Ken Lusty, a stalwart of the New Zealand marine industry, died at his home in Stillwater on Tuesday evening.
He was one of the few to excel in both marine sports: yachting and powerboat racing, and then went on to found the country’s largest marine distribution company and was also instrumental in the establishment of a strong marine industry association.
While growing up on Milford Beach in the 1950s, Lusty learnt to sail in P and Q Class yachts before buying one of the very first Zephyrs produced by leading young designer Des Townson. He later crewed with Geoff Smale in the Flying Dutchman class before migrating to the very competitive Finn Class, where he was good enough to compete in the pre-Olympic regattas.
Although fiercely competitive, Lusty also had a great sense of fun. On one memorable occasion, he joined a Finn race (in which he was not supposed to be competing), got a perfect start and led around the course, before pulling out with much merriment just before the finish.
In the 1970s, Ken’s passion turned to powerboat racing and he was instrumental in setting up the Northern Offshore Powerboat Club. He campaigned a number of the leading race boats of the time including Dunhill, Peter Stuyvesant and Mystic Miss.
He also convinced his great friend, Warwick Browne, the head of Citizen Watches in New Zealand, to sponsor a cup for the fastest time from the Harbour Bridge to Bay of Islands. When the leading hopeful had to pull out with engine failure the day before the record attempt, Lusty borrowed a boat from another friend, Jim McAlpine and, with Browne alongside him, set the record himself: at an impressive 2 hours 14mins. It was a record that stood until very recently.
Lusty also teamed up with Browne and Televsion New Zealand’s Doc Williams to produce the Citizen Watches Match Racing Series. Established in 1979, it was the first yachting regatta anywhere in the world to be televised live. It was such a success, overseas networks would regularly send their producers down to see how it was being done.
The series also introduced high level match racing to New Zealand for the first time and attracted some of the world’s best sailors. It was the first time New Zealanders had seen these near-legendary America’s Cup sailors in action and, better still, it showed that our sailors were just as good. Chris Dickson was one, in particular, who benefitted from the exposure to this top level of racing and our first America’s Cup challenge was largely based on the experience they gained in this regatta.
Lusty’s influence on shore was, if anything, even greater than it had been on the water. Introduced to the marine industry in 1964 by his father-in-law, Andrew Donovan, Lusty went on to found a series of marine companies. These focused on bringing world leading marine products to New Zealand and the most successful, the Albany-based Lusty and Blundell Ltd, remains New Zealand’s largest supplier of marine products and systems, with branches in Whangarei and Tauranga and dealerships throughout New Zealand.
Although a canny businessman, Lusty was also a generous one: sponsoring many yachting and powerboating events and strongly supporting the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron, of which he was a long-time member. He was also a great friend and supporter of the late Peter (now Sir Peter) Blake and was on board for all of his Whitbread, Around Australia, Jules Verne and America’s Cup campaigns.
In the early 1980s, Lusty realised that the New Zealand marine industry needed to become more professional if it was to grow and prosper. He therefore worked hard to revitalise the Boating Industries Association (now the Marine Industry Association) and served as its president from 1993 until 1995. He also, again with the help of Warwick Browne and others, established the Imtec boat show, New Zealand’s first marine trade exhibition.
Held through the 1980s and 1990s, Imtec was also the first boat show to feature boats on display in the sea and it became the forerunner of today’s Auckland International Boat Show.
In 2005, his contribution to the marine industry was recognised when he was an inaugural inductee in the New Zealand Boat Show Hall of Fame.
In 1999, Lusty suffered a major brain aneurism and was lucky to survive. However, he made a strong recovery and, although no longer involved in the day to day running of Lusty and Blundell, continued to contribute behind the scenes until his death on April 6, just three weeks shy of his 65th birthday.
Like his friend, Sir Peter Blake, his achievements will perhaps be most appreciated now he is gone. Largely thanks to his vision and effort, New Zealand has a strong presence in international match race yachting, a well-structured and effective marine industry association and a world class international boat show.