Best of the breed

Graham Lloyd | VOLUME 31, ISSUE 2
Di laughs at the thrill of tight turns in Ruby while Mark simply has fun at the wheel.
Hammond Craft celebrated its 70th anniversary with the creation of Ruby, a classic speedboat handcrafted in the tradition of its revered predecessors.

At the pinnacle of Australian wooden speedboat builders was Harry Hammond. From a small factory in the northern Sydney beachside suburb of Brookvale, Harry built speedboats with craftsmanship and quality materials that led to them being regarded by many as the ‘Rolls Royce’ of their type.

Originally built in wood and later (inevitably) in fibreglass, Harry’s designs were, at face value, simple, with typical clinker hulls, usually about 15 or 16ft in length. They were beautifully built and fitted out with great attention to detail for wonderful all-round performance.

In the June/July 2009 issue of Club Marine, we featured perhaps the greatest of all of Harry’s boats, Miss Australia, and related the story of how his son Mark had found and meticulously restored it.

Mark built boats with his Dad in the 1970s and went on to work with Roger Connelly – another famous name in Aussie skiboat history, with countless local and international ski-race championships won. Mark is, therefore, well versed in what’s needed to build a speedboat.

Harry built Miss Australia in maple and ply in 1961 for Laurie O’Neill, who took the boat to America to fit a Keith Black supercharged, 600hp Chrysler V8. Laurie wanted to show the Americans how stylish and potent Aussie skiboats were and did that in fine fashion, with the 18.5ft Miss Australia reportedly hitting 160km/h. After Laurie sold the boat, it was stored for some 30 years on the NSW South Coast before Mark found and restored it.

Today, Miss Australia looks absolutely pristine and is admired wherever she appears.

Quite a number of Hammonds remain in active use and their owners are an enthusiastic crew who enjoy annual reunions on the Hawkesbury River with a flotilla of both wooden and fibreglass craft.

Mark’s wife Di has been a powerhouse in promoting the Hammond marque, bringing these delightful, social speedboats the recognition they deserve. She and Mark have seen so many families enjoy their Hammonds and feel that this is the best tribute of all in continuing Harry’s passion and legacy. They often help others find or re-find a Hammond (a register of Hammonds is kept), such as Omen, the last Hammond built by Mark, in 1984, which was recently returned to its original owner.

Omen is a custom-made vessel for John Meyer, with a blue hull and bucket seats. The build took three years to complete, with Mark working on it part-time, alongside his regular employment as a motor mechanic.

A change of lifestyle led to John selling Omen, a decision he later regretted. When Mark and Di heard the boat was back on the market early in 2015 they told John, who jumped at the chance to buy it back and is now deeply involved in its full restoration.

RUBY, THE LAST HAMMOND

2015 marked the 70th anniversary of Hammond boats. Harry built his first speedboat, Zooma, in 1945, which he raced and also, apparently, used to court his future wife, Lorna. 2015 was also the year of Di’s 70th birthday, so what better way to celebrate both occasions than for Mark to build what will likely be the last Hammond, as a birthday gift.

Work on the 15.5ft hull began in November 2014, as Mark believes the warmer summer weather allows a better finish for the gelcoat and fibreglass. Knowing how much work is involved in the ‘glassing process, Di sought out Kane Banister, of Banister Marine on the NSW Central Coast. Kane’s Dad had been associated with Harry, so he was delighted to work with Mark on the new boat, which was laid up over two extraordinarily hot days between Christmas and New Year.

Harry made the hull and deck moulds back in the 1970s and, even with careful preparation for the new boat, there was some concern about how well the new mouldings would come out.

The build process began with the polishing of the moulds with seven coats of wax, each buffed clear before the next was applied, while ensuring every square centimetre and indentation was prepped.

Then the coloured stripes, such as the waterline and gunwale, were taped and gelcoated in their colour before the rest of the surfaces were gelcoated to look like wood. Harry had cleverly developed colours for his gelcoats that look so much like wood, you can’t tell one from the other until you are right on top of them.

Sheets of fibreglass were then cut and hand-rolled into place with a small metal roller, ensuring the resin thoroughly soaked through the ‘glass and eliminating any air bubbles for a solid and strong structure. Mark used the traditional methods he’d learned from his Dad, and even used some of his Dad’s tools, to lay multiple layers of ‘glass in the hull, deck and engine-hatch moulds.

“Knowing the success of the gelcoating and ‘glassing would not be revealed until it was removed from the mould made it an anxious time,” Di says. “It was like baking a cake and waiting for it to rise – only it took months to see the final result. The day of releasing the new mouldings was quite emotional, but there was nothing to worry about as Mark had not lost his touch.”

The boat was built in the same Brookvale factory that Harry had used and where Mark subsequently conducted his motor mechanic trade. But much had changed since those halcyon days of the 1960s to ‘80s, and many of the businesses that once supplied parts had disappeared. So, instead of just walking around the corner to procure all the bits needed to assemble the boat, Di spent hours on the internet tracking them down from as far afield as the USA.

Mark’s mate Graham ‘Maso’ Mason, a metalwork master-craftsman who had helped with the Miss Australia restoration, was recruited to manufacture the stainless steel components required for this ‘final’ Hammond.

The engine is a 330hp Vortec Chev 350 V8 with a 600 Holley carb and is fitted with Glenwood exhaust manifolds, for which Maso fabricated water-jacketed exhaust pipes. An MCE ski clutch feeds the power into an Austral four-blade, 12in by 14in pitch prop. It’s the first time Mark has fitted a four-blade prop and he’s very pleased with the responsive performance it provides. Namiiss Gauges supplied VDO dials in the classic style to suit the new boat.

Attention to detail is a Hammond hallmark, and the tradition continues with this boat. Di says the quest for perfection drove her nuts at times, but the final result was worth the effort. She has named the boat Ruby in memory of her much-loved, late mother.

“Cruising around in Miss Australia is such an amazing experience, with onlookers in awe of her beauty – she is like the royal carriage that is brought out only on special occasions,” Di says. “The little ‘glass Hammonds have stood the test of time, with so many still going strong, and I wanted to own the last of them … to have an ‘everyday’ Hammond.

“Mark is ever the humble person and he has so underestimated what he and his Dad created. Now, with Miss Australia and Ruby, we have a book-ended set of Hammonds!”

As to whether there’d ever be another Hammond built, Di (perhaps jokingly) said: “Well, maybe for the 100th anniversary. Never say never!”

At the time of writing, Mark was selling Miss Australia. For more information, go to: HammondBoats.com.au.


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