By Zoe Hawkins

The name is legendary in maritime history today but in 1922 Percy Vos was a humble apprentice, returned from World War 1 and posed to launch a career as the new owner of a wooden boatbuilding business in Poore Street, Freemans Bay.

1922: In the beginning

When his employer moved to Thames in 1922, Percy took ownership of the business and renamed it P. Vos Ltd[1]. He honed his skills both in boatbuilding and business to be at the forefront of his profession. P. Vos Ltd was renowned for the quality of its clinker dinghies and built numerous runabouts, rowboats, sailing dinghies and yachts - even an early motorised hydrofoil[2]. 

By the mid-late 1930s, Percy was working less in the yard and focusing more on running his business.

1936: The biggest boat yet – and new premises

In 1936 P. Vos Ltd teamed up with Seagar Bros Ltd to win the tender to build a new 140-foot car ferry for the Devonport Steam Ferry Company. It was a turning point for the business and in 1937 the shed and yard at 37 Hamer Street was built. Now P. Vos Ltd was equipped to take on two very important markets: bigger, well-built fishing boats of up to sixty foot in length[1], and support boats for the United States Army and Navy. World War II was just around the corner.

1943 - 46: The war years

The war years were busy ones for Auckland’s wooden boatbuilding industry. Boat builders were considered essential workers and exempt from going to war. At the start of World War II, when the call came to build support craft for the United States army and navy, and until 1946, this was the focus for P. Vos Ltd and other Auckland boat builders.


After the war: Fishing industry boom

Servicing the increasing demands of the fishing industry was the focus and opportunity for P. Vos Ltd through the late 1940s and 50s. Percy preferred building from wood but the fishing industry wanted steel boats. New manager Bill Ostick led the switch to building steel boats, at the behest of the Sanford fishing company. In the 1960s P. Vos Ltd established a new 150 tonne slipway for building steel boats alongside the existing shed and employed 60 tradesmen. 

1970s: All good things must come to an end

Percy passed away in 1972 but Even before that, times were difficult for the business. Sanford was requiring bigger boats than Vos had the capacity to produce, and P. Vos Ltd became less and less commercially viable. In 1994 the yard closed its doors for good.


The yard sat idle for around ten years when a number of threads came together that would eventuate in the restoration you see today. In 2020 architects Matthews and Matthews were commissioned to ensure that the Vos shed could be accessible, fit for purpose, and that all health and safety requirements were met.

With the extensive renovation complete, Percy Vos Shipyard is now under the care of the New Zealand Maritime Museum Hui Te Ananui a Tangaroa, and this milestone and its re-opening was celebrated in 2021.



[1] P20, ‘Launching Dreams’ by Baden Pascoe

[1] P43, ‘Launching Dreams’ by Baden Pascoe – referencing newspaper clippings from Vos’s personal scrapbook

[1] P60, Launching Dreams

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