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I have been sent the above brilliant collection of photos by Paul and Valerie Somerville of their 1910 launch Pontiac, built by McPhersons, Frederick St, Dunedin, for a publican in Pt Chalmers. She was originally named Reremoana. Family history says in the 1920’s it passed on to a farmer at Moeraki who used it as a fishing vessel.
In the 1930’s the Gillies family of Oamaru took ownership and it remained with them for 3 generations, and was very well maintained, until the mid 1990’s when the Somerville’s purchased her and put it on it’s present mooring in Church Bay, Lyttelton Harbour.
At some early stage the Gilles changed the name to Pontiac. Maybe they had the Pontiac dealership and had installed a Pontiac engine. Still on the boat are other Pontiac marine fittings such as navigation lights cast in the shape of an Indian Chiefs head.
The boat is of single skin kauri, 10 metres long and with a 2.5m beam. The cabin structure and auxillary gaff rig seem to be original and there are many original fittings. The current engine is a BMC Commander 4 cylinder diesel.
Paul has no information whatever about McPherson the builder or of any other McPherson boats still existing.  He has seen similar looking hulls around the Otago Peninsular and further south, but that’s about it.
Paul commented that Pontiac is a wonderful sea going vessel and has given him family a lot of pleasure over the last 25 years, as he’s sure it did for the Gillies over their 60 years of ownership.
From top to bottom (L>R) the photo captions are:
1. Up the Lords River Stewart Island  c.1950’s/1960’s?
2. Helping out at “Scotts Own” sea scout regatta Oamaru. c.1960’s/1970’s?
3. In the Lyttelton haulout area 2017.
4.Pontiacs control panel.
5. The engineroom.
6. Heading down the harbour with the grandkids.
Paul & Valerie would love to hear any more historical information or anecdotes about Pontiac. Any Woodys able to contribute ?
Input from Harold Kidd – E.A.Gillies was indeed the Pontiac agent in Oamaru at the time when GM built them as one step up from the Chevrolet (even though they had a side-valve 6 or 8). McPherson was the foremost yacht and launch builder in Dunedin (not Port Chalmers) for many years. Pontiac did several offshore trips, for example to Akaroa in January 1939 and, in January 1940, to Stewart Island, which was probably when the top pic was taken..
10-07-2018 More input: Reremoana was at Moeraki in 1936; broke down, got blown out to sea but rescued. Gillies bought her shortly after. He had just got the Pontiac agency so was shouting it to the rooftops. (see dealer ad from paper past below)
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The Gall Of Some People
On Saturday I took Raindance for a jaunt to the upper reaches of the Waitemata Harbour – the John Wellsford Small Craft group were having a rally to the Riverhead Hotel & wanted to get some photos of the event for WW. 
One of the meeting points was the new public wharf alongside the Salthouse Yard, & while waiting for the JW boats to turn up > launch, I sat off the wharf in Lucas Creek. A gent with a camera walked down the wharf & took a few photos of Raindance.
Last night via a facebook post on the JW fb page I realised the person taking the photos was Paul Gilbert.
I sent him a private message & asked if it was him & if so I could have a photo of Raindance. I said I took 1000’s of photos of classic Woodys but had very few of my own boat.
His answer is below – I have never meet him but all his reply did was confirm everything I have heard about the man………………….
For the record I have never refused or charged any boat owner for a photo I have taken of their boat. But then, I’m a nice guy 😉
And if you read this Paul Gilbert, fyi – another 15,000+ people will have read it today as well 🙂


10 thoughts on “Pontiac

  1. A message to members of the PG fan club – thanks for sharing your personal thoughts. Maybe its a good time to remind people that WW is not a website, its a blog, my blog. Blogs are normally the work of a single person & cover, mostly, a single topic. There are things out there called multi-author blogs (MABs) that have posts / stories from mutable authors – WW is not one of those. So I chose the content & the tone – if people like it they hang around, if they don’t they slide away. Most stay – 342,376 visitors to the site & nearly 3,800,000 views.
    Always interested in feedback both +/- , thankfully the ratio is 99 / 1% 🙂


  2. James McPherson boat builder Dunedin. A partial history taken from his obituary (ODT 11th August 1941) and other sources kindly supplied on request from Otago University’s Hocken Library.
    Born in Glasgow where he learned his trade.Worked for the Union Steamship Co.before setting up a boat building business in 1901 with W N McDougall in lower Stuart St. Dunedin.
    Traded solely as Jas. McPherson from 1903 relocated to lower Frederick St. until his retirement in 1936.
    His business was bought by Millar of Port Chalmers, later known as Millar and Tunnage Ltd.
    He retired to Pembroke (now called Wanaka) in 1937 and died in 1941.

    His yard in Pelichet Bay (now wharves and reclaimed land) produced Dunedin’s most renowned yachts and launches from one yard. Yachts such as Eileen, Tuscana and Waimana. Launches such as Lion, James McPherson, Inishfree, Thetis and Eureka (McPherson’s personal craft now rebuilt and owned by myself).


  3. Hi Alan,

    I’m one of those 15,000 on your email list. What a number! Congratulations.

    I’m writing because I thought your public views expressed about Paul Gilbert were a bit tough. He is a professional photographer as far as I am aware so it’s understandable that he would charge. It’s his livelihood, or at least a part of it. Collections of professional photographers from the past today provide us with many wonderful photos. I imagine we (or someone) pays to get access to them and that is fine.

    I think having a go at him in such a personal (and public) way is not so good. In a way your website is a rich entertaining information source but it’s not a mouthpiece for all of us, nor in a way (in my opinion anyway) should it be one for you. Privately expressed views are entirely different.

    That’s my tuppenceworth Alan. If you get a few people replying similarly you might consider retracting some of your comments.

    And it wouldn’t be too hard to get a nice photo of Raindance.

    Thanks for your dedication to the cause. You have crafted a wonderful interesting website, and still it grows. All who are smitten by classic boats are being well served.

    Kind regards

    Geoff Tyler


  4. I have bought big prints from Paul for many years (back to the old trad small boat sail ins and Friends of Hobson Wharf days. I’ve had them framed and hung in the old house (when we had plenty of walls and fewer windows). I have bought worthy pictures of my boats from other sources too. I’ve always been happy to pay an artist his fee and don’t begrudge it -If yer don’t like, don’t bother and especially don’t whine about it.
    Yep, these daze, anyone with an iPhone can take a picture, but a professional photographer is a dying breed like a wooden boat shop used to be. Alan, I’d prefer that this arena was not used from a point of power, if not bullying, to excoriate publicly any wooden boat enthusiast and his business. We’ve been through that before in the past and it spoils the Waitemata Woodys site.


  5. E.A.Gillies was indeed the Pontiac agent in Oamaru at the time when GM built them as one step up from the Chevrolet (even though they had a side-valve 6 or 8). McPherson was the foremost yacht and launch builder in Dunedin (not Port Chalmers) for many years. Pontiac did several offshore trips, for example to Akaroa in January 1939 and, in January 1940, to Stewart Island, which was probably when the top pic was taken..


  6. Hi Alan, Too bad about that photo of Raindance.
    The launch Lion, for sale now on Trademe , https://www.trademe.co.nz/motors/boats-marine/motorboats/auction-1679615132.htm?rsqid=c762e92ebf7b44f3aa41ffbf5c7e0542 was built by Mc Pherson in Dunedin in 1908 Pontiac has a hull shape that looks like Lion.
    I have an idea that the old launch shown in the photo from the Woody Nelson trip may also have been built by Mc Phersons She was moored close to my boat in the Nelson Marina so I got to see a lot of her.


  7. Oh well , hard to understand ,but that is how it is .Maybe it only shows how generous you are with your resources .
    It is a priviledge to get your emails daily ,and the quality is much appreciated .


  8. Hello, If you ever need to pass Pontiac on to a new and loving home …way way north, the very top, then do please let me know. She would be in daily use around the sheltered waters of Doubtless Bay. Love her near original condition, that beautiful stern and tiller, and the little rig to help her along. Wonderful to see.


  9. Pontiac is very cool!! sweet hull.

    Paul’s argument will be he takes pics for a living….. and giving you one for less than $200 would be robbing himself. Good margin on those pics I must say.


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