Six famous yachts you didn’t know were built at McMullen & Wing


You know the yachts for which McMullen & Wing are most known: the great world-exploring luxury motoryachts like BIG FISHERMIS2MEA CULPA and KOI; but you will be surprised to see which other of these yachts you will know.

The story of New Zealand and the story of McMullen & Wing are deeply intertwined. At every significant yachting juncture in New Zealand’s journey to becoming one of the most respected yachting nations in the world, McMullen & Wing has been there, playing a key role. At the same time, every significant milestone in McMullen & Wing’s history is there not just because of McMullen & Wing, but because of New Zealand as a whole. Those who build their yachts at McMullen & Wing do not do it in spite of who we are and where we are. They do it because of who we are and where we are. And today, McMullen & Wing is at the very core of the future success of the New Zealand yacht building industry, just as our New Zealandness is central to the future success of McMullen & Wing.

The story of New Zealand’s yachting industry is one of innovation, determination, character. A handful of key individuals and the teamwork of those around them. Innovative local boats, sailors breaking into the international race scene: One Ton Cup, Whitbread Round the World Race, America’s Cup, global exploring cruising yachts and motor launches, super sailing yachts, superyacht refits… world class luxury motor yachts.

Ceramco New Zealand

As a result of several projects in the 1980s, McMullen & Wing became the favourite builder of the late Sir Peter Blake, building ocean racing yachts for his various exploits. Sir Peter made himself famous and in a sense defined the New Zealand character with his 1982 Whitbread Round the World race campaign. New Zealand’s first ocean racing maxi yacht, Ceramco, was built by McMullen & Wing for Peter Blake’s Whitbread Round the World Race attempt. The campaign gained world-wide respect after a rigging failure brought the mast down early into the first Atlantic leg.

Cape Town lay 2,700 miles upwind of their position, and their jury rig was extremely inefficient to windward. So Blake, who was a keen student of sailing history, followed the old clipper ship routes and skirted around the South Atlantic high pressure system, taking them almost all the way across to South America before turning east again and making for South Africa. Although this would add some 1500 miles to the journey, it would keep them in following winds.

The strategy worked and Ceramco made it into Cape Town 24 days later and, incredibly, still ahead of eight of the 26 yachts in the race.

Sir Peter’s trust in McMullen & Wing in turn led to a wider involvement in the Whitbread Round the World race, and on at least one occasion McMullen & Wing had the entire fleet hauled out together during the Auckland stopover.

Kiwi Magic

In 1987 New Zealand challenged for the first time for the America’s Cup: the oldest sporting trophy in the world, and the pinnacle of yachting competition. It was a well-funded and ambitious campaign, bankrolled by New Zealand merchant banker Michael Fay, with the construction of three 12-metre class yachts at McMullen & Wing. Notably these yachts were built in fibreglass, at a time when the entire competitive 12-Metre fleet was aluminium. Amidst accusations of cheating for building in a different material “why would you want to build a fibreglass boat if you weren’t trying to cheat”, the New Zealand yachts proved themselves to be extremely fast. Ultimately the experience of American Dennis Connor prevailed, winning the Louis Vuitton Cup finals against a young inexperienced kiwi crew that buckled under pressure.

It was an impressive entry into the America’s Cup and it gave New Zealand a taste for success, leading to campaigns for every America’s Cup regatta since. It was also the last time any America’s Cup boat was built in aluminium.

Black Magic

It was in San Diego in 1995, under the leadership again of Sir Peter Blake, that New Zealand staged its most impressive America’s Cup campaign. It was the second generation of the International America’s Cup Class and New Zealand had built two yachts, sailing under the name “Black Magic”.

The campaign was impressive for two reasons: firstly the New Zealanders completely dominated the competition, winning virtually every race, higher, faster and more disciplined than their competition. New Zealand had learned the lessons of our past inexperience and staged a deadly assault on the regatta. The two yachts, built by McMullen & Wing, had hit the sweet spot of the design envelope almost perfectly. And Peter Blake’s dogged focus on reliability ensured they never lost a race day. As he liked to say, “To finish first, first you must finish”.


In the late 1990s McMullen & Wing took on the restoration of a 52m three-masted steel barque built in New York in 1902, “Shenandoah”.

More of a rescue than a refit, she arrived in a sorry state and as each layer was peeled back the story got worse. On more than one occasion the owner very seriously considered scrapping her, but he persevered. Large sections of steel plate, including the entire bow section were replaced, as were the deck, the rigs, the entire interior and all the plumbing and engineering. Wherever possible, original bronze fittings were kept, restored and reused.

The resulting refit went on to win the Showboats award for best refit in 1998: the first of many major awards for our work. Today Shenandoah is regarded as one of the world’s greatest yachting treasures, sailing the world’s oceans and inspiring a new generation to turn to the sea.

Nephele (ex-Ipanema)

35m Ipanema (now Nephele) was built in high-strength Alustar aluminium by McMullen & Wing to a design by German Frers. Combining a luxurious interior with breathtaking sailing performance, Ipanema won the Millennium Cup superyacht regatta in Auckland New Zealand against a fleet of 48 yachts only days after launching.

Although known for a sharp turn of speed, Nephele is a beautifully mannered sailing yacht and has proven herself an outstanding world cruiser. Known to draw an admiring crowd in the grandest of superyacht ports, Nephele is regarded as one of the world’s most beautiful and elegant modern cruising yachts.

Koi (ex-Surprise)

35m expedition motor yacht Surprise was at home the moment she was launched. Built for expedition cruising in the South Pacific, she was the first superyacht to enter full time charter service in exotic Fiji, a comfortable four-to-five day cruise from Auckland. This 35m steel/aluminium expedition yacht was also one of the first new build superyachts to combine the capability of an ocean going commercial vessel with the luxury of a true superyacht without compromise to either attribute, a forerunner in a sense to the luxury expedition motoryachts for which McMullen & Wing is now considered a world-leader.

She was built in 2001 for a successful Fiji-born Australian businessman with a passion for his homeland and a vision of offering a level of visitor experience quite different from Fiji’s luxury resorts. Her aesthetic is strong with soft-edges, and her interior has a relaxed, airy, beach-house feel quite ahead of its time in the conservative superyacht market of her day. Style and quality combined to win Surprise the International Superyacht Society award for best motor yacht in 2001.

Now into her second decade and with well over 150,000 nautical miles under her keel, Surprise has been renamed Koi and is based in the Mediterranean. There she continues to operate a busy charter schedule, proving her capability and spreading McMullen & Wing’s reputation far from her original home.

Isla McKechnie