Ilex was a 52ft Logan‐designed yawl, launched on 7 May 1903 from the Bailey Yard in Auckland. She was constructed for Captain Walter Spencer Stanthorpe and Mr R H Shakespeare. At launching her dimensions were reported as: overall length 50ft, waterline 35ft, beam 11ft 6in, draft 6ft (NZ Herald, 8 May 1903). Between 1915 and 1943 Ilex had a number of owners including; Mr J C Macky (1908‐1915) Mr W R Ingram (1915‐1925), and Mr E H Northcroft (1927‐1936). Owned by the Donald Family (John Donald) of Auckland from 1936 - 1944.
Ilex was raced regularly in Auckland events during her early days. She was converted from a yawl to a cutter in 1911.
In February 1944 Ilex was bought by Wellington businessman Norman W Thomas. After converting her to a ketch and adding a wheelhouse, he raced her regularly in Wellington and took part in the 1946 Sydney‐Hobart race. Other major voyages undertaken were Wellington to Manukau in January 1946, and a circumnavigation of the South Island in February‐March 1946.
Ilex was sold to the Free Church of Tonga and delivered to Tongatapu in October 1948. She was bought by Tofa Ramsay in 1957 who renamed her Tuaikaepau. Under his ownership, Ilex carried cargo and passengers in the Tonga Islands, and between Tonga and Auckland. On her final voyage, Tuaikaepau departed Tongatapu for Auckland in July 1962 to get repairs in Auckland. With 7 crew and 10 passengers on board, she was wrecked on South Minerva Reef, southwest of Tongatapu Island on 6 July while under the command of Captain David Fifita. The ship’s crew were marooned on Minerva Reef for three months. The survivors built a small boat and three of the crew sailed to Kandavu in the Fiji Islands.
Ilex was launched on 7 May 1903 with great fanfare. Her hull was built of triple‐skin kauri, and she had a yawl rig. In the newspaper report of her launch, her dimensions were listed as; length overall 50ft, waterline 35ft, beam 11ft 6in, draft 6ft
Although Ilex was built for both Capt. Stanhope and Mr Shakespeare, she was eventually owned by Capt. Stanhope. During the summer he spent most of his time cruising on Ilex, frequently to the Bay of Islands, and in the winter she was often moored at Kawau Island. In May 1904 the Premier, Mr R. Seddon took a fishing excursion on Ilex at Kawau Island. Ilex was also reported to have done a trip to Stewart Island.
Several classic photos were taken of Ilex around the Bay of Islands and Northland coast, some by a notable photographer of the time, Henry Winkelman. A few of these are available from the National Library collection.
Ilex was bought by Mr Joseph C Macky in December 1908 after Captain Stanthorpe died in October that year. Mr Macky racedher regularly in the Squadron (RNZYS) and Devonport Yacht Club Series. He also cruised to extensively including trips to White Islandand Northland as far as North Cape. In 1911 he altered Ilex's original yawl rig to a cutter at the behest of his sons, to make her more competitive for racing.
Mr Macky and his wife Mary were reported missing, presumed dead, when the Lusitania was sunk by a torpedo on 7 May 1915 (NZ Herald). The Macky family sold Ilex to Mr W R Ingram around 1915. In August 1925 Ilex was bought by Mr H R Bloomfield who owned her briefly. During much of this time she was laid up ashore in Auckland. Two years later (June 1927) she was sold to Mr E HNorthcroft of Christchurch (later Justice Northcroft) who, it was reported, intended convert her to an auxiliary. It is likely that Ilex did not have an engine installed until about 1928.
Justice Northcroft cruised extensively in Ilex in the Auckland, Marlborough Sounds and other locations, with his family and friends as crew. In January 1932, Lord and Lady Bledisloe viewed the Auckland Anniversary Regatta from the cutter‐rigged Ilex. Justice Northcroft changed Ilex back to her original yawl rig before she was sold in December 1936 to Mr John Donald. Ilex was based in Auckland around this time but not much is known about her movements during this period.
1944‐1948 Ownership by Norman W Thomas
Norman Thomas a Wellington businessman bought Ilex in February 1944 and sailed her from Auckland to Wellington. He raced her regularly in Wellington and across Cook Strait. The first race record under his ownership appeared in March 1944 when Waiomo crossed the line first followed by Ilex in the Evans Bay Commodore Cup. In 1945 Norman Thomas converted Ilex to a ketch and added a wheelhouse over the cockpit. During the time he owned her, Norman Thomas cruised extensively in Ilex. Trips included Wellington to Onehunga in January 1946 and a circumnavigation of the South island in February‐March 1946. While in Fiordland, Ilex was nearly lost in a full gale while trying to shelter in Bligh Sound. In December 1946 Ilex departed Wellington for Sydney to participate in the second Sydney‐Hobart Race. Following a rough trip across the Tasman Sea she arrived in Sydney 13 days later on 11 December. Ilex started in the Sydney Hobart race on 26 December but pulled out of the race on 2 January at Cape Raoul, the headland that marks the entry to Storm Bay and Hobart. From Hobart, Ilex sailed arrived back in Wellington on January 18 1947 making a fast passage of 8 days 22 hours. Altogether Ilex cruised about 4,000 miles during the Tasman Seatrip. Ilex was the first New Zealand yacht to enter in the Sydney‐Hobart Race and at 13 years, Roydon was the youngest crew member to sail in the race. After getting back to Wellington in 1947 Ilex was raced in the Wellington area until early 1948 when NormanThomas decided to put her up forsale. Norman Thomas sold Ilex to the Free Church of Tonga in mid‐1948. She left Wellington on 14 October 1948 for her delivery trip for Tongatapu and arrived in Nuku’alofa about 28 October. This would have been the first trip Norman Thomas did to the South Pacific in a yacht. He must have liked the region as he returned to the South Pacific two years later in the trading schooner Huia.
In 1957 Ilex was bought by Tofa Ramsay in who renamed her Tuaikaepau, ‘slow but sure’. She continued her career as a coastal trader and carrying cargo and passengers in the Tonga Islands, and between Tonga and Auckland. Tuaikaepau departed Tongatapu for Auckland on 4 July 1962. The purpose of the trip was to get repairs. She was carrying 7 crew and 10 passengers, many of whom were Tongan boxers. After her departure, she was reported missing in July 1962. It was subsequently discovered that she had been wrecked on South Minerva Reef, southwest of Tongatapu Island on the night of 6 July while under the command of Captain David Fifita. She was a total loss and the crew were marooned on Minerva reef for three months.
The survivors built a small boat using timber obtained from the wreck of a Japanese fishing boat on the reef. Captain David Fifita, with two crew (one of whom was his son), left Minerva Reef and sailed towards Fiji without any charts or means of keeping the time. In mid‐October 1962 two survivors arrived in Soso Bay on the southern side of Kandavu Island, south of Viti Levu, Fiji on 15 October. Their small boat was wrecked on a reef at the entrance to the bay and David Fifita’s son was drowned. The crew remaining on Minera Reef were subsequently rescued on 17 October. A book written by Olaf Ruhen, Minerva Reef, provides a detailed account of the wreck of Tuaikaepau and the subsequent rescue of the remaining survivors. There were 12 survivors from the 17 who originally left Tongatapu.
A History of the Ilex (A10)
The 52 foot Logan‐designed yacht
Text credit: David R. Thomas April 2015