I learnt to row and sail at age 7, on Lake Windermere in England. Designed and built my first canoe at age 13, encouraged by my father who joined the Amateur Yacht Research Society on my behalf when it was founded in 1955.The AYRS publications coordinated developments world-wide in multihulls, hydrofoils and self-steering gears. By age 17 had built two sliding-seat sailing canoes that could beat anything in sight as long as you kept them upright!
An apprenticeship as a Ship Draughtsman at Vickers Shipbuilders Ltd. gave me a deep dislike of nuclear submarines and super-tankers, and a Higher National Certificate in Naval Architecture that has been very useful. Seeing no future for myself there, I designed and built the 22ft. trimaran “Klis” for a cost of 400 pounds, tested it in the Irish Sea, then set sail in October 1966 for the West Indies. On the way I knocked 4 days off the single-handed transatlantic record, Las Palmas to Barbados in 19 days 22 1/2 hours.
Six months work with Dick Newick on ‘Project Cheers’, a radical proa for the Single-Handed Transatlantic Race gave me valuable experience and replenished the finances. The voyage continued, an educational experience with the world as my campus, arriving in New Zealand in 1969.
1973 saw me sailing to Moruroa on a 40ft. ferro-cement ketch, the “Spirit of Peace”, in protest at French atomic testing, spending 75 days at sea. I then joined the 105ft. Baltic trader “Fri”, which had spent 125 days at sea before being arrested on the high seas by the French, moored in the lagoon covered in plastic sheet during the tests then towed out 12 miles and released with the engine out of action and leaking badly. We pumped and sailed to Tahiti for urgent repairs and were refused entry, a warship circling to keep us outside the 12 mile limit, prolonging the protest and giving it more energy! Eventually we were allowed in to Moorea for repairs, and I stayed with the ship back to New Zealand. I learnt the ways of a traditional wooden sailing ship, flax and cotton sails, hemp rigging, and gained a huge respect for the old-time sailormen given her marginal ability at sailing to windward.
Back in Auckland I was building “Klis II”, a 23ft. trimaran incorporating all the lessons I’d learnt along the way, when I was asked by Greenpeace New Zealand to be relief skipper on the “Fri” on her next voyage, a Peace Oddessey carrying thousands of peace messages to the nuclear powers in the Pacific. Departed Wellington on 9 August 1974 with 13 crew of 7 nationalities. Rode the edge of the Roaring Forties to Tahiti, thence to Fiji, New Hebrides, Kiribati, Rongelap, Bikini, Saipan and Japan, where we arrived after surviving a baby typhoon with 2 sails left and 10 gallons of diesel!
Left the “Fri” after helping with the refit, got into psychology, learnt a huge amount about human relationships and myself. Met Yachiyo, who had never been sailing before. We were married in Auckland, had 2 boys Andrew and Ken, settled down in a somewhat ‘alternative’ lifestyle on Waiheke Island, doing boat repairs and alterations, specializing in wing keels for multihulls. My friend Denny Reid bought “Klis II”, and together we developed hydrofoil motion damping which radically improved her liveability in a seaway, and pointed the way to much more seakindly vessels in the future. Recently I bought her back, and use her for Wednesday night racing.
1984 – 91 Designed and built “Flying Carpet”, as a floating home and vehicle for education for the boys. She is a 38ft. cruising cat with biplane rig, free-standing masts and double surface sails that inflate using natural air pressure to form a highly efficient airfoil. With a payload of 3 tonnes, solar panels, wind generator and a modest 25hp outboard, she enables a comfortable and largely self-sufficient lifestyle with very low dependence on fossil fuels.
When we left New Zealand in June 1991, Andrew was 13 and Ken was 11. We took a year sailing to Japan via Tahiti, Cook Islands, Samoa, Tuvalu, Kiribati, Micronesia (where I studied traditional voyaging canoe construction and navigation) and Guam. After 2 years in Japanese waters we returned to New Zealand via the Solomons, Vanuatu and New Caledonia, surviving a typhoon on the way.
After returning to NZ I volunteered as a Watch Leader on the sail training ship “Spirit of New Zealand”. I made four 10-day voyages and numerous day sails, and was promoted to Watch Instructor. I learnt much about how the ship and the Trust is run, and sailing a square-rigger, while gaining great satisfaction from watching the trainees grow through the medium of a sailing ship.
From 2001 – 2008 “Flying Carpet” was licensed for carrying passengers with son Andrew taking over as skipper and manager, chartering in the Hauraki Gulf. In the winter of 2005 we made a voyage to Tonga and cruised the Tonga Group for a month, then Yachiyo and I flew home and the boys continued to Fiji and back to NZ, joined by surfie friends along the way. “Flying Carpet” is presently owned by a 6-way partnership of the Rhodes family and friends.
In 2007 I was given the “Coriolanus”, a miniature topsail schooner that I had designed and built with a client 1n 1978. She was in need of a major refit, having been wrecked, repaired but not re-rigged. It took 5 years and the help of friends to get her sailing. She is a delight to handle, very pretty and a practical little cruiser.
The concept for Waiheke Working Sail arose from a concern among friends at Waiheke’s total dependence on oil for the transport of food to the island. While sail transport of cargo would not be practicable in the present situation, it is important to preserve the skills needed for possible adaption to future scenarios. This coupled with my passion for the value of sail training as a means of youth development led to a concept design for a sail training ship purpose-built for Waiheke Island, with shallow draft and adaptability for cargo carrying. The new ship would be 22 meters long, a topsail schooner with the hull professionally built in steel, finished on Waiheke using locally grown timber.
I have a long association with the “Kate” since she first came to Waiheke some 20 years ago. I supplied grown pohutukawa crooks for frames to a previous owner, and with help from 2 boys, Tom and Joe Foster-Christie, did a re-fit over 5 months in 2010 -11. Aware of her high heritage value, when she became available I conceived the idea of restoring her as a training project for young boat builders, then putting her to use in a new role as a small sail training ship.
I am a Member of the Royal Institution of Naval Architects. The New Zealand branch is active in organizing visits to leading super-yacht building yards and professional development seminars, which enables me to keep up to date with the latest developments.
As part of my professional development I have volunteered to crew the Maritime Museum’s brigantine “Breeze”. I sail on her as Mate from time to time, and expect to obtain my Square Rig Endorsement in due course.