The Gary Baigent Story
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.