Tuesday, 27 November 2018

Waikiwi my 12 foot skiff.


At age 14 I had been working for a year or so with a local lawn mowing contractor, during my free time, at weekends and during school holidays. I earned some money which accumulated to a sum sufficient to buy my own sail boat. I trawled through the Auckland Star Classifieds for a boat for sale. One came up in Greenhithe. It was described as a 12 foot sailing dinghy on a registered road trailer. Father and I went to view it and were immediately impressed by its quality. It had beautifully varnished timber decks and varnished spruce mast. The double chine, plywood hull was immaculately painted in bright yellow with white below the water line. No one had any idea what class it was but I did not care, it looked just right to my eye. I paid the $150.00 asking price and made arrangements for its delivery to our family home in Waiake. The owner had to take it for a WOF. This took much longer that anyone had anticipated. My brothers and I sat on the curb waiting for several hours before it finally arrived in the late afternoon.

We rolled the trailer into our driveway and immediately set about rigging it up. 

What a monster it turned out to be. This was a boat to be reckoned with. The rig and sail area were big enough to power a boat of twice the size. The fully battened mainsail and genoa jib were of a beautiful light blue terylene sail cloth. It also had a masthead spinnaker in lightweight, rip stop nylon in navy blue and white stripes. The spinnaker pole alone was almost as long as the boat!
Waikiwi, From Left: Brother Marten, me and Father.

Waikiwi was 12 feet long and the mast was 18 feet. Once rigged it would not sit upright on the beach without the support of its trailer cradle. It had 2 trapeze wires with harnesses. No one locally had any better idea of what this boat could be. Someone suggested that it might be a Cherokee. (designed coincidentally by John Chapple, more of him later)

At the next available opportunity I took it to the beach for my first sail. All my friends were sailing P class and Starlings. They and their parents thought I was mad thinking about sailing a boat like Waikiwi by myself.

I didn't care. My first sail was memorable.

Thankfully the wind was light. Waikiwi shot away from the beach at high speed. The centreboard was close to 6 feet long which made it difficult to manage. I felt mildly anxious but exhilarated. This boat was a thorough bread after the Heron! After a short time I sailed back to the beach and made the obligatory passenger trips for my brothers, my Father and other curious onlookers keen for a ride. Oddly they never wanted to sail with me again after that.

I sailed Waikiwi at every available opportunity including every day after school. This involved handling the heavy road trailer and walking it all the way down the hill to the beach 2.5 km away and back again, up the hill, when I was cold and exhausted. This was no mean feat! There was an incentive for me to attain my drivers licence. (That is another story)

With a newly fitted longer tiller extension I rapidly learned how to manage this oversized sailboat including single handed trapeze, jib and spinnaker handling.

I did not realise it at the time but I was developing a level strength, fitness and skills that few of my peers could match. At age 14 I was a relative giant at over 6 feet tall and I weighed 12 stone. Furthermore I was reading everything that I could find about sailing. I read every book on the subject in our school library, in our local library and it gave my parents the perfect gift idea for every birthday and Christmas for several years running.

My father subscribed to several sailing magazines including Seaspray, a New Zealand wide yachting and boating publication. He also bought back issues when they came up for sale. It was from these back issues that I learned what Waikiwi actually was.

In an issue from the 1960's I found an article about the Silasec Cup which was alternately contested one year in Australia and in NZ the next. This issue covered the shock defeat of the reigning Australian champions to a North Shore based man called John Chapple and his boat Flamingo. Black and white photos illustrated the article and to my amazement and surprise the boats were identical to Waikiwi. Each competing boat featured a Q emblem on the sail. My mystery had been solved, Waikiwi was now identified without question as an unrestricted 12 foot skiff Q class from the early 1960's. The article revealed to me that Waikiwi was between 10 and 12 years old, no longer race competitive in her fleet but still relatively quick for its size and weight. 

Once I knew this I set about painting her new identity on her mainsail in the form of a capital "Q" in black enamel, the start of my sign writing career.

Once I had mastered sailing Waikiwi I began paying the entry fee to join in the local weekend yacht racing at the Torbay Boating club.

The race committee put me in with the Paper Tiger race feet, these were 14 foot racing catamarans, still popular today. We had a summer of comparatively light winds that season, as a result, me in my Q class sailing single handed, cleaned up on the scoreboard more often than not. I was getting attention from the senior sailors in the club and earning the respect of my peers for my skill and local knowledge. I quickly realised that boat speed wasn't everything. I learned to read the wind shifts on the water, to look for the tide and use its advantages when they were there. I read the racing rules and used them to my advantage as well. I could tack very quickly compared to a Paper Tiger which came to a complete standstill when tacking. Once it got above 10 knots of wind though, I was overpowered and they showed me a clean pair of heels. 

The following summer I began to tire of battling with Waikiwi on the race course.
I did not enjoy being the odd boat out all the time and the miss match when the wind blew hard made life very difficult for me. This was to be a summer of cold south westerly winds. I could not find a suitable crew and preferred my own company on a boat anyway, something I have never lost.

I took to sailing long distances, sometimes with a friend Peter Bailey in his Sunburst and occasionally with a girlfriend! The first girl I ever kissed was onboard Waikiwi during a homeward sail from Stillwater where I found a proper rival in the form of an old school friend Jeff Thompson in his R Class, Rebel. He had painted a large wine glass on his mainsail which you could see from miles away.

On one of my solo trips to Stillwater, on my homeward beat, the wind increased to a worrying degree. I could not reduce my sail area and I found myself overwhelmed, unable to make progress. I returned to Arkles Bay, the nearest beach where, fortunately for me, our sailing club fleet had made an interclub day visit. I hurtled down wind and made an impressive landing on the beach in front of a crowd of onlookers. I was able to convince my friend Kim Dikstaal to assist me to sail home. Kim put on my spare trapeeze harness, we tied her unrigged Starling to a stern tow line and set off for Torbay in a stiffening easterly. It was rough going being held back by the towed boat wich lurched and fretted at the end of the tow line, Waikiwi really wanted to be released, Kim was a highly skilled sailor with instincts and reflexes at least as good as mine and we enjoyed the teamwork that we developed, I don't mind admitting I was very impressed by her by the time we got back to the beach at Torbay. Sadly she did not return my interest being a year or so older than me and with a long list of older suiters in the senior ranks of the club, I stood no chance. We remain life long friends though.

That year (1974) there was to be a regatta hosted by the Torbay Boating Club. The North Island Paper Tiger Championships. I longed to compete in this regatta. There was a local Dr, Tom Ord, who was and older gentleman of heavy build who wanted to but could not compete because of his size, inexperience and a certain wilfulness that prevented him from learning. We could all see this and to his credit so could he.
Being a successful local GP Tom had the means to have a very high quality sailboat made for him. It was painted bright orange (which, being the Dutch national colours, my Mother approved of). 
Tom asked me if I would like to campaign his boat in the upcoming regatta which I readily and excitedly agreed to. So that was me occupied at every available opportunity, out learning how to sail a PT as quickly as possible. Off the water I continued to study the art of sailing tactics from Paul Elvstrom and Jack Holt, books in my birthday list collection. I applied what I learned into the mix of my local knowledge. 

When the much anticipated weekend finally arrived I paid my entry fee and set out to beat the fleet. I was in the running the entire weekend scoring a 1st and 2nd though not quite consistent enough to beat the senior, more experienced PT skippers for line honours.
I admit to feeling disappointed and was ready to go home without even a minor prize. However, the race committee had a surprise for me when, with the encouragement of my parents I reluctantly attended the social and prize giving at the clubhouse by the creek on the last evening of the regatta. I was painfully shy at that time and chose to stand at the very back of the room whilst the beer flowed and the smoke filled the crowded, noisy room. I was looking for a way out, when all of a sudden, in a gap in the cheering, I heard my name being called out, I had to hear it several times before I reacted. I was pulled roughly through the crowd and shoved on to the dias where the club Commodore and the class designer warmly shook my hand and presented me with a prize and a trophy! 

I just stood there dumbfounded and even more embarrassed, red in the face. 

"You won the regatta on handicap mate" someone shouted (I think it was Simon Grain, someone I liked and admired who liked and admired Kim). I wanted to disappear. 

I walked home in the dark with my trophy and my prize feeling perplexed and confused, what was a handicap? Father explained it to me with a broad grin on his proud face.

My earliest memories as a sailor.

It's late at night, the house is still, I'm sitting in my chair writing down my thoughts and memories as they flood in. I'm recovering from skin cancer surgery and tomorrow I face the prospect of a prostate biopsy.

I tried going to go to bed early tonight. I had no sleep in me despite my willingness to relax and empty my mind of thoughts. Instead the emptiness was overwhelmed with memories. Thinking about sun damaged skin, I had been reviewing some photographs of my early years in sailing. One of the earliest images I have in my collection must have been taken in my father's Heron sailing dinghy. We were returning from a day trip from Waiake Beach to Motutapu Island in Auckland's Hauraki Gulf. The image is a black and white photo which can only have been taken by my younger brother Marten from beside the centreboard case in the floor of the boat looking aft. I am on the helm and managing the mainsheet.

I must have been 8 years of age. My face is covered in freckles. There is no sign of sun protection of any kind.

I took to sailing with a passion. It was in my blood, I can stay at the helm of a sailboat for hours and hours at a time without tiring of it. Being in command of a small sailing craft is one of my enduring life pleasures.

It very likely began with my Father's passion for sailing. He read to us every evening before bedtime when we invariably insisted on stories and adventures involving sailing. Swallows and Amazons, A Wizard of Earthsea, the Hornblower series, The long Ships. The list is long and the stories mingled with my desire to live these adventures for myself.

As me and my 2 brothers grew our Father elected to build a succession of small boats. My first was a 2 foot long, sailing model of a 1930's style keel boat called Marina.

I kept control of it by attaching a light fishing line to its bow so I could haul it onto the other tack if it sailed out of my depth. I studied that little boat and experimented with its various adjustments to sails and rudder so that I understood the forces that were acting on that little model. Furthermore I could visualise myself in miniature, sailing on board my little model yacht.

Our first sail boat was built by our father with our willing participation, an Englishman, Jack Holt designed "Yachting World Heron" it was barely 12 feet long and featured a gunter rigged mainsail.

It was moved to and from the beach close to our home by a homemade, wooden trailer fashioned out of telegraph pole timbers by our resourceful father. It sat on the front axle of an old Model A Ford chassis which he had freed from entanglement in our ancient hedge row separating us from our neighbour's place.

This little boat served as our sailing school until our Father judged that we were ready to go solo. We covered great distances in this little boat enjoying picnics on many visible islands and local beaches within a days sail of our home beach. In it I fished, rowed, chased my model yachts, which I was beginning to build with greater skill and confidence.

As time went by my brothers and I began to yearn for independence so my father set about building 2 new boats, one was a 15 foot Frank Pelin designed, American Indian style canoe, the other a small 7 foot sailing dingy called a Piraat. I commandeered the canoe whilst my younger brother Marten took up the little Piraat. Ron was still a bit young to be out with us all day.
From Left: Brother Ron, The Piraat dinghy, sister Joanne, brother Marten.

That canoe encouraged me to make my own journeys along the coast and up all the local waterways that penetrated inland as far as fallen trees and waterfalls would allow. I became familiar with all the wildlife on land, in the air and in the sea. I saw many rare and special sights in that little canoe, spent many nights camping with my friends on those long summer days so long ago now.

A few years went by and our Father in his quest to build the ultimate family boat bought plans from Richard Hartley to build one of his 14 foot Trailer Sailers. Now we were old and skilled enough to be of real assistance and the new boat took shape very quickly. It was painted chocolate brown and orange, influenced by the popular colour fashion of the early 1970's and launched bearing the name I so carefully painted on the stern "Gimli" after our favourite Dwarf from The Lord of the Rings which our Father had been reading to us.

Gimli was a small ship. There was a cabin and a bunk, there were storage compartments, it even had a long shaft, 4 hp, Silver Century, Seagull outboard motor.
Gimli the 14 foot Hartley Trailer Sailer.

Poor Father had little opportunity to enjoy this new addition to the fleet. I hogged the use of it to his dismay and eventual annoyance.

Gimli and I travelled all over the Hauraki Gulf. At age 14 I was able to sail and manage it with perfect confidence. I sailed it with my Parents reluctant agreement all the way to Kauwau Island and back, a trip which lasted a week. The condition was that I should take a friend. Richard Morris was my crew, he had no idea how to sail but that did not matter, I knew enough for the both us. With a line trolloing over the stern as was my habit we never went short of fresh fish and we cruised the entireity of Kauwau Bay before returning home to the relief of my Mother and Father.

I recall a number of special details from that trip. The weather was perfect with a steady 15 knot sea breeze daily, we learned from my local fisherman friend Brian Burrell that there was a hermit living on Moturekereka, one of the small islands dotting the coastline offshore from Mahurangi. He assured us that a dozen beer would be the price Snow Hansen (he called himself) would require for a night's anchorage and possible access to his Island. We delivered the beer to his corrugated iron hovel overlooking the bay that his predecessor ( the real Snow Hansen) had created by dynamiting the hulk of the old barque Rewa. In hindsight he probably suffered from scurvey, he was very unwell and could barely walk. We anchored Gimli close in the lee of the old rusted remains and rowed ashore in the little dinghy that I had borrowed from my friend Mike Toy.

Mansion house Bay, Bon Accord Harbour, North Cove and a visit to the old copper mine were highlights along with an evening encounter with hundreds of wallabies whose meeting we disturbed in a beautiful grove amongst old pine trees.

Dolphins accompanied us all the way from Kauwau to Tiritiri Matangi right through the Tiri Passage.

Another adventure was to follow a year later. To his credit Father allowed me to take Gimli to Coromandel harbour via Waiheke Island. Again the condition was that I should take a friend so I took my school friend Peter Edney along, he was not a sailor either.

We set off from Waiake Beach early one morning and set a course for the distant Noises Islands, somewhere I had longed to visit as long as I had been sailing. We anchored Gimli in the glorious calm shelter of the southernmost Island and entered the clear water wearing our snorkelling gear. We swam the distance to shore and explored the rock coastline finding a beautiful sea cave. After a couple of hours in the water we made to return to Gimli. To our horror Gimli had decided to leave without us. On the incoming tide and with only a shingle bottom for the danforth anchor to hold in our little ship was away. We decided to swim for it and eventually, after an exhausting and increasingly desperate chase we caught up and barely managed to climb aboard with what little strength we had left!

We hoisted sail and continued on to Garden Cove on the northern coastline of Waiheke Island. This is a horseshoe shaped bay with a narrow entrance, perfect anchorage for a tiny vessel like ours. Peter chose to sleep ashore in his pup tent. We cooked our fresh kahawai over a fire on the beach before retiring for the night.

The next day there was very little wind so we drifted our way south and east past Gannet rock to finally enter the bay at the south eastern tip of the island where we anchored for the night. As we were setting up our gas stove with boom tent erected over the cockpit we felt something rub against the hull. By now it was quite dark. I held the Coleman lamp over the dark water and saw the biggest kingfish I had ever seen. It streaked away from the boat leaving a comet trail of green and blue phosphorescence the like of which I had never seen. Before long the entire bay was lit up by fish chasing fish, it was the most extraordinary sight!

The fish disappeared as quickly as they had come. That's when we decided to take a swim in that amazing phosphorescent water. We looked like something from the set of Avatar, our hairs and skin sparkling with other worldly light. The next morning we decided to make the crossing from Waiheke to Coromandel. Again there was little wind. What little there was came from the North. For a time we reached under mainsail, jib and an old flying dutchman jib that I I had rigged as a kind of early code one, reaching headsail. Under that rig Gimli was quick in the light air, fast enough to troll a line. I let the lure follow in our wake with the end of the line tied loosely around my foot as I steered us toward the distinctive entrance to Coromandel Harbour.

I awoke to a jolt on the line. I had drifted off to sleep just as a large kahawai took the lure. I was still slightly groggy, fumbling for the spool when suddenly a violent tug on the line and an enormous splash from the vicinity of my kahawai revealed some competition in the form of a thresher shark which neatly sliced the body of the fish leaving the head and intestines for us to argue over.

During the course of the rest of the day the wind left us and we drifted on a sea of oil. It was utterly still and calm. The tide began to run out of the Firth of Thames and we drifted along with it. I decided to start up the seagull outboard, a noisy, smelly, rattly, oily affair that I never liked much. It got us the rest of the way to the left of Whanganui Island which meant navigating the narrow passage through to Coromandel Harbour.

We pulled up to the long pier and tied up to a fishing boat named "Boy Roel" (my father's name coincidentally).

We took our wallets and walked the 2 miles in to Coromandel Township in search of fresh bread and the address of my old friend Isobel Airey. We found both. Isobel assured us that we would need a wash before she could tolerate a visit from us so she gave us soap so we could bathe ourselves in the rocky stream that flowed through her garden. How refreshing that clear fresh water was. Our hair was stiff with salt.

We chatted with Isobel, until late into the night before walking the 2 miles back to the boat. The next day we walked back into town to refill the fuel can with 2 stroke mix and add to our dwindling dried food supplies.

Our next port of call would be Great Barrier Island, another elusive and tantalising destination visible from our family home on a clear day, 60 miles away. We set out early the next morning taking the narrow passage our of Coromandel harbour on a building south westerly. We passed island after island off the western Coromandel shoreline. I judged that we were making good enough time to make the crossing to Tryphena Harbour. But that southwesterly kept on building and building until it was at gale force. By now we were off Channel Island and encountering a sea state the likes of which I had never seen. Gimli was like a cork being tossed in a shore break. We managed to reef the mainsail with the roller, the jib came down and we attempted to carry on but the wind kept building until it shrieked in the rigging and caused the sail to slam making the whole boat jump and pulse alarmingly. Then the leach tore off the sail, next the sail battens flogged out until there was not much left to work with. I was getting worried at this point and so made the decision to abandon the goal of Great Barrier Island. We tried to tack once the jib was reset but we could not get the bow through the eye of the wind. I started the motor, no mean feat in a bucking small boat in that steep, aggressive seaway. The motor was almost useless as the windage of the boat resisted the thrust of that little prop. Added to this the prop came clear of the water at every pitch the boat took. We eventually managed to gybe around, a very perilous maneuver but thankfully successful. We eased sheets and flew across the waves, lurching and diving, soaked to the skin with spray, finally reaching smoother seas near Happy Jack Island. We could not weather Happy Jack with its enticing Elephant Cove shelter so we had to carry on to Double Island where we gratefully anchored. I was particularly pleased with myself for having stowed a spare anchor as we needed it.

We set up both anchors at 90 degrees from each other off the bow and fixed the to both the bollard and the mast base. It blew so hard that Gimly sawed heavily from side to side like a wild horse all night long and all the next day, and the next. On our second day we were ashore when a large grey fishing trawler made its way heavily into our relatively sheltered anchorage. We rowed out to meet our new neighbours. The Larsen Brothers, Danes, in charge of a Watties fleet trawler. They were astonished at our presence there, both front windows of their ship had been stove in by the seas as they rounded the cape. They had a chiller hold full of fresh fish. We had had some success with our Hawaiian sling picking up the odd Moki but fresh deep water sole cooked in the comfort of the cabin was a welcome change. So was the Carlsberg beer!

They also had a radio! We were able to call the coastguard and police to set our parents worried minds at rest.

Peter and I climbed to the ridge of Rabbit Island and attempted to stand in the force of the gale. Tiri lighthouse reported gusts up to 70 knots during the peak of that gale.

We were relieved when on the 3rd day the wind had subsided. I had taken the time to sew basic repairs on the damaged mainsail and we made good use of the Reacher to get us well out into the Gulf on a beautiful sea breeze so that by the end of another long day in which we spotted a whale in the distance, we landed again at Waiake Beach where, at the local dairy, at the closing of the day we telephoned my father who gladly came to tow us home.

I have many more memories that I intend to document.

Hope you enjoy these stories.

Saturday, 23 June 2018

Toroa construction continued. Ama construction.

Mike adding line markings for the position of bulkheads on the pre-cut ama sides.
this ama design in stitch and tape 4mm 5 ply was derived from a 1/10th scale cardboard model.

Bulkhead positions marked.
Mike fitting copper wire ties along the ama keel line.
Fully tied with copper ties the two halves are spread.

Diamond shaped bulkheads form the structure, inwale stringer allows the deck some fastening surface.

Toroa's ama taking shape.

Ama completed and dry fitted to kiato (outrigger beams).

We decided on this colour scheme based on the green of Polynesia, the red white and blue tricolour of our respective ancestry, French and Dutch.

Showing the trampoline and ama lashing.

Toroa on launch day at Waiake Beach Auckland 2000.

Original rig layout on starboard tack. We removed the bow dash boards in favour of a new tacking line system which saw the tack of the sail run below the gunwale from end to end. By this time we had also levelled the sheer-line somewhat and attached a lee rail dash board to stop the sail tack from hopping up over the deck during mid shunt, as the mast came to perpendicular before dropping into its new forward leaning position.

20 years later, construction photos of Toroa. Better late than never?

I finally acquired a 35mm colour slide scanner.

I've enjoyed reviewing these photos. they have brought back many happy memories of my collaboration with my lifelong friend Mike Toy.

We set up two heavy timber rails, parallel, straight and true. We then crossed them with rungs at each station. Finally we set up the station forms, each transferred from our lofting board. Each form is trued to a taut string line.

The stem was wired to the forms at each end, then the sheer line batten is fixed in place.

the remaining jig battens are fitted. These battens are part of the jig not the hull so they are not connected to the stem or keel.

Jig is now fared, keel and stem are shaped ready for the first layer of plywood planking.

This close up reveals the planing that went into faring prior to planking

We chose to use a recycled 4 mm hardwood exterior plywood which we sourced from a demolished skateboard half pipe. the sheets were damaged at the edges so we cut strips across the panel to maximise the amount of planking. Traditionally double diagonal cold moulding is done with the planks laid diagonally across the jig at 45 degrees from horizontal and 90 degrees to each other. we figured that the individual plywood veneers are already at right angles to each other so vertically overlapped planks should work just as well. This turned out to be true as Toroa is as sound now as when he was built. the glue we chose is resourcinol resin glue which is water based and suited to this type of lamination provided your connections and fitting are fair and true.
Planking begins. Cling film was applied over the jig to prevent the planks from adhering to the stringers.
The planks are glued to the keel, stem and gunwale stringer only.

Tens of thousands of staples were used to temporarily hold the two layers of planks whilst the glue cured. Before a second layer of planking could be fitted the staples had to be taken out one by one and the surface faired ready for glue application and second plank stapled in place over lapping the joint seem of the first layer.

The final stem capping is fitted, glued and faired.

Shell of Toroa's hull removed from the jig and turned over to reveal the hull shape for the first time. An exciting moment for us. No one pretends that this is an easy or quick way to build a hull. This construction technique was chosen because of the materials we had to hand. Mike and I were determined to build as much of Toroa from recycled materials as we possibly could.

Decking completed

Dash boards in place.

Friday, 16 June 2017

Some of my drawings from yesteryear.

For a short time in the mid 1990's I was a volunteer at the National Maritime Museum in Auckland.

This is a drawing of the Tikopian canoe in the collection. I designed a low cost support system for the waka on display.
There is a large and beautiful collection of Pacifica waka & waka models that the public never see. It was my wish to display them. Here are some of my sketches.

Toroa by Harmen Hielkema & Mike Toy.

Header Photo: Toroa at Rawene by Julie Holton.

This blog is dedicated to the memory of my father Roelof Hielkema who instilled in me the willingness to learn.
These pages are intended to inform and add to the growing body of knowledge concerning the Canoe Culture of the Pacific, past, present & future, from the Tupuna, the Ancestors of the Pacific cultures to the people of the world.

These pages contain Images and text relating to our two proas, Toroa & Takapu, some history relating to our experiments & experiences.

The dissertation that I posted on this blog in April 2008 "Takapu The Proa" was written by me in 1997 in response to an assignment that I was set whilst studying for my design degree. The dissertation covers many issues that a proa enthusiast may benefit from reading about.

Waka define culture as culture defines waka

Waka reflect the individuality and uniqueness of a society which in turn is governed by the geography, geology, topography, climate, location, resources, isolation, origin, flora, fauna, flotsam, jetsam, etc.

Waka are our link to the past, they have shaped our present and define our future.

Waka are the vessels of knowledge, physical and mental development, freedom of bondage to the land, key to our inquisitiveness, expressions of our ingenuity and courage, our love of shape and form, the seat of our power.

Waka are the source of our material culture, from which all processes are derived.

Waka are who and what we are.