Our H28 sloop Lyla was launched on October 13, having been fitted out by my husband Robin Clearwater over a number of years. It was one of the last to enter the water of a series of fibreglass hulls moulded in New Zealand by Compass Yachts from a modified Herreshoff design.
Several hull and decks were ordered by Collett and Flemming in Auckland. Six were fitted out for charter in the Marlborough Sounds, leaving the remainder available for private purchase. Brian and Mary Lennon fitted out one of them and launched it at Lyttelton in December 1989. We bought hull number 325 and arranged for it to be transported to Wellington. It was set up in a cradle on the hard at Evans Bay in December 1986.
When the boat arrived it was a bare fibreglass shell, with the main bulkhead fitted and a hollow keel. We could only move around inside like flies on the wall, holding onto the window holes, so the first task was to fill up the keel, to provide a floor to stand on. We rigged up a block and tackle and lowered in many bucket loads of mild steel punchings, which we poured into the keel and mixed with glue. The next job was to order sheets of tinted acrylic cut to size to be installed as windows, and for Robin to construct the forward hatch, washboards and sliding hatch cover. Once the interior was protected against the weather, Robin was able to make a start on fitting out.
Although he had to buy a few sheets of ply and some teak, as far as possible he used recycled timber. The locker doors, for instance, are made of oak from old telephone switchboards. He lined the forepeak with cedar slats, covered the main bulkhead with teak planks and made a laminated arched beam to support the mast. He set up the electrics, for which his technical training came in handy, and plumbed in the head, sink and handbasin. He designed and made moulds for a bow roller fitting and had it cast in bronze. For five years he made good progress.
Construction ceased for a lengthy period after daughter Cindy was seriously injured in a car crash, but work eventually started again on the boat. Then Telecom began making people redundant and after 32 years Robin found himself without a job. Fitting out the H28 has been a labour of love, as he likes nothing better than working with wood and originally wanted to be a joiner. Ironically, his father persuaded him to train instead as a telephone technician, as he thought the civil service would give him a job for life.
After Robin was made redundant, the boat had to wait. He bought a passenger service van, took up a franchise with a shuttle service and for three years worked long and inconvenient hours. He then changed to a lawn mowing franchise. As he says, he can't mow lawns in the dark or in the rain, so at last he was able to make some progress on fitting out the boat.
In the past year the momentum increased, as he was anxious to get it off the hard and into the water, and he spent every available moment at Evans Bay. He installed the 18 HP engine, a Volvo Penta, bought new but now, like the boat, already a good few years old. The mast and rigging, made early in the project and stored in the rafters at Swanson's, were set in place.
The laminated tiller and the rudder had been made by Robin and stored at home. The rudder was made from a large piece of demolition kauri, which a friend had kept for years in the hope that it would one day be put to good use. He borrowed a steamer to shape the timber for the strakes and made teak blocks for most of the deck fittings. He also designed and made canvas covers for the winches and tiller and was about to start on a sail cover when the sewing machine broke down, so that is one job still to be done.
The H28 had become a legendary fixture on the hard and was the subject of many a good-humoured joke among the members of the Evans Bay Yacht and Motorboat Club. And as far away as Tauranga, where we were at the marina looking at H28s, we were told by a friendly local yachtsman that there had been an H28 for several years on the hard at Evans Bay. Now, at last, it was possible to think about launching Lyla.
Then suddenly there was an opportunity to launch at short notice. A crane was being brought in to reposition boats and cradles that had been moved to allow the city council to asphalt the hard. Mike Usher, the club's slipmaster, suggested putting Lyla on the launching cradle at the same time. Robin and Mike spent a long hard day moving boats and that evening we went to the regular Friday night dinner at the club and let as many people as possible know that they were invited to drink a glass of bubbly at 11:00am next day.
On Saturday the sun shone and all went well. Drinks and nibbles were set out on a table near the slipway, and I started to open one of the bottles. Someone distracted my attention, the cork took off into the air with a loud bang, and suddenly it was all on. Glasses were filled and more and more people arrived to see something they had almost given up expecting to happen.
Club President Warren Rankin and Commodore John Begg made appropriate speeches. Faye Bishop, the club administrator and a longtime friend, broke a bottle over the bow and named the boat Lyla, then climbed on board with her partner Errol Skelton to accompany us on her first short journey. After getting the bottom wet for the first time, there was a wait while the engine was tested and then we were off, motoring to the marina. We tied up at the breastwork and were joined by family and friends and were visited by people who wanted to see inside. Eventually, we motored round to the permanent marina berth.
Having sold our Merlin trailer yacht soon after acquiring the hull and deck, our sailing experience over the intervening years had relied on the hospitality of friends. We had done a couple of Cook Strait crossings and Robin had assisted with two delivery trips from Auckland, but naturally we could hardly wait to once more be able to sail our own yacht.
So the first weekend after the launching we were out on Evans Bay trying out the sails and were pleased with the way the yacht handled. Since then, she has been put through her paces in a variety of sea and weather conditions and proved herself able to handle them well. In fact, for what we expected to be a slow but steady cruising craft, Lyla is capable of a surprising turn of speed. All in all, we're pleased with our H28 and happy to have her in the water at last.
Photos by Judith Cottle.
H28 sloop Lyla. Sail number 8063. VHF call sign ZMY 6487