Port rats are still afloat

21:07, Feb 27 2013
Errol McKenzie
SHIPSHAPE: Richmond retiree Errol McKenzie in the clinker dinghy Port Rat, which his grandfather built in 1948.

At 65 years old, the clinker dinghy belonging to Richmond retiree Errol McKenzie is old enough to retire in its own right, but the well-maintained vintage boat still makes it out on the ocean at least once every month.

Named Port Rat, the boat was built in 1948 by Errol's grandfather, Earnest, at his Nelson boat shed E V Johnson and Sons. The workshop is now the site of the Boat Shed Cafe.

Errol has fond memories of evenings spent working on boats after school, saying Port Rat's name ties in with his childhood on the water.

"Anyone who lived on the waterfront, was brought up as kids and spent a lot of time there was considered to be a port rat. I'm just another one of them."

A former president of Nelson Coastguard, Errol has been passionate about boating all his life. He was involved with yachting and powerboating before becoming interested in classic boats, acquiring Port Rat from a cousin's estate in 2005.

He said the boat was in reasonable condition when he got it, but even so the 12-foot clinker's age and design meant some maintenance was needed to keep the kauri hull watertight. The American-made 1946 Champion motor that came with it was completely seized when Errol took delivery, but after a little elbow grease, Errol is confident it is good as new.


He will test the 4.2-horsepower motor for the first time at the New Zealand Antique and Classic Boatshow at Kerr Bay on Lake Rotoiti this weekend. Errol has been showing the boat at the show for the last six years, and also takes it on regular outings with the Picton Clinker and Classic Boat Club.

"We spend a lot of time charging around this district," Errol said. "There's so many rivers and places we can go."

At the show, races will be held for yachts, row boats, Seagull-powered dinghies, poppers, canoes, child rowers and swimmers. Prizes available include the Jens Hansen trophy for a boat with a story to tell, best new restoration, best steamboat, best jet-propelled craft and best-themed display.

The Department of Conservation would like to remind boaties and visitors that no dogs are allowed in Nelson Lakes National Park.

Tickets to the show will be sold at the gate and cost $15 for an adult day pass and $20 for an adult weekend pass. School children enter free.