Built 1959

In his younger days Ralph owned a traditional keel yacht, the 38 ft, B-class , “Rarere”. This yacht provided considerable enjoyment but he became conscious of the constraints associated with the deep draught of a full keel, and the high maintenance imposed by wooden construction. When he again decided to return to sailing as a pastime, he decided to design and build a vessel exactly to his own requirements.

This decision amounted to a resurfacing of previous thoughts, put aside when racing cars entered the picture. In fact stowed under his parent's house, was a single cylinder Lister diesel engine, still looking for a purpose in life.

In typical fashion, he researched designs which might prove suitable, and was impressed with a type of vessel, developed for fishing from Chesapeake Bay, on the North Eastern Coast of the United States. His specifications called for good sailing characteristics, shallow draught, and the ability to take to the ground in a tidal waterway when moored. These traditional American sailboats met these requirements. He also wanted a real ship, with a proper nautical feel and suitable for single-handed pleasure cruising.

“Chesapeake” at home berth.

Out came the drawing board, calculations were made and a 36 foot vessel, displaying very nice lines, soon appeared on paper. After considering all options, a steel hull and cabin sides, but wooden cabin top, was decided on. This arrangement kept the weight of the topsides to a minimum. A centreboard was incorporated, together with an innovative and very practical wide, shallow keel, so that the vessel would remain upright and stable when aground.

There was a place for the Lister diesel and the usual problems involved with an underwater exhaust were eliminated, with the novel idea of using one of the fixed tubular stern dinghy davits, as an exhaust pipe. The diesel was also called upon to drive a built-in welding generator, to be used for maintenance purposes, if required.

A ketch rig was decided on, in order to keep the area of individual sails within the limits considered most suitable for sailing single-handed. Geared wheel steering gear was constructed and arranged to provide a means of fitting, purpose designed and made self steering gear, operating in conjunction with a gyro compass, necessary as a result of the steel hull.

Engineering ability is also confirmed by the design of a clever variable pitch, reversing and feathering propeller, as well as a special roller jib furling system, which was much ahead of its time. A foredeck windlass, also designed and built, handles the chain ground tackle. The centreboard is raised using an easily operated mechanism, again Watson designed and built.

Accommodation is comfortable but basic and includes an excellent hot water shower and a head. Large windows, rather than ports, provide pleasant conditions below deck. An important feature, which allows winter cruising, is a driftwood burning stove.

Although he did not design with speed as a priority, Ralph has confided that running wing-on-wing, or on a broad reach, with the centreboard raised, he has often shown racing craft his transom. Chesapeake has of late done well in the hands of new owners, when entered in races restricted to traditional classic type craft.

Ralph's design was certainly noticed by the yachting fraternity and he was called upon to produce plans for a sister ship, to be built as a sloop. As could be expected, he did not simply deliver copies and the plans incorporated slight improvements, based on his experience with Chesapeake. The sister, “Mary of York” was built and has proved more than satisfactory.

Voyages have been confined to coastal sailing, and Ralph admits that he is not a keen rough water sailor. The northern coastal regions have been visited, and the Hauraki Gulf well and truly explored.

When cruising The Gulf, at Waiheke Island, he met up with Ken and Pat MacDonald, who became special friends. They confided in Ralph their desire to own Chesapeake when the time came to sell and this has come to pass. Well cared for, she still remains at the bottom of the garden and Ralph is able to look out at her from his living room window, happy in the knowledge that she is safe and sound.

“Chesapeake” and sister, “Mary of York”, up river at Warkworth, demonstrate their practical shallow draft.


Length, 36 feet. Beam, 10 ft 6 inches. Draught, 2 ft 6 inches.

Ketch rig with roller furling jib system.

Self-steering gear, combined with a gyrocompass.

Auxiliary engine, Lister single-cylinder diesel.

8 h.p. at 1,200 r.p.m. giving a boat of speed 5.9 knots.

Propeller, variable pitch, reversing and feathering.

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