Building the Mullet boat ‘Tamatea’ by Chris McMullen

Tamatea 17

1961 – the build begins @ 67 Waiatarua Road, Remuera

Tamatea 22

Tamatea 1

Tamatea 29


Building the 22’ Mullet boat ‘Tamatea’ – Sailing Sunday

photos & story by Chris McMullen. edited by Alan H

After Chris McMullen saw last weeks ww story on ‘Tamariki’ he contacted me re sharing his ‘Tamatea’ photos that had been languishing in an album kept for him by his dear mother, Vera McMullen. I couldn’t let Chris escape with just sending the photos to me, so I asked him (nicely) to write us a story. Now that’s something he is always a tad hesitant to do, why I don’t know he tells a good yarn. But being the great guy he is, he put pen to paper, in doing so Chris commented that he hoped that bringing these photos into the daylight may encourage others to share their boating or boat building history on waitamatawoodys.

Below is Chris’s story on the building, launch & sailing of the 22′ mullet boat Tamatea. Remember you can enlarge photos by clicking on them 😉

“In the early 1960’s I was apprenticed to boat builder, Morrie Palmer who was also an enthusiastic Mullet boat sailor. Sailing, cruising and Mullet boats were the conversation most lunch breaks.
Morrie had in mind to build a 22ft Mullet boat but family and business commitments at the time, delayed his plans. He had a new steel centre board plate, a profile plan and the offsets of a design for a hull that was supposed to be the Charlie Colling’s design ‘Tamariki’. I am not sure how he got these offsets but the original lines plan were in safe keeping at the R.N.Z.Y.S and not available to anyone at the time.

Morrie encouraged me to build this design and gave me his centre board plate and loaned me the offsets. I managed to scrounge some primitive basic machinery and set out to build the boat. As an 18 year old apprentice boatbuilder I had no money, no car and no girl friend but I was full of enthusiasm and wanted to go sailing. And yes, I had read Johnny Wray’s book. “South Seas Vagabonds” many times.
The Tamatea was built in my parent’s back yard at 67 Waiatarua Rd Remuera. These days such a project would not be possible due to the noise regulation’s but in the early 1960’s people were remarkably tolerant and it was not unusual to see half built boats on people’s quarter acre sections.

 Riveting of Tamatea at night was not really fair on the neighbours. I got one complaint by working too late. I had to enlist my friends to back up the nails with a dolly. If they came late, we worked late. I was desperate to get it done. Another source of irritation was my Fathers Desoutter electric drill. It had no suppressor and affected the people who had TV’s. I was the neighbour from Hell for a while.

Now to the photos.

The photos feature some of my friends who helped. Recognised in the photos are
John Jennings, Des Laery, Ken Wilding, Murray Napier, sorry but I can’t remember all the names but Alan Bell and Neil Gillard would have been there. In the dinghy sculling is ‘Snow’ (Neville Stacey) who was / is a well known helpful character; he loved boats and spent much of his time at the ‘Okahu Bay’ hardstand.
The young man painting the Tamatea in the colour picture is the late John Eastwood. In the same image but in the cockpit is a another young man, John Court, also since deceased. My Model A truck alongside the boat, used as a work bench. The sailing cockpit shot shows Ken Jaspers and with me on the helm. These three guys and John MacDonald built and loaned me gear and helped finish the boat. I guess this was the year after she was launched. I was grateful for their help as I could not afford to run the boat myself at that time.  

You may notice in some of the images, the concrete blocks on the roof of the shed. These allowed me to force rocker (bend) into the keel using a timber prop under the rafters, their weight prevented the roof lifting. Looking at it now, I am lucky the lot never collapsed on top of me.

I never lofted the hull; I just made the temporary frames (moulds) direct from the offsets and cut the plank rabbet’s (rebate) by eye using battens.
The hull was planked with kauri over temporary frames or moulds. The planks were tapered towards the ends like a wooden barrel. The garboard plank was steamed but most was bent cold and edge set. I broke some planks! They should have all been steamed but with my primitive steam box it would have taken too long and I was in a hurry and wanted to go sailing.  
The short planks left out in some of the photos are called stealers and have to be spiled. I remember the frustration of not having a thin plank to use for a spiling batten. I could have borrowed one from my boss but with no car or trailer, how could I get it from Devonport to Remuera on a motorbike?
The ribs were Tanekaha, all steamed and held with riveted copper nails. The centreboard case was demolition kauri held to the keel with galvanised bolts.

Some of the images show the most distinctive feature of a proper Mullet boat – the hollow sections aft and the deep built down deadwood. The boats are a built to certain design and scantling rules.

Tamatea was transported to the water using a trailer kindly loaned by Sandy Sands of Sea Craft and towed by a neighbour Mr Picket with his (at the time) huge truck. A dangerous load? Well maybe, but we got there!

Tamatea was the last planked 22 foot Mullet boat.

My boss, Morrie Palmer forced change to the class rules by building “Controversy” using 3 diagonal layers of ¼” kauri over stringers instead of carvel planking caulked over ribs. Now Mullet boats can now be built in G.R.P.

I was about 18 when I built Tamatea, she was rather amateur built as I was a second year apprentice and although, I thought I knew it all, I was very green. She was built under difficult conditions almost in the open and exposed to the weather, I had very primitive tools and no transport or money to purchase anything other than what went into the boat. Later, I replaced a damaged plank in the “Contessa” built by Cal Crooks and sailed on the”Patiri”built by Bob Harkin. Both these Mullet boats were beautifully built by apprentice boat builders but to be fair, they were older and more experienced than me.

I built the Tamatea for cruising and she was a raised deck Mullet boat. She was very spartan when launched. Second hand sails and a poor rig. We cruised north to Whangaroa the first season but some time later lost the first mast. Insurance paid Baileys to build a new box section oregon mast and my new crew of engineers made all new mast fitting and a set of backstay levers. Their efforts made a huge improvement to the yacht.
Leo Bouzaid (‘Sails & Covers’) built a new dacron mainsail and gave me a year to pay. That was in April 1962 I still have the original invoice for 126 Pounds!

I/we sailed in the Lipton Cup but with poor results. Since then the raised deck has been cut down to a conventional sheer and she has a modern rig. Sailed by others she has won the Lipton Cup a number of times.

Further – looking back to the early 1960’s to give my story some context :-
• I crossed the harbour every day usually on a steam ferry.
• There was six o’clock closing at all bars.
• There were few restaurants where you could buy a drink with your meal.
• A quart bottle of beer cost 2 shilling and sixpence or 3 shillings and sixpence at the   Mansion House, Kawau Island in ‘The Snake Pit’ sly grog bar.
• Many cruising boats carried a rifle on board.
• There were no imports except for essential industries or you could apply for special licence but it would be most likely declined. You could only buy a new car if you had overseas funds.
• A few importers had import licence and charged accordingly.
• There was death duties and high tax.
• There was black and white poor quality TV and manual calculators.
• There were No mobile phones.
• No double insulated power tools.
• No  epoxy  Glue.
• No GRP boats and very few synthetic sails
• No moorings in Matiatia.
• No marinas or travelift’s
• Most pleasure boats were hauled out for the winter.
• There were NO IMPORTED BOATS and you could buy kauri so wooden boat building was a competitive but viable business.”


16 thoughts on “Building the Mullet boat ‘Tamatea’ by Chris McMullen

  1. Chris McMullen helped me with various projects, but the first ever one was to tighten the centre case fastenings on my 18ft mullet boat Magic. He did it on the grid beside the Hobson Bay dinghy lockers, and he turned up in an A40, with all his tools in the boot. He was still an apprentice I think. About 1963. My beloved Magic was lost off the Wairarapa coast some years later, and was the source of mention in the Seaspray.


  2. Hello Adrian Juhi
    Your note brought back memories. Yes, Peter Nicol did sail on Tamatea. I sold the mullet boat and started a business. I sadly lost touch with Peter. If you can scan the photo and send it to me. I will confirm whether it is of the Tamatea. Certainly likely. Chris 021779196


  3. Hi Chris, I am wondering if a very old photo I have colourised is you with my old man, Peter Nicol. If it is I would love to share it, but I am not certain if it is the same boat. I loved reading about your experience building the Tamatea.


  4. Pingback: Waitemata Woodys hits 4,000,000 views and celebrates with a gallery of over 100 classic wooden boat photos | #1 for classic wooden boat stories, info, advice & news

  5. Hi, I’m looking for a yacht called Contessa. It was one my family spent many summer holidays on in the Queen Charlotte Sounds from approximately 1976-1983. It was based in Picton. Over that time it was owned by Harry Jones, a friend of my father. I think it was a mullet boat & it’s possible it’s vessel ID is 588882623 (the only Contessa) I’ve found in the NZ Maritime Index. Any help or suggestions on how to find her would be greatly appreciated. Thanks


  6. One of the best yarns since ages! Thanks for sharing that Chris and love the ‘in context’ post script.


  7. Yes ‘Snow’ is Neville Stacey local to Okahu Bay and still helping with launching and hauling till Trevor Coubray left in the late nineties, he is still riding his bike round there.


  8. Re the V8 Pilot my father purchased it from Lees Bros in Papakura about 1950.
    As I understand it. They were designed as a War time Officers Car. I guess they dumped the dated design in NZ. My father serviced the engine in our garage. I guess he had it twenty years plus.
    I never was allowed to drive it. Got my license using Morrie Palmer’s Ford Prefect.


  9. Very cool. My Grandpa Jack had a Pilot ute in those days. I have one of its hubcaps still.


  10. great story enjoyed reading it and who owned the ford v8 pilot in the photo my first car was one of those.


  11. I really enjoyed reading that, I think that both Jason and I can relate currently with our respective project boats riveting drilling and sawing at all hours after work with the odd snappage/swearage. Well written account of good hard work!


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