Legend returned: classic rebuilt with modern materials

A significant wooden boat rebuild is underway at Denman Marine in Kettering, Tasmania, reviving the 32 foot, double-ended ketch known as Te Rapunga.

Meaning ’longing for the dawn’ in Maori language, Te Rapunga was discovered in an Auckland front yard in 2018 after two decades out of water. It was bought by a Bruny Island tourism group and fellow sailing enthusiasts with the vision of restoring her to original shape.

But, as Andrew Denman explains, “survey found she was too far gone and would require a complete rebuild. So, she was brough back to Tassie for the rebuild with the help of a team of shipwrights and the advice of author, Erika Grundman.

Grundman researched  the incredible life and philosophy of German-born seafarer and ‘citizen of the world’, George Dibbern. Her biography is titled ‘Dark sun: Te Rapunga and the quest of George Dibbern’.

The yacht will be planked in Huon pine and celery top on hardwood frames and backbone. One concession to modern materials is the use of West System products for the deck beam lamination and any other laminated hardwood components.

“We always rely on West System for its reliability and cold weather curing,” said Denman. “I’ve been using it since the early 90s and trust it. The team at ATL Composites is great too, affording us their expertise on tap and great customer service.”

The properties of epoxy that make it valuable for new boat construction also make it ideal for repairing older boats. The massive project is on track to be completed by end of the year.

“The aim is to sail her into the Wooden Boat Festival in February.”

George Dibbern’s story is at the heart of the voyages of the Te Rapunga. A merchant sailor prior to WWI, George set sail with a crew of three from Keil, Germany in 1930. Describing himself as a citizen of the world and a friend of all peoples, George renounced his German citizenship, created his own passport and flew a flag of his own creation.

Between 1930 and 1934 Te Rapunga travelled through the Mediterranean, crossed the Atlantic, sailed the Panama Canal and on to San Francisco, Honolulu, Samoa, eventually landing in Auckland, New Zealand.

George’s deep connection with Tasmania began in 1934, when Te Rapunga was invited to compete in the second Trans-Tasman Yacht race from Auckland to Melbourne. The race took 19 days, the boat sprang a leak early on in some boisterous weather and had to be repaired delaying them 44 hours. Continuing, Te Rapunga went on to take line honours from the only other competitor in the race, Johnny Wray on Ngataki.

After George’s death in 1962, Te Rapunga passed into various hands before ending up in storage. The Bruny Island consortium is motivated more than ever to share George’s message of harmony and inclusion.

West System have published the Wooden Boat Restoration & Repair manual which offers reliable and thorough information for restoration and repair. It can be downloaded for free on https://www.westsystem.com.au/product-category/publications/ or purchased in hard copy.

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