Born in England in 1915, Yeoman Lionel Sands, “Sandy” arrived in NZ at the age of five. Living his early years in Whangarei, Sandy very quickly developed a passion for boats & fishing. Leaving school at the age of 12 Sandy found work on coastal scows, sawmilling & commercial fishing. At sixteen years of age Sandy moved to Auckland to work at Ship Builders in Beaumont Street and went on to become slip foreman for the company.
The outbreak of WW2 saw Sandy re-locate to the Hawkes Bay where he worked for Bryce Rope (Rope Construction) as a bridge builder for short period before enlisting in the army. Sandy served with the 22nd Battalion and saw action in Egypt, Greece and eventually Crete where he was captured. The rest of the war he spent as a POW at Stalag 8B in Lamsdorf, Poland. His time wasn’t wasted and it was during his time as a POW that he had the opportunity to study naval architecture via literature sent through the Red Cross and to also gain an insight into managed forestry as POW labour in the work camps. The conclusion of WW2 and his liberation saw him repatriated back to England. It was during this time, working in the Isle Of Wight with Uffa Fox, Englands foremost yacht designer, Sandy became an Associate Member Of The Royal Institute Of Naval Architects.
The Early Days
1946 saw Sandy’s return to NZ and the formation of Sea Craft Ltd. Established in Cawley Street, Ellerslie, the original factory manufactured oars and clinker built boats of varying sizes. Sea Gull Outboards were the outboard motor of the day, supplemented by a range of inboard motors, and many hundreds of these Sea Craft boats were sold throughout NZ. It was during these early days that many young men served apprenticeships with the company who then went on to become successful boatbuilders in their own right – the likes of Max Carter & Rex Henry to name but two. 1946 also saw the “arrival” of Lionel Sands, quickly followed by his two sisters, Linda and Shirley.
1950 - 1960s
This was in many ways a vibrant time for the company. With solid demand for quality boats and accessibility to outboard motors, the company was able to consolidate its position as NZ’s most prominent production boatbuilder.
With the growth there were also industry issues that required a collective voice and the formation of the BIA (Boating Industries Association) saw Sandy elected as President of the Association. This role also involved wage negotiations with the Unions which Sandy did on behalf of all members.
Soon after changes were happening within the industry and the mid 60’s announced the arrival of fiberglass – a radical departure from our traditional boatbuilding skills but immediately recognized as the new way forward.
To fully embrace this new technology, Sea Craft had two of its staff sent to California to learn the new processes and during that period the company constructed a “purpose built” laminating / glass factory. With temperature and humidity controlled, this new factory was state of the art and provided a facility to produce world class boats.
1960's - 1980 A time of feast and famine
The mid 60’s through to the mid 70’s was a period of spectacular growth for the company. It was during this period that the company opened a factory in Fiji to support the developing export market. The NZ domestic market was enjoying unprecedented growth and the range of Sea Craft fibreglass boats benefitted hugely at this time.
The “flag ship” of the day was the Sea Craft Valencia, an 18 footer powered by a 115hp Mercury outboard selling at $5000.00 for a ready to go rig! Every week two of these craft went out the door plus a smattering of other models.
By 1977 world events started to impact the NZ economy - fuel crisis, carless days etc. It was however the introduction of 20% Sales Tax on power boats and caravans that virtually destroyed our industry overnight. The impact of sales tax was severe. Production went from three boats a week to one new boat for the year. The ability and flexibility to diversify into service and repair work in conjunction with limited production of yachts kept the company going but the need for change was imminent.
1980 saw a strategic move to merge Sea Craft Ltd with Miller Moyes Ltd. Miller Moyes, under the guidance of Les Miller, had established an immensely strong marine retail business in Auckand and provided an outlet to retail the range of boats manufactured by Sea Craft. At the same time Sea Craft acquired the “manufacturing rights” to the already established Australian Haines Hunter range of power boats and set about establishing a nation wide dealer network for the Haines Hunter range of boats.
1980> The New Era
With the legendary V198 Haines Hunter leading the charge the Haines Hunter acquisition provided renewed energy to the company. Bigger outboard motors and renewed economic prosperity together with a full range of Haines Hunter power boats heralded a new beginning for the company. In 1985, under the guidance of the Don St.Clair Brown (see photo at bottom of page), Sea Craft purchased outright Haines Hunter NZ Ltd from the Australian parent company. Don Brown, in his capacity of Financial Director was instrumental in planning the pathway ahead. Don’s contribution to the company was immense and remained so until his death at the age of 94! With the Haines Hunter name now fully under NZ ownership, the company set about developing a range of boats tailored to suit the NZ market. First out of the blocks was the SF700 then followed by the SF535 and SF600 series. All of these models enjoyed phenomenal success and even today are bench marks in the industry.
The 19th September 1990 marked the end of an era with Sandys’ passing, at work, and doing what he enjoyed most. The 1990’s also saw Les Miller retire and the arrival of Denis Kendall to the management team alongside Lionel Sands with Denis subsequently becoming a 50% shareholder in the company. Recent history has seen the ongoing development of the Haines Hunter range. Many of these new models have been recipients of industry awards but more importantly these new boats reflect the original philosophy established by Sandy nearly 70 years ago – quality of design, quality of construction & quality of service.
Today, in a purpose built factory, with Denis Kendall and Lionel Sands at the helm, the company is well positioned to explore the challenges ahead. The ongoing commitment to new model development and the dedication to apprentice training is a legacy the company will continue to embrace.