Looking inside the gaff rigged cutter The Frances, which now comfortably sleeps four on overnight trips to race events, it’s hard to imagine that same hold packed full of market produce or livestock.
The 111-year-old boat was moored at Weiti Boating Club in Arkles Bay early this month as part of St Stephen’s chapel centenary, with the public able to come on board and learn about its history.
From around 1910–1930, the boat was the Shakespear family’s most efficient method of getting produce, including watermelons and pumpkins, from their farm at the end of Whangaparaoa Peninsula to the Auckland markets.
Legend has it that as many as 600 watermelons were transported on a single trip, and that another time, the cargo was 30 sheep. It took three hours for a crew of three to sail her into Auckland and the boat came back with building supplies such as gravel, concrete and timber, on board.
Skipper Iain Valentine knows the boat well, helping care for her and taking her racing on behalf of current owner, the Classic Yacht Charitable Trust.
The boat was built in 1906 and owned by the Shakespear family until 1991, when the Cato family bought and restored her. They then passed the boat into the hands of the Classic Yacht Charitable Trust and normally she is moored at the Auckland Maritime Museum.
New technology for hoisting the rigging saw gaff riggers cease production in 1920 and Iain says that Auckland has one of the largest fleets in the world – around 20 to 25 boats – thanks largely to a kauri hull. “As long as a kauri boat is kept in salt water, it can last more or less forever,” he says. The Classic Yacht Charitable Trust has three other gaff rigged cutters as well as The Frances.
This kind of boat is “beamy” and designed for transportation and fishing, not for speed, but today with the addition of a topsail Iain says The Frances races very well and takes part in many classic yacht events.
Skipper Iain Valentine showed locals around the boat when it was moored at Weiti Boating Club as part of St Stephen’s chapel centenary early this month.