Grace under sail
New Zealand’s reputation in the field of yacht design, construction and racing is second to none. Since Chris Bouzaid hoisted the one One Ton Cup aloft in 1969, the country’s yachting fraternity has not looked back. But to do so—examine the sport’s earliest years—is to be reminded that today’s greater heritage, with roots in the very foundation of the settlement we now call the City of Sails. Rawene, 42 feet long and the last of the big keel yachts built by the boatbuilding dynasty founded by Robert Logan, is part of that heritage, yet she still slices through the waves of Auckland’s Waitemata Harbour more than 90 years after she first tasted salt water on Christmas Eve 1908. Having undergone a recent overhaul, she is good for another 90 years.
The latch lifts with a satisfying chink and the old front gate swings wide. I step through, walk around the villa to the back garden and stride down the steep Z of the path to the boathouse. The midmorning sun beats on clipped grass and dazzles on the small chop of the bay. Across the water the flamboyant pink buildings of the Chelsea Sugar refinery stand out against tree-clad hills, while out beyond the pohutukawa traffic climbs the coathanger of the harbour bridge.
A couple of lads sit on the lawn talking, beside a sprawl of ropes and gear. Then the skipper, Russell Brooke, arrives and we all head through the boathouse to the jetty. Under the iron roof, opposite a cluttered workbench, sits an ancient undecked clinker boat, maybe four metres long, built for the nephew of the painter Charles Goldie. It is draped with a dustcloth, its spars slung from a bare wooden wall. Over the past half-century, I am told, it has barely budged—in recent years just once, to add a decorative note to a television commercial.
But if the past seems frozen here in this shrine to nautical tinkering, it is exuberantly alive a few hundred metres offshore, out near Watchman Island. There, in the green bounce of the Waitemata, the 42-foot gaff-rigged cutter Rawene bucks impatiently on her mooring.
I had been told that Rawene, built in Auckland in 1908 by the revered boatbuilders Logan Bros, and newly restored, was the most authentic Edwardian yacht on the harbour. Now, thanks to the generosity of Brooke, her self-styled caretaker, I am about to see her put through her paces.
As we draw close, the yacht’s elegance comes into focus. There are, of course, the wonderful lines of the hull, which curve from the bowsprit and spoon bow down through the low waist and back to a nicely judged counterstern. Then there are the fetching shipboard details: the almond-shaped ellipses of the windows, two to a side; the timber bracket cradling the lashed boom; the wooden cockpit grating; varnished blocks for the running gear; belaying pins; her name, etched in the glass of the teak skylight.
Down below, amid the paint-fresh panelling, work is yet to be done. Benches where new crimson plush upholstery will lie are a clutter of tools and ropes. Even so, the restrained end result is readily imagined. Already the bevelled mirrors are on the cupboard doors and the wall mouldings gleam white. With the cushions in place, and with a few panel lines picked out in gold, Rawene’s cabin will take on a salon refinement.
On deck, while wind soughs through the rigging and the crew stow covers, sort rigging and attend to the thousand other things that preface the movement of a ship under sail, Brooke bends to his job in hand—splicing a rope to fasten the tack of the jib to the deck. “Sort of thing you really need to do in the evening,” he murmurs apologetically. Rawene, however, has found other ways to fill his evenings. This is to be her first outing for three years and the first ever with newfangled synthetic sails—the originals had been hand-stitched Egyptian cotton, one still unused.
Apart from the modern sailcloth, Rawene’s makeover has drawn on traditional materials and techniques. In such matters Brooke, education officer at the National Maritime Museum, is a stickler for authenticity.
“He has had us do everything the way it was done in granddad’s day,” says crew member Anthony Harland with mock disdain. “There is tallow to go down the rudder post yet, to lubricate it. You are supposed to heat it up to make it less viscous.” He draws down the corners of his mouth at the thought. “That is not a good time to be around.”
Brooke can’t help making comparisons with today’s craft. Take the turnbuckles, the rigging screws that attach the standing rigging to the chainplates on the hull. On Rawene they are hefty bronze pieces. “Worth a fortune, I would think. The modern stainless ones quickly start to bleed rust and look miserable.”
Concessions have been made, though, over the years. The first was an engine, installed to make docking easier when the yacht had a marina berth. Then came the synthetic sails and running gear. “When we had Manila ropes, things would break and, crash, down they’d come,” says Brooke.
With their low freeboard and big sails, early yachts have a reputation for being wet ships but, once under way, Rawene is comparatively dry. And quick. The skipper has set main, staysail and jib, but not gaff topsail, and in the 15-knot breeze we are burying the rail. The deep cockpit drains into the cabin. When Rawene cruises off the coast in a following sea, the drainholes are stopped up, the cabin hatch is closed and, says Brooke, “We bail like hell.”
With the rig taking the attention of her crew, fortune smiles on me. A pair of hands at the helm would appear to be required and I quickly volunteer mine. The boat is responsive, I find, and when the sails are trimmed, surprisingly well balanced. There is no need to wrestle brutishly with the tiller; the same delicate pressure that suffices to turn a bicycle on dry land will now send tons of kauri vessel prancing off on a new bearing.
Another sail, the leader, is got up, and we rocket downharbour. Foam peels from the prow and the bowsprit flexes as new load comes on.
With no winches and only blocks and tackle to haul the sheets, Rawene at times gives her crew a workout. Five are needed for racing, two in the cockpit and two forward. To keep the workspace clear, the helmsman lies across the deck aft with tiller in hand, his feet braced on nifty wooden rails.
Heeling over in the freshening wind, a greater length of boat meets the sea, and with the waterline increased she reaches her optimum speed. I have heard seasoned sailors talk of these old yachts as being “sea-kindly” and now I see what they mean.
Slender and deep-keeled, they slice through the water with none of the rockinghorse motion of modern light-displacement boats. The ride is smooth. Close to the water, yes. And wet, when the bow clips a wave. But with a pared-down, clean-cut ride that is hugely enjoyable.
I notice the rudder post carries, alongside the ship’s name, the date 1909. Brooke surmises that, having cast the date in bronze, the original owner, Alfred Gifford, a well-known Auckland tailor, prevailed on the builders to get her finished early. At any rate, come Boxing Day 1908, Gifford was making for the cruising grounds of the Hauraki Gulf.
And who could blame him?
The Edwardians, with much of the hard work of city-building behind them, were abandoning the austerity and reserve of their Victorian forebears and seizing on new opportunities for leisure. They raced horses, visited beaches and picnicked with enthusiasm. And they took to yachting. At least the menfolk did. The unseemly lack of privacy aboard, and the want of even such basic necessities as a toilet, discouraged women from anything other than day sailing. It wasn’t until the advent of reliable marine engines and the consequent building of sizeable pleasure launches that women were regularly to be found at sea.
Meanwhile, in what became the traditional voyaging seasons of Christmas and Easter, all-male yacht crews slipped their moorings and headed for Kawau, Great Barrier, the Bay of Islands and other exotic destinations.
“On Thursday evening, Auckland Harbour presented one of the prettiest sights imaginable,” announced the New Zealand Yachtsman, reporting on a typical exodus in April 1910. “The big bright Easter moon looked down on a scene of serene splendour, and the various craft crossing her silvery path on the gently rippling waters resembled phantom wraiths gliding slowly and silently out and away into the great unknown.”
With its romantic disposition and boundless enthusiasm, the New Zealand Yachtsman, begun in 1909 by yachting devotee Wilkie Wilkinson, was the perfect yachting showcase, and did much to champion the sport. Week after week, between its stylish art nouveau covers, the journal carried detailed accounts of the Auckland fleet’s adventures—and its mishaps.
As Brooke was to discover years later, the gear on these boats needed treating with respect, and breakages were common. One of the more spectacular, involving the 45-foot snapper boat Little Jim, occurred at the end of 1933. Setting off from Great Barrier for Kawau on Christmas Day—they had to be back for work between Boxing Day and New Year—Little Jim’s crew found themselves punching into a freshening gale with reefed mainsail. Then, without warning, the mast snapped (the same fate had befallen an earlier mast just the year before).
Labouring in the teeth of the gale, the crew cut away the rigging with a breadknife and cobbled together a jury rig, only to find the mainsail had snagged on the rudder and was acting like an enormous sea anchor.
In danger of being dashed to pieces against the rocks of Great Barrier, they dropped two anchors. One warp parted in the huge seas and the remaining anchor dragged.
That was the end of Little Jim. She broke up in Katherine Bay, and the crew scrambled ashore with what few possessions they could salvage. They built a fire to dry out and found some bacon among the wreckage washed ashore. So, that was Christmas dinner sorted, at any rate. Barbecued bacon on a manuka fire.
Despite such catastrophes, enthusiasm for sailing couldn’t have been hard to muster, however. Not when living on the doorstep of one of the world’s great cruising grounds. Yachtsmen and launch owners headed for Piako Swamp and Port Charles at the start of the shooting season to bag pheasants and pigeons. They hauled up massive snapper in prime fishing spots and soaked weary limbs in the hot pools at Waiwera, called at picturesque bays and yarned with locals, made sightseeing excursions and took up invitations to hastily improvised dances ashore.
Many a crew stowed a gramophone for lively shipboard entertainment, along with fishing tackle and copious quantities of food—the new vogue for recreational sailing could make demands on a person.
“Most of our yachtsmen have been unknown to Auckland for the last week or so, having gone away to one or other of the lovely little spots round our harbour,” reported the Evening Star newspaper just before the turn of the century. “They may be discovered in one of the hundred little bays round the islands, ‘with nuddings on,’ or only an old shirt and a pair of inexpressibles, boiling the billy or eating roast pipis. They never shave now, nor do they comb their hair. They have gone back to savage life, and are tasting the enjoyment of natural man.”
One favoured destination, Kawau Island, had been giving a warm reception to yacht crews since the days of its former owner, Sir George Grey. In January 1888, the 45-foot cutter Rita anchored at the island and basked in the governor’s hospitality. Built in 1882 for Tom Henderson, Rita had been the first Auckland yacht to head north for pleasure, and with Henderson at the helm began the tradition of long, often ambitious, summer voyages. During the season of the 1888 cruise, she logged an impressive 2134 miles.
At Kawau, some of the ship’s party rowed ashore to shoot wallabies and peafowl, while the captain went to call on Sir George. The genial statesman invited the visitors to dinner and told them to help themselves to mulberries, figs and apricots in the orchard. Several days later, Rita returned to Mansion House Bay for a day sail with half a dozen guests from Waiwera. They took tea under the massive Kaffir boom—still there more than a century later—and during the return to Waiwera dined on tea and hot toast with Kawau honey.
“Oh, the whole day was a red-letter one in my existence,” wrote one of Rita’s contented passengers. “Indeed, so was every one on that splendid trip.”
There could have been few gifts more appreciated in the days before air travel brought the South Pacific within reach of city dwellers than the offer of a Gulf adventure—even if just for a day.
But if the Edwardians bequeathed a golden age of yachting, sailing for pleasure had been part of the Waitemata literally from the day Auckland was founded.
One September 18, 1840, at one o’clock in the afternoon, Captain William Hobson and his party, freshly arrived from the Bay of Islands, landed at Point Britomart, where they raised the Union Jack to a thunderous 21-gun salute, thus putting an official stamp on the fledgling settlement. That done, they drank the Queen’s health and retired to the Anna Watson for lunch. Later in the day, to liven things up, a regatta was held. A couple of gigs raced each other, then two whaleboats competed for five pounds in prize money. Finally, two big Maori canoes got caught up in the excitement and had a contest.
Ten years later, the New Zealander editorialised: “In our commemorative festivals, whatever our equine predilections, in a maritime colony of the greatest maritime nation the world ever saw, we are of the opinion that a Regatta would be a much more national and appropriate sport [than horse racing].”
That opinion took concrete form on Wednesday January 30, 1850, when the first of Auckland’s long-running Anniversary Day regattas was held. There were few entries and no wind, but the day was retrieved by some fine Maori canoe races.
A scarcity of yachts meant that for many years off-duty workboats—trading schooners and cutters, fishing boats and, later, scows—were the main competitors at the annual regattas. But by the 1880s, recreational boats were starting to appear, and yacht racing, the country’s pioneer sport, was attracting serious wagers and spectators by the thousand.
It is a curious thing, the way fishing boats evolved into racing boats and keel cruisers from the 1870s on, while old, outclassed racing yachts were bought and pressed into service by fishers. This nautical to and fro is most evident with the mullet boats.
Mulleties, which measured anything from 22 to 28 feet in length, were built for netting in the tidal upper reaches of the Waitemata, though they also proved useful for dredging mussels in the Firth of Thames and elsewhere. Shallow drafted (two feet), and with a retractable centreboard, they had a wide-tucked stern to make lifting the catch easier and a covered foredeck to make overnighting in distant bays more bearable. They were also manoeuvrable and could make eight or nine knots—the catch had to be got to the Auckland wharves before it deteriorated.
Not surprisingly, these nimble boats soon caught the attention of yachties, who bought them as pleasure craft and later ordered purpose-built mulleties for racing and cruising. A few design restrictions were developed to prevent the class degenerating into “unwholesome racing machines,” and the boats are still sailed today on the harbour, chiefly out of the Ponsonby Cruising Club.
Mullet-boat owners are proud of the boats’ working-class origins, and of their reputation for pushing themselves and their craft to the limit. This spirit is symbolised by their most coveted trophy, the Lipton Cup—an impressive piece of silverware donated in 1922 by the English tea baron Sir Thomas Lipton, who, in a long life, had himself accumulated a swag of prizes.
How the cup came to be in Auckland is the subject of an enduring piece of nautical lore. After the First World War, goes the story, the mullet lads, feeling the need for a worthy grail to fight over, clad themselves in formal yachting whites (to which they were not accustomed), caught the cross-harbour ferry to Devonport and had their picture snapped outside the imposing Esplanade Hotel. This photograph of their “clubhouse” was despatched to Sir Thomas along with an engaging plea, and, in due course, back came the cup.
Mullet boats are not without their disadvantages. Even with a large crew (up to six) they are hard to handle in boisterous conditions, and have been known to defy all attempts at control and just bolt away. In such a shallow-draught boat, the cabin is a miserable four feet high, and cruising in one has been likened to “spending a weekend under the dining room table.” Yet, despite these drawbacks, some consider the mullet boat to be New Zealand’s most distinctive contribution to marine design.
Mulleties were not the only fishing boats adopted by yachtsmen. A similar thing happened with snapper boats—large, fast, high-performance keelers used for line fishing out in the Hauraki Gulf. Like mullet boats, they eventually suffered as work craft with the arrival of motor trawlers.
A new era in New Zealand shipbuilding was signalled with the arrival of Scottish designer Robert Logan in 1874. Fresh from the Clyde—the Silicon Valley of yacht design—it was natural that he should settle in Auckland. At a time when the country’s interior was largely roadless, the settlement was a centre of coastal trade as well as the main New Zealand port for schooners servicing the South Pacific, and it enjoyed ready access to one of the world’s finest boatbuilding timbers, kauri. To clinch the matter, Auckland had a mild climate and an established boatbuilding infrastructure, and it lay at the entrance to a yachtsman’s paradise, the Hauraki Gulf.
Another talented boatbuilder, Auckland-born Charles Bailey, had two years earlier established himself in Devonport, where Logan set up his own yard, and a healthy rivalry soon developed between the two. Both men had sons who followed their father’s trade, and their names and boats dominated the sport of yachting for 60 years.
While each built a range of craft, from dinghies and small open boats to island traders and increasingly, after 1905, motor vessels, it was the yachts that established their reputations and that regularly brought them head to head on the water.
The 28-foot centreboard yacht Jessie Logan was one of Robert Logan’s early creations, and the one that forged his reputation. Named for his first daughter and built for the 1880 Auckland Anniversary Regatta, the boat was a phenomenon, winning 13 firsts and two seconds from 15 starts in her first year alone.
Like many boatbuilders, Logan often built craft “on spec,” without a prior order. Sometimes builders would engage a skipper to race a new boat for a season. If the boat did well, it would enhance the builder’s reputation. This was the case with Jessie Logan, and before the next season Logan raffled her off.
The winning £1 ticket was held by a timber-mill clerk, James Ansenne. Aided by Logan and a number of crack skippers, Ansenne and Jessie Logan kept the challengers at bay, though many boats were purpose-built to beat her. She was widely considered to be the most beautiful and fastest craft of her time. Such was her stranglehold on races that yachting Auckland breathed a collective sigh of relief when she was eventually sold to a new owner in Wellington.
Following the success of Jessie Logan, Logan built Daisy, Magic, Christina, Arawa, Muritai, Tawera, Aorere and others in quick succession.
At about the same time, the Bailey yard was turning out its own well-regarded yachts, including Calypso, Alfred, Daphne, Thetis, Rita, Pet, Sis, Bud, Imp, Toy, Sinking Fund, Rep, Minerva Rogue and the mullet racers Manola and Welcome Jack. Most were in the 20-30 foot range.
In 1883 came the match of the thoroughbreds, when Toy raced Jessie Logan, and half of Auckland placed wagers on the outcome. After a great duel across 30 miles of harbour, Toy won by 90 seconds.
In 1888, Logan decided to build a yacht to carry his name further afield by challenging the Australians on their home turf. The occasion was a Melbourne regatta to celebrate the centenary of British settlement in Australia, and for it he designed the cutter Akarana.
Three yachts had already been exported to Australia, raising the reputation of New Zealand builders there: the cutters Secret and Waitangi, built by Tom Niccol, and Charles Bailey Sr’s Erin. Akarana’s arrival in Melbourne was therefore greeted with a great deal of interest and speculation. To save money and watch over the boat, Logan lived in Akarana’s narrow cabin with Auckland sailor Jack Bell while he recruited an amateur crew of expatriates and got to know the harbour.
The regatta, hailed as the biggest in the Southern Hemisphere, turned out to be a fine showcase and a splendid chance for an entrepreneur such as Logan to make money. “I question whether an equal sum has been offered in any part of the world,” crowed Melbourne’s Leader newspaper of the collective prize kitty.
On the first day of competition Akarana beat the fleet in her division, taking the £130 prize—she had cost £500 to build. The choppy conditions of day two suited her less well, however, and Logan was beaten. The following January he travelled to Sydney, where he won the National Regatta and £20 in prize money.
After some difficulty, Akarana was then sold to a local chemist for cruising, and Logan returned to Auckland. He built no more boats for the Australian market, but his boldness in crossing the Tasman earned him new commissions, including one from Wellington’s Alexander Turnbull.
Logan’s sons had fewer scruples about heading back across the Tasman, and by the turn of the century the yachts of Logan Bros were regularly crowding the Australian prize tables. The Baileys also enjoyed racing success and full order books. By 1902, of the eleven 30-foot linear raters racing in Sydney, seven were from the Bailey and Logan yards.
In 1898, the Logans produced Rainbow, a fast 50-foot cruiser, constructed in their trademark triple-planked diagonal kauri with copper fastenings throughout. She was the first local boat designed according to new concepts first seen on the Prince of Wales’ revolutionary yacht Britannia, launched in 1893.
Rainbow immediately outclassed all local competition, and her owner then took her to Australia, where she enjoyed similar success, despite an alleged attempt to ram her during a race. In 1902, she returned to New Zealand and was later altered for cruising. But, like many Logan boats, her racing life was far from over. In 1937, new owners changed her sail arrangement to better suit her for racing, and she competed effectively with modern First Division craft such as the much newer Ranger. In the late 1940s, Leo Bouzaid, a well-known Auckland sail-maker, purchased her and again refurnished her for racing, changing to a Bermuda rig (a triangular mainsail with no gaff). She continued to win races, and is still sailing in the South Island today.
Chris Bouzaid, Leo’s son, named his famous One Ton Cup-winning yacht Rainbow II in honour of his father’s old thoroughbred, and it was this new Rainbow that first brought New Zealand to the forefront of international yachting, on July 21, 1969—portentously, perhaps, the day of the first moon landing.
Other famous and long-lived Logan boats whose names even now can soften the countenance of old salts and bring a dreamy glaze to their eyes include Moana (built for Willie Wilson, proprietor of the New Zealand Herald, in 1895), Ariki (1904) and Rawhiti (1905). In 1910, the Logans ceased building yachts, although Arch Logan, one of Robert’s sons, continued to design them for some years.
The fame achieved by the Logans’ rivals, Charles and Walter Bailey, was no less stellar. In the early 1900s, the Baileys constructed the 30-foot Meteor, and the boat proved aptly named. Sydney boasted a yacht of similar size, Bronzewing, which had beaten all the Port Jackson locals, and which the Australians considered invincible. A visiting Australian yachtie suggested an intercolonial competition, and Meteor was promptly dispatched to Sydney. Despite the fact that Bronzewing was upgraded for the encounter in every possible way, Meteor still trounced her.
La Carabine was a 60-ton schooner commissioned from Charles Bailey Jr by Sir Rupert Clark, a wealthy Victorian sportsman, in 1903, after a worldwide search for a superior design of yacht. He was delighted with the finished vessel, and later ordered another substantial yacht from Baileys.
The Bailey yard also made a number of larger commercial vessels for use around the Pacific, including Stratbcona, a 110-foot auxiliary schooner built in 1915 for the Pacific Cable Board. By all accounts, she was the acme of perfection in design and build, the fastest vessel of the era ever to leave Auckland under sail. Capable of 15 knots or more, she was so perfectly balanced that a boy could steer her.
She sailed from Auckland on her maiden voyage with a crew of 13 on a Friday afternoon—in hindsight, perhaps an inauspicious combination. Six days later, she tore her bottom out on North Minerva Reef. After spending 25 days on the reef, the crew were rescued without loss of life, but news of the wreck left Charles downcast for months. In later years, when speaking to a person for the first time, Charles Jr invariably asked, “Did you ever see my little schooner Strathcona before she was lost? She was a beauty!”
A crowning achievement for Charles Bailey Sr came in 1893, when, shortly before retiring, he was commissioned by the wealthy Bloomfield brothers to build a cutter, the only condition being that his son draw out the ship’s lines. Charles Sr had never learned draughting, and, like many contemporaries, worked by sight from small-scale, wooden half-models.
The 64-foot vessel, beautifully finished with black topsides, gold scrolls and sheerstrake ribbon, striking figurehead and copper-sheathed hull, was called Viking. She was built in the surprisingly short space of 16 weeks—such was the strength of the Bailey yard—and for more than 40 years was New Zealand’s biggest yacht and a symbol of old-world beauty.
Designers of the day, including not just the Baileys and Logans but others such as Charles Collings and Jerseyman Tom Le Huquet, often built their boats on the foreshore in front of their houses. They laboured with primitive tools, shaping frames with axe and adze, dressing pit-sawn timber by hand and, when deadlines dictated, working on into the night by the light of oil lamps.
Similar dedication was demanded of the owners, who, year after year, followed the rhythm of the seasons, slipping their boats into the water around Labour Day and hauling them out after Easter to overwinter above high water in Auckland’s secluded, tree-lined bays. Many crews painted the names of their yachts on rock walls near the haul-out area, claiming patches of land for open-air workshops. There, spruce masts, hatches and rails were scraped and varnished, and the planked kauri hulls were riveted where necessary with copper nails, sanded with wet pumice stones and repainted.
For the glorious images that survive of these floating works of art we are largely in the debt of one man: Henry Winkelmann. The son of a German family living in England, Winkelmann emigrated to New Zealand in 1878 at the age of 18. In 1893, he met the Horton brothers, “Willie” and Henry, owners of the Logan-built Tawera, and through them developed a taste for yachting. He often joined them on cruises, which he documented with bulky half-plate cameras.
A freewheeling bachelor, Winkelmann was not averse to risk-taking, investing ill-advisedly in land at Great Barrier and volunteering for scientific expeditions in the South Pacific. Once he spent months on a barren Pacific Island to assert the territorial claim of an entrepreneur who hired him for just that purpose. It was a frame of mind that made him restless in his day job—first as a banker, then a shipping agent—but which no doubt contributed an indefinable quality to his maritime portraits. He seemed to capture as no one before or since the moods of wind and waves and what the New Zealand Yachtsman called “the delirious joy of a heaving keel.” And he was went wrong.
In 1906, Winkelmann acquired a small power boat, Tawaki, built for him by Logan Bros, which he replaced in 1915 with a bigger launch of the same name. He made several cruises in these handy craft, and pressed them into service as photographic platforms.
“You’d be out there and suddenly up would pop Winky in his little peanut of a boat, to take a shot,” remembered one veteran of the Waitemata. “He’d later produce it, and it was always a beaut.”
In 1928, “Winky” took his last Auckland Anniversary Regatta shots, shortly afterwards gifting his collection of maritime plates—one of the most comprehensive early records of the sport anywhere—to the Auckland Museum.
“The best-looking yachts were the 50-footers—Ariki, Aorangi, Rawhiti,” says Alfred Gifford’s son, Jack. “Some of them were just down there.” I follow his gaze out towards Watchman Island. “People on the point here, the Masefields, had Thetis.”
At his Herne Bay home, where he keeps an eye on Rawene, Jack, now 96, is filling in some of the details of those long-gone days. Just five years old when his father turned his back on unreliable early motorboats and had Rawene built, the boy was soon doing his bit, rowing out the next fine day after a race to dry the sails: “If they got wet, they’d go black with mildew in no time. Ruined them. The best ones were Egyptian cotton, made in England by Ratsey and Lapthorne.”
Alfred Gifford was a good sailor, winning many prizes, and still at the helm in his 90s. “When my dad’s crowd grew old, he kept going with a younger crew—me and my mates.” Jack explains how competitive skippers had to belong to a number of clubs in order to race. Clubs flourished, many shifting addresses or changing names, in the founding years of the sport. The Auckland Yacht Club, formed in 1871, became the New Zealand Yacht Squadron in 1901 and gained a royal charter in 1902. The North Shore Sailing Club, begun in 1895, shifted to the waterfront, becoming the Akarana Yacht Club in 1922 and gaining its royal charter in 1937. The Ponsonby Cruising Club, that working-class bastion, started in 1900.
By 1908, when Rawene was built, it must have seemed that the glory days were ending. Alfred’s aversion to engines notwithstanding, launches had all but inherited the harbour. In the following season only half a dozen new yachts were built in the Auckland yards, none of them substantial, compared with 50 or 60 powerboats.
Some 15 years later, when Winkelmann’s camera captured three fine Logan yachts, lorangi, Moana, and Rawene, ploughing abreast in a sou’wester, they must have appeared an endangered species. No new boats of any size had been added to the Waitemata fleet in the intervening years, and only Charles Bailey Jes cutter Prize was on the order books. In 1926, Colin Wild bucked the trend with his 46-foot cutter Nga Toa, and the barren years finally ended with a flood of new boats after the launch in 1934 of the second Little Jim, the first significant keel yacht from the drawing board of Arch Logan in 26 years.
Today, that maritime history lives on. Prize floats at a Westhaven pier, her brightwork under protective blue awnings, her graceful spoon bow and counterstern delicate as dew among the hulking launches alongside. Viking is there, too, and Arch Logan’s Tawera rests at Oram’s yard nearby. Yum Yum has been immaculately restored, and a newly formed syndicate intends to resurrect the badly neglected Jessie Logan. Thelma still plies the Waitemata, as does Moana, up on the hard at Devonport having a repaint.
Not far off, at the Bayswater marina, the sleek 32-foot Janet is once again afloat after a major 11-week restoration job. Everything above the gunwale is new “She had a 1950s house built on her,” says owner John Montgomery, referring to the midcentury inclination to add unsightly “doghouses” in the interest of comfort.
There is no engine—”We kind of blew the budget on woodwork”—but some previous alterations are being tolerated for the time being, including the Marconi rig, which dates from 1927. “We figure that’s original enough for us. Maybe it will go back to a gaff in phase three or four.”
A week or two after talking to Jack Gifford, I meet up with Hamish Ross aboard the boat that signalled the resurgence of keel yachts in the 1930s, Little Jim. Ross bought Little Jim five years ago, and gives the impression he has never quite got over his good fortune in finding her. He has come armed with a folder of photographs and old press clippings of the boat’s doings over the years, and of her earlier namesake, wrecked on Great Barrier in 1933.
A salvaged porthole has been fitted to Little Jim’s new cabin—itself tweaked a little for family cruising and fitted now with a toilet. On the timberwork are framed photographs of the original crew and of a favourite aunt, Bertha Wilson, who, in 1934, put money towards the cost of building the replacement boat.
“When you get back after a two-hour sail, you spend three hours talking to the old people who used to sail her or own her,” says Ross.
It was this interest, along with a desire to preserve the old yachts, that got Ross and fellow enthusiasts to talking, over a few rums, about setting up some sort of organisation. It turned out a number of people had been thinking along the same lines, and in 1995 the Classic Yacht Association was born. Now, with more than a hundred members, the association holds regular races for the veteran fleet.
“Don’t be fooled by the age of these boats, they are very competitive,” says Ross, a lawyer hired as legal counsel for an America’s Cup syndicate. “Young America spent $10 million on research, and what did they come up with for Auckland conditions? A long, narrow boat like this.” He slaps Little Jim enthusiastically.
There is silence for a moment, then a thought occurs.
“We’re having a race next weekend. Why don’t you come along? Bring your son.”
I find myself grinning. Sometimes it doesn’t take long to say yes.