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Century-old launch on path to her former glory days

Posted at 11:44am Monday 16 Nov, 2020

From left, Matthew Quested with boat builders Josh Hawke and Colin Brown.
From left, Matthew Quested with boat builders Josh Hawke and Colin Brown.

A photograph of the Guthrie Family aboard the Alcestis for Christmas in 1932.
A photograph of the Guthrie Family aboard the Alcestis for Christmas in 1932.

The Raiona in its former days.The Raiona in its former days.

When Matthew Quested, of Whangaripo, transported his recently acquired 100-year-old launch, the boatyard had to widen its driveway by four metres, and it still pulled out some trees.

The Raiona, formerly named Mollie and then Alcestis, was built by Joe Slattery of Judges Bay in Auckland in 1919.

By modern standards it is an extremely unusual specimen, being a launch with an 8-metre mast and a 10-metre boom.

By the standards of the time it was also an impressive vessel, at 46 feet long (13 metres).

Only five launches of this size were built in Auckland in 1919, according to a newspaper clipping that Matthew has found from the time.

“Launches of this size were rare. And at that time the world had just cleared the Spanish Flu and World War I, so the owner must have been wealthy,” Matthew says.

Launches were first coming into favour in 1919, but sails were still the norm. Unlike most launches, the Raiona features a long keel, which allows it to sail without sliding sideways.

The boat has had a number of notable owners, including the Guthrie family, Alf Seccombe of Lion Breweries, who gave it the name Raiona (Maori for lion), and the Parry brothers of Warkworth.

In the 1960s it was renovated and surfaces were covered with pink Formica and mahogany, which Matthew has had removed to reveal intact kauri.

The restoration is being undertaken by Josh Hawke, of Kauri Classics, and Colin Brown, in a yard in Waiteitei. They are determined to do it the traditional way.

This means that instead of using epoxy, the space between planks is filled in with cotton – a process known as caulking.

The bilge features red lead paint, which is exceptional at sealing and is toxic to bacteria that can rot wood.

Josh says the original boat is “still there underneath”.

He says the kauri that old wooden boats were made of “pickles” in seawater, which helps preserve the boats, whereas today's plywood coated in fibre glass might have rotted away after 100 years.

The Raiona is on to its third engine. The current one is a World War II-era Detroit Diesel two-stroke engine, which was used in D-Day landing craft as well as in tractors. It is rated 140 horsepower and gives the launch a top speed of 8.5 knots.

Once complete, the Raiona will be berthed in Sandspit River where it had formerly been for 10 years.

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