New adventure for Ngataki

A Marlborough Sounds yacht built of kauri driftwood and No8 wire in an Auckland backyard during the Depression and then sailed around the world is about to sail into its next adventure.

The 34-foot cutter rig Ngataki has been given by owner Debbie Lewis to the Tino Rawa Charitable Trust for historic boats.

She said young boat builders would restore Ngataki before it was used for youth programmes and regattas. Ms Lewis will be the skipper on some of those sailings.

Ms Lewis bought Ngataki 21 years ago and after taking a navigation course she embarked on a round-the-world voyage with her then 10-year-old son Jason. They did not return for seven years.

Her story is an amazing one, but so is that of the Ngataki. In 1933, a 21-year-old unemployed Aucklander, Johnny Wray, built the cutter in his backyard on Remuera Rd, from materials scraped together from over the Hauraki Gulf.

No8 wire and seven kauri logs destined for the mill (but washed up instead on beaches) were among the materials used for the yacht.

It would eventually carry him to the Pacific, a trip that would grant him the title of first New Zealand solo sailor in the Pacific.

Johnny Wray's subsequent 1939 book of his trip, South Sea Vagabonds, inspired many would-be sailors.

Ms Lewis said the Ngataki has had lots of owners since it was sold in the 1940s, but between her round-the-world journey and Johnny Wray's Pacific venture it had not been offshore.

Ms Lewis herself had not done much sailing before the trip. After a few trips with friends, she took herself to a navigation lesson and when she told the teacher of her plans to sail around the globe, he immediately gave her another lesson for free.

With her son she travelled the Pacific, Torres Strait, Madagascar and the Panama Canal. While she found employment on other boats along the way, Jason was educated by correspondence and the occasional local school.

Ms Lewis said if she and her son had an argument, they would each sit on extreme ends of the yacht to get some time out from each other.

She said there were hairy moments that come with sailing the high seas, the worst a two-day blow in the Pacific. "Most blows last a day, 36 hours, but this one just kept going. I was starting to tear my hair out near the end."

The Marlborough Express