A Nelson man's romance with the seas off Nelson/Marlborough, and with a woman from Maheno, has left Timaru, and indeed New Zealand with a rich legacy of Scottish traditional boatbuilding and seaworthy craft that are still among the best on the planet.
It was a journey of many parts for a young Doug Robb who in 1952 set up Timaru's first boatbuilding yard in Richie Street, down on the Timaru Harbour.
Sixty years on, the Doug Robb legacy that started with clinker dinghies lofted to a pattern from his former boatbuilding business in Nelson, and ended with a flourishing Timaru composite engineering business now known as Aeromarine Industries, still produces sought-after products of choice for the construction industry, homeowners, and the recreational industry.
Doug Robb died in 1994 and his legacy also produces memories among hundreds of people locally of those early years that just might not have happened if it wasn't for a Muldrew girl from Maheno, the apple of Doug's eye after a chance meeting in Nelson. They married in 1949.
The boatbuilding story began, though, in July 1942 when a 19-year-old Doug Robb completed his boatbuilding apprenticeship and was sent straight into fulltime service in the New Zealand Army to join the war effort in Auckland building Naval Patrol vessels.
Son Trevor recounts Doug's early history.
"After the cessation of hostilities, Dad travelled back to Nelson where he started his own boatbuilding business, carrying on in the footsteps of his grandfather and great-grandfather who had been operating boatbuilding yards in the mid-1860s to early 1900s in the Nelson area.
"On one of his many trips through Timaru on the way to Maheno to see Mum's family in 1948, Doug noticed that the Port of Timaru had a large fishing fleet but no local yard to service it. Eyeing a business opportunity, Doug set up a boatbuilding yard in 1952 on Richie Street. It was handy there. A slip from the boatbuilding shed could see sizeable fishing boats built and slide their way down to careers in coastal fishing waters all around New Zealand," Trevor said.
The business, known�as D F Robb & Co, in its 1969 heyday employing around 45 staff, became a well known builder of quality fishing boats and pilot boats that were supplied to clients throughout the country over the next 30 years. Most were carvel planked in timber. In�boat building,�carvel built�or�carvel planking�is a method of constructing�wooden�boats�and�tall ships�by fixing planks to frames, so that the planks butt up against each other, edge to edge, gaining support from the frame and forming a smooth hull. It required a high degree of skill.
�In 1965, his son Trevor commenced an apprenticeship with the business, at a time of great change within the boatbuilding industry. Boats were now being built of new and modern materials, such as aluminium, steel, plywood and fibreglass.
Design and specification certification requirements were being implemented by the New Zealand Government to meet the new construction methods and Trevor found himself thrust into the role of marine design and certification, and having to rapidly gain specialised knowledge in naval architecture. He was kindly assisted in this by naval architect, John Hakker, and also by international naval architects, Renalto Levi of Italy and William Garden of North America.
Boat design technology was also rapidly changing, especially for the crayfishing sector.
Using his naval architecture skills Trevor created the Vosper-type hulled high speed fishing vessels vessel with a sting in their tail - a 370hp Cummins V8 diesel. The sleek hull lines allowed for speeds in excess of 20 knots, even in rough seas, more than double the capability of traditional fishing vessels. In the meantime, the increasing presence of foreign trawlers capable of 14 knots inside New Zealand's legal waters presented problems for New Zealand fisheries protection vessels capable only of 12 knots. The intruders simply outran the enforcers. The problem was solved by fisheries protection using the Robb-designed fast fishing vessels to catch them. The foreign incursion was halted dead in its tracks. These foreign plundering fishing vessels could not outrun these new designs.
�And with Trevor's experience in naval architecture he soon saw the clear advantages fibreglass had over the rest, being lighter, stronger, able to be moulded to any shape, and corrosion proof.
"Boat construction time was slashed too, making fibreglass a more affordable option," Trevor said.
"Fibreglass moulded construction meant that the traditional huge number of skilled man/hours in a boat were slashed to less than half, for the equivalent size boat."
The gem of a composites/fibreglass industry in Timaru was born and by 1977 the business now known as Aeromarine had established in the industrial suburb of Washdyke. It was specialising in composite construction, building mainly high-speed fishing vessels. Also adding a wow factor were a series of catamaran offshore racing powerboats, capable of more than 100mph, built by Trevor in conjunction with Timaru's Barry Ford. They were to revolutionise offshore powerboat racing in New Zealand. The business also constructed specialised lifeboats to Lloyds of London standards, which was a New Zealand first.
But the market place was changing. As well as boats came household items such as showers and vanities, refrigerated trucks, aircraft bodies and fitments, water slides and hydroslides, Magnum speed boats and an enduring new venture - buses.
Partnering with John Turton in 1985, the first true joint venture was born and endures today through Designline, founded in Ashburton, makers of eco-friendly buses for the international market. Aeromarine has taken a bold approach to this industry, supplying Designline with technology, design and manufacturing almost all of the body shell in modules over the years.
Handing the operations side of Aeromarine Industries to his son Simon, Trevor has now taken a step back from the cut and thrust of running a thriving engineering business.
The 60-year celebrations this year will coincide with a new initiative, Simon says.
"We have never sought to be a giant enterprise, rather as a family we are engineers, we love solving design problems and providing a stable environment for our hard-working and loyal staff and customers. We are greatly appreciative of local companies and organisations, like Designline, the Timaru District Council, Hilton Haulage, Andar, Cloughs, Prattleys, all of whom we have had many decades of good business relationships with," Simon said.
Aeromarine is now preparing to join the Christchurch rebuilding effort following more than a year of devastating earthquakes as Canterbury companies and industries look for partners.�
"We have fast-tracked technologies and products�to help builders, farmers, local government and the private sector source easily installed and durable fixtures and fittings.
"It's a long way from that first clinker dinghy. My granddad Doug would have been proud of us," Simon says.
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