History of the SunMaid 20

The SunMaid is Born

Trailer sailing was introduced to the New Zealand public in the mid sixties by Richard Hartley, a well known local designer. The little TS 16 was designed for the home builder, made from plywood, and easily trailed and launched. In fact, it was little more than a dinghy with a small cabin having limited accommodation, yet over the years, these little boats were cruised extensively on all types of waterways. Trailer sailing became very popular in New Zealand because of the well recognised advantages of being able to travel to different waterways, easy launching and retrieval and the ability to take them home for storage and maintenance. No doubt, however,relatively low cost was a contributing factor.

Trailer sailer owners became more adventurous and started to take part in all manner of races around the country. By this stage, larger and more seaworthy boats came on to the scene, mostly designed for plywood construction by the home builder. Some of these craft were participating with the Junior Offshore Group, traditionally a class designed for small keelboats. These adventurous types did not escape without some problems, and capsizes and swampings amongst the trailer sailer fleets were not unknown.

Respected and well known New Zealand yachtsman, John Balmain Brooke MRINA, was in his 63rd year in 1972. He was not a newcomer to yacht design, having designed the Frostbite dinghy in 1938, the Sunburst in 1964 and numerous other larger yachts and he saw a need to design a safer and faster trailer sailer than was then available. By a strange coincidence, John happened to be brother-in-law to John Salthouse, one of the famous Salthouse brothers, well known and respected yacht builders from Auckland, New Zealand.

The Salthouse brothers had been conducting a progressive yacht building business for many years, the business having been bequeathed to John Salthouse by Mr Wilder, his former apprentice master. The Salthouse family (originally from Canada) were all keen sailors, beginning at an early age. John, was the eldest of the family, Bob and Jean are first generation New Zealanders. Later on, John Brooke joined in partnership with the two brothers to form Salthouse Brothers Ltd. It seems that the brothers were notorious for their arguments and in the mid eighties, Bob left the business after yet another argument and went out on his own as a yacht designer - something he had been doing for some time.

John Brooke loved racing and wanted to design a trailer sailer that was faster and more seaworthy than those available in 1972. His concept was a ballasted, centreboard sloop of medium displacement capable of racing competitively in the quarter ton or JOG divisions and also providing safe comfortable family cruising, with facilities and accommodation usually associated with much larger yachts. John's design philosophy was always conservative with an eye for beauty and the look of the finished vessel. His design calculations were often rough and he did not waste time with thorough mathematical analysis of his design. However, his experience and knowledge of yacht design, led to many successful outcomes, the Coronet being one of these.

The response to the Coronet 20 was outstanding and many vessels were raced successfully in their large trailer sailer fleets. Later, Salthouses produced a keel boat version of the Coronet and this also proved to be a pleasure to sail, and made for a very seaworthy and comfortable vessel. It was said that Coronet production boats were a little rough in their construction - a reflection on Salthouses' tendency to get boats out of the door regardless of the quality of the finish. The designer, John Brooke, recognised that the Coronet was a little heavy by the stern. This affected sailing performance in races but was easily overcome by loading extra crew members forward.

At one stage, a customer wanted the Coronet 20 built as a motor boat and this provided the initial motive to develop a motor sailer. This variation proved so successful that several were built. John modified the deck layout of the 20 to accommodate the requirement and it was this experience which led to the later development of the Coronet 25 motor sailer.

The SunMaid in Australia

Salthouse Brothers were aggressive about expanding their business into the Australian market and in mid 1973 looked for a local builder. A Cairns (Queensland) boat builder took up the opportunity and introduced the Coronet to the Australian market under the new name, SunMaid (the Coronet name being already registered to a caravan manufacturer). Little is known about the Cairns builder, but it appears the yachts were basically identical to their New Zealand counterparts and there was an agent in both NSW and Queensland. This builder produced and sold 18 of these new trailer sailers.

Late in 1974, Chris Hall, a blue water yachtsman with two Sydney-Hobart races and 15,000 sea miles under his belt, decided to purchase a trailer sailer for his own use. Not only did he purchase the boat of his envy but he bought the business as well from the Queensland builder. Chris and his wife Enid started building the SunMaid in the front yard of their Mt Eliza house, mastering the art of laying up GRP as they went. Within 16 months the business was transferred to a large, eye-catching showroom in Carrum near the mouth of the Patterson River. By that stage, they were building some three boats each week and were having the fibreglass mouldings produced by the respected moulders in Mordialloc, Bolwell Fibreglass.

Active promotion of the SunMaid was always one of Hall's strong points. At the 1976 Sailboat Show, the drawcard was a black SunMaid with gold trim. mounted on a black-painted trailer behind a black Mercedes - the package said to be worth $33,000. At the same show, Chris's own boat, Solarmis II was also on show, one of our still attractive current vessels.

The SunMaid always seemed to receive favourable reports from yachting and boating magazines and owners were the envy of others on the water. Part of the marketing success of the SunMaid was due to the fact that Chris would not sell a partly completed boat - there was only one way to buy one and that was fully fitted. This directly contradicted the way other builders sold their yachts, at any level from bare mouldings to fully fitted.

By early 1977, the trailer sailer market in Australia was in full swing, with buyers looking towards larger and more luxurious boats. Hall responded by commissioning John Brooke, in conjunction with Salthouses to design a much larger version of the SunMaid/Coronet. The original hull and deck was developed in Salthouse's factory in New Zealand under the project leadership of Tony Bedford, probably the most meticulous boat builder in their employ. Tony insisted that the standard of workmanship be kept very high and had many heated arguments over John Brooke's cavalier attitude to quality. Tony was a true craftsman who could see the sense of taking a little longer to finish the job properly the first time. One of the many arguments Tony had over the new boat was the height of the cabin sides. When the first hull was being built, Tony was ordered to raise the topsides by six inches, which he did reluctantly. Incidentally, one of the team members on the Coronet 25 project was the apprentice Christopher Murman, a current resident of Sydney.

Chris Hall had negotiated with Salthouse Brothers to have the first set of moulds for the 25 footer sent straight to Australia. Time was closing in and Hall was anxious to have the new SunBird on display at the 1977 Sailboat Show, an objective he did achieve. The 'Bird was hailed as the most luxurious and attractive trailable yacht at that time and orders started to pour in. By 1978, Hall could see a gap in the market for a motor sailer version of the SunBird and, together with Salthouse's experience with the Coronet 20 motor sailer, a new version was developed. This was released to the public at the 1978 Sailboat Show in Melbourne.

Orders continued to pour in for the SunMaid 20, SunBird 25 and SunBird Motor Sailer. All the mouldings at this time were produced by Bolwell Fibreglass at Mordialloc and transported to SunMaid Yachts at Carrum for the final fitting out.

At Christmas 1979. Chris and Enid Hall moved their business to Paynesville on the Gippsland Lakes, to continue building the range of trailer yachts as well as the Salar 40, a luxury motor sailer. Unfortunately, the business only survived for a further six months and in July 1980 went into liquidation, poor cash flow being named as the cause. Apparently, they still had plenty of orders on their books.

By this stage, Chris Hall had produced a total of 243 SunMaids, 56 SunBirds and 24 SunBird Motor Sailers, an amazing feat for any boat builder in Australia.

With Bolwell Fibreglass being one of Hall's major creditors, the moulds were recovered and taken back to Mordialloc. For a time the classes were in limbo and then the Melbourne Trailable Yacht Centre, Chadstone took over marketing under the management of Ian Felsenthal, a well known trailable yachtsman. The SunMaid and SunBird yachts were being moulded and fitted out completely by Bolwells in their factory. Some of the boat building requirements were a little alien to them and this was reflected in the work on some of their boats.

The new manufacturer and agent were introduced to the public at the 1981 Sailboat Show with a super display, equal to anything Hall had produced earlier. Of particular note was the five berth version of the SunMaid 20 which Bolwells had developed, using a folding dinette on the starboard side to achieve a double bunk. However, the trailable yacht market was well past its peak and very few yachts were sold by the new builder and agent. By early 1983 they had dropped from the market place.

In June 1984. Doug Sharpin, long time builder of the Holland 25 yachts, acquired the moulds for the SunBird Motor Sailer from Bolwells and commenced production. The quality of the boats produced by this new builder was quite outstanding, however, the market was still slow and only two vessels were built. Sharpin's business did not survive, and after a couple of years was wound up. The next stop for the motor sailer moulds was West Coast Marine at Queenscliff. We believe that no new boats have come out of the moulds since their trip south.

About the same time. the moulds for the SunMaid were purchased by Max Kent, a retired naval officer from Crib Point. By all accounts he built only one boat and strictly speaking, it should not be considered a SunMaid. A couple of years later the ownership of the moulds transferred to Southern Fibreglass at Hastings and Webster Marine of Paynesville became involved as marketing agents. Even at that time, a completed SunMaid without trailer was to be sold for about $25,000. a figure at which the SunMaid could not compete with the newer, light weight trailer sailers. No SunMaids were ever sold by this team although a few motor boats were constructed, using the same hull mouldings. At present most of the important mouldings of the SunMaid are at rest in a paddock near Bairnsdale, under the supervision of Webster Marine. Some of the smaller mouldings may have been destroyed.

The SunBird was also on the move and in 1987 the moulds were dug out of Bolwell's yard and sold to Eddie Scholtens. an ex-powerboat builder. Eddie was based at Wandin North and produced six boats from the moulds, all in one colour, red and white. The quality of the glass work in the Scholtens boats was superb, however there were some minor problems with the fitting out. Some of these boats were sold fully completed and some went out as basic hull and deck. Eddie was particularly keen to market the SunBird with an outboard motor fitted in a well. forward of the transom, a moulding Chris Hall had produced years earlier but had used only once. Ironically, most of the Scholten yachts which were originally fitted with outboards have since been converted to inboard diesel power.

In December, 1988. Eddie Scholtens decided to sell up and the moulds for the SunBird were transferred to their new owner. Peter Laing of Pro Glass Pty Ltd in Braeside. No boats have been produced from the moulds under this new ownership.

(This article was prepared by Ian Gloster using the Association's archival material and early Sunlogs. He was assisted, particularly with the New Zealand Information, by Christopher Murman. Ed)