Even after Storm’s restoration began many a mile has passed beneath its reassuringly deep, solid 1908 vintage, full-length keel.
Not under any propulsion of its own though, and no water bubbled past its appealing plumb bow.
The tale of Storm’s arrival in this country, and fall into need of new impetus in its rehabilitation, is a long one – but suffice it to say unless that special breed of boatie whose drive is to keep a piece of our nautical heritage alive happened along, the future wasn’t promising.
Two of those people are Coromandel musician-turned-draftsperson Ben Parsons, and his mate Mike.
They needed Storm, just as Storm needed them.
“We had the idea that we might want to do something like that for quite a while, and so we had our ear to the ground,” says Ben, in his characteristic laconic manner.
That idea had come to Ben and Mike – a “carpenter and ascetic,” says Ben – as they did a lot of thinking and dreaming while sailing together on the 21ft Hartley they’d had in Wellington.
“We sailed it around the Cook Strait and sold it in 2014,” says Ben.
“It’s still on its mooring at Oriental Bay.
” Sailing to Tonga on a square-rigged 100ft steel boat at an average of three knots are among Ben’s other sailing experiences – maybe a helpful activity for developing the kind of patience needed for a project like this.
He heard about Storm and went to meet owner James.
Storm was foundThe boat was wedged in a yard in Whitianga, and over the years a number of sheds had been built up around it.
Even the extraction from the yard was going to be a big ask, never mind the restoration itself.
Nevertheless, something fell into place in Ben’s mind – and he knew his search was over.
Storm is a craft with a tale to tell, as so many of its vintage are.
Built on the east coast of England in 1908, it spent its early life fishing the roguish waters of the North Sea.
At some point Storm came into the possession of James’ uncle.
Under his ownership it managed to see a bit of the world.
A journey as far as the Mediterranean and up the River Nile is one James had a record of.
Storm’s arrival in this country is not quite such a romantic story, however.
It was brought over stuffed with gear in a shipping container on the deck of a ship.
Even though Storm was still in need of a substantial amount of work to get back in the water, Ben and Mike were in luck.
By the time they spotted it in that yard in Whitianga James had been at the task for 10 years, and had knocked off much of the hard work below deck level.
“Basically,” says Ben, “we got it at the point where the hull had been done, rebuilt in a lot of the structure”.
“They did it in England before they came back over.
” As far as possible they’d kept the original character of Storm intact in the work they’d done, and planned.
“James had actually harvested a spar for the main mast out of a spruce tree that his grandfather had planted.
“So there’s a bit of history in it.
People put a lot of their lives into it in that way I guess.
”James had an old local boatbuilder working with him as a guide and advisor, ensuring the restoration was completed to true craftsman’s standard.
About four years ago, however, the boatbuilder died; and James found his will to persist with the project on the wane.
Hence his willingness to let it pass into Ben’s custodianship.
Beautiful craftsmanshipOne of the attractions for Ben was the craftsmanship, and the fine materials they used, when they built boats like Storm in England a century and more ago.
“It’s all beautiful oak,” he says.
Since her restoration has continued in New Zealand, however, local materials have been mixed with the originals – to wonderful effect, Ben believes.
On entering the cabin just about the first feature that strikes you is the replacement knees – fashioned out of pohutukawa.
Without doubt one of the most eye-catching features of the boat.
“They’re quite a beautiful piece of work,” says Ben.
“It’s the way it was done.
I know a couple of old boatbuilders and they were saying there’s a couple in the Auckland Museum and they did it the same way.
”With the deal done the first task for Ben and Mike was clearing up around the boat and tidying sundries.
The hull of inch thick oak had been faired and strip planked with cypress, then fibreglassed.
Ben and Mike finished that part of the job by painting the hull with three coats of epoxy and then polyurethane.
They built the forecastle and deck fittings, and attended to the oak planking of the bulwarks.
Three months of weekends, and thousands of kilometres of travel, were invested in task of getting the hull seaworthy again.
Sooner or later they had to face the challenge of extracting Storm from the yard where they had found it, hunkered down among the sheds.
Removing them wasn’t really an option, but a crane brought in from Hamilton got the job done, swinging it over the sheds and onto the truck that delivered it down to Whitianga marina.
So Storm is once again afloat, tethered to a mooring in Whitianga, but still a formidable task list remains.
To be continued next issue.