The Gary Baigent Story

Boating NZ - - Contents - BY JOHN MAC­FAR­LANE

To­day, of course, mul­ti­hulls are solidly main­stream and even foil­ing ones are com­mon­place, but that wasn’t the case in the late 1960s/early 1970s when any­one as­so­ci­ated with mul­ti­hulls was con­sid­ered a hereti­cal lu­natic. Born in 1941, Baigent’s first five years were spent at the head of the Wairoa Gorge near Nel­son, where his fa­ther Dan and un­cle Arthur op­er­ated a sawmill. The fam­ily moved to Wake­field in the mid-1940s and Baigent’s child­hood was more about land­based pur­suits such as hunt­ing than boats.

Af­ter three years at Uni­ver­sity of Can­ter­bury’s School of Fine Arts, he moved to Auck­land in­tend­ing to train as a teacher. But that idea got shelved pretty quickly and in­stead he took a job on the Auck­land Wharf’s as a seag­ull – a non-union, wa­ter­side worker.

Pas­sion­ate about pho­tog­ra­phy, Baigent had started tak­ing black and white pho­tographs of Auck­land street life, and in 1967 he pub­lished a book – The Un­seen City, One Hun­dred and Twenty Three Pho­tographs of Auck­land.

This gem is well worth track­ing down as it pro­vides a de­light­ful mon­tage of Auck­land street life in the mid-1960s. Even then Baigent had his own style: “I’d force the ASA [film speed] so my im­ages were very grainy, which I liked – black and white, with few mid­dle tone greys which was not tra­di­tional.”

By then he’d dis­cov­ered two more life-dom­i­nat­ing in­ter­ests – div­ing and sail­ing. The div­ing be­came an in­come source and he and the late Whetu Knowles reg­u­larly trav­elled to the West Coast to free-dive for crays and paua, which they’d sell in Auck­land.

Baigent’s first real sail­ing ex­pe­ri­ences was in the 4.2m mul­let boat Lady Ruia and, along with his mates Chris Doud­ney and Mike Wat­son, the trio cruised many miles along the North­land coast.

He gained his early sail­ing ex­pe­ri­ences in mul­let boats, Fly­ing Fif­teens and the ex-chris Bouzaid Yacht­ing World Di­a­mond Rain­bow. He was sail­ing on Rain­bow one day when Ron Given flew past on one hull of his A Class cata­ma­ran Hustler. It was an epiphany mo­ment for Baigent: “What am I do­ing on this lead­mine?” He soon be­came friendly with the small Auck­land mul­ti­hull fra­ter­nity and got to crew on Keith Mcclane’s Hed­ley Ni­col de­signed tri­maran Drum­beat. Un­til then, over­seas de­sign­ers such as Lock Crowther, Arthur Piver and Ni­col had de­signed most of the big­ger mul­ti­hulls in Auck­land, but this was about to change.

In 1971 Ron Given launched his 11m cruiser/racer cata­ma­ran Ti­gress, be­fore the late Mal­colm Ten­nant came out with Bam­boo Bomber, a 9.8m, open-deck, high-per­for­mance cata­ma­ran with a wing-mast.

As orig­i­nally drawn, Bam­boo Bomber’s hulls had flared steps above the wa­ter­line, with blis­ter cab­ins fore and aft of cen­tral cock­pits. Like the Olympic class Tor­nado cata­ma­rans, it was con­structed from tor­tured or stressed ply­wood. While it looked a tri­fle weird, Baigent was taken with the con­cept and asked Ten­nant to re­move the stepped hull sec­tions and clean up the aes­thet­ics.

In 1972 Baigent and Ken Boyce each be­gan build­ing an up­graded Bam­boo Bomber – named Sup­ple­jack and Su­per­bird re­spec­tively. Launched in 1977, their large wing masts cre­ated con­sid­er­able in­ter­est in some quar­ters and hor­ror in oth­ers. “They were con­sid­ered lu­natic fringe-plus.”

Sadly, Ten­nant had been con­ser­va­tive with his wing-mast de­sign – its ex­ces­sive weight caused the su­per-light Sup­ple­jack to pitch ex­ces­sively in sloppy seas and light winds. But once the breeze filled she proved ex­traor­di­nar­ily fast. Baigent raced Sup­ple­jack with the New Zealand Mul­ti­hull Yacht Club for a sev­eral years and for a time she was the fastest yacht in New Zealand.

Mean­time, Ten­nant’s 8.5m Great Bar­rier Ex­press, also launched in 1977, proved to be a gi­ant killer and Richard Pilk­ing­ton, who’d com­mis­sioned the de­sign, set up GRP pro­duc­tion. The fleet of pro­duc­tion GBES was soon joined by big­ger, faster de­signs such as David Barker’s 12.8m Sundancer, Given’s 12m Split Enz and Ten­nant’s 13m Ul­tra­vi­o­let and After­burner.

Over­seas, large mul­ti­hulls were also be­gin­ning to dom­i­nate ocean races such as the OSTAR and Route de Rhum; it was an

ex­cit­ing time for mul­ti­hull fans, and Baigent, now a jour­nal­ist writ­ing for Sea Spray mag­a­zine, was in his el­e­ment.

In 1980 Sup­ple­jack’s wing-mast proved her un­do­ing when a storm hit Auck­land. Sit­ting on the mud at low tide, her wing couldn’t ro­tate into the wind and she turned over. The in­com­ing tide smashed her into the rocks at Cox’s Bay.

A born re­cy­cler, dur­ing 1981 Baigent con­verted one of Sup­ple­jack’s dam­aged hulls into the main hull of a six-me­tre square tri­maran fly­ing foiler named Flash Harry – his first ven­ture with foils.

Un­like a con­ven­tional tri­maran with all three hulls a sim­i­lar length sup­ported by two beams per side, Flash Harry had one cen­tral beam sup­port­ing two much smaller floats. These each held deep asym­met­ri­cal dag­ger foils with a third, in­verted T rud­der at the rear of the cen­tral hull. This ap­proach is con­sid­er­ably lighter than a stan­dard tri­maran.

Flash Harry’s first wing-mast came from a Keith Mck­in­nven-de­signed B Class cata­ma­ran. But it was too big and heavy and caused pitch­ing is­sues. A smaller, lighter wing-mast trans­formed Flash Harry and she’d sta­bly foil in any breeze over 12 knots. Below this wind speed Flash Harry sailed like a con­ven­tional tri­maran.

En­cour­aged, Baigent con­verted Sup­ple­jack’s rel­a­tively un­dam­aged re­main­ing hull into a sim­i­lar but larger ver­sion of Flash Harry, which he named Mis­guided An­gel. Mea­sur­ing 13.3m LOA with 12m beam, Mis­guided An­gel had a sin­gle cross-beam sup­port­ing twin outer floats with foils. Ini­tially, Baigent used bi-plane masts set halfway along the main beam,

which pro­duced plenty of power with a low cen­tre of ef­fort.

But the sail shapes from the bi-plane rig weren’t great up­wind, so he built a sin­gle 15.5m wing-mast. He also even­tu­ally built a lighter, stronger main beam, new floats and length­ened the main hull to 11.3m LOA, for a sig­nif­i­cant per­for­mance boost.

He’d al­ways moored his shal­low draft boats on the tidal mud flats at Mo­tions Creek and Cox’s Bay, which at times gen­er­ated com­plaints from a few dis­grun­tled res­i­dents who dis­liked mul­ti­hulls. This lo­ca­tion has caused him other prob­lems.

Mis­guided An­gel lost her wing mast and both floats there in one storm, and badly smashed her main hull bot­tom in an­other. Now re­named Grou­cho Marx, she cur­rently awaits new star­board floats, though the main hull’s been re­paired. Any sane per­son would have cut it into small pieces and dumped it.

Baigent’s cur­rent project is Frog, a 7m x 7.5m foil­ing tri, mostly built from 3mm tor­tured ply­wood, with se­lec­tive strength­en­ing in car­bon and glass/epoxy. Like most of his boats, Frog was largely de­signed by eye on the shop floor.

Set­ting up a cen­tral trans­verse frame, gun­wales, bow, stern and keel­son, gives Baigent a ba­sic out­line over which he tor­tures three-mil­lime­tre ply­wood into the fi­nal hull shape. While this may sound crude, the fin­ished re­sult be­lies the process and is stun­ning proof of his artis­tic eye.

Many other boats have ap­peared out of the mod­est shed be­hind Baigent’s Grey Lynn house: a six-me­tre, wing-masted schooner mono­hull, Sid ‘the black skim­mer’, sev­eral row­ing boats (in­clud­ing a slid­ing seat ver­sion), sev­eral out­rig­ger ca­noes, as well as countless outer floats, foils, rud­ders, wing masts and stern ex­ten­sions for him­self and his mates.

The cen­tral theme to his boats is al­ways min­i­mum weight, drag and cost, along with max­i­mum power. All his boats have nar­row wa­ter­lines, are al­most del­i­cately built and of­ten fea­ture foils and/or wing masts.

Like many, Baigent’s been fas­ci­nated by the ad­vance­ment in mul­ti­hulls, foils and wing masts since the 2010 Amer­ica’s Cup, all tech­nolo­gies he’d been play­ing with for decades. It seems the rest of the boat­ing world has only re­cently caught up.

Ca­reer-wise, Baigent’s done a bit of ev­ery­thing. Be­sides the afore­men­tioned fish­ing, div­ing, seag­ulling, boat­ing jour­nal­ist, pho­tog­ra­pher and il­lus­tra­tor, he’s worked with Terry Cook­son as a boat­builder, founded a land­scape gar­den­ing busi­ness and worked part time in his part­ner’s famed sec­ond­hand book­store, Do­min­ion Books in Jer­vois Road.

His pho­tographs were fea­tured in the 1973 Ac­tive Eye ex­hi­bi­tion along with Richard Collins and John Fields. As well as countless ar­ti­cles for Sea Spray and other mag­a­zines, he’s also writ­ten and pub­lished Light Bri­gade, a com­pre­hen­sive E-book of the evo­lu­tion of New Zealand light dis­place­ment yacht de­sign.

Mo­tor­bikes are an­other of Baigent pas­sions. He’s owned a Bsa-framed Match­less G80 chair out­fit, a Nor­ton 99 Dom­i­na­tor, a pair of V-twin Du­catis (GT750 and Dharma 900), and a GSXR Suzuki.

But while Baigent’s mo­tor­cy­cles are now all con­sid­ered clas­sics, his boats have al­ways re­mained cut­ting edge. Light, fast, al­most bru­tal in their sparse­ness and fo­cus on speed un­der sail.

Gary Baigent – liv­ing proof yes­ter­day’s hereti­cal lu­natics can be to­day’s vi­sion­ar­ies.


RIGHT Flash Harry, Baigent’s first foray into foil­ing.

BELOW Frog’s cen­tral hull lines show what can be achieved from stressed ply­wood con­struc­tion.

CLOCK­WISE FROM TOP Sup­ple­jack round­ing a misty Cape Brett; sun­bathing siren on Sup­ple­jack’s front tramp; cray­fish gather­ing.

CLOCK­WISE FROM TOP LEFT Frog await­ing wing-mast re­pairs; Sid un­der con­struc­tion; and – bot­tom left – com­plete with twin wing-masts.

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