Vintageview Tamariki & Prize
The Thompson brothers, Alf (sometimes known as Dick) and T.L. (known as Cook) punched above their weight in Auckland’s 20th century yachting circles.
After they sold the crack keel yacht Speedwell, both brothers dabbled in minor yachts. Cook raced the 18-footers Success, built by Alf Bell in 1902 and the square-bilge Millicent, built by George Honour in 1922. Alf, who lived at 19 Sentinel Road, Herne Bay, made sure his three sons were exposed to good boats and yachting’s delights, both racing and cruising.
In October 1927 he bought the clinker 14-footer Manu (T26) for the two older boys, Bressin (born 1916) and Dick (born 1918). Manu was seven years old and a local boat, owned for most of its short life by near-neighbour Ralph Pawson of Hamilton Road.
The boys were hardly old enough to sail the competitive Manu but were useful as crew, so Alf enlisted help from Stan Dryland, one of Auckland’s top 14-footer specialists, to skipper the yacht and teach them the rudiments. Stan was another of the Herne Bay yachting fraternity. He was Secretary of the Ponsonby Cruising Club where Alf was Commodore once again.
By 1930 Bressin and Dick had enough skills to handle a boat themselves, so their father sold Manu to the Manukau and bought them the 16-footer Colleen (S49). It was not a good decision. Colleen, renamed Wild Thyme, was a ballasted yacht in the miniature mullet boat style, heavy and relatively slow, and needed to be moored off. After the lively Manu, Wild Thyme was safe, but pedestrian. She lasted in the Thompson family’s hands only briefly before they sold her to Point Chevalier. But their next step up was truly a quantum leap.
In 1934, New Zealand and, indeed, the whole world was still in the grip of the Great Depression that followed the US Stock Market crash of 1929. Charles Collings was the principal of Collings & Bell, one of the finest boatbuilding firms in Auckland at the time. The yard was in St. Mary’s Bay, then still an idyllic beach.
In the early 1900s Collings had been responsible for the design and construction of some of Auckland’s best racing mullet boats, but his firm had moved with the times and now was the foremost builder of hard-chine planing launches for racing, whale-chasing and big game fishing.
Despite the “Slump” there was an upsurge of interest in the L Class of racing 22ft mullet boats sponsored by the Ponsonby Cruising Club. Its clubrooms were next to Collings & Bell in St. Mary’s Bay. Collings decided to go back to his roots and produce the ultimate 22-footer as a showcase for his talents.
His new mullet boat, Tamariki, (L11) was launched on 31 October 1934, just one of five new 22-footers launched for the
...his three sons were exposed to good boats and yachting’s delights, both racing and cruising.
season. Charles Collings had been a crack yachtsman 30 years before but was now in his sixties and visually challenged.
His first skipper for the new boat was 29-year old Laurie Pohlen, followed by Jack Mcwhirter and W.A. “Farmer” Willetts for the majority of her first season in which she gained 12 firsts, including the glamour race, the Lipton Cup, as well as the Savory Cup, four seconds, and seven thirds and the Championship Flag at the Anniversary Regatta, all from scratch. In this staunch mullet boat corner of the Waitemata, Tamariki was the hot ship.
With his brother Cook’s financial assistance, Alf Thompson bought Tamariki for his sons Bressin and Dick Jr in July 1935, ready for the new season with a revised cabin top and set up for cruising as well as racing. Their new boat was at the peak of the development of the 22ft mullet boat within the Ponsonby Restrictions of the time and head and shoulders above the other four new boats of her season as well as the existing fleet.
The 1936 Lipton Cup race was held in a half gale southerly. Farmer Willetts, skippering Tamariki, started late, putting a fourth reef in the mainsail, but still managed a creditable third. Willetts took Tamariki to a well-judged win over Fred Lidgard in Komuri in the 1937 race, repeating the win in 1938, against Lidgard in Macushla and yet again in 1939 against Marika.
In 1940, however, Charles Collings’ new boat for Stuart Naismith, Taotane, a development of Tamariki, took the gun. This ended Tamariki’s dominance of the class for a time but she won the Cup another eight times between 1948 and 1960.
During 1940 the Thompson brothers laid Tamariki up as the effects of the war began to bite. Bressin was in a key occupation running the family business building wheelchairs. Dick had gained his ticket as a marine engineer and went to sea on the “home boats”. He died when the Shaw, Savill & Albion freighter Zealandic was torpedoed off Rockall on 17 January 1941 by U106 with the loss of all lives.
His parents were devastated, particularly since no details of the action came through until after the war from German records. Alf knew Bill Endean well. Endean had laid up his Bailey keel yacht Prize “for the duration”. In October 1941, just two months before Pearl Harbour, Alf bought Prize for Bressin.
Soon afterwards Alf commissioned George Tyler to help his youngest son, Harlan, build a Silver Fern 12-footer to race with the Herne Bay Junior Yacht Club, an off-shoot of the Richmond Yacht Club. Naturally she was named Tamariki Junior and given the sail number 11.
Mullet boat guru Ron Copeland of Bayswater did a meticulous job of restoring Harlan’s Silver Fern a couple of years ago. Ron’s father-in-law, “Whisk” Martinengo, with his cousin “Flap”, owned Tamariki from 1948 to 1950 and won the Lipton Cup with her, in fact getting 21 guns in 21 starts in their first season.
Until the war was won, the Thompsons could do little to Prize except keep her covered and dry, but Bressin and Alf did recommission her for the 1945-6 season, still in her pre-war configuration with her gaff rig. Her first race was in the 1945 Anniversary Regatta in which she carried away her bobstay but Bressin campaigned her hard with increasing success.
She won the Royal Akarana Yacht Club’s Balokovic Cup in 1946 and again in 1947, lowering Moana’s record for the offshore event. That year Bressin married Beth Lamb. They brought up their two children, Chad and Mary-ann cruising the Gulf and the Bay of Islands in Prize. For racing, Chad joined the crew as the back-stay hand at the age of nine.
As had happened to many of her contemporary gaff-rig hold-
outs, the Thompsons decided to convert Prize to bermudan rig in 1949. The reasons were many; a bermudan mainsail was probably better on the wind than a gaff and helped Prize match her more modern opponents; the gear was lighter and easier to handle; less crew were needed, a bonus for cruising when the only alternative was the trysail.
Her racing results continued to be excellent, but in 1976 the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron changed its rules regarding spinnakers and Bressin stopped racing. He had just bought a whopper, 58ft on the luff and 43ft across the shoulders. He was not going to fork out for another little fellow. He, Beth and the family just went cruising.
Then, in 1993, the 70th Anniversary of the launching of the good ship, Bressin had a stroke which brought his sailing to an end. Chad took over the running of Prize. After a mild encounter with a rock at Easter 1995, Chad hauled her out and decided it was time for a major refit, but it turned into a full six-month restoration.
Afterwards, Chad put her into survey to tutor the sales and marketing staff of Maersk and entertain their clients during the Louis Vuitton selection series and the 2000 America’s Cup. Since then Prize has clocked up huge amounts of sea miles, cruising, racing with the Classic Yacht Association, winning the Harbour Series and Passage Series several times.
Prize is probably the most thoroughly used yacht in Auckland’s Classic scene and, at 95, ready for another 95.
Prize laid up “for the duration” of the war, as the Thompsons bought her. CLOCKWISE FROM TOP
The 14-footer Manu. Bressin Thompson in the 1950s.
Alf Thompson aboardPrize sorting gear during the conversion to Bermudan rig in 1949.
FAR LEFT The crew of Prize on the CYA race to Mahurangi 2013, from left Chad’s son-in-law Robin Kenyon, Italian photographer Francesco Rastrelli, Chad Thompson, long time mate Jeremy Mace.
LEFT Ron Copeland sailing Tamariki Junior.