Okura Gigs – Sailing Sunday

Okura Gig 49 (9)

Historic photo 01

Historic photo 02

photos & details ex Darren Arthur

We did a post on ww a little while ago about ‘Seabird’ dinghies & this generated chat & subsequent comments about the ‘Okura Gig’. This sparked Darren to contact his wife’s uncle – Dennis Hart, who with his late brother Ray ran Hart Brothers Marine and were behind the Okura Gigs. Darren encouraged Dennis to document their history.
Darren asked me that given that the boats we not wood, was it a potential ww story – after a quick peek at the photos – I replied that there was more than enough wood & bronze to get the ww tick 😉

I have published Dennis’s story below word for word, its a great tale & combined with the above collection of older & recent photos is a cracker read. Enjoy 🙂

THE OKURA GIG:  A Brief History By Dennis Hart


During the late 1800’s the area at Silverdale now known as Millwater included the Grut (pronounced Grew) farm which had access to the Orewa Estuary. Mr Grut had a 10 foot kauri clinker rowing boat, understood to have been built by Bailey & Lowe at Sulphur Point, Northcote. The boat was mostly used for net fishing. Charles St.Croix Grut and Alec Grut later inherited the farm and continued farming until the 1960’s ?

Dennis believes Croix and his wife Merle had the 38ft Wollacott design yacht Iorana, built by Don Wood at his yard in the Orewa Estuary. However the memory can play tricks over time & Dennis would be interested to learn if he is correct in this. The couple then in their late 60’s were the first Weiti Yacht Club members to circumnavigate the globe.

Croix brought the boat to my brother Ray and I at Hart Bros Marine  in the mid to late 70’s for a full restoration to its original configuration as the 70 plus years had taken their toll. We duly completed the ‘no expenses spared’  job resulting in a very pretty and sound rowing boat. We negotiated a deal whereby we could use the boat as a plug and take a mould from it in order to produce the boat in fibreglass , We made no charge for the restoration returning it to Croix and Alex with a fibreglass replica rowing boat each for their general use. The original boat was retired.

I tried to locate the original boat and was told by Croix that he had entrusted it to a gentleman who had promised to donate it to the Maritime Museum. On enquiring there I was told that no such boat had been received. Croix Passed away in November 2012 aged 94.

Building the OG

Because of the tumblehome created by the very pretty wineglass transom the mould had to be in two parts. The original boat had no centrecase so a slot was cut in the keel and a case was moulded in -situ at the same time as fitting the buoyancy thwarts and stern benches . A galvanised steel swinging plate was hinged at the top forward point, raised and lowered  by a stainless wire. After release from the mould Kwila slats were fitted to the thwarts, the inner and outer gun’les were copper riveted together, the thwart  and lodging knees fixed in place followed by the remainder of the fit-out . Two rowing positions were provided, the forw’d pair provided fitting for the side stays.

The rig

The sails were kept as traditional as possible by using ‘tanbark’ coloured sail cloth and braided lacings. The oregon spars were made so that they would fit inside the boat, when not in use. This worked well as a handy sized main was set with the peak well above the mast top. This, coupled, with a boom that overhung the transom and a jib tacked to a short sprit,  giving plenty of sail.  Many of the fittings  that controlled the running rigging (cleats and blocks, were made by hand or modified from Harken traditional range. All other fittings were sourced from the depths of Fosters basement or were bespoke by us of copper, brass or bronze. The gaff jaws were covered in leather. Rope sheets were a light tan poly. The gaff halyard was rove to a bridle to make setting the main more simple.


Like the old harbour ferries the OG has a balanced waterline with fine ends so does not drag water at the transom as the boats bottom lifts the transom clear of the water at the stem of the wineglass.  Fit-out of these boats was kept to an affordable minimum at the time.  As production continued we made some minor modifications and improvements, i.e. separate peak and throat halyards to give better shape control to the main, reefing points and tackle for the main, a change from cane rings to lacing on the luff.  The rudder is if fixed shape with a swivelling tiller, its bottom edge does not extend below the keel line which allows safe beaching.

The sail plan was easy enough to balance on paper.  In practice it showed a slight weather-helm  in fresh airs which was easily adjusted by swinging the centreplate back,  flattening or easing the sails.


The Okura Gig became a ’boutique’ activity.  As a result of the boat tax being imposed in 1979 we reduced the size and scope of our business and closed our fibreglass manufacturing operations and moved our boat shop into the mould shop. We had built about 55 OG’s between 1978 and 1981.  The moulds were taken by Dinghy Developments who resumed production giving the OG a Seabird name.  I believe that they took their version to USA west coast boat shows where they were warmly received. I have no idea how many more were built.

I have  two OG’s,  No. 41 and No 49.  One had spent about 35 years in a wet boatshed at Lake Rotoiti,  it required a complete grind off of the osmosis damage before refitting.  The other is our long time family boat. I have refitted them both to a much higher standard than the originals. They are currently in my shed at Whangaparaoa.  I still sail OG49 occasionally and still find it enjoyable. It really romps sailing just off the wind with the peak halyard eased . OG 41 is too pretty to put in the water. It would make a fine centre piece in a large lounge.

Croix Grut  got to see OG’s 41 & 49 restored and fully rigged before he passed away. Photo below.


Foot note:

I was fortunate to have served my apprenticeship at the Devonport Naval Dockyard commencing in 1958.  Marty Martinengo was in the same intake as I, as was Denis Cantell, in 1958. We have enjoyed  a very solid friendship ever since, as we do with many of the apprentices who were indentured before or since us.   The Dockyard provided a very traditional training in all aspects of boatbuilding and shipwrighting  . It was a very competitive environment with up to 14 apprentices at any one time. My brother Ray Served his time at Lidgard’s and Lane’s before moving to Max Carter. He  moved to Whangaparaoa about 1968 where he started boatbuilding.  I joined him  in 1972.

Below is an article reproduced from Sea Spray magazine Sept 1979

Sea Spray Article Sept '79 p1.pdf

Sea Spray Article Sept '79 p2.pdf

18 thoughts on “Okura Gigs – Sailing Sunday

  1. Just to confirm that Croix Grut did own the Iorana. (My afternoon’s reading records that my late father, Anson Shakespear, replaced the Frances’s outdated Simplex engine with a Volvo Pentax from the Iorana.) I hope that this reaches the original poster and any other interested parties 🙂


  2. Thankyou for letting us know.Condolances to you and Dennis’s family.
    I will be thinking of Dennis and Ray when I next take my gig out for a sail on the Sounds and always thankful that their foresight and craftmanship produced these delightful sailing dinghies.


  3. A service was held today to celebrate the life of Dennis and the wonderful man he was. His passing was quite unexpected and I know he would have been very pleased and grateful that the history of these craft was nailed down in time. I know I certainly am.

    I can’t see how to upload an image so I will email a scan of the back page of the Order of Service – it’s a most appropriate image to close this particular post off.


  4. I bought mine in the Catlins three or four years ago. Have a copy of the original invoice – thought mine might be the last surviving, so glad she’s not! She sails beautifully even in quite a decent wind. Has anyone tried a slightly larger – or deeper – rudder though? I had trouble gybing in a heavy wind once. We came third – on handicap – in the Port Chalmers classic boat race in 2015. They were very generous – we were last by half an hour! But the winner was an X class! Now (semi) retired I hope to spend a lot more time bobbing around Otago Harbour.


  5. From Richard Van Hart
    I am Extremely proud of the fact that most of my family had a great passion for boat building.
    I myself took a different trade, but still enjoyed the skill and dedication that my Farther and brothers had in those days.
    My farther (Richard or Dick as everyone called him)) worked with my grandfather,s boatbuilding business on the Norfolk Broads, (Hearts Cruisers) before he brought us all to Auckland.
    In the early 60,s My brother Raymond crashed his SS Jaguar and i can remember him showing me a picture of a 60,s French Facel Vega sports car. He with his friends then set out to build a replica They built a fiberglass mould, and from that the body panels, but alas family came knocking, still do not know what happened to it, must ask Den next time i see him.
    I am very proud of Dennis for this and other articles on this dying trade


  6. Hi Dennis,
    Terrific customer service. Thank you for the measurements. The nameplate is still on the boat. I have detached it to give it a polish. When we transported the boat to Australia it unfortunately was holed (I suspect a forklift). It was repaired under insurance and the hull was painted white. Over the years this has deteriorated and the green gel coat underneath has also received some damage. I intend repairing this and then have the hull sprayed professionally back to its original green colour. I have some grandchildren who now want to take cockleshell sailing. It is a wonderful boat for the them to sail and enjoy.
    thank you,
    Ken C.


  7. Hi Ken.

    From Dennis: “Well I pulled the cover off, stood the rig to measure the sails albeit approximately. I can vaguely remember a green boat, it would be interesting if it had our nameplate on the inside of the tuck.
    If the spars were not lost and were made by us then the sail measurements provided should be close enough. See attachment.”

    I’ve uploaded his measurements here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BxhtIuXVXoscYjlUb21XNnkteFU/view?usp=sharing

    Not bad customer service after all these years I’d have to say! 🙂


  8. In 1980 I purchased Okura Gig No. 42 and shipped it to Fiji as a gift to my wife. She was a little different as she had a dark green hull with a cream interior, At that time we lived on the waterfront at Laucala Bay, Suva and my wife taught our two eldest boys to sale in “Cockleshell”. (our family name for the boat). In 1982 we returned to Newcastle, Australia (including Cockleshell). We then lived on the edge of Lake Macquarie and our four boys had many hours of fun sailing Cockleshell. In 1985 we shifted to Brisbane ,including Cockleshell, who then was occasionally sailed on Moreton Bay. For the past 20 plus years cockleshell has been stored in various locations around our yard. I am now retired and I have commenced restoring cockleshell back to her former glory. In all of our shifting around we have lost the sails. I would be most grateful if someone can supply me with the sail dimensions or the contact details of the original sail maker. Any help provided would be much appreciated.
    Ken Casley


  9. Haha yes the purists need to forget about the fibreglass hull and ponder over Colins words. I also love wooden boats with classic lines . Thirty eight years ago we bought and sailed from England “Inamorata ” 42 foot Bermudan Sloop built in 1911 constructed of Pitchpine on Oak, similar to a Logan design. Haha I think I was wet the whole time both on deck and trying to sleep in my quarter berth. I can make room for a little bit of classy fibreglass in my life.



  10. We were building them at NZTBS in wood but that finished over a year ago and as far as I know there are no more being done in wood but they are being done in glass.


  11. Irrespective of the hull material its a beautiful classic design so lets appreciate that in itself.
    Both Ray and Dennis were great boatbulders in both traditional and modern GRP and full credit to them for producing the Okura Gig.
    Without moving to modern materials we would likely not see some of the old designs built in this day and age. The Zephyr for instance. Uneconomic to produce in wood and no future without going to glass.
    Take your pick purists!.


  12. You are very welcome – nice to get it nailed down. While some may scoff at the thought of a fibreglass hull, they obviously have some very happy owners! I fear I may have shot myself in the foot as I’ve had a very casual eye on Trademe and we may have raised the interest level. 🙂 The other challenge would be to convince the war office that 3 boats is perfectly acceptable!


  13. Thank you Darren and Dennis for taking the time to document and provide photo’s of the Okura Gig’s history and your beautifully restored OG 41 and OG 49 .

    I really enjoyed reading your story, it is fascinating to finally read the correct story about the gig’s original beginnings as there are so many versions of the story. It was interesting to read how they were constructed and the fact that they were constructed so well, using good hardwoods and quality fastenings. This is why so many have survived in such good condition today.

    As an owner of one of these beautiful little yachts for over 25 years it is good to see so many people are restoring and improving the gig’s. As they are so visually appealing ,their simplicity and ease to maintain I am sure they will be around and loved for many more years to come.



  14. Really great story, — beautiful little boats – very well done. — and aren’t us Whangaparaoa people really clever?????


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