Search the Register
Advanced Search
JESSIE LOGAN under full sail in Auckland during the 1880s.

Robert Logan

The Logan family

The Logan family of yacht designs and builders from New Zealand have had a strong relationship with Australian yachting. The first connection goes back to 1888 and Robert Logan, but the primary influence was the Logan Bros. during the late 1890s and early 1900s, the period of the Linear Rating rules. Their first boats of that later period were clear winners as soon as they arrived, and were used as a head start for Logan Bros designs to remain at the forefront of the local Sydney fleet, despite challenges from designs by Fife and other designers. As quickly as it happened it ceased when the Logan Bros. wound up their business, World War I intervened and then new rules were adopted. Their diagonal construction technique was unique for yacht construction, and although kauri was also used extensively in Australian boat building on the east coast, it appears no one copied the planking method for local use.

Family Background:

Robert Logan was born in Dumbarton Scotland in 1837 and the family moved to Glasgow in 1842. There as a youth he worked in at least two ship yards where many lifeboats were built using a diagonal planking form of monocoque construction. He later worked at Steele's yard in Glasgow, pioneers of the steam ship era. At the same time Glasgow was at the forefront of technical training for tradesmen and it is assumed Robert Logan made use of this as well. Steele's yard also built a number of yachts including designs from GL Watson, and nearby was the famous yard of the Fife family. This combination of influences gave him a broad education of types and methods.

Robert and family migrated to New Zealand in 1874, encouraged by his brother James who had already settled in Auckland. Robert started working for another Scottish emigrant ship builder Henry Niccol, before setting up his own business around 1876. Niccol built trading vessels and yachts, including three racing yachts exported to Australia.

Robert Logan began building yachts and other small craft at his Devonport premises. His sons had become involved in the trade working with their father, and in the early 1890s Robert and Arch set up their own yard. Other family members then joined and it was eventually known as Logan Bros. The firm was devoted exclusively to building yachts and launches. In a short time they became established in that field which was then vacated by their father, and more winning Logan designs, drawn principally by Arch, began to dominate the Auckland races. Robert moved into building commercial vessels.

The early 1900s was the peak of the Logan Bros. influence, and it ended almost abruptly in 1910 when the brothers ceased their collective operation. They moved across into property development except for Arch, who continued his own business, designing craft mainly for New Zealand clients. He was also the only brother to marry, and one of his sons Jack then carried on the tradition of yacht and boat design. Jack's work included many small craft that in their time were as dominant as those of his father and grandfather.

Design, Construction and Significant vessels:

ROBERT LOGAN: During the period at Niccol's yard Robert Logan built craft using the diagonal planking method which entirely suited the local kauri timber. It seems quite clear from his son Arch Logan's recollections that this method was introduced by Robert Logan, and afterwards copied by many of the other local builders.

The first two important yachts built by Robert were the LALA II and the famous JESSIE LOGAN (still extant). The racing success of the JESSIE LOGAN brought orders for more craft and this allowed Robert Logan to become established at a time when a depression had forced other builders out of work. He built fishing craft and yachts, continuing to extend his reputation for fast designs. For larger yachts he moved from double diagonal to triple diagonal construction.

The native kauri timber was ideal for yacht building. It had moderate density with a good strength to weight ratio, and was remarkably resistant to deterioration in the marine environment. The planks were relatively easy to form to shape, an essential requirement for the construction method. The hulls were both simple and strong, with three planking layers building up a strong panel that could be supported by just stringers and floors, without the need for frames. The cold moulded techniques used in the later part of the 20th century are quite similar, with the fastenings now replaced by adhesives.

Robert Logan's keel yacht designs were consistent winners in their class and orders continued at a steady rate. In 1888 a major inter-colonial regatta was planned for November in Melbourne Australia, the Centennial International Regatta. Logan decided to build a boat for that regatta, and use that as a means of introducing himself to the Australian market, where the other Auckland builders Bailey and Niccol had already achieved some success. The 11.6m (38 ft) cutter AKARANA was built for the purpose, and on a trial sail on Auckland's Waitemata Harbour before being shipped across, AKARANA beat the renowned JESSIE LOGAN, an indication that it was fast craft. However, a significant change in rules for handicapping had happened during the time AKARANA was being built, and Logan was aware that the boat would be racing in a new class it was not designed for.

The regatta was sailed under the new Waterline Length and Sail Area Rule, not the beam orientated tonnage rule Logan had worked to. AKARANA was a narrow deep keeled 'plank on edge' hull shape and in the Australian races the new rating put AKARANA up against larger craft. Despite this the boat did win at least two events on handicap and made an impression on the Australian yachtsmen, but this was not enough to create the interest Logan was after. Although he sold AKARANA in Sydney in 1889, he did not receive any orders from Australia.

Business continued to flourish in Auckland and he began building steamers, while one of his later yachts was the 1894 master piece WAITANGI, which did eventually come across to Australia, and was restored in Melbourne in the 1990s.

LOGAN BROS.: Logan Bros. became established at about the time the 2 & ½ rater class was popular in Auckland, but another change in rules saw the introduction of the first Linear Rule which took into account more hull dimensions, and the 2 & 1/2s merged into being 30 foot linear raters. This class spawned fierce rivalry between the Logan Bros. and the Baileys, with the latter's METEOR getting the upper hand in 1898. A T Pittar took METEOR to Sydney where it blitzed the local fleet and was sold to Dr J F Elliott.

Pittar then commissioned the 36 foot linear rate RAINBOW to take to Sydney, while CT Brockhoff of the Prince Alfred Yacht Club in Sydney ordered the 30 foot linear rater AOMA in 1889 for racing on Sydney Harbour. AOMA was an immediate success and over the next two years Logan Bros. designed and built HEATHER, PETREL and CULLWULLA for other Sydney clients to race in the same class.

Baileys also had an order for a 36 foot linear rater for Sydney called BONA. RAINBOW and BONA raced together in Sydney, and the races were marked with collisions and incidents. RAINBOW emerged with four first prizes from six starts, but unable to secure a sale, Pittar brought the champion back to New Zealand. In Sydney the press noted the dominance of the various New Zealand boats, even the Logan 1 rater MERICA was on top of its class, sailed by Fred Doran. In a separate venture the ERICA was designed and built as the first of a possible one design class for Tasmania, but whilst that particular version of the class never eventuated, it may have prompted the later Derwent one design class.

The flamboyant Sydney entrepreneur Mark Foy commissioned the extraordinary SOUTHERLY BUSTER from the Logan Bros in 1904. It was designed to avenge his disastrous English challenge when the 18-foot skiff IREX was soundly beaten by a Linton Hope designed skimming dish rater a few years earlier. SOUTHERLY BUSTER pushed the skimming dish concept further, to all intents it was a longer NZ patiki type with the overhangs cut off. The snub bowed and fully enclosed hull gaff rigger had exceptional speed downwind but appeared to struggle to windward. It capsized on Sydney Harbour during one outing, and the sight of the enclosed hull form sitting on its side was talked about at length. It was shipped to England for the challenge, but the match race never took place and the vessel's end is unknown.

By this time A T Pittar was resident in Sydney and in 1905 he commissioned the Logan Bros to design and build another 36 foot linear rater RAWHITI. Initially the results were disappointing but later in 1906 when C T Brockhoff bought the RAWHITI it became the dominant big boat on the harbour. Brockhoff took RAWHITI to Melbourne for the Sayonara Cup challenge early in 1907, to match race the Fife designed SAYONARA. In the lead up to the event RAWHITI won the La Carabine Cup series, but then a re-ballasted SAYONARA was able to beat RAWHITI and retain the Sayonara Cup for Victoria. In 1910 C T Brockhoff sold RAWHITI to Albert and Sayer, and the boat continued to have success before being laid up in 1930. It was sold back to New Zealand at the end of the 2nd World War.

JACK LOGAN: Jack Logan's career crossed paths with Australian yachting in races involving the 18-foot skiff class and the 18 foot long Auckland V class. The development of the respective classes was quite different, and Jack Logan returned to the skimming dish hull form in 1948 with his Bermudian rigged design KOMUTU, which he referred to as a 'frying pan, complete with handle'. At this time the Australian designs were still deep, heavy, open boat hulls, with gaff rigs, and in the 1950 series held in Auckland, for the JJ Giltinan Shield, KOMUTU won easily. Jack then built a development, the TARUA and went with the New Zealand team to defend the title, but by now the 6 foot beam 18-foot skiffs pioneered in Queensland had been allowed to race in the series, and Barnett's MYRA TOO won all three races on Sydney Harbour.

Elliott and Kidd, 2001, the Logans, David Ling and the Auckland Museum
Fletcher, Daina 1991, Akarana, Beagle Press for the Australian National Maritime Museum
Knight, Lucia 2005, Encyclopedia of Yacht Designers, Norton