Julie’s jour­ney

Some 60 years af­ter leav­ing Des Town­son’s boat­yard, a Ze­phyr dinghy sails back into the life of the orig­i­nal owner’s fam­ily. How she got there is a con­vo­luted, in­trigu­ing, and above all, heart-warm­ing story.

Boating NZ - - Contents - BY LAWRENCE SCHÄF­FLER

A long-lost Ze­phyr re­turns to her orig­i­nal owner.

Com­pleted in 1957 and given sail num­ber 65, Julie was one of an early batch of the Town­son-built Ze­phyrs. She was bought for £65 17s by Auck­land’s Brian Cole, a keen sailor who’d gained his ex­pe­ri­ence on Ar­rows, Frost­bites, mul­let boats and 18-foot­ers, and even­tu­ally went on to rep­re­sent New Zealand in the In­ter­do­min­ion Champs in Bris­bane.

For the late 50s the Ze­phyr was a fairly radical de­sign – her mono­coque hull, formed from three glued lay­ers of 2.5mm tim­ber, es­chewed stringers and ribs. Town­son’s novel de­sign and con­struc­tion kept the boats light and ag­ile – when it be­came a recog­nised class, the Ze­phyr’s ‘mea­sure­ment’ cer­tifi­cate spec­i­fied a min­i­mum 58kg weight.

Town­son’s early Ze­phyrs – he crafted around 220 of the 302 that were even­tu­ally built – used lay­ers of kahikatea for the hull. But as de­mand for the spir­ited dinghies grew, he strug­gled to find qual­ity kahikatea.

Re­mark­ably, he opted to switch to un­treated ra­di­ata pine – good old ‘ Toko­roa moss’, as it was com­monly known. Julie was one of the first sporting a mono­coque Toko­roa moss hull. Some later builds opted for cedar strip plank­ing, be­fore re­turn­ing to three-skin pine, and then more lat­terly, to fi­bre­glass.

Town­son sup­plied the boats ‘un­fin­ished’ – leav­ing the new own­ers to fit the deck and fit­tings. Af­ter equip­ping Julie with th­ese, Brian launched her at his home club (Glen­dowie Boat­ing Club) and raced her com­pet­i­tively for a few years.

In a par­al­lel de­vel­op­ment though, he’d met his fu­ture wife (Sally) at the club and, when they were mar­ried a few years later, pri­or­i­ties changed. Sad­dled with re­spon­si­bil­i­ties such as build­ing a house, Julie was sold to bol­ster the grow­ing fam­ily’s kitty.

And for all in­tents and pur­poses, Julie’s in­volve­ment with the Cole fam­ily ended there. But…

In the decade be­fore Brian Cole’s death (in 2015), his son Mark had har­boured a se­cret yearn­ing to track down Julie, re­store and present her to his dad. As is often the case with such dreams – other things kept get­ting in the way. The idea fiz­zled and the op­por­tu­nity passed. Fast-for­ward to 2017. By all ac­counts Mark is a gen­er­ous, phil­an­thropic sort of chap with a wide cir­cle of friends and as­so­ciates – among them Gra­ham Reid, who knew of Mark’s quest to find Julie. Ful­fill­ing

the dream, al­beit for a dif­fer­ent Cole, would be a neat ges­ture of ap­pre­ci­a­tion, and an ap­pro­pri­ate one timed for Mark’s 60th birthday. But where to start?

“I know next to noth­ing about boats, and def­i­nitely noth­ing about Ze­phyrs,” says Gra­ham. “How would I go about track­ing down a long-lost boat? Did it even ex­ist? And, even if I did find her, how would I keep the whole project a se­cret?”

For­tu­nately for ev­ery­one, Gra­ham’s good mate Don Cur­rie proved to be the per­fect sleuth. Don – a for­mer mea­surer for the Ze­phyr class – had ac­cess to archives and records. Af­ter much dig­ging it tran­spired that Julie (now called Mad­die) did in­deed ex­ist and, what’s more, she lived in nearby Devon­port.

It seems that some years af­ter Brian sold Julie in 1960, she was pur­chased and cam­paigned by a young Dave Ed­monds. When Dave’s fam­ily moved to Fiji for a few years – Julie went along and re­turned with them a few years later.

Af­ter that, though, the trail ran cold, only grow­ing warm again in the 2000s when records show she was sailed for a while by

Tau­ranga’s Jimmy Gilpin – an ex­pe­ri­enced sailor and for­mer Tan­ner Cup win­ner. He was rea­son­ably suc­cess­ful in #65 – and to­day is still ac­tive in the Ze­phyr class.

In 2014 though, a now much older Dave Ed­monds was reac­quainted with Julie/mad­die. He re­pur­chased her and con­tin­ued to sail her for 18 months. By this time the Ze­phyr was feel­ing her age, and Dave se­ri­ously en­ter­tained the no­tion of a restora­tion. Un­til May 2017, when Gra­ham Reid knocked on his door.

Gra­ham sketched the boat’s back­ground and the pro­posed ‘cir­cu­lar­ity’ for its legacy – and the deal was struck.


Don Cur­rie, again for­tu­itously, is not only a for­mer Ze­phyr mea­surer. He is also a very good am­a­teur boat­builder with a par­tic­u­lar affin­ity for fix­ing old Ze­phyrs. He has worked on a num­ber of them and knows the de­sign in­ti­mately.

Re­pair­ing Julie, he says, turned into a big­ger-than-en­vis­aged project. “She needed quite a bit of del­i­cate hull work – a large area around the keel was badly rot­ten. We had to scarf in a com­pletely new sec­tion.”

In ad­di­tion, he fit­ted new bulk­heads, new side tanks, deck beams, a Ga­boon ply­wood deck with splash rails, the cen­tre­board cas­ing

(macro­carpa), the cen­tre­board (kauri and red­wood) and the rud­der. In fact, the only ‘orig­i­nal’ com­po­nents re­tained in the restora­tion were the hull, tran­som and one bulk­head.

Ze­phyrs, says Don, “are renowned for their decks. Be­cause Town­son sup­plied the boats with­out decks, own­ers were given the op­tion not only to use dif­fer­ent tim­bers but were also given free rein to em­bel­lish the deck with mar­quetry and in­lays. Back in the day there were some mag­nif­i­cent ex­am­ples around.”

He also hap­pened to have a spare spruce mast and boom, and Doyles pro­vided a new sail. Gra­ham – though he might not know much about boats – does know quite a bit about paint. He was re­spon­si­ble for Julie’s bright red hull – the same colour Brian Cole had painted her 60 years ear­lier.


In March this year, about a year af­ter the restora­tion be­gan, Julie was ready to be pre­sented to Mark and, as with the en­tire project, the cer­e­mony re­quired a lit­tle sub­terfuge. Mark was dragged off to the River­head pub on a Sun­day on the pre­text of a ca­sual fam­ily brunch.

“We trav­elled in my RIB, and as we got closer to Green­hithe, I recog­nised boats be­long­ing to my friends – all an­chored nearby. And then I be­gan recog­nis­ing friends – about 40 of them. And I thought – ‘what the hell is go­ing on here?’

“Once on the land­ing at Salt­house’s wharf, my at­ten­tion was di­rected to a lit­tle red yacht tack­ing to­wards us. It took a while, but I even­tu­ally rec­og­nized the sail num­ber – and the colour – and then my son Matty sail­ing her. Fi­nally, the penny dropped – and it all dawned on me. Well, as you can imag­ine, it was a fairly emo­tional re­union.”

“This project,” adds Gra­ham, “in­volved many peo­ple – and re­turn­ing Julie to the Cole fam­ily was an op­por­tu­nity for ev­ery­one gath­ered there to say thank you to Mark for his re­mark­able gen­eros­ity of spirit.”

As part of the Christ­mas fes­tiv­i­ties, the Coles will re­launch Julie into her home wa­ters at the Glen­dowie Boat­ing Club, where the en­tire story be­gan 60 years ago. BNZ

...I be­gan recog­nis­ing friends – about 40 of them. And I thought – ‘what the hell is go­ing on here?’

FAR LEFT Julie well on the way to a com­plete re­cov­ery.

LEFT The Ze­phyr needed quite a bit of TLC when she was re-ac­quired for the Cole fam­ily. The en­tire project was car­ried out in se­cret.

LEFT Des Town­son’s orig­i­nal in­voice for #65. She was sold to Brian Cole af­ter the orig­i­nal client can­celled the or­der.

RIGHT A se­ri­ous case of rot saw a large sec­tion of Julie’s hull re­moved and re­placed.

RIGHT Con­spir­a­tors Don Cur­rie (left) and Gra­ham Reid (far right) found and re­stored Julie for Mark Cole (sec­ond left). Mum Sally was there when the boat was first ac­quired by her hus­band-to-be.

LEFT Mark’s son Matty sailed Julie to the pre­sen­ta­tion – a very emo­tional re­union.TOP LEFT Don prefers tra­di­tional rig­ging meth­ods for the Ze­phyrs.

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