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

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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:
PART ONE
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.
PART TWO
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,
Pete.
Woody Classics Weekend #5 Riverhead
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Herne Bay Yacht Club + Primadonna Update

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HERNE BAY YACHT CLUB

I love the above photo c.1930 of the Herne Bay Yacht Club, a lot of classes on show.
These days there is a better chance of seeing a helicopter taking off from that spot 🙂
15-06-2020 Input below from Robin Elliott

The photo of the boats from the Herne Bay JUNIOR Yacht Club (as it was known then) was taken probably 1933 not long after it was formed for boys under 18 and the location is the foot of George Dennes’s slipway at Sarsfield St, Herne bay.
George Dennes was the commodore and the only adult in the club. All other positions were held by the boys, who ran all the meetings. Vice Commodore Geoff Hodgson was 9, Rear Commodore Jim Faire, aged 13, Hon Sec Colin Dennes ages 16.

At first the boats were a mixed bag of local sailing dinks, the odd Zeddie, ‘anything with a sail’ and as you can see there in sail number 10, what looks to be a Zeddie with a bowsprit and jib.
In the winter of 1934, George Tyler built the 12-foot Silver Fern to an Arch Logan design for Colin Dennes. Others followed and the club consolidated around the new Silver Fern Class.

The administration experience gained from running their own affairs was put to good effect when many of the members, once they reached 18 years joined Richmond Yacht Club. By 1939, the RYC Commodore was Rupert Thorpe, Vice Comm Jim Frankham; Rear Comm Colin Dennes. All three HBJYC graduates and all under 21.

George Dennes died in 1942 and the Commodore’s role was taken over by Alf Thompson (Chad’s father) and continued until the Silver Fern’s demise around 1952, swept way by the new fangled Cherub, Moths and Pennant classes.

Notable yachtsmen, in no particular order, who came through the Silver Ferns were Laurie Davidson, John Lasher, Jim Faire, Des and Ray Hurley, Roy and Frank Dickson, Alan Barclay, Brian Woods, Des Townson, Murray White, Neville Thom, Shirley & Roy White, John Taylor, Roly Moreland, John Peet ….. and on and on…..

It was a very important club in its time and its unique structure actually trained young yacht club administrators. No other club did that.

 

PRIMADONNA – Comes North
These days most woodys that you see on the back of Boat Haulage’s rig are heading south, so its great to see one arriving in Auckland. The 1910 ex whale chaser – Primadonna, arrived Friday afternoon at Pier 21.
A few days of TLC from new owner James Hutchinson and then she will be back in the water. Hopefully another candidate for the Anniversary Day Tug/Work Boat race on the harbour 🙂
She came with a lot of documentation from pervious owners, so when I sight that, hopefully we can establish / confirm her provenance.
Read / view more at this previous WW story https://waitematawoodys.com/2017/04/19/primadonna/
16-06-2020 Input from Peter Beech (petethedeep)

“We had the pleasure of care taking the old Primadonna for a number of years over 40 yrs ago, we did a lot of cruising and have many wonderful memories of her.
 She was powered by a 3 cyl water cooled Lister about 30 hp, being long and skinny with a beautiful counter stern , she ran like a skinny hogget, was good for 9 kts and was miserable on fuel. (less than a Gallon per hr.)
I’d like to comment on the issue of “hearsay history”, I remember researching the whakapapa of the Primadonna by talking to the descendants of original owner, Alf Baldick who farmed in Onapua Bay in Tory Channel.
His nephew Ian Baldick told me that his uncle had her built in 1913 by Ernie Lane.
During the Great War they whaled out of Te awai iti, I have an old photo of her along side a beached whale in Tar White. 
From memory there were 4 Baldick brothers, Alf, Herman and Darcy (twins) both stood 6 ft 4″ in their stocking feet ! and Billy Baldick who farmed on Blumine Island,( another sister Ida lived with him, ) Billy was reputed to have built 200 clinker dinghys on the island, selling them to Sounds farmers.
One of their sisters married a Guard, a descendant of Jackie Guard, ( the famous whaler) and another married a Jackson, of the Jackson Bay whaling dynasty, so whaling was very much in their blood.
I was talking to Hermans daughter Grace one day about the Baldick boats, she said –
“The old people are dead and gone but their boats live on”
She also said that their lives revolved around their boats, they were their daily transport, their farm boats, their fishing boats, they built many of them themselves and repaired and modified them.
She said that once a year they would all gather at Maraetai Bay, line their boats up and have a regatta! Alf had the Primmadonna, Herman and Darcey had the Greyhound and the Daphnee,  Billy had the Waiata .
I dont know what become of the Daphnee, the Greyhound  with her beautiful clipper bow and counter stern eventually rotted away, the Dreadnaught was built by Herman and Darcey for their sister Emma Guard, very similar to the Greyhound but Emma wanted more beam and draft for stability so they could carry farm produce over Cook Strait to the Wellington markets.
Last time I saw her she was in Wellington, not sure where she is now. Gracey told me that when they were planking her, towards the end they ran out of copper rooves so used Halfpennies. 
I have Billies old Waiata  at home here in the shed, she would be one of the oldest boats in the Sounds, built by Ernest Berg around 1900′ ish..  she is a pretty, double diagonal, straight stemmed, with a lovely counter stern, she originally had a Glouster stern, or cut off counter, Billy took her to Ernie Lane and said “put a descent counter on her.” (she is a real classic and for sale to the right buyer, who wants a restoration project.
Local people in my fathers generation used to tell stories, like folk legends about The Guards and the Baldicks, they were probably illiterate, they spoke with a real south of England Cornish drawl that was so distinctive, they lived a very isolated but fascinating  lifestyle.
So these are local oral histories, they are not researched to see if we have got our facts straight, the old lady was right, the old people are dead and gone and now their boats are well over 100 yrs old and wooden boats no matter what their condition are all restorable.
Unfortunately the old people never wrote down their stories and when boats outlive living memories they become fairy tales.
30 yrs ago I went around alot of the old timers and wrote down alot of their memories about the old Sounds launches and collected a lot of old photos, I’m pleased that I did that because all those old boys are dead and gone now.
Waitamata Woodys is doing just that in digital formate which is wonderful and should be encouraged because it ensures that the stories and the spirits of our old people in these wonderful craft live on”
Primadonna heads north
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WCW Riverhead June2020

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Primadonna

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PRIMADONNA

Primadonna is a 36′, 1905 whale chaser built by Lanes for a family with a farm in Tory Channel. Was used as a whale chaser until the end of the whaling era and then became a farm transportation boat for the same family who owned her till her current owner bought her.

She is built out of double diagonal kauri and powered with a 72hp Ford. Cruises at about 8 0r 9 knots at 1500 revs. She has accommodation for 2 and a small wheel house which you can steer from inside of the weather goes bad. Currently 4sale on trademe- thanks to Ian McDonald for the heads up.

Harold Kidd Input
There’s a bit of manufactured history here. Ernie Lane didn’t come to Picton until 1907 and doesn’t appear to have built PRIMA DONNA. Most authorities say she was built by Alf Baldick between 1910 and 1915 for himself and Derbyshire as a whalechaser to compete with the Peranos. She remained in the ownership of the Baldick family until at least 2001.
She’s been on WW before; see https://waitematawoodys.com/2017/02/27/welly-woodys/

PS the “second generation” of whalechasers used by the Baldicks were SUSSEX and PEERLESS, in competition with the Peranos’ CRESCENT, BALAENA and CACHALOT. Ernie Lane built SUSSEX and PEERLESS for the Baldicks in 1916. Lane built the Peranos’ CRESCENT and BALAENA but CACHALOT was built in 1916 to a design by Chas. Collings by Kensitt at Picton. She was the THIRD generation of whalechaser and had a 130/150 hp Van Blerck, typical Collings’ concave-convex hard chine planing hull.

Update 24-05-2020 photos below added ex trademe listing

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Welly Woodys

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Mataroa

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Waiata

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Little Tasman

Welly Woodys

Rob Uivel has been promising me some photos of his recently re-furbished 36′, 1928 Joe Slattery launch Mataroa  for some time, well last weekend the Wellington weather gods smiled & delivered up a near perfect day for a classic woody launch cruise – in the photos above we see Mataroa joined by Waiata (32′, 1913 built by David Reid), both boats had a jaunt around the inner harbour, finally anchoring and rafting up in Oriental Bay. After a pleasant swim and lounge around while heading home they spotted Little Tasman coming out of Clyde Quay marina. Fantastic to have the 3 beautiful classic’s together. All 3 woodys have been featured extensively on ww & you can see / read more on them by using the ww search box.

REMEMBER: This Sundays CYA Classic Woody Launch Parade & Riverhead Hotel Cruise. Non CYA boats welcome. RSVP (boat name & approx. crew numbers) to Angus Rogers    rsvp email link  Scroll down 2 ww posts to see details 😉

Included also below are photos of Prima Donna, which Rob feels bears some resemblance to an old Auckland boat called All Black.

27-02-2017 photo below of All Black dated 1910 ex Maxwell Uivel

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