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Saturday, August 6, 2011

THE BIRTH OF " ARITA " ........



Please don't think that the "Queen of Florida" who has a very pregnant daughter Lauren-Anne, who is about to give birth to a baby girl is going to call her " ARITA " ...... No that's not it at all ..... She is going to be called " SOPHIE " ... That story will be told later .....O.K. glad we've cleared that up ........ No, this birth began at least seven hundred and fifty years ago in the north island of NEW ZEALAND ......We've told this story before, but just in case you've joined our blog lately, here it is ....... You see, that pine cone at the top, is the non-flowering seed cone of a real 'kauri' tree (Agathis Australis), indigenous to the southern Pacific Ocean and in particular to New Zealand where these giant trees stood since time immemorial...... They are now unearthing perfect trees from beneath the soil that have lain dormant for more than 30,000 years ..... So perfect are they that the cut planks are indiscernible from those freshly cut trees ...... You can have a 30,000 yr-old coffee table made if you want one ....Not that too many of the present 'Kauri' trees are being cut, because they are now mostly preserved ..... But back in the days ..... You know, back then, well it turns out that the very first product ever exported from the Colony of New Zealand was 'kauri' for ship's masts back in the late 1700s ......



These massive trees were felled and then cut into manageable pieces with a giant cross-cut saw, moved with jacks and then hauled away with bulluck trains ...... Incredible pioneering work in steep mountainous country ...... But what magnificent timber stands there must have been ...... Virgin forests in a timeless landscape .....



Most of it was brought to the coast and shipped to England for construction of housing and for ship building, because the wood has an incredibly straight grain, no knots and the first branch was generally found at least fifty feet above the ground on the bigger trees ....



There's a reason for showing you all these historical photos ......... These are circa 1780-1820, when men were men, and employment was hard to come by ....... Interestingly someone saw even then the commercial value of the kauri-tree resin (gum), and shortly thereafter New Zealand saw an enormous influx of Dalmatians (we're not talking dogs here) from Croatia, whose entire families came out to dig up the country side looking for buried gum, used in the manufacture of varnish and linoleum ........



In 1899 alone, 11,119 tonnes of kauri resin (hardened, buried tree sap) were exported for the value of 600,000 British pounds ...... You really didn't need to know all that, did you?



So back to the 'Kauri' tree story ...... To get these giant logs out of the impenetrable mountains a coffer dam was built to hold back the stream and thereby float the logs into a holding pond ..... Then, on a given signal, someone would pull the 'trip' wire (visible in the photograph) and the whole lot would go cascading down the mountain valleys ... Water, logs and all in a giant rush of boiling water ..... You can see the remains of the dam in the upper part of the photo on the right ........ Do a double click on it to enlarge it .............



Once the logs reached the flatter low-land areas, then a primitive railway or bullock trains would take over ........ And in later years trucks would do the same thing. For in the far reaches of the North Island logging was always the big money earner ............. In turn, the logging and the search for kauri resin yielded cleared pastures land suitable for diversified agriculture and grazing .......



By 1973 however, the NZ Government had banned the cutting of 'Kauri' trees and massive plantings had begun ...... Conservation is now in place and the few giants that remain have become tourist attractions .....You don't just replace a 700 year old tree and hope to see it reach the same age some day ...... However, back in the late 50's and early 60's there were some still standing and one of these became the ARITA TREE ..... Estimated to be at least 700 years old and perfectly straight ................ A GIANT tree ... Just look at the people standing beneath it .............



The 'ARITA' story is as much about the man, DICK McILRIDE as it is about the tree, for it takes an incredible amount of foresight, perseverance, determination and skill to build a yacht ........ Especially when your first step is with an axe ..... An axe to chop a tree down ...... A giant of a tree, but also a giant of a man ...... That's him on the right ... And this is probably 1956-7 .... That's 54 years ago ..... Dick is still alive and doing well ....... Like I said, a giant of a man .....



With the tree down, Dick and friends want to be able to cut at least 60ft planks from the log once they get it to the sawmill, but regrettable the logging truck jambs on a bridge and is unable to be moved and so three days later they are forced to cut the giant single log into two halves ............ Nothing wrong with 30ft planks now is there? ..... Try getting those at your local hardware store ....



That's Dick's seven-year old daughter on the right ....... The lady is now near 60 and it is through her searching that we were able to get these unique photographs of "ARITA's" history ....... Photos preserved, because they were taken as Kodachrome colour slides and put away in the attic for years, until she went looking for them at my request ...... And what a find to tell this story with .......



That little blue car is a VAUXHALL .... I remember those and the flat-bed truck too ....... So anyway the log is cut and the lumber is on its way to the boat shed ..... 700 hundred year-old planks .........



Now before we go any further you have to know the next part ......... You dig a hole in the ground, put in some nice form work and backfill it with a bit of concrete for strength ......



Now Dick and friends collect all the scrap lead they can find, like old casement window counterweights, batteries etc and place it in a giant copper pot ...... These pots were around in the sixties being left over from the whaling days for if the pot sprung a leak it had the potential to burn the whole ship down ...... So they were frequently changed out ...... The lead is now heated to liquid form and ready to pour out of the pipe spigot and down the sheet of corrugated iron and into the mold .........



Some holes are drilled and fitted with copper tubes that will eventually be drilled out to take the new stainless steel keel bolts ......... And 'VOILA !!!! ' We have a six-tonne lead keel ...... Shaped and perfect .............



By now you know the meaning of 'determination' because the 6-tonne dead-weight has to be moved first onto a barge to get it across the Inlet, and then onto a dolly to get it into the boatshed ............ Yes, Dick is a giant amongst men ......



That's Dick on the right in the photo on the left ........ The frames are cut from the 'Kauri' boards and assembled over the 'king-plank', that central longitudinal rib that runs fore and aft and has the six-tonne keel attached beneath it ....... First the frames and then the stringers are attached and all to a plan from the design board of 'JOHN ALDEN, naval Architect' ..... For "ARITA' is to become a ketch of 47 feet overall with a six-foot draft ......



Months and months later, with the hull now fully planked, sanded and painted she is ready for launching .............. The 'Kauri' tree is no more, but in its place is a beautiful 'Kauri' yacht, incredibly strong and built by a master craftsman to sheer perfection ...... Built to be Dick's own yacht for sailing around New Zealand and beyond into the vast Pacific ....



Floating high and without interior fittings, engine or fuel and water tanks she is taken to be hauled out on a gravel beach at high tide, where the slower work of finishing the interior can be completed and the boatshed is free once more for another yacht construction project ....



Dick seen coming up for air while installing floors, bulkheads, cabinets and bunks ..... All to make it a liveable beautiful yacht ......... A true Classic ....... For this is what she looked like in the early 60s, sailing in the Bay of Islands, NEW ZEALAND ..... A tribute to her designer and to her builder .......



Before long she is floating and the mast is up ....... Sea trials and sailing adventures ........ Grace upon the water ........



There's a Maori museum that records the history of the 'Island of the long white Cloud' in their own terms, and in it hangs this painting of how the 'Forests of the Giants' was seen by the original inhabitants ..... One of the remains of that same era is this tunnel cut out of the mountains to haul kauri logs out of the forest ........



By the time I had acquired this beautiful yacht in 1996 in Capetown, she had changed hands several times and had crossed two oceans, having ranged across the Pacific and across the Indian Ocean ....... In the strong south-easterly winds for which the 'Cape of Storms' is famous, she was hard to steer at times, so a bowsprit was added to move the sail plan further forward ..... It is hard to improve on a 'John Alden' design, but not that hard, and it has worked wonderfully well, for now she steers with a finger's touch even in the strongest winds ...... That's a historical photo of 'ARITA' in the late 60's, outside Table Mountian near the Cape of Good Hope, in Southern Africa .......



And who would believe that a single 'Kauri' tree would end being sailed many years later as "ARITA", in the beautiful waters of the Caribbean .......... A yacht at least seven hundred and fifty years old ........ And she will easily make it to eight-hundred and beyond ...... And it certainly will be heart-wrenching to part with her, as we sit here in CURACAO and plan the future, knowing that another couple, with a love of sailing, of wood and history, will buy her in a few months time, when she becomes available ...... Someone special, who will keep her spirit alive and keep her sailing to far away places that few may ever be privileged to see .... (go back to the previous blog post and you will see why)



My gratitude and appreciation go to Dick and Pat McILVRIDE who have built such a magnificent yacht that never gave us the slightest problem in all these years....... A yacht we have sailed with incredible joy and pleasure ....... People have dreams and aspirations, but surely nothing can be harder than to dream of taking a tree from the forest and then to build an entire yacht from that very same tree...... For when I first looked under the mattress in the front cabin, I saw this jig-saw puzzle of short plank pieces, only to discover years later, that it was all part of the master plan ........ ARITA was, and would remain all KAURI, the finest boatbuilding timber in the world .............. Ask anybody .....

Food for thought, as the sun sets behind " ARITA " ......... Now half a world away from that forest, in which that 'Kauri' pine cone once sprouted forth a new sapling so very, very long ago .............. Oh, and another thing ...... Those sun-downer drinks we normally have on the back porch of ARITA .......Well,.... They are no longer 'Mango Rum' ............ For, nowadays it is 'Southern Comfort with Ice', mostly to do with the fact that we are completely out of that magical Bahamian Mango Rum, and ...... Well, ....... 'Southern Comfort' is .. hmmmmmm ... .......

2 comments:

Peter Bugler said...

Loved this boat. Dick arrived in Picton NZ in the mid 1960's accompanied by John Guzwell in Treasure and they stayed with us for a few days at the old Federal Hotel. Loved those guys and their lifestyles. Master craftsmen both. Peter Bugler

warren fraser said...

nice write up I have the sister ship Nefertiti cold moulded over her built in the same shed