WAY DOWN SOUTH
The straight-shooting Sutherland boys are a father-and-son welding team that has been the backbone of Stabicraft boat building for many years.
Father-and-son duo John and Stuart Sutherland are born and bred in Invercargill, the home of Stabicraft manufacturing. They’ve been part of the company’s DNA since 1987, when Paul Adams began tacking together his very first Stabi model, the Ally Duck. In fact, John was the company’s first full-time employee, working as a fabricator. Back then, it was a two-man crew and the tubes were welded on the floor. John’s faithful labrador would sit nearby, keeping a watchful eye on the ordered chaos. Today Stabicraft employs 120 full-time staff and the boats are folded in sections and fitted to an extrusion on a jig. And another lab sits close to where John and Stu work. Loyalty runs thick with these boys.
It’s been a family affair for the Sutherlands for quite a while. John was subcontracting to Stabicraft, building boats out of a workshop next door to the main manufacturing plant, when his then 14-year-old son, Stu, started sweeping floors and emptying the rubbish bins after school. Once he got his driver’s licence, Stu graduated to helping with deliveries and pickups. When he left school, he started working with John full-time. Their job was to build all the boats up to 5m long.
“The parts were cut and pressed in the main workshop then came to us for assembly,” John says. “We were the only ones to weld on any boat that we started. In the early years, we used CDT MIGS, but switched to water-cooled Fronius MIG and TIG welders. They’re state-of-the-art and have made our job much easier — and virtually eliminated machinery breakdowns.”
In the early days, John and Stu reckon it was a fairly fluid approach to design and construction. “Paul would come into the workshop and start explaining what he wanted by drawing pictures in the air and waving his arms around,” John recalls. “Later on, a design team was put together and Paul stopped waving his arms around.”
The build process also got more efficient. “Previously, we used scribe boards and set out rods, but then CNC cut-and-pressing came along,” John remembers. “It saved a lot of time without the need for trimming and recutting. Together, we were building at least three boats per week.”
As a team, the boys have racked up the builds, constructing more than 3000 boats including the 383, 430, 490, 459, 509, 429, 529, 409, 259, 349 and 389, later to become the 1410. The boat they’ve had the most to do with is the 389/1410, now known as the 1450. “We built these for the entirety of their production life,” John says. “Stu built the last of this model before it moved to the main workshop.”
Along the way, there have been some interesting Stabi projects. As certified welders, they’ve built survey rescue boats for commercial use, alloy pontoon jet boats and trailers. They’ve also turned their handiwork to a few of their own projects including car and motorbike trailers and dog kennels. And, naturally, they’ve built a few boats.
THIRTY, NOT OUT
After 30 years with Stabicraft — 20 of them as a subcontractor — John has decided it’s time to hang up the TIGs and MIGs, and retire from full-time work. He’s handed the reins to Stu, but still picks up the odd job on a casual basis.
Thirty years is a long haul at the same company, so STABIMAG asked John what made building boats so rewarding.
“The fact that we’re building a boat for someone to enjoy,” he says. “It becomes their pride and joy. As owners of Stabis ourselves, we know what to expect on the water. That gives us great pride in our workmanship — we enjoy the challenge of working to a high standard.”
John attributes the success of Stabicraft boats to their stability and safety on the water, as well as their rugged construction. He also reckons the marketing department does a great job, getting the message out there with good yarns.
Now John’s retired, he’ll have more time for fishing and hunting in the Southland wilderness. And Stu won’t be far away. “We love the area,” he says. “There’s a world of opportunity for boating, fishing and hunting at our back door. Within 30 minutes we can be fishing in the sea; within two hours we can be on one of the many lakes.”
One memorable day on the rod saw them haul in more than 50 tuna. The fish were so thick, the boys decided to even the odds a little by using trout rods and handlines. When they’re not fish bothering, the boys like to compete in clay target shooting competitions.
Stu has even been over to Australia a couple of times for the nationals and world champs.
The Sutherland boys are also partial to gundog trialling, duck shooting and deer stalking. To keep his eye in, every year Stu choppers into the backblocks of Fiordland National Park chasing red stags. No doubt, this contributes to the deadeye Dick welding that ensures every Stabi leaves the factory right on point. Great work, lads.
THE BOATS THAT JOHN AND STU BUILT - & OWNED
Stabicraft 559 Fisher
Stabicraft 433 Fisher
Stabicraft 2400 Supercab
Their favourite is the 580 HT, which served them well for 12 years. “We have a lot of great memories of that boat,” John says. “There were so many adventures — tuna fishing, deep-sea fishing, freshwater fishing and hunting. And we’re planning a lot more adventures on our purpose-built 2400 Supercab. We’ve always run Yamaha outboards — and still do for our dinghies — but we’ve fitted a 250HP Honda to the 2400. In the electronics department, we run Garmin. It’s always put us on the fish.”