23 April 2014

Nuclear getaway launch

3/10/2012 10:04:00 a.m.


Lady Fair is off to Auckland.

Lady Fair is off to Auckland.

A little piece of American history is leaving Wellington.

A very large launch has been a prominent sight on the end of a pier at Chaffers Marina for nearly 20 years.  That’s Lady Fair.  She has an unusual history.

Donald Wills Douglas, (1892 –1981) was a United States aircraft industrialist who founded the  Douglas Aircraft Company which became the  McDonnell Douglas Corporation.

(The company is most famous for having designed and manufactured every aeroplane you know of with DC in front of its name … there were literally thousands of them including the ubiquitous DC3, and the DC 8 and DC 10 aircraft owned by Air New Zealand).

Back in the 1950s much of America was gripped by the Cold War, the fear of imminent nuclear attack, and paranoia about the Russians.

The story goes that Donald Douglas contacted Los Angeles military boat builder Fellows and Stewart, who’d built submarine chasers and tugs for the US Navy.  He had them build him what might be the ultimate getaway launch (the Americans would call it a yacht), supposedly as a torpedo retriever which may have got him some Government funding. She was designed by famous naval architect William Garden, was 72ft long, and he named her Lady Fair, perhaps as a nod to an earlier boat of the same name, or maybe My Fair Lady,  the blockbuster musical of the time. 

Launched in 1959, Lady Fair had every mod con of the period, including a large steam/vacuum water maker, something normally found only in much larger ships, was built of solid 2.5 inch (60mm) Douglas Fir (very appropriate) planks, had a three tonne 170 horsepower Caterpillar motor, and enormous tanks holding so much fuel (14,000 litres) that she could for example, sail all the way from Wellington to Sydney and back without refuelling – four times. This was said to be so the owner could get away from it all if the bombs started going off. 

They didn't, and he didn't.  Years later, in the 1990s the boat was bought by Jeff Hatch who wanted to come and live in New Zealand, and with his partner and two small children sailed (motored)  her all the way down here. It must have been an epic trip.

Her arrival created quite a fuss and the Wellington harbour tug Kupe put on a spectacular salute with its fire hose. 

The big boat has been living in Chaffers Marina since then, carefully maintained and loved by her next owner Rick Lucas. He now says the time has come. Lady Fair’s on her way to a new owner in Auckland. 
- John Bristed
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