|From left, Frank Ballinger, Roydon Thomas, Pete Prendeville on board Shemara. Source: G Pascoe|
|Ilex leaving Wellington for Sydney1946.|
Source: David Thomas
Thomas was a keen member of the Evans Bay Yacht and Motor Boat Club, and as a kid raced a P-Class there, winning the Wellington Championship 1945/46. In 1946, at the age of thirteen years, he sailed as crewman on board his father's yacht Ilex across the Tasman to compete in the second Sydney to Hobart race. He is arguably the youngest ever to have competed. Ilex was also the first NZ boat to compete in the race. Later on he raced Z class at Worser Bay
As a teenager he and three friends built the Athol Burns-designed (modified by Thomas) Almero. She was launched in 1952 and was a sister to the Christina, built after school and also launched in 1952. Christina sailed to Australia in 1956; at the time, the smallest boat to have done so.
Thomas trained as a draughtsman with the Wellington Harbour Board. His first design for a yacht was drawn up in 1954 - a 23 foot keel boat design. The design was favourably reviewed in Seaspray magazine, which predicted a good future for him.
|Shemara in a Cook Strait race 1972. Source: G Pascoe|
|Gazelle. Source: David Thomas|
Gazelle was the winner of the longest Island Bay race on record at the Royal Port Nicholson Yacht Club. At a late stage of the race, all wind died out, leaving the fleet bobbing around. After some hours, as dinner time came near, each of the boats withdrew, either starting their engines or accepting a tow back to their respective berths; except the Gazelle, which had rum on board. Said rum was drunk, as the crew waited for a breeze which came in the next day. The race committee had to make the trip back to the clubhouse to get her finish time. After that, a new rule for abandoning races was created.
Gazelle and Shemara were neighbours in the Clyde Quay marina. Shemara is still there, one of the longest-term permanent tenants. Gazelle was sold to another Australian owner, who shipped her home about 2002.
|Charmaine. Source: RPNYC archive|
The Ondine was built by John MacDermott and Phil Hartley at Hartley's home at Balaena Bay. Ondine was raced regularly, and later sold to make way for Hartley's next build, the Spencer-designed half-tonner Odette. Under new owners, Ondine got caught in a tidal rip and a lee shore on Wellington's Southern Coast and couldn't claw out. It was decided to run her aground in a more-or-less controlled situation. Ondine was run on to a beach in storm conditions, and all hands were saved. Ondine was dragged up the beach by a tractor and taken back to town. It is a testament to the quality of the build that after the ordeal, the only real damage was two sprung planks.
|Malaguena preparing for her Pacific cruise 1968.|
Source: David Thomas
Stories of Roydon Thomas' life are legion. He had a reputation of a hopeless drunk. The "hopeless" aspect though is arguable, as his work maintained a high standard. He was however, a larrikin of the highest order. He is remembered by Phil Hartley's sons as always red-faced and genial. One story in particular can give an idea of the kind of escapade he got himself mixed up in. In 1966 he and several mates accidentally blew up a trawler in Evans Bay. The identity of the culprits was an open secret in the boating world, and his sister-in-law finally spilled the beans to a wider audience in 2007. Read about it here.
Roydon Thomas died by drowning in the Wellington harbour in 1971, aged 39. Special thanks to David Thomas for sharing some photographs and information. A book on Roydon Thomas' designs is in preparation.
Below: Excerpt from Shemara's log December 1962. Crew were Frank Ballinger, Roydon Thomas, Peter Prendeville, Peter Ballinger, P. Breed.