R. Tucker Thompson

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R. Tucker Thompson
Career New Zealand Merchant Navy Ensign
Name: R. Tucker Thompson
Builder: Northland, NZ
Launched: 12 October 1985
Homeport: Opua, New Zealand
Status: in active service, as of 2021
General characteristics
Type: Schooner
Displacement: 44 t (43 long tons)
Length: 85 ft (26 m) Sparred length
65 ft (20 m) Length on deck
58 ft (18 m) w/l
Beam: 16 ft (4.9 m)
Height: 72 ft (22 m)
Draught: 8 ft 6 in (2.59 m)
Propulsion: 3,000 sq ft (300 m2) sails
Sail plan: Gaff-rigged tops’l schooner

The R. Tucker Thompson is a gaff rigged tops’l schooner based in Opua, Bay of Islands, New Zealand. She is operated as a non-for profit charitable trust and owned by the R. Tucker Thompson Sail Training Trust. The mission of the trust is “Learning for Life through the Sea”. The ship is used for tourism day sails in the Bay of Islands from October through April and for sail training activities between May and September. Youth sail training is particularly focused at youth from the Tai Tokerau Northland region of New Zealand. She is a member of the Australian Sail Training Association (AUSTA), and has previously participated in the American Sail Training Association (ASTA) West Coast Tall Ships Challenge events in 2002 and 2005.


The ship was originally designed by Pete Culler, a naval architect in the United States, as a working fishing boat with a large engine and a small sailing rig. Tucker Thompson changed her design to build her in steel and extended her by more than two metres, making the hull longer and deeper to accommodate the tall rigging. Her design is based on a halibut schooner and a replica of vessels that plied their trade on the Pacific west coast of the USA in the early 1800s.

Building of the R. Tucker Thompson

The R. Tucker Thompson was started by Robert Tucker Thompson and his son Tod. Tucker Thompson was born in California and always called Tucker. He and his family immigrated to New Zealand in January 1971. After a few years he moved to Whangarei Heads and started work on the ship with his son, Tod. The plating was not quite complete when Tucker became ill and needed a heart operation. He was 49 when he died. The hull lay there for some years before Tod decided to work on it again. In a chance meeting, while working in Whangarei on the replica of the Bounty, Tod met Russell Harris and the pair went into partnership to complete the ship.

The hull was moved to Mangawhai Heads where work began. Limited funds meant that things had to be recycled. The massive fisherman’s anchor was found when a pub was being auctioned in Auckland and is stamped with the seal of approval of Lloyds Proving house in Chatham. The anchor windlass was modified from the back of a bulldozer; the bits were made from railway sleepers. The belaying pin and handsome wheel were made from old Pururi fence posts. Spars were scarfed and laminated of Douglas Fir taken from an old Auckland building demolished to make way for the Regent Hotel. The varnished cap rail was made from demolition kauri. Skylights came from the yacht Askoy.

She was launched on Mangawhai Beach on 12 October 1985. Karewa, a Maori figurine to be her guardian, was carved by Gordon Hatfield and presented by William MacDonald Taylor, both of Ngapuhi.

History of the R. Tucker Thompson

Russell Harris purchased Tod Thompson’s shares in 1993. The ship was then marketed and operated by Fullers Bay of Islands, providing day sails in the Bay of Islands. In the winter, the ship provided a limited quantity of sail training voyages for young people deemed to be “at risk”. In 2003, Fullers decided to build their own sailing vessel and terminated the arrangement with the R. Tucker Thompson, who continued to operate directly.

On 4 June 2006, Russell Harris gifted the R. Tucker Thompson to the people of Te Tai Tokerau Northland. In a symbolic event, the ship was sailed by Russell, his children and grandchildren from Opua to Russell Kororareka. Schoolchildren from the schools in the Bay of Islands and the community, boarded the ship to sail the ship themselves back into the port of Opua as a new entity. The ship is now operated as a not-for-profit trust with a mission of “Learning for Life through the Sea”. Focus is on a range of education experiences for young and old alike. Day sails continue during summer providing adults the opportunity to experience tall ship sailing and these have been supplemented with additional youth trips and history trips.


Since her launch, she has taken place in the following significant voyages:

  • First Fleet Re-enactment 1987;
  • Nuclear Free Pacific protest flotilla, 1995;
  • Sail Korea 2002;
  • ASTA West Coast Challenge 2002;
  • ASTA West Coast Challenge 2005.

Sadly, the R. Tucker Thompson could not participate in the ASTA West Coast Chellenge 2008, as July 2008 was her maintenance month.

Film work

The ship has also been used in a number of films and documentaries including "The Adventurer" series by TVNZ; "Red", a Somerset Maugham story by Infa Film Germany; Rite of Passage for the Australian First Fleet Re-enactment Company; Life of Mammals by the BBC; Captain's Log , a TVNZ documentary charting Captain Cook's circumnavigation of New Zealand; BBC Scotland's documentary on the life of James Morrison; Survivor: Cook Islands for Survivor Entertainment Group and Leo Houlding's "On the Edge" for Ginger TV.

See also

External links

Coordinates: 35°19′S 174°07′E / 35.317°S 174.117°E / -35.317; 174.117

fr:R.Tucker Thompson