carefully trimmed to the section outline & the section transferred to the ‘plan’.”

The only people at Lanes (at that time) that could calculate the volume off the ‘plan’ was Dick Hart & Max, they got the sections by triangulation. Max was taught how to do this & other basic calculations by Sandy Sands at Seacraft, were Max had been apprenticed.

The Thetis model was craved by Peter Parsons from a block of kauri during breaks. The ‘brains trust’ would pass comments like – ‘more flare’, ‘less tumble home’ etc & if Peter agreed he would scrape a little off a little with a piece of broken window glass & glass paper. They used to have an old mirror there & they would place the models on it to see the effect of both sides – moving it around to see it from all angles.

At the time Max worked for LMBC the yard consisted of an old tin shed, which was the office, lunch room, toilet & joinery shop all in one. There was no road down to the lower shop set into the riverbank, the only way to get there was by a narrow winding path or by water. Materials had to be slid down the path. Max recalls sliding the Grey Marine engines down the hill, knowing that if they got it wrong & they were damaged they would all be sacked. In 1955 everything was still in short supply & you needed an import licence, the Butlands seemed to have no trouble sourcing Thetis’s engines.

LMBC only had a table saw, a band saw, thicknesser & buzzer. The only portable tools being a disc grinder & a few electric drills. Most holes were drilled by hand. Hulls were built right side up & cleaned off by hand plane, blade scrapper & long board (a long & arduous job).

Thetis was built in the shed but they lofted it on plywood in the Anglican Church hall across the road. Like all Lane boats they built on shadow moulds so they could trim a bit off or pack the moulds.
Thetis was single skin, the rule being 1/32″ per foot for planking so it was probably 1 3/8″ thick. They would hold the planks to the moulds with temporary screws & place the steam bent spotted gum timber inside & drive the fastenings while hot (really hard work).

Launching were always an exciting time because no one knew the weight of the vessel & everyone had an opinion of where the hull would float & trim. Once launched they would measure the free board at the stem, stern & amidships & work out the weight.

Max recalls at the launching there was a big crowd gathered including a lot of ladies from the Navy League, Ray Pateman was to work the winch & the rest of the yard workers were to stay in the background to retrieve the cradle & any wayward blocks floating down the river. All workers were issued with white overalls for the day & given strict instructions on what to do & to behave. The bottle was broken & Thetis duly launched down the ways when Rays white overall got caught in the winch & ripped his clothes off – everyone thought that was a even greater event than the launching.

Note: at this time, the order of seniority at Lanes (Max’s memory) was Peter Parsons – foreman, Ray Pateman – leading hand, Dick Hart, Clarence Thorpe, Russell Philpot, Trevor Ford, Roy Deane, Bill Bailey, Max Carter, apprentices were Jimmy Emptage, Bob Ryan, Gary Linkhorn & Arthur Ellis.

An amusing tale from Max Carter – Lanes used to contract painters who came & went as the job progressed. One day one of the painters was limping & had his forearm in plaster. When questioned on what happened he replied he had been on a scaffold painting the outside of the city morgue when a guy in a white coat lent out of the window & asked “Do you want a hand?” & to his reply “Yes”, passed him a severed hand, with the result he stepped back off the scaffold & fell.

Also attached of interest, sent in by Scott Taylor, son of the broker – Mac Taylor –  is the 1964 sale papers when Jack Butland sold Thetis to Dr. Jefcoate Harbutt for 13,350 pounds, a lot of money in those days. In chat with Harold Kidd it appears that on APYMBA records Jack Butland sold the boat to G Robertson, maybe they did not inform the APYMBA of the sale & Harbutt was missed out on the records?
As an aside – the present owner, Paul Harris,  knew Dr Harbutt as he flew him & his family to the Harbutt farm at the bottom end of Waiheke in the 1960’s & Paul lived up the road from Mac Taylor in Devonport –  its a small world we live in.

I hope I have assembled & retold these ‘tales’ accurately – if not I’m sure someone will pull me up & correct me 🙂

New photos ex Ken Ricketts 15/09/2014

26-04-2018 UPDATE

Ken Ricketts reports that having recently spoken with Thetis’s owner that 
the 2 in line, 6 cyl, 4-cycle, 120hp Gray Marine engines, installed in 1960 (still there today) are a very rare model & type. They were manufactured during WWII for the American forces & could possibly be the only 2 in NZ. The owner believes her original owner Jack Butland in the later 1950’s probably reconditioned, or war surplus imported them. 
Ken commented that until now, the only 6 cyl, in line, Gray Marine diesel engines he had heard of, were the 2-cycle, Gray Marine conversion of the 671 Detroit series.

Below are 2 photos of the manufacturers handbook.

Has anyone else ever head of them?


23 thoughts on “THETIS (II) & The Lane Motor Boat Co.

  1. Pingback: MV Thetis – 4sale | #1 for classic wooden boat stories, info, advice & news – updated daily

  2. It is nice to see the Logan dinghy on the top that we, my Father Mick Mason & I build when i was at school, the fender had sewn pigskin corners & covered in canvas, poss cost more than the dinghy. We built a few for the Butland family over the years . I hope the dinghy is still on board nowadays it would be a true Classic.


  3. Pingback: Thetis – A Peek Down Below | #1 for classic wooden boat stories, info, advice & news – updated daily

  4. Ray! The pancake engine, no less. Wonder if there are any around now. Brilliant concept because the mechanic could get at everything just be walking round and not even having to get on his knees.


  5. As far as I am aware, Gray Marine only marinised the 6-71.(6cylinder, 71 cu.inch disp. per cylinder) When you see an engine with the GM-Diesel badge in a box, as shown on the little 2-71 in another southern launch, then it’s a GM. when they have the GM in the circle spears badge as it’s called, then it’s a Detroit Diesel ( they also have the cast alloy rocker cover.From this time, around 1960, all 4 stroke diesels became GM, thats Bedford-Oldsmobile-Cadillac and Chev.A large number of 6-71 engines were built totally by GM-Holden in Australia,including the fuel systems, they were prefixed 64NH. The baby of them all was the 2-51 and its bigger brother 4-51, these were replaced by the 53 series that went from 2 up to V12 (military only) They only got bigger from there on. My favourite was the vertical crankshaft 16 cylinder 1500 hp.coupled to a VP prop


  6. The 6-71 was a brilliant 1938 design for DETROIT DIESEL (GM) not Gray. Grays simply got a wartime contract to marinise it and did it remarkably well. Gray never “became part of GM”.
    The 1956 onwards GRAY SIX D427s that threw rods were generally the ones with insane turbochargers.


  7. The 6/71 was a brilliant Boss Kettering design for Gray pre war which became a part of GM. Kettering made a packet from patents for bendix starters and other products of Delco. (he clipped the ticket on all engines made -s Gates did on all personal computers). His wife suffered cancer and Boss co funded the Sloan Kettering Clinic. Hope you are so much better informed with all this peripheral dross. Boss had a fabulous boat in the ’20s (qv).
    BTW if Thetis’s engines are prone to putting their knees out of bed, they are taking their time. The do sound nice though!.


  8. I agree with Ray. A bit of, shall I say, bravura (or something else starting with B?) on Ken’s part.
    The Gray Six D427 was introduced around 1956 so the “war surplus” tale is just a tale. Grays did built a lot of two-cycle GM 71 series engines during WW2 during war conditions, just as Nuffield built Spitfires in England. Gray introduced a series of four-cycle diesels after 1949, based on commercially available blocks from manufacturers like Waukesha. The “Six D427” denoted a 6 cylinder Diesel of 427 cu in. A very similar Waukesha engine was used in eg Oliver tractors and White trucks. Obviously their origins were fudged for commercial reasons. The best way of identifying their origins are proprietary parts books especially gasket manufacturers like Payen which show interchangeability between “makes”.
    The Gray Six D427 (and its cousins) are common and have a tendency to throw rods.


  9. I think you will find those engines were marinised “waukesha” industrial engines.not really rare


  10. Oh that all work teams could be as functional as
    that! Leadership provided and empowerment of the workers, a good hierachy and respect for seniority. Nothing wrong with the products. Jimmy Emtage told me of tug Glynbird getting nipped by her barge up against the bridge and taking on lots of water. She was slipped at Lanes and, seemingly major, planking repairs done in order to get her back on the job. All in a daze work. Imagine that happening these days.


  11. OOPS, that doubled up.
    BTW it’s a pleasure to have established, for all to see at last, thanks to Max, how small was the part played by Garth Lane in either the design or construction of these postwar launches and how large was the part played by the US yacht and motor boating magazines (as I’ve always maintained).


  12. Forgot to say, I am actually at Paihia at the moment, for a couple of weeks, & saw her at the Opua Marina yesterday & she is still looking lovely & also very original. Surprise to see this post come up today after just seeing her in real life yesterday– KEN RICKETTS


  13. She was launched with twin 150hp Graymarine petrol engines (APYMBA records) but in 1963 was fitted with twin Graymarine 6 cylinder 110/130hp diesels (Lloyd’s Yacht Register).


  14. She was fitted with twin Graymarine 6 cylinder 110/130hp diesels in 1963 (Lloyd’s Yacht Register), but she appears to have been launched with twin 150hp Graymarine petrol engines (APYMBA records).


  15. I am extremely grateful to the writer for presenting a lovely pastiche of life of the life and times in a working boatyard. You can smell the kauri, the steambox, the tar and hear the saws, the hammering and tapping and the jolly laughter of a work team creating a work of art. Something the upcoming generations will never know unless grand dad talks to them in front of the sitting room fire. I’ll raise a glass tonight to the times!


  16. Just a few tech. things, what hp were the original engines & any other engines in between,, what is she powered with now, & what was & are her cruising speeds?


  17. A fabulous post — wish we could have this much info on all the boats & a beautiful boat to boot –excellent job –KEN RICKETTS


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