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About us

Originally commencing business in 1934 when Walter Watson senior set up as a yacht builder having until then primarily been a small craft builder. The first large vessel commission was the auxiliary yacht “Wayward”.

Watson`s boat shop, Tutukaka harbour 1936

The design office was established by the founding principal T.C. (Ces) Watson in 1946. This practice has been responsible for the design of the most diverse range of motor and sailing vessels of any design office in New Zealand.

These craft have ranged from 30ft sail boats to Ocean Going Tugs, car ferries and include the largest vessel ever launched in New Zealand a 9000 DWT Barge.

Commissions have included such unusual projects as an “HMS Bounty” replica built in 1978 for the Dino de Laurentas film corporation. This included working drawings not only of the HMAS Bounty but also of the Bounty’s long boat, both of which required extensive research of the British Admiralty archives.

Over the years we have prepared designs in all the available building materials including wood, steel, G.R.P. and aluminum and have a good understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of each.

The design office has always had a particular interest in the design and construction of small steel and wooden trawlers, tugs and other work boats up to approx. 80ft and was one of the pioneers in the expansion in these fleets from the mid 1950s to the late 70s.

Many of these vessels were required to operate in very severe conditions requiring a high standard of hull strength, stability and sea keeping ability. Their propulsive machinery and systems had to have an unprecedented degree of reliability. This is influenced largely by conditions due to New Zealand’s geographic location which are summed up by Captain Cook’s 1769 comments on discovering the country:

“The coast of this country is pounded almost ceaselessly by a procession of great hollow swells and gale force winds which leads me to believe no other land lies within this latitude for fully 200 degrees longitude of the earth’s circumference”.


T.C. Watson’s expertises in these types of craft lead to design commissions for both coastal and ocean capable private motor yachts incorporating many of the characteristics of these earlier designs.
At this time the present principal, Wally Watson, joined his father in partnership after studying at the Institute of Technology and spending four years in ship design in New Zealand’s largest shipyard.

T.C.A. (CES) WATSON, Boat builder, Naval Architect & Mariner. Founder T.C. Watson & Sons, Naval Architects.

Ces Watson commenced his working career in the late 1920s at the venerable yard of Charles Bailey & Sons, Auckland, qualifying as a shipwright. 

Chas Bailey & Sons yard, Halsey Street Auckland 1932

Throughout the depression years of the1930s as work became tight he fell into what would become a second career at sea in the merchant marine, interspersed with boat building work ashore.

He initially started as a deck hand in the small trading vessels: Moa, Zingara, Huia, WillWatch and Miena which worked the New Zealand home and Inter-Colonial trade.

Having an interest in all aspects of seamanship and in particular navigation, led to rapid advancement “up through the hawse pipe” to deck officer with examinations being sat as sea time allowed.



“Will Watch”
"Will Watch"


With men being drafted into the armed forces at the out break of war in 1939 and combined with the loss of large tonnages of merchant shipping lead to a critical shortage of seamen. He was given leave from the armed forces to join the merchant fleet as an able seaman.

Service during war time included the vessel SS Maungonui, a passenger vessel converted to a hospital ship running to Suez to bring back sick and wounded soldiers from the North Africa campaign.

SS Maungonui

SS "Maungonui"

There were also classified voyages that included delivery of equipment and machinery to build aircraft landing strips on remote Pacific Islands for Allied aircraft. The destination unknown until the vessel had sailed and was outside the 12 mile limit where instructions from the Ministry of Defense, delivered by hand to the master at sailing, were opened.


War time service included the square rig sailing ship Pamir which he served in during 1941 and 42 for voyages to San Francisco from Wellington. Having spent much time in sailing ships both coastal and “over the line”; the equator, this was his second large “deep water” sailing ship, the first being the bark Passat.

Ces Watson on the left    And at the far end of the yardarm

Fortunately we have managed to preserve a small collection of photos taken on board Pamir during a wartime voyage. These are likely to be rare as crew members were forbidden to take photos in case they fell into enemy hands..

CLICK HERE for slide show of Pamir en-route Wellington to San Francisco.

By the conclusion of the war he had sat examinations for his deck officer ticket; First Mate Foreign Going, indorsed “Square Rig”, one of the last endorsements of this type allocated in the British Merchant Marine.

After coming ashore permanently in 1946 he re-established the boat building business with his father, Wally Watson senior.

Always interested in design, Ces Watson went on to study engineering and naval architecture, in due course becoming an associate of the Royal Institute of Naval Architects.

As one of the pioneering designers of small vessels for construction in steel the design practice was lead into a prolific output of commercial vessels during the period 1950 to 1980. Examples are:

The tug “Edward G” from 1960, has now covered over a million miles.
The tug “Edward G” from 1960, has now covered over a million miles.

The “Esperance” 1962, another vessel with over million miles under her keel.
The “Esperance” 1962, another vessel with over million miles under her keel.

The 67ft “Hamal” from 1970

The 67ft “Hamal” from 1970, a motor yacht designed in keeping with the appearance of a commercial vessel. Seen here leaving little wake at 10 knots.

Having a passion for sailing and sailing craft meant there was always a small sail boat of some description on the drawing board. These were mostly cruising yachts as he considered the rating rule of the time had a compromising effect on the look and performance of the modern racing yacht.

The ketch “Photina”

The ketch “Photina” has completed four circumnavigations since 1966 including an 2400 mile foray into the Amazon River.

Also a number of sail boats designed specifically for amateur construction such as the 52ft Wai-O-Tira” seen here in Turkey during her second of three circumnavigations by three different owners since 1979.


Alongside the design practice T.C. Watson & Sons has always maintained the wooden boat building shop originally commenced by Walter Watson senior in 1934, now relocated to Whangarei. Vessels built include:

Kitty Vane, Luanda, Photina, Gypsy Girl, Freda, Wager, Bona Dea, Margaret M, Kent, Triona, Tryal, Lady Kay,along with small unique projects such as  a replica of Captain Slocums “ Spray”

“Luanda” 1962
"Luanda" 1962

“Bona Dea” 1968

“Bona Dea” 1968, is typical of the small wooden inshore vessels built by T.C. Watson.


T.C. Watson & Sons shop 1977

Also a number of unique projects including assisting with design research and construction of a replica of HMAS Bounty for film company Warner Bros. along with three “Bounty`s launches, of which fame is due to completing the most successful small boat voyage of all time.

Replica of HMAS Bounty 1978
Replica of "HMAS Bounty" 1978

Replica “Bounty`s Launch”

The replica of the“Bounty`s Launch” 1982 seen here sailing on Sydney Harbour in preparation of a successful reenactment of William Blighs 1783, 3200 mile voyage.

The opportunity of working under the guidance of one of New Zealands leading yacht builders of all time, Charles Bailey Junior and combined with the experience of serving at sea has been a major influence on the design of all these vessels. As a result some very basic rules developed for Watson designs, rules that we rigidly adhere to today:

• “Preservation of life at sea must take precedence over all else”.

A competent seaman can take nearly any boat anywhere. But given the choice he will always choose the best boat he can find for the job.  

• “Half the pleasure of owning a boat is in owning a beautiful one”.

With a handsome, well built boat, pride of ownership, something that is difficult to measure but which means so much to most owners, will always get the highest marks. 

• “Good seamanship starts on the designer’s drawing board”.

Good seamanship is all about minimizing and eliminating risk. This starts with the first lines on the designer’s drawing board. The relationship between the designer, builder and client should always be an open book.


Avoid all unnecessary items.

Today we receive comments, in particular for our range of ocean going yachts that they are very “ship like”. We are pleased to receive these. The variation of craft type, materials used in construction along with observation of the performance of the fleet of vessels we have been responsible for, some now over seventy years, are the reason.

By the time Ces Watson laid aside his drawing instruments in 1979 T.C. Watson & Sons had completed construction of 42 vessels and designed 127 from which 109, some in multiples, had been built.

WALTER W. WATSON Jnr, Naval Architect and Boat builder.

Began his design career while still at high school tracing drawings prepared by his father…….to be continued……..

Last Updated (Thursday, 26 May 2011 15:01)