Sea­soned sea­far­ers

An idio­syn­cratic man and his idio­syn­cratic boat.

Boating NZ - - Contents - BY LIND­SAY WRIGHT

There aren’t a lot of gaff-rigged, dou­ble-ended ketches with aft wheel­houses on the New Zealand coast, so the Kelvin sticks out like a ka­hawai in a gold­fish bowl.

And vet­eran skip­per, Dave Jones, is ret­i­cent to talk about him­self. But once the con­ver­sa­tion shifts to the Kelvin, or wooden boats, his words flow in a flood-tide of facts, fig­ures, ad­ven­tures and yarns.

“Steve Carey built her in 1929 at Carey’s Bay in Port Chalmers,” he be­gins. “She’s 1¼” (32mm) kauri plank­ing on, I think, Ja­panese oak ribs. The back­bone, keel­son, en­gine bear­ers and other struc­tural pieces are hard­wood – and she’s fas­tened with cop­per riv­ets.”

She’s not that much older than me, the 82-year old skip­per adds. He’s well-known for his daily break­fast fare of por­ridge and gar­lic but hes­i­tates to credit this for his longevity and vigour.

About the time Kelvin was near­ing com­ple­tion, a lo­cal farmer, Alex Gunn, was di­ag­nosed with lung prob­lems and was ad­vised by his doc­tor to breathe plenty of fresh sea air.

“So he bought the Kelvin,” says Dave. “Her first en­gine was a petrol-fired Kelvin – which ap­par­ently wasn’t too re­li­able – but at least the boat got a name from it.”

Like most boats of her vin­tage, Kelvin is long (42’4” – 12.9m) and slim (10’3” – 3.2m beam) and draws five feet (1.5m) with a slip­pery un­der­wa­ter shape to get the most from the mod­er­ate horse­power en­gines of the time.

A ven­er­a­ble Bolin­der two-cylin­der oil en­gine which de­vel­oped about 30hp re­placed the trou­ble­some Kelvin – and en­abled her to ply her trade as an open cock­pit day boat fish­ing out of Port Chalmers. Later she was con­verted into the first small trawler in Dunedin.

For years Kelvin fished that un­for­giv­ing coast­line, skip­pered by Ed­ward Ath­field. “I still keep in touch with his daugh­ter, Edna Wheeler,” Dave says. “She’s about 100 years old – but can still re­mem­ber Kelvin be­ing launched.”

Af­ter years of work the Bolin­der fi­nally called it quits and snapped a crankshaft while work­ing at Long Beach, Blue­skin Bay. Dave fos­sicks around Kelvin’s aft cabin for the orig­i­nal log­book and flops it open to a well-thumbed page. “Towed out of surf by FV Awa­tea (R.d.ledger­wood skip­per) af­ter main crankshaft broke,” reads the la­conic en­try. Too few words to fully de­scribe what must have been a fairly har­row­ing res­cue. “It was the first of the Kelvin’s nine lives,” Dave says. Her next power plant was a 371 GM diesel with

3.5:1 trans­mis­sion – the GM’S 113hp was more suited to her role as an in­shore trawler and she was sold to well-known Timaru fish­er­man, Don La­timer, who fished her for the next 20 years.

“The story gets a bit vague af­ter that,” says Dave. “She had var­i­ous own­ers and en­gines and was used for scal­lop dredg­ing, line fish­ing and trawl­ing un­til she ended up in Nel­son. I’m amazed by the num­ber of peo­ple who come up to us and say they used to fish in her.

“In 1989, she was com­ing back into Nel­son cut in thick fog – no radar. They heard on the VHF that a mer­chant ship was also com­ing into the cut – so they pulled over to give her room. But they went too far and Kelvin smashed up on the boul­der bank. The boat sat there, grind­ing up and down for a week or so, while ne­go­ti­a­tions with the in­sur­ers dragged on.

“Her star­board side was stoved in – they sal­vaged the en­gine and cut off the wheel­house – but it floated away.” When the boat was fi­nally dragged off the jagged boul­ders she sat be­side a wharf in Nel­son with the tides flow­ing through her. She was de­clared a to­tal loss.

Mean­while, a young boat­build­ing ap­pren­tice with an eye for sweet hull form and a love of tra­di­tional wooden ves­sels be­gan to take an in­ter­est in the bat­tered vet­eran. Tommy Poyn­ton had been raised by Dave and his part­ner Kathy Mead at Whakatahuri in the Marl­bor­ough Sounds. It was an up­bring­ing im­mersed in boat cul­ture; boats be­ing worked on, dis­cussed, cri­tiqued and sailed.

“He was keen on be­ing a boat­builder,” Dave re­calls, “so I rang [Nel­son wooden boat­builder] Jack Guard. “Well,” Jack said, “I don’t re­ally need an ap­pren­tice right now – does he know about boats?”

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