An Epic Tale of Whalers, Fishermen,  Farmers & Commercial Launch Masters

Prima Donna built by Lanes 1911 for Herman & Darcey Baldick 001

Primadonna built by Lanes for Ernie & Darcey Baldick 001

Primadonna and One of Bob Swansons boats 001



An Epic Tale of Whalers, Fishermen,  Farmers & Commercial Launch Masters

The story below without doubt is the best to appear on WW, author Pete Beech talks at one stage about writing a book – he needs to. Surely there is a funding channel available – what’s the literary equivalent of ‘NZ On Air’?

The story came about via the recent WW story on the ex whaler chaser – Primmadona and her relocation from the South to Aucklands Waitemata waters. I will let Pete tell you his story, as he told me – its a cracker – enjoy
As an aside I spotted Pete’s ‘work’ boat – Tutanekai, mentioned in the story in Queen Charlotte Sound two years ago, I admired her then, sadly I was too busy pushing bacon and eggs down the gullet at the rather swanky, Bay of Many Coves resort, to say hi – my loss, but I’ll be back. Photos of her at the WW link below:
Previous WW Primadonna stories:
Kia Ora Alan,
Thanks for making contact, I was sent a link to your site by my sister who lives on her yacht in an Auckland marina. She thought I’d be interested in your story on our old waka, Primadonna.
You and I obviously have a lot in common, 40 yrs ago there were a lot of old Sounds launches coming to the end of their days, my old dad worked for Ernie Lane as a young man then for Jack Morgan and Rodger Carey.
He and his old mates had been Sounds farmers, whalers , fishermen and commercial launch masters, when ever they got together conversation would always revert to “Boats ! “
We lived in a bay down the Sounds, old pa could identify the older boats by the sound of their exhausts, before they rounded the points and came into view. The old guys would tell you who built them, what year, how much they cost, what they were planked out of, some were sister ships (2 keels cut out of the same log) where the logs were sourced from for the planking, what timber they used for the ribs, what make of engine they used, how much it cost, what horse power they developed and how many GPH they burnt and  what revs  they run at.
They took pride in knowing the whole whakapapa of all the old waka, how many hours the engines did until they were worn out and rebuilt or replaced, in those days after 5/ 10 yrs they would replace with bigger more powerful engines, they would also tell you how the engine was taken out of one boat and put into another and so on.
I grew up hearing all these oral histories and like a couple of your writers mentioned the accuracy of some of these stories was lost in the telling, then my old dad passed on and I got to thinking that if someone doesn’t write down these oral histories within 50 years, they will pass from living memory and be lost to time.
So I went around and interviewed a number of the old timers and collected all the photos I could, so pleased I did because those old boys are all gone now and their kids tossed out their photos.
It was funny, they just loved to talk about their boats, often their wives used to ring me up and say “could you come back and talk to dad again, hes driving me mad ! “
For years I have fostered an ambition to compile a book using this material and feel a bit precious about it, however no one has a monopoly over history and it should be shared, who knows the millennials may have no interested in our nautical treasures .
I have been a mechanic, a marine engineer, a fisherman, a commercial launchmaster a boat builder and for the last 30 years have run an eco tour with our old waka the near 90 yr old Tutanekai. I used to think that the day would come when people would regard the old classics like they do vintage cars and would restore them.
However it hasn’t really happened here and sadly many of our old classics have  been sold out of the area many finding their way to Auckland, I will miss seeing the beautiful counter stern of the old Primmadonna on the Sound, she is so much part of our local history.
I’m so pleased to see the resurgence of traditional boats in Auckland and sure a lot of credit should go to you for the sparking peoples interest in the classic wooden boats.
I remember when she was sold to a feller up on the Foxton River, he eventually put her up for sale but no one wanted her, so he rang me up and said “I’ll sell it to you for bugger all, if you don’t I’m going to cut the side out of her with a chainsaw and turn it into a road side stall. 
I contacted Ian Baldick, nephew of the original owner and said that old girl is your family heritage, you should buy her back, he said OK boy , you’re right, I’ll do it on one condition, that you come with me to bring her back home.
So away we went, made the deal, checked out the old Lister, changed the oil and fuel filters and set off for home, when we got down close to the bar there was a big swell and old Ian said theres something wrong, she’s not lifting to the swell, he said pull her up, he went down into the front cabin, lifted up the bunk swabs and found that the whole forward section was full of river boulders, (this had been done because when you run the old lady on full throttle the stern would suck right down until the water was level with the deck and if you were steering from inside the cabin you couldn’t see over the bow).
We tossed all the boulders overboard and charged out over the bar, there were 3 very big waves, she rode up over the first then put her head down and dove under the second and in what seemed like an eternity finally lifted, rose over the third and burst out into the open sea, old Baldy said if we hadn’t thrown those boulders out she would of gone straight to the bottom !!!
He told me that she had been build too fine with not enough buoyancy in the bow, straight stemmed with no flare, he said that one time they we steaming out around Cape Jackson when they went thru the big rip where the Pacific and the Tasman seas meet there are often half a dozen big waves, he said that she responded the same way a stick does when you throw it into the water. He said you had to shut the throttle off and pull her out of gear,   she went down by the head and kept going down until her buoyancy finally made her shoot back out back wards just like a stick !  He said that on this occasion one of their mates was standing on the foredeck, he said that when this occurred he wrapped himself around the mast and held on for grim death, he said that when she popped out they went forward and couldn’t get their mate to let go of the mast, he said he had squeezed it that hard he ‘d squeezed all the sap out of it and they needed a screw driver to prize his finger nails out of the mast !
I also owned the old Fleetwing at one time, but that’s another story.
The old waka in my shed is a true classic launch, is just the bare hull and is in beautiful condition for its age, has been in my shed for 30 years waiting for attention, I’ll never get around to it , I only rescued it because I knew her history and wanted to see her preserved, she had a 5 HP Frisco Standard in her for years, shes only 6 ft beam, they didn’t start building them with 8ft beam until the twin cyl 8 hp Friscos came out in the 1920’s.
The Baldicks said that they flush decked her for gropher fishing and that when they were steaming around Dieffenbach Point in a strong southerly she would roll over that far that your shoulders would be in the water.!
What I could do is send you the story of her builder Ernest Berg who  was a real character, was bankrupted 3 times but kept reinventing himself, a real conman but he built beautiful boats, back at the turn of the century, 3 of them left that I know of.
That’s enough for now, Keep up your good work mate.
Kia Ora Alan,
My pleasure, always interesting to look at a series of photos taken of a wooden boat that shows how their superstructures  were changed to suit their roles and how their engines got bigger and bigger with advances in technology.
My old waka “Tutanekai originally had an 18 hp twin cyl Regal, that was replaced by a 40 hp 4 cyl sterling, then a 60hp, 6 cyl Hercules, a 110 hp  471 GM during the war, currently has a 120 hp GM and have a 6 cyl 340 hp Yanma  in the shed to replace the GM, ( but it refuses to die.)
My apologies, but I don’t know (or don’t remember )  what the original engines were in the Primadonna,  most of the early launches back in the 1920’s had 5 hp single cylinder Frisco standards when they wore out were replaced by 2 cylinder 8 hp Friscos, they were replaced in the 1940’s with car engines then in the 1950s with truck or tractor diesel engines like 4 cyl Fords or GM’s , (lucky ones had Gardners ! )
When Alf Baldick finished whaling he used the Primmadonna as a farm boat and for transport to and from town, there were no roads in the Sounds.
He sold to a guy McManaway who was a gropher fisherman, he did away with the rear wheel house to give him more deck space and fish hold, he built a pilot house over rear of front cabin. He sold to Rex Baldick, Alfs nephew, he was farming in East Bay and spent a lot of time hunting, you would often see her at the Picton wharf with stern deck covered with carcasses of pigs and deer.
Rex sold to Ken MacArther who fished her out of the Wairau Bar, she caught fire on him, he took the 4 cyl Ford out that Rex had put in and replaced with a three cylinder Lister.
That was the end of her commercial fishing era, she had several owners and more changes to her superstructure, they replaced the rear wheelhouse, when I had it she had a coal scuttle that stuck up above the cabin top so you didn’t have to duck , getting in and out of the cabin. Before Ian Baldick bought her back into family ownership he threw the Lister out and put a reconditioned 4 cly Ford back in her, cut the coal scuttle off and replaced with a sliding hatch, put a new S/S shaft in her and did a great job of tidying her up. When he retired he put a line hauler on her for gropher fishing and spent a lot of time out fishing and deer shooting, when he past on she was sold but a couple of owners latter his son in law bought her back again for running the whanau to and fro to their bach.
Sad that she has been sold out of the Sounds, but who knows some day she may find her way home, it has happened before !
Nga Mihi,
Woody Classics Weekend #5 Riverhead

Alpheus – A Peek Down Below + Lady Ava In Trouble

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ALPHEUS – A Peek Down Below

Alpehus has previously made a brief WW apperance and today we get to have a peek down below. The 42’ carvel kauri planked Alpheus was built in 1962 and launched in 1963, thought to be a McGeady design, built by Ben Hipkins.
Power is via a 120hp Ford diesel that gets her along at 8>9 knots.
From the photos (thanks Ian McDonald for the tme heads up) she is very well fitted out, a little ‘dark’ for my taste but who am I to comment 🙂
I have been advised by Cameron Pollard that Lady Ava has had a wee opps.  A fine ship in her day, good enough to have caught the eye of Harold Kidd. Lady Ava, built in 1931 by Ernie Lane (Picton) was once named Miss Ava has popped up on WW b4, links below. + recent photos below.
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2006 – Mahurangi – Jason Prew

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Auckland Harbour – John Wright

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John Wright

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2015 – Panmure River – Jason Prew

Update – photos below taken by John Bullivant in Feb 2019 of LA on the Tamaki River.





I have been contacted by Murray Wilson the owner of the 40′ ex workboat – Sterling, he bought her a couple of years ago and is in the middle of a ‘rolling’ restoration. Murray has been told that she was built by Ernie Lane in Picton in 1926 to tow logs out of the Sounds.

It’s rumoured that Sterling was involved in an incident in Tasman Bay in the 1960s or 1970s that involved the boat being found with a scallop dredge in the water, engine running and no one on board. When the dredge was lifted the skipper came up with it. 

Murray is keen to confirm and learn more of Sterling’s history.

Input from Harold Kidd – This STERLING was built by Ernie Lane in Picton in 1925 for L.J. Steele as a passenger vessel to carry 60 pax and had a 1924-built 3 cylinder 27hp (rated) Sterling marine engine bore 4.5″ x stroke 5.5″, dimensions 34′ x 9′ x 3’9″. The engine was changed to 27hp Ruston-Lister diesel by 1940 when she was owned by N.A. Steele and converted to a fishing boat under No. PN29. There was a Marine Dept enquiry in 1946 when she ran on rocks in the Tory Channel with the loss of two lives.

That 34ft loa was the MOT Thames measurement length. She was a 40 footer really.
Historical notes below from recollections of Lex Wells, recorded by Mike Davidson
Lex Wells has lived all his life in the Marlborough Sounds and has worked on and owned
many working boats in the fishing, scalloping and mussel industries. Lex is now over 80 and
has extensive memories and knowledge of many of the working boats and launches in the
Sounds. Arguably there is nobody better informed about Sounds vessels than he is.
History of the Motor Launch “STERLING”
1. The “Sterling” was built by Ernie Lane in the late 1920s for Matt Steel and joined his small fleet of passenger launches.
2. Matt Steel sold his fleet to Queen Charlotte Launches in the late1940s. Lex is not sure if
“Sterling” went to Queen Charlotte Launches as part of that deal; she might have been sold earlier.
3. In the 1960s or 1970s, “Sterling” was sold again and used for fishing and scalloping out of Nelson. One day, in the 1970s, the “Sterling” was found drifting, unmanned, on the scallop beds. The skipper had been working by himself. His body was found in the dredge when it was lifted.
4. After this accident, “Sterling” was sold to a new owner and went fishing out of Taieri
Mouth and was based there for many years.
5. “Sterling” was then bought by Ronnie Wells (a cousin of Lex’s) in the late 1970s or early 1980s and he brought her back to the Sounds. He used her for quite a few years in the scalloping and fishing industry, operating out of Havelock.
6. “Sterling” had a Gardner engine in it when Ronnie Wells bought it. At some stage
afterwards that engine was destroyed when an oil filter failed. It was replaced with a Russel Newbury (RN) engine. That engine was too old and had been poorly maintained and it eventually died one day when “Sterling” was working at sea. Lex towed her with his vessel into Havelock where a four cylinder Ford engine was put in “Sterling”.
7. Ronnie Wells then sold “Sterling” to Sunny Sunbeam and his business partner (might have been his brother). She was taken to Picton where a lot of work was done on her, including new top planks on the hull and a new and much larger cabin on the deck. She was taken back to Havelock soon after.
8. Sunny Sunbeam later sold her and she was taken away from the Sounds by her new owner.


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Chris Manning sent in the top photo of Mavis, as built by Ernie Lane in Picton in 1919 & advised she is still alive & living in Havelock.

Greg Noble also sent me the above photos of Mavis on a ‘buck’s’ cruise (love that description of a boys trip), the photos come from Greg’s grandad, Perceval Noble, journal. 

In a previous WW story on the launch Maxie, in the WW comments section – Gavin Pascoe question if Mavis was the motor launch that took part in the early days racing at the Evans Bay Yacht & Motor Boat Club (1919 onwards),  can anyone comment / confirm this?

Check out the below flyer – cool woody events like this are why if you aren’t already, you need to join the Classic Yacht Association. As the Irish say “the craic will be mighty”

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KAIURUNGA – Workboat Wednesday

Kaiurunga is a double ender solid kauri planked launch at 41′ long & built in 1935 by Ernie Lane.

She is an ex-Westport Harbour Board pilot boat. The name Kaiurunga means ‘highest cloud’.  

Rumour has it she has done a lap of New Zealand and often crossed the Cook Straight.  

Zoom zoom is via a 95hp Perkin diesel motor that has her cruising at around 7 knots.  

Her trademe listing (thanks Ian McDonald) tells us her current owner has had her for a year and is unable to finish the project.  While looking a little ‘work-in-progress’ there has been a lot of time & money spent on her & she would make a good low cost live aboard / tiny house-boat.
Home port is Mana, Wellington.



photos ex trademe

Built in Picton in 1923 by Ernie Lane, 28’ long & powered by a Volvo MD3B diesel engine. She has been for sale on trademe at around $17,000; at that price she would make a nice entry-level launch to get in to the classic wooden boating scene.

She is currently set up as a day boat for the Sounds but the forward cabin could easily be converted back to a double berth.

Any woodys able to expand of Kotuku’s past?

Todays bonus viewing ex Baden Pascoe is a link to photos from the recent ‘Thames Traditional Boat Rally’ – clink to view

Lady Ava

photo ex Jason Prew

Another photo from Jason Prew’s camera during his trip up the Tamaki River with Otira to the recent Chris McMullen workshop CYA visit. On route Jason photographed some of the many moored wooden boats.

Lady Ava, originally named Miss Ava, she was built by Ernie Lane at Picton in 1931. She has appeared on ww before (link below). I wonder if her grey colour is a ‘between coats’ finish, she certainly looked smart when white 😉


photos & details ex Chris Manning & Harold Kidd

Harold has advised that Iris was built by Ernie Lane for E.A. Johnson of Havelock in 1923 and was 40′ x 8’6″ x 3′ 5″ and originally had a 1918 H.C. Doman 2cylinder 15hp, later a Fairbanks Morse then a Kelvin.

Chris added that she was sold to the Orchard family for fishing duties mid 20th century (ish).  Later while at Picton in the 1960’s she suffered a major fire while apparently the gearbox was being cleaned out with petrol.  Some of the fuel spilt into the bilge and caught fire from some dodgy bilge pump wiring.  After the fire Bill Orchard hauled her out and stripped the hull/house so she looked like a big canoe.  She was rebuilt with a couple of extra planks all around, new deck and new house.  Hence the big change in her lines from the oldest images to the newest.

Chris thinks Iris was sold to Athol Sadd of Blenheim in the seventies and was used as a commuter between Picton (later Waikawa) and his property in Ruakaka Bay.  Apparently Athol had a bit of a scare with a rail ferry in in the fog one night/day and within a few days the ‘starship enterprise’ radar scanner arrived.

In 1986 she was re-powered from the 471 GM that Bill Orchard put in her to a 671 Detroit (she has a size able engine box in the aft cabin).  The engine is rated to 180hp at 1800RPM.  Peter Rothwell fabricated the running gear having a 2 inch 316 SS shaft with a 4 bladed 26/24 Nalder and Biddle propeller.  She goes really well such that the propeller holds the engine at a whisker over 1750 RPM (with prop speed). The prop has a bare 3/4 inch between the blade tips and the hull –  a bit of copper sheathing is required there..  Economy wise, she burns about a litre a mile at about 12 knots.  At 1800RPM with flat water, a clean bum and no passengers she can touch 16 knots.

Mark Rogers and Chris bought her in partnership in 2009 and have progressively refitted her.  Chris said she will never be ‘finished’ but she will steadily improve, his quote is ‘Boat Finished > Man Die’ 🙂

Iris also has a sister ship, the Mavis, which is alive and looking very nice in Havelock.

Photos of Mavis below ex Chris Manning



Sometimes on ww things happen fast, sometimes they take time – todays post started off in early April – then almost 4 months later someone lights a match & boom – details & photos appear.

Details from Harold Kidd, photos ex Bruce Overhill.

Matanui was built as San Luis by Ernie Lane in Picton for Martin Beck of Picton in 1923 for Cook Strait conditions. Beck sold her to Auckland owners in October 1925 and motored her up. Early Auckland owners were W.J. Bridson and J.A. Peacock but Walsh Brothers bought her in 1933 and fitted a Kelvin diesel, for which they were Auckland agents.
Between 1942 and 1945 she was used as a Naval patrol launch out of Suva (and may have had a petrol engine installed during that period (Chrysler Crown?) for rationalisation purposes. She was sold back to Leo Walsh in July 1945 but on sold to Joe Kissin (not Kissen) a well-known North Shore businessman of Lake Road, Takapuna, once again Kelvin-powered. Jack Brooke helped Joe with a redesign in 1952. She was moored off Queen’s Parade Devonport, in close company with Moana, Ariki, Spray II, Marangi, Tasmin, Jacqueline and the 30 sq meter Tangaika either side of the Iris Cable Wharf. Her call-sign was ZMQB
The Kelvin was replaced with a Fairbanks-Morse by 1954 and that by a new 6 cylinder Fordson diesel in 1960. By 1973 Joe had sold her to W.K.Downey of Epsom.
He sold her to Thames and then she came back to Auckland owned by O’Meara until about 1983 etc etc.

To read more on her past click this link

‘New’ photos from Bruce Overhill – 03/09/2014


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Photo & words ex Baden Pascoe 
Built by Ernie Lane at Picton in 1937 for Alf Walling of Tauranga. In later years she was purchased by McCallum Bros Ltd and slowly she changed her identity. She was eventual wrecked on Browns Island one foggy morning. Her normal skipper Lance Cross took a day off. Originally Fairbanks Morse powered (E.R. Lane were agents) then another motor and later a 8L3 .