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.
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.