Re­flec­tions

THE CI­TI­ZEN WATCH MATCH RACE SE­RIES, 1978 TO 1989

Boating NZ - - Contents - BY JOHN MACFAR­LANE

The Ci­ti­zen Watch Match Race Se­ries

The early to mid-1970s was a glo­ri­ous time for New Zealand keel­boat rac­ing. Fol­low­ing on from Rain­bow II win­ning the World One Ton Cup in 1969, New Zealand boats won IOR Quar­ter, Half and One Ton Cups, South­ern Cross Cup, a Syd­ney Ho­bart and a fifth out of 18 in the 1975 Ad­mi­ral’s Cup.

How­ever, while New Zealand sailors had proven to be world-class keel­boat fleet rac­ers, few had any real ex­pe­ri­ence at match rac­ing.

Match rac­ing had been an in­te­gral part of the Amer­ica’s Cup (AC) since 1871, but it was the found­ing of the Long Beach Yacht Club’s Con­gres­sional Cup in 1964 and the Royal Lyming­ton Yacht Club’s match race se­ries a decade later that es­tab­lished match-rac­ing in iden­ti­cal yachts to a wider group of sailors.

Auck­land sailor Jim Dav­ern, who’d at­tended the 1972 Con­gres­sional Cup, in­sti­gated the first match-rac­ing event in New Zealand the fol­low­ing year with Cava­lier 32s, but this was a one-off.

In 1976, then-chair­man of the Ste­wart 34 Own­ers As­so­ci­a­tion (S34OA) Bill Miller ar­ranged and paid for a mould to be taken off his tim­ber Ste­wart 34 Princess to en­able Ste­wart 34s to be built in GRP. Keen to pro­mote the class, Miller ap­proached Peter Mont­gomery, then pro­duc­ing and pre­sent­ing a weekly yacht­ing ra­dio show on New­stalk ZB.

“When Bill asked me to pro­mote the Ste­warts, I asked him what made them dif­fer­ent from other race fleets such as the Mis­trals, Javelins and Town­son 32s.”

Mont­gomery sug­gested to Miller that if he wanted to pro­mote the Ste­warts he needed some­thing unique, such as match rac­ing on the Waitem­ata Har­bour.

Miller took this idea to the late Tony Bouzaid, a fel­low Ste­wart owner and man­ager of Hood Sails NZ, and some weeks later the pair had or­gan­ised a match-race event in Ste­warts based on the Con­gres­sional Cup.

Bouzaid ar­ranged the par­tic­i­pa­tion of six cham­pion New Zealand sailors – Peter Walker, Stu­art Brent­nall, Ray Hasler, Ralph Roberts, Ge­off Stagg and Ray Thomp­son – while Miller per­suaded six Ste­wart 34 own­ers to lend their yachts. The Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron (RNZYS) was asked to run the event on the wa­ter and an en­thu­si­as­tic Mont­gomery pro­moted it through his ra­dio show.

Held over three days in July 1978, the closely fought se­ries was won by Peter Walker, with Stu­art Brent­nall sec­ond and Ray Hasler third. It was such a suc­cess ev­ery­one in­volved wanted to make it an an­nual event and, at Bouzaid’s sug­ges­tion, to in­vite top in­ter­na­tion­als.

At­tract­ing in­ter­na­tion­als would re­quire spon­sor­ship, so Miller got busy rais­ing the $15,000 re­quired while Bouzaid per­suaded in­ter­na­tional sailors Harold Cud­more, Ted Hood and Hugh Tre­harne to par­tic­i­pate.

Then in Fe­bru­ary 1979, the New Zealand Yacht­ing Fed­er­a­tion (NZYF) with­drew their per­mis­sion to al­low spon­sor­ship and, as a con­se­quence, the RNZYS threat­ened to can­cel the event.

By now Miller had raised half the money from five spon­sors, the in­vi­ta­tions to the sailors had been sent and ac­cepted and tele­vi­sion cov­er­age ar­ranged. The S34OA had a real prob­lem: with­out the RNZYS they’d ei­ther have to fund the event them­selves, or can­cel it.

Hear­ing of their plight, the Pon­sonby Cruis­ing Club of­fered to run the event re­gard­less of the NZYF’S stance, a brave call on their part. Pon­sonby’s move caused the RNZYS to back-pedal and plead with the NZYF to change their stance on spon­sor­ship. The NZYF partly re­lented, but in­sisted that in­stead of the five spon­sors al­ready ar­ranged, only one would be al­lowed.

Pre­vi­ously Miller had shown his spon­sor­ship pro­posal to Mont­gomery, who’d in turn shown it to Doc Wil­liams, then Ex­ec­u­tive Sports Pro­ducer of South Pa­cific Tele­vi­sion (SPTV). Wil­liams sug­gested SPTV could tele­vise it live, an out­stand­ing leap of faith on his part as live yacht rac­ing on TV was then un­heard of.

It had been planned to hold the se­ries in the tri­an­gle be­tween North Head, Bean Rock and Orakei, a po­si­tion giv­ing great vis­i­bil­ity to shore-based spec­ta­tors on both sides of the har­bour. One day Wil­liams and Mont­gomery were set­ting off from Westhaven in Miller’s yacht to re­con­noitre the area when they bumped into the late Ken Lusty. Lusty sug­gested his friend War­wick Browne, Manag­ing Di­rec­tor of Ci­ti­zen Watches New

At­tract­ing in­ter­na­tion­als would re­quire spon­sor­ship, so Miller got busy rais­ing the $15,000 re­quired...

Zealand, might be in­ter­ested in spon­sor­ing the event.

Browne’s Ci­ti­zen Watches New Zealand was al­ready spon­sor­ing the In­ter­na­tional Jet Boat Marathon, which Wil­liams had tele­vised. Browne was ap­proached with the pro­posal and within the month had agreed. The rest, as they say, is his­tory.

The first Ci­ti­zen se­ries, April 27-29, 1979, was won by Roy Dick­son, with sons Chris and Keith as part of his crew. The fiercely com­pet­i­tive Harold Cud­more came sec­ond and Walker third.

That first Ci­ti­zen was a mas­sive suc­cess and the sailors, spon­sors, TV view­ers and over 5,000 spec­ta­tors were unan­i­mous in their praise. In­ci­den­tially, the TV cov­er­age had been tech­ni­cally chal­leng­ing and at the time was the most ex­pen­sive out­side broad­cast ever run in New Zealand.

The Ci­ti­zen Watch Match Race Se­ries be­came an an­nual event and over the next nine years would prove to be the most pop­u­lar match race se­ries in the world. The list of par­tic­i­pat­ing In­ter­na­tional skip­pers reads like a who’s who of yacht­ing: Harold Cud­more, Ted Hood, Ted Turner, Rod Davis, Helmer Ped­er­son, John Bertrand, Iain Mur­ray, Paul Elvstrom, John Kostecki, Gary Job­son, Peter Isler, John Kolius and many oth­ers.

Sev­eral Amer­ica’s Cup helms­men of the era en­tered the event as part of their work-up pro­grammes, a no­table ex­cep­tion be­ing Den­nis Con­ner.

The event had a mas­sively ben­e­fi­cial ef­fect on count­less young New Zealand sailors, in­clud­ing Chris Dick­son, Rus­sell Coutts, Brad But­ter­worth, Si­mon Daub­ney, War­wick Fleury, Erle Wil­liams, Kevin Shoe­bridge and many oth­ers. How­ever, while some suc­cess­ful sport­ing events are des­tined to run for­ever, oth­ers burn brightly for a time and then die. Sadly, the Ci­ti­zen proved to be one of these.

Over the years the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the S34OA and the RNZYS be­came in­creas­ingly testy. One on­go­ing is­sue for the S34OA was that, while they’d in­sti­gated the con­cept, ob­tained the spon­sor­ship and pro­vided the yachts, the RNZYS had essen­tially gained full con­trol of the event. Also, while cer­tain RNZYS per­son­nel such as Jack Ali­son and Richard En­dean were very sup­port­ive of the S34OA and the Ci­ti­zen, their re­place­ments in later years were less so.

An­other is­sue was race dam­age to the yachts, which was sup­posed to be re­paired by the RNZYS. How­ever, this sup­port some­times proved dif­fi­cult to ob­tain and some Ste­wart own­ers be­came in­creas­ingly vo­cal and re­luc­tant to lend their yachts.

From the RNZYS’S per­spec­tive, while the Ste­wart 34s were re­puted to be iden­ti­cal, in the early years es­pe­cially some were more equal than oth­ers. Over time the S34OA worked ex­tremely hard to make the Ste­warts iden­ti­cal, for ex­am­ple em­ploy­ing the swing test to equalise weight dis­tri­bu­tion, but it seems the RNZYS didn’t al­ways ap­pre­ci­ate their ef­forts.

Early in 1988, with the goal of lev­el­ling the play­ing field, the S34OA com­mis­sioned Brett Blakewell-white to de­sign the Ste­wart 34 Sprint – a stan­dard S34 hull with up­graded rig, deck and foils es­pe­cially suited to match rac­ing. The S34OA ar­ranged a spon­sor­ship pack­age to build a fleet of 12 Sprints and make them avail­able to the RNZYS for the Ci­ti­zen Match Race Se­ries. This pro­posal was pre­sented in May 1988 to the RNZYS, who were non-com­mit­tal.

What turned out to be the fi­nal Ci­ti­zen Watch Match Race se­ries was held in 1989, and tellingly, the three podium places were won by New Zealan­ders – Chris Dick­son first, Rod Davis sec­ond and Rus­sell Coutts third. In­ci­den­tally, this was Dick­son’s third win, which com­bined with his two third places made him the most suc­cess­ful Ci­ti­zen skip­per.

How­ever, the RNZYS was al­ready look­ing to drop the Ste­wart 34s for the 1990 event. The RNZYS had been in dis­cus­sions with Beneteau, who’d of­fered to pro­vide a fleet of 11 match-rac­ing yachts for three years at no cost.

Learn­ing of the Beneteau of­fer, John Street (Fos­ters),

Kim Mcdell (Mcdell Marine) and Peter Walker ex­pressed con­cerns that us­ing im­ported yachts would im­pact on lo­cal boat­build­ing. Even­tu­ally Street and Mcdell, with the sup­port of key marine in­dus­try com­pa­nies, of­fered to build a fleet of 11 yachts based on the Farr 1020 hull, with a new deck and up­dated foils.

After con­sid­er­able de­bate the RNZYS ac­cepted this pro­posal and the Farr MRX fleet, 50-50 owned by pri­vate own­ers and var­i­ous spon­sors, was built.

The MRX deal didn’t suit Browne as well as the Ste­warts and he chose not to spon­sor the 1990 event. Stein­lager spon­sored the 1990 event, and while the RNZYS con­tin­ued to run a match race se­ries for a few more years, it never gen­er­ated the ex­cite­ment and buzz of the Ci­ti­zen-branded event.

With the ben­e­fit of more than 30 years’ hind­sight, the Ci­ti­zen se­ries stands out as one of the piv­otal events in New Zealand keel­boat rac­ing. Its legacy is three­fold.

Firstly, the de­vel­op­ment of our sailor’s match-rac­ing skills. Prior to 1978, these skills were rudi­men­tary at best, yet by 19867 they’d been de­vel­oped enough to mount a highly com­pet­i­tive chal­lenge for the AC, which came within a smidgen of win­ning.

While there were sev­eral rea­sons for New Zealand los­ing against Den­nis Con­ner in the Louis Vuit­ton Cup, a lack of match rac­ing skills wasn’t one of them.

Se­condly, the Ci­ti­zen dragged the NZYF and the RNZYS – how­ever re­luc­tantly – into the world of spon­sor­ship and pro­fes­sional sail­ing. Over the next decade, top-level, pro­fes­sion­ally-spon­sored yacht­ing cam­paigns would be­come com­mon­place and yacht­ing was bet­ter for it.

The third key ad­vance made pos­si­ble by the Ci­ti­zen was to bring live yacht rac­ing to TV, which Wil­liams and his team pi­o­neered. Un­til then TV cov­er­age had been cur­sory at best.

This is il­lus­trated by the TV cov­er­age of the 1983 AC when Aus­tralia II beat Stars & Stripes. Like many, I watched the fi­nal race of that AC se­ries early one morn­ing on a grainy black and white TV, with much of the footage com­ing from a blimp sev­eral hun­dred feet above the ac­tion.

Fast-for­ward to the 2018 AC and we’re watch­ing ETNZ beat Or­a­cle, with cov­er­age from mul­ti­ple cam­eras – on the helms­man’s shoul­ders, sev­eral po­si­tions on the boats and from drones just me­tres away, along with dig­i­tal read­outs of speed, course, VMG, dis­tance to mark, ac­cu­mu­la­tor pres­sure, heart­beats and much more. A stun­ning spec­ta­cle.

While Bill Miller, Peter Mont­gomery, Doc Wil­liams, War­wick Brown, the late Ken Lusty, the late Tony Bouzaid and the other early par­tic­i­pants had no grand mas­ter­plan in 1978, their ideas, pas­sion, en­thu­si­asm and com­mit­ment helped change the face of yacht­ing for­ever.

Thanks guys – New Zealand yacht­ing owes you. BNZ

OP­PO­SITE Princess push­ing Pin­daric up, 1986.ABOVE Ci­ti­zen Watch Match Race Se­ries brochure. LEFT Brett de Thiers broach­ing Psy­che, 1984.

LEFT Princess chas­ing Prince Hal, 1986. BE­LOW Prism cross­ing Play­boy, 1988. INSET An artist’s im­pres­sion of the Ste­wart Sprint.

TOP Phan­tasy cross­ing Pa­tri­cian, 1988.BE­LOW Chris Dick­son and crew driv­ing Psy­chic hard, 1985.

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