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Gardner, Reginald Harry (Reg) (1926–2010)

by Malcolm Brown

People who attend boat and caravan shows often go out of general interest but there are many with a canny eye for a good thing and one of the exhibits in the 1965 Sydney Caravan and Boat show was a 24-foot yacht, named Endeavour, built by Reg Gardner. The boat, streamlined and made of fibreglass, attracted a lot of attention, despite the fact the caravans had taken up most of the space and the Endeavour had been put into the street.

In terms of his commercial future, it was a crucial moment.

Gardner had indeed produced a good yacht. With the help of boat builder John Bott and naval architect Len Hedges, he had developed the mould in a workshop in Production Avenue, Kogarah.

The use of fibreglass over traditional materials was ''a leap in the dark'' but it worked. Friends and associates soon saw the value of his yacht and orders started rolling in. Gardner, an electrician by trade, became a full-time boat builder and during the next 45 years produced more than 600 yachts, which were sailed throughout Australia and overseas. The greatest contribution of his long and productive life was to make relatively cheap, kit-form yachts available to Australians, just as the FJ Holden had made reasonably affordable motor transport available to ordinary Australians.

Reginald Harry Gardner was born on June 14, 1926, at Sans Souci, on the shores of Botany Bay, second son of a war hero, Harry Ellis Gardner MM, later an electrical installation inspector with St George County Council, and Elsie (nee Madew). He was sea-oriented from infancy. When a ship was required to be at sea in a storm – in his play scenario – he put a frame together with a steering wheel, the kids donned waterproof clothing, turned on the garden sprinklers and had a great time being wrecked on a foreign shore.

Sports-oriented, at age 12 he shaped a piece of timber into a hull for a sailing yacht. Gardner went to Hurstville Technical College and became an electrician. At the age of 20, he built a VJ using traditional Oregon planking, copper nails and brass screws. In his first year of sailing, he won the club championship of the Georges River Sailing Club.

In June, 1949, Gardner married a dressmaker, Norma Jean Anderson. Three daughters followed: Roslyn, 1951; Diane, 1953; and Marlene, 1957. Gardner continued as a family man and sportsman.

In 1963, Gardner became concerned about the deteriorating state of the woodwork in his Thunderbird yacht and looked for a replacement he could build with fibreglass. The result was Endeavour 24, or just ''Endeavour''.

In 1968, Gardner was invited to Britain to sail the Captain James Cook trophy event. On the journey there, he stopped in the US to study boat-building trends and in particular looked at the techniques of the Columbia Boat Company.

In a later interview with Australian Yachting, he said: ''I discovered that at that stage the Americans were 10 years ahead of what we were doing but could envisage taking boat-building in Australia to that stage and beyond.''

Although not very successful in the James Cook trophy, Gardner was second out of 20 starters in a single-handed race around the Isle of Wight.

The yacht he used, Endeavour II, was sold to an enthusiast in Guam. Continuing production, Gardner was obliged to alter designs according to customer needs. He produced yachts at various sizes up to 32 feet. He opened a second factory at Planthurst Road, Carlton, and in the 1970s bought a large block at Warragamba to accommodate numerous orders.

By the 1980s, Endeavour yachts had been purchased in every state in Australia and had been exported to Guam and Papua New Guinea. The yachts performed well in racing and he came close to victory in the Sydney to Hobart when Ron Cox sailed Endeavour 30. The yacht missed out on handicap honours due to fluctuating wind conditions on the Derwent River.

In 1971, an Endeavour Yacht Association was founded, comprising owners of yachts Gardner had made. Gardner, who was a long-time Rotarian, was the original commodore of the Botany Bay Yacht Club and served for many years on the club's executive. He devoted time to Technical Aid for the Disabled. Gardner retired in 1993 and, sadly, production of the Endeavour-class yachts stopped. Noted for his ability to think through complex problems and to relate to other people, he was made a Paul Harris Fellow, a Rotary Club recognition of his assistance to others.

In May 2000, he was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia for service to the community, particularly through the Rotary Club of Kogarah and TAD, and to recreational sailing through the Botany Bay Yacht Club.

Reg Gardner died on September 7 after a long battle with cancer. He is survived by Norma, his three daughters, eight grandchildren and his brother Albert. The Botany Bay Yacht Club will hold a memorial regatta in January next year to coincide with the 45th anniversary of the launching of the first Endeavour.

Original publication

Citation details

Malcolm Brown, 'Gardner, Reginald Harry (Reg) (1926–2010)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/gardner-reginald-harry-reg-16843/text28739, accessed 23 May 2022.

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