AURORA – Sailing Sunday
The other day I received a note from Bill Brown, the owner of the lovely yacht – Susan Jane, that featured on WW when she was being restored at Colin Brown’s Omaha yard.
Bill is a kiwi but works overseas & was delighted to see that his uncle’s old yacht – Aurora appear on WW (link below) recently. Aurora is a 22′ Harrison Butler design, built & owned by his uncle, Neil Brown c.1940’s.
Bill’s father, James Brown, a salty old dog who spent most of his time going up and down the Whangarei Harbour, in various craft, including Woodys; Sarina, (currently for sale, and whom mum and dad had their honeymoon on) Temptress and Yvonne. James passed away last April, just a few days shy of 90, having sailed his entire life, and selling his last boat at the grand old age of 80.
The timing of the WW story on Aurora was very opportune as Bill had recently been canvassing the extended family for details – with Bill’s permission I have published below the email he sent out – its an great read. Enjoy.
“I saw Aurora for sale on Trademe yesterday and I thought you might be interested in seeing these pictures of her. As far as I know Uncle Neil built her himself in Dunedin to a Norwegian design. Dad used to tell me she was built like a brick outhouse and you can see that even though she is clearly neglected, she is still a tight wee ship! The photos and advertisement make her seem much bigger than she is. I think she is only 21 feet long, making her essentially the size of a trailer sailor!
Most of you know that Uncle Neil sailed her in the famous Wellington to Lyttelton yacht race that was at the time one of New Zealand’s worst sailing tragedies. That was perhaps the first, but not the last time, that old Gran thought Uncle Neil had been lost at sea!
If I remember correctly, dad used to say that Uncle Neil ran before the storm with bare poles and with a spare anchor warp streaming out the stern. As it states in the article he eventually ended up in clear skies up off the coast of the Hawkes Bay.
The other great story I remember about Aurora that was more directly connected to dad, was that Uncle Neil asked if dad wanted to go on a summer cruise from Dunedin to Auckland to coincide with the Queen’s visit in 1953-1954. Dad said yes and that was the plan they told Gran, however when they cleared the Otago Heads Uncle Neil kept heading east! It wasn’t till then that he told dad that they were aiming to be the first pleasure yacht to visit the Chatham Islands post WW2! Uncle Neil figured that if he had told dad the truth he wouldn’t have said yes and Gran would have worried too much. I remember dad had a handwritten log of the voyage, boasting of the huge crayfish they ate when they finally arrived at Waitangi, Chatham Islands. After a few days socialising with the locals they then set a course for Auckland to visit the Queen!
I have seen her only twice in the real flesh. Once she was waiting outside the Kissing Point Boatshed that we kept the launch Yvonne in. We were returning from a weekend down the Whangarei Harbour and the owner had tracked dad down to have a chat with him about her history. I think she was then based in Tauranga. The second time I spied her she was on a swing mooring in the Tamaki River. I was at University and I had been out windsurfing and noticed her and that there was a guy in the cockpit. I stopped at her stern and explained that my uncle had built her and found out that the guy in the cockpit was readying her for sale, as her owner had been in some trouble picking up the mooring, bouncing off a few boats in the tide and had suffered a heart attack!
Uncle Neil’s second major build was the modified Woollacott – Katherine Anne, Maraval (photo below), which he built in Whangarei, at Smiths boatyard and sailed around the South Pacific and the east coast of Australia, ending up back in Dunedin. I heard that he received a RNZYS Blue Water Cruising Award for this effort, but I can’t seem to find much evidence of that. An interesting aside to this cruise was when I sailed in the Farr 9.2 Interdominion series in Perth Australia, there was a crew from Wellington, who recounted a story of Uncle Neil on Maraval being in Hobart at the same time as the finish of the Sydney- Hobart Yacht Race that they had just competed in a fully powered up ocean racing yacht. Apparently as the story goes, they left Hobart together and Uncle Neil beat them back across the Tasman!
Back in Dunedin, for summer holidays Uncle Neil would head around to Fiordland, down to Stewart Island, even on one occasion venturing to the Campbell and Auckland islands. Sometimes just for the heck of it he would throw in a circumnavigation of the South Island. On one occasion he lost Maraval, when she was washed out to see by a flood, after sheltering in Port Jackson, Jackson Bay, West Coast, only for Maraval to float out into the Tasman and a few weeks later return on to a piece of sandy West Coast beach up by Greymouth! The only reported damage to her was the broken mast and the front bollard that the farmer had tied his tow rope to as he hauled her up the beach! He re-floated her, had her towed by a fishing boat to Greymouth, built a new mast and went on his way back to Dunedin.”
Link to previous WW story on Aurora, below