Boating NZ

Re­flec­tions

Apart from those in know, ar­chi­tect/ de­signer Gary Un­der­wood flies un­der the radar. But over the last 40 years he’s de­signed many fas­ci­nat­ing and in­no­va­tive boats, of­ten for those on lim­ited bud­gets. Here’s the story of a man who loves his boats.

- BY JOHN MAC­FAR­LANE

The Gary Un­der­wood Story

Un­der­wood was born in Lon­don dur­ing the dark days of 1942 when Ger­many and her Axis part­ners seemed un­beat­able. Af­ter the war ended the fam­ily em­i­grated to New Zealand and set­tled in Welling­ton. In­spired by the dinghies sail­ing out of Worser Bay, Un­der­wood’s first boat was P Class #7, a gunter-rig­ger which he stripped back and re-painted. Show­ing an early in­ter­est in cruis­ing, he sailed his P to Kapiti Is­land. Be­cause he told no one he was go­ing, his par­ents or­gan­is­ing a search party.

By 1960 he had joined the RNZNVR and was se­ri­ously con­sid­er­ing yacht de­sign as a ca­reer. His fa­ther sought ad­vice from Christchur­ch yacht de­signer Eric Cox, who said as there was no money in it, bet­ter that Un­der­wood get a real job and keep boat de­sign as a hobby.

So Un­der­wood moved to Auck­land for three years to gain a Di­ploma in Ar­chi­tec­ture. Be­sides get­ting mar­ried, dur­ing those years he owned the mul­let boats Sun and Lady Ruia. A few years later the cou­ple had three chil­dren and he was work­ing for ar­chi­tect Nyall Cole­man de­sign­ing churches.

Seek­ing change, in 1970 he got a job de­sign­ing houses for the Fi­jian Hous­ing Au­thor­ity. It was in Fiji that he bought his first real cruis­ing yacht, the 10.6m Chilean-built Ter­ral. The dream of sail­ing oceans re­mained paramount, so af­ter gain­ing off­shore nav­i­ga­tion ex­pe­ri­ence on Ge­orge Kel­sall’s 14.9m schooner Lady

Ster­ling, Un­der­wood sailed Ter­ral to New Zealand, back to Fiji, and on to Van­u­atu, New Cale­do­nia and Bris­bane.

In Bris­bane (1974) he swapped Ter­ral for the dam­aged 17m gaff ketch Utiekah III, which had been built by the Wil­son Bros in Ho­bart in 1927. Built in Huon pine and dis­plac­ing 47 tons,

Utiekah III had lost her keel and rud­der dur­ing a ground­ing on the Great Bar­rier Reef.

While Un­der­wood lo­cated her rud­der, he couldn’t find her keel. So he fit­ted a tem­po­rary rud­der, filled the saloon with 60-litre drums of diesel and mo­tored Utiekah III from Bris­bane to Whangarei via Lord Howe Is­land.

He spent the next 12 months restor­ing her at Jack­son’s slip­way in the Bay of Is­lands, in­clud­ing re-fit­ting her rud­der and in­stalling a new keel to his own de­sign built in con­crete, steel re­in­forc­ing rods and cast-iron weights.

He helped found the Tall Ships Re­gatta in 1975 and raced

Utiekah III in the in­au­gu­ral event. Fol­low­ing a sug­ges­tion from the vis­it­ing Tas­ma­nian yacht Saona, he sailed Utiekah III to Ho­bart. By now Un­der­wood had a new part­ner, Robyn Lewis, and they dis­cov­ered the 47ha Huon Is­land was up for sale.

As part of a com­pli­cated deal, they sold Utiekah III and bought the is­land and the sail­ing cray boat Casilda. The cou­ple lived on the is­land for two years while they re­built the orig­i­nal house and had a child to­gether, all funded by cray fish­ing in the en­gine­less Casilda.

In­spired by the dinghies sail­ing out of Worser Bay, Un­der­wood’s first boat was P Class #7...

But Un­der­wood got the urge to go sail­ing again so they sold the is­land and Casilda and bought Gud­geon, a John Han­nade­signed 9m Tahi­tian ketch, with a new rig de­signed by Alan Payne. Af­ter sail­ing her from Bris­bane to Ho­bart, Un­der­wood sailed to Fiji and then to the BOI for the 1980 Tall Ships race.

He then did an­other Pa­cific cruise in Gud­geon, even­tu­ally ar­riv­ing in the Solomon Is­lands. There, at Tav­i­ulo vil­lage on Malaita Is­land, he met a group of lo­cal boat­builders and, im­pressed by their work­man­ship, asked them to build him a new tim­ber yacht.

Want­ing a long, lean and shal­low yacht for a trade winds cir­cum­nav­i­ga­tion, Un­der­wood turned to L Fran­cis Her­reshoff’s last de­sign, #107, an 11.6m lee­board ketch. While he used Her­reshoff’s hull lines and sin­gle skin carvel con­struc­tion, he added bul­warks, an ad­di­tional 200mm to the keel and in­stalled free-stand­ing masts with sprit-rigged sails.

He also elim­i­nated the lee-boards be­cause a deep draft’s un­nec­es­sary for a trade winds cir­cum­nav­i­ga­tion. The slightly deeper keel gave a loaded draft of only 1.14m, which proved suf­fi­cient to beat to wind­ward in flat wa­ter. As Un­der­wood puts it, “Why would you dig a 1.8m hole across the Indian Ocean?”

Built over 12 months in Vi­tex cof­fa­sus (a Pa­cific hard­wood), the en­gine­less Alice Alakwe cost NZ$27,000 and be­came Un­der­wood and his new part­ner Beryl Samp­son’s home for seven years. Their cir­cum­nav­i­ga­tion took the clas­sic trade winds route – Aus­tralia, Indian Ocean, South Africa, Brazil, West Indies, Rhode Is­land,

USA, Azores, UK, Spain, Por­tu­gal, West Indies (again) Panama, Gala­pa­gos, Gam­bier Is­lands, French Poly­ne­sia, Tonga, Fiji and then home to New Zealand.

In all they sailed Alice Alakwe 56,000nm, with a best day’s run of 208nm. As an aside, Un­der­wood com­pleted a yacht de­sign course while in Maine USA, which proved more than use­ful later.

In 1990, back in New Zealand, Un­der­wood and Samp­son chose some­thing com­pletely dif­fer­ent for their next yacht – a 16m tri­maran in­spired by Chris White’s Ju­niper. In­ter­est­ingly, the late Digby Tay­lor, who headed two New Zealand Whit­bread cam­paigns, helped Un­der­wood with the CAD de­sign of what be­came

S.W.I.S.H. In­stead of White’s con­stant cam­ber con­struc­tion method, Un­der­wood used strip-planked cedar and glass and he com­pleted S.W.I.S.H. in only 18 months.

But they didn’t en­joy the pow­er­ful S.W.I.S.H, find­ing the large tri­maran scary in blus­tery con­di­tions when her 700mm-deep wing mast proved ex­ces­sively pow­er­ful. “When she was good she was great, but when she was bad it was hor­ri­ble.” So S.W.I.S.H. was sold to the South Is­land, but sadly her new owner wrecked her on rocks off Tor­rent Bay in the Abel Tas­man Park.

Then in the early 1990s Un­der­wood de­signed a 10m, junk-rigged cruiser for Keith Levy, who’d aban­doned his yacht dur­ing the in­fa­mous 1994 Pa­cific storm while

voy­ag­ing to Tonga. Built in dou­ble-chine ply­wood, Shoe­string’s raised top­sides gave an in­te­rior ac­com­mo­da­tion equal to many 12m yachts, while her ex­pan­sive decks al­lowed plenty of room for a de­cent dinghy. Shoe­string was launched for un­der $10,000 in 1996 and in­spired sev­eral sis­ter yachts, in­clud­ing one built in steel.

Af­ter a stint in Auck­land as yacht bro­ker dur­ing which time they re­stored the 1937 Fred Lidgard-built 8.5m Taioma, Un­der­wood and Samp­son moved back to Whangarei and started build­ing their next yacht, a 12m ver­sion of Shoe­string, called the Boot­strap.

Built in only 18 months from tim­ber and ply­wood and launched for un­der $40,000, Ava Aakwe’s huge in­te­rior was big enough for the cou­ple to use as a float­ing home. Rigged as a gaff cut­ter with lee boards, she was pow­ered by a lowrevving Lis­ter diesel.

The cou­ple sold Ava Alakwe to fund the build­ing of a house in Whangarei and bought a boat­shed in the town basin. With a part­ner Nigel Clarke, in 2005 Un­der­wood bought the Jim Young-de­signed-and-built 16m cant­ing keeler Fiery Cross. Launched in 1958, Fiery Cross was the first cant­ing keeler ever built, and while Un­der­wood ap­pre­ci­ated the in­no­va­tive con­cept, he was less im­pressed with its shape. “That keel was a ter­ri­ble shape, we had to re-fair it with cedar.”

He re­placed the boat’s orig­i­nal Ford 10 petrol en­gine with an 18hp Kub­ota. He also fit­ted one of the orig­i­nal bronze Aries wind vane self-steer­ing units, which are highly-prized th­ese days.

Then, af­ter los­ing a $20,000 in­her­i­tance through fi­nan­cial com­pany shenani­gans, Un­der­wood de­cided he’d rather keep his money un­der his own con­trol, and bought an ex-fish­ing boat, the 14m, 22-ton Mason Bay.

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 ??  ?? LEFT The 10m junkrigged Shoe­string de­signed for Keith Levy.
RIGHT Two typ­i­cal Un­der­wood draw­ings, and be­low, the 17m ketch Utiekah lll built in Ho­bart in 1927.
LEFT The 10m junkrigged Shoe­string de­signed for Keith Levy. RIGHT Two typ­i­cal Un­der­wood draw­ings, and be­low, the 17m ketch Utiekah lll built in Ho­bart in 1927.
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 ??  ?? CW FROM TOP LEFT Mason Bay in com­mer­cial fish­ing boat guise; the tri­maran S.W.I.S.H. just af­ter launch­ing prior to mast in­stal­la­tion; Mason Bay to­day af­ter her plea­sure craft con­ver­sion, now a com­fort­able float­ing home.
CW FROM TOP LEFT Mason Bay in com­mer­cial fish­ing boat guise; the tri­maran S.W.I.S.H. just af­ter launch­ing prior to mast in­stal­la­tion; Mason Bay to­day af­ter her plea­sure craft con­ver­sion, now a com­fort­able float­ing home.
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