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by John Welsford - Hamilton - New Zealand

Mahurangi Classic Boat Regatta Feb 2014, Auckland, New Zealand

It is said that Auckland, New Zealand has the largest number of recreational boats per head of population anywhere. I've been out on the water during the Southern Ocean/Cape Horn leg starts of the old Whitbread Round the World race starts and there were something more than 5000 spectator boats, and that was nothing on what went out to watch the Americas cup races back in 1999.

I don't really like crowds, that many boats, especially when you include a high proportion of speeding power boats is not a comfortable place to be when in a small sailing boat. So of late, I prefer to spend those crowded weekends up a shallow estuary somewhere, anchor down, kettle on and something nice cooking on the stove while reading a good book.

But! But, the annual Classic Boat Regatta at Mahurangi about 20 miles north of central Auckland is not to be missed. I usually go to the small boat happening on the beach, sometimes get involved, in fact I donated the trophy for the main rowing event and make a point of watching to see who is doing well, and who wins that event before I sail in the under 20 ft classic boat event.

But this year, I took my little ship up there, she's wooden, classic in construction and style although built in 1972, and she is now my home for most of the time so I can go to events like that and still be "at home" so to speak, with all the comforts and conveniences.

I do though need to anchor out in deeper water, we draw about 5 ft, and with a 12 ft range of tide here need to be well off the beach so unless I take "Dieflaetermouse" (if you are familiar with your opera, that's a small (mouse), deflatable (dieflaeter) dinghy that is the tender for the ship) ashore I get a very different view.

My ship, she's a comfortable and seaworthy vessel, 43ft overall by 12 ft x 15 tons. No shortage of space in there. In this pic she's rolling along at about 8 knots, that's just short of 10 mph. Pic by Jamie Orr, sitting in "Dieflaetermouse" out in the middle, with his camera. For more, check out some of the postings on my blog from about 2 months ago.

It was very hard to get photos of just one boat, crowded? You bet it was, but wonderful with it.

In front is "Thelma", the largest yacht built by Aucklands Logan Brothers, famed for designing and building some of the fastest yachts of their day. Thelma was launched way back in 1897, she's had a chequered history but today is in the care of a trust who maintain her in very much the condition that she was in when launched. Here is a link to her "page".

Just in behind her is the brigantine "Breeze", built by Ralph Sewell she has also had an interesting life. She's not as old as you'd think though being launched in 1981. Here is a link to a page which gives you some more history. Note that she was, all 65 ft on deck of her, essentially a one man build!

David Thatcher and family lived on board "Bootlaces", the second of this Gary Underwood design to be built, the name being a reference to the first one which was named "Shoestring" so named as she was very much built on a non existent budget. Junk rigged, she is a very capable cruiser, has done several blue water cruises up into the Pacific Islands some 1000 miles away.
Yes it's a power boat, but this is one of the nicest fishing boat conversions that I've seen. The capacious deep hulls have huge space below, but are still very efficient at moderate speeds, this lovely old ship would only need a small engine now that she is not dragging a net and will be a very comfortable cruiser capable of very long range cruising in any conditions. Note that of that forest of masts only the small one on the main cabin top belongs to the boat we're discussing here, that's her steadying sail, set to take the edge off the roll when the sea is on the beam.
I was tempted to ask if I could use this as a photo chase boat, its one of my Rifleman designs built by a retired professional boatbuilder, powered by a 30 hp Yamaha outboard its extremely quick for a relatively low powered boat. The lovely windscreen by the way is a rear window from an older English car circa 1965 or so. Smart!
A view along the beach, there were so many boats here that trying to get a shot of them was impossible, this might be a quarter of them. The venue is Otarawao Bay, a Department of Conservation nature reserve with a small campground at one end, and a rangers house just back off the middle. The rules are "no vehicles on the beach", but for this days event the Rangers use a quad bike to take trailers down to the water and back. Otherwise its drag, carry or sail in from one of the several boatramps further up the river. It's a stunning place!
It must be more than 20 years ago that my friend Brian decided to attend a boatbuilding course at the local technical institute, (doesn't time fly when you are having fun!). They built this Sharp designed clinker (lapstrake) dinghy of about 14 ft x 4ft 6in. All traditionally built with copper rivets and steamed ribs, Kauri planks and lots of varnish. At the end of the course, the boats built were made available for purchase by the classmates. Brian put his name in the hat and when the lucky names were drawn he was able to buy one. He has since put a centreboard and sailing rig on his, and "Honey" has been a regular attendee at events like this ever since.
Not everyone went there to look at the boats! Some of us went sailing, and some did not.
"Ellie" is a Beachcomber Dory with the stern built as a conventional transom rather than the traditional long overhanging tombstone stern. She's fast, the crew here are just picking up to sail out to the start line for their race, while the main is not yet sheeted on just see how well that jib is set.

"Firefly" is one of my own Rogue designs, rigged with the alternative sloop rig. Fast, yes. She's a regular here , ideal for this sort of sporting but relaxed event.

If you think it was crowded on the beach, how about this? The leading edge of the fleet at the end of half a lap around the course, they are hugging the coast to get out of the current and to gain a lift from where the wind blows down the valley behind the beach. I can see mylar as well as Dacron sails in there, the carbon fibre ones were out of the frame leading the fleet and the canvas ones had yet to make it past us.
"Karewa' is a workboat from a local boatbuilders yard, heavily built and well powered with a good sized diesel she is a maid of all work, towboat, salvage, weekend fisherman and of course transport to the Mahurangi Regatta.
"Thelma" under full sail. Although these old cutters, this one 117 years old, wont plane like a modern high performance yacht they are no slugs. With that huge sail area, relatively light displacement and high ballast ratio they get up to hull speed and a little beyond very very quickly.
Junk rigged "Bootlace" working her way through the anchored fleet. While not a contender for line honours in the race, there would be few boats easier to handle or more relaxing to sail than this.
An "L class Mullet boat". The absolute opposite to "Bootlace", these 22ft long centreboard racers with their enormous rigs have their roots in the shallow draft fishing boats that fished the upper reaches of Aucklands harbours on the incoming tide. When they had their catch they'd race for home, the first boat in getting the best price so speed was a real advantage. Over the years the racing became more and more competitive until the boats became racers more than fishermen, and although there are other classes the L class 22 footers are the ones that still compete. That said, I began my sailing career in a "V" class 18 foot Mullet boat of which class there are a very few around, and I know of one "H" class 26 footer. The "Lipton Cup" for which the 22 footers race is one of the oldest sporting trophies , check out this article here.
"Akarana" was for many years the Waitemata ( Auckland New Zealand) pilot boat, taking pilots out in all weathers and maintaining station waiting for incoming ships. Shes a wonderful example of an all conditions motor vessel, this 65 ft x 15ft ship was traditionally built in 1960 and is superbly maintained. Here is a link to some history.
Way back in 1894 the A class cutter "Waitangi" was quietly slipped into the sparkling waters Aucklands harbour, I'd take a bet that not one of the people present imagined that she'd still be sailing 120 years later, and in such beautiful condition. Here is a history of this stunningly beautiful old lady.
The Auckland Voyager Maritime Museum flagship "Breeze" showing off, she sailed the course with all of the yachts, providing a window on the past. She's a relatively recent recreation of one of the little sailing ships that served the coasts New Zealands Islands before the establishment of a workable road and rail network. From a more personal point of view, I can tell you that although she is not a large ship as square riggers go, being up on the outer end of that top yard in a big sea is a really butt clenching experience!
Another square rigger, "Coriolanis" is only about 32 ft long on deck, designed by Bernard Rhodes of Aucklands Waiheke Island she has had a chequered history but is now back in good shape and we see her out regularly around Auckland. She's a lovely little ship, quite easy to sail and much more practical than you'd expect.
"Waitangi" again.
There were lots of small boats around that day, "May" is a lovely Whitehall type, here she is lining up for the "Master of the Mahurangi" rowing trophy.

Now the regatta is held in the mouth of the Mahurangi estuary, the boats, all sizes, race from the start just off the beach out and around the island that shields the mouth of the river from the open ocean, back up the river about 3 miles, and back to the start. The small boats do the course once, the big guys twice so there is much crossing of courses, big among small, and some very close sailing.

I anchored just off the far side of the course and got my camera out.

There were around 250 boats out that day, and the weather was near perfect. Blown away? Well, some of the sailboats were.

I took close to 300 pics, just as well for digital cameras, that would have blown my budget back in the film days.

You'll note that while I am mostly a sailor, I have a very soft spot for certain kinds of power boat so there are some pics of outstanding classic small ships there for you to drool over as well as the sailing craft that are my first love.

Classics, moderns, square sails and triangular, multi masts, 1892, 2014 and all in between. Hard worn, fully restored, vintage and classic, modern and just, well, ordinary, it's a real sight to see.

Heres a range of pics. Just some highlights, I'd encourage you to come and see for yourself next year.

Oh yes, I did get ashore, spoke to several who were sailing "my" designs, as well as a lot of friends old and new. A great day, one of the best.

John Welsford. Motor Launch "Kairos"

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