Homegrown cen­tre­board dinghies Part 2

Boating NZ - - Contents - BY HAROLD KIDD

In the first part of this se­ries I covered three of the most im­por­tant un­bal­lasted cen­tre­board classes of the ‘mod­ern’ era, small yachts, in­tended to pro­vide uni­form per­for­mance, that were recog­nis­ably ef­fi­cient and prac­ti­cal even by to­day’s stan­dards.

Those three classes were the Parnell Sail­ing Club 18ft 6in patikis of 1898, the Thorn­don Dinghy Sail­ing Club 10-foot­ers of 1903 and the Waitem­ata Dinghy Sail­ing Club 14-foot­ers of 1907. They were a de­par­ture, too, from the ‘any­thing-goes-open­sail­ing boat’ types that pre­ceded them.

I also in­tro­duced the Jel­li­coe or San­ders Cup class of 14-foot­ers (X Class to Auck­lan­ders) which Glad­wyn Bai­ley de­signed in 1916 for W.A. (‘ Wilkie’) Wilkin­son, the pub­lisher of the New Zealand Yachts­man mag­a­zine. From 1920 this be­came a mush­room class and one of the most po­tent in­flu­ences on the spread of the sport of yacht­ing through­out New Zealand.


Af­ter war broke out with Ger­many in Au­gust 1914 Wilkie could see the sport had to be kept alive dur­ing the war and was deter­mined to not only pro­mote a new dinghy class for youth but also to en­sure that it got the rules and in­fra­struc­ture that would prevent its col­lapse like the three pre­ced­ing classes.

Bai­leys built the pro­to­type and launched her in Jan­uary 1917. They named her Desert Gold af­ter a fa­mous race­horse of the time. Time stood still, how­ever, un­til hos­til­i­ties ceased

and the Span­ish flu epi­demic was over. The eu­pho­ria of the post-war years was height­ened when the pop­u­lar new Gov­er­nor­Gen­eral, Lord Jel­li­coe, hero of the Bat­tle of Jut­land, ar­rived in the coun­try. Jel­li­coe ex­pressed great in­ter­est in the new 14-footer. Bai­leys built him Iron Duke to race.

Walker & Hall do­nated a mag­nif­i­cent tro­phy for an­nual provin­cial com­pe­ti­tion, the San­ders Cup, in hon­our of Lt. Cdr San­ders, the Kiwi hero of the Q ship Prize. There was now a po­tent mix of the Cup and the Vice-re­gal in­volve­ment in rac­ing which set the New Zealand yacht­ing scene on fire. It guar­an­teed that the class spread the gospel of dinghy sail­ing to every port, lake and river of the coun­try.

Ini­tially the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron spon­sored the class as a youth trainer, but this high in­ten­tion failed be­cause, un­der the glare of public­ity and the pres­sure of high-level com­pe­ti­tion from the prov­inces vy­ing for the San­ders Cup, the class ad­min­is­tra­tors did not for­mu­late nor did they im­pose ad­e­quate class re­stric­tions. Pro­fes­sion­al­ism in both build­ing and crew­ing crept in and costs es­ca­lated so that the class was no longer just a youth trainer.

In 1923 the rad­i­cal Bai­ley-de­signed Rona for Jack Gif­ford set the class on its ear and even­tu­ally be­came the class bench­mark, with new rules mas­sively tight­ened around this Rona- type 14. De­spite decades of fur­ther po­lit­i­cal con­tro­versy, with clas­sic di­vi­sions be­tween Auck­land and ev­ery­one else in the coun­try, the class flour­ished as a top-drawer racer. But, by the 1950s the de­sign had be­come dated.

In 1955 Sea Spray mag­a­zine con­ducted a de­sign com­pe­ti­tion for a mod­ern re­place­ment in mod­ern ma­te­ri­als. The com­pe­ti­tion pro­duced three ex­cel­lent de­signs, one from Gra­ham Man­der, one from Hal Wagstaff and one from Lau­rie David­son.

...the rad­i­cal Bai­ley­de­signed Rona for Jack Gif­ford set the class on its ear...

Man­der’s de­sign, in­tended for moulded ve­neer con­struc­tion, was the win­ner but it was even­tu­ally pro­duced in fi­bre­glass. The mix­ture was flawed. No­body re­ally liked it, and the class died.


The Tau­ranga seven-footer has played an enor­mous role in train­ing New Zealand boys and girls in the ba­sics of sail­ing since civil en­gi­neer Harry Highet de­signed and built the pro­to­type in Whangarei in Novem­ber 1919.

The Highet fam­ily had been pioneers of cen­tre­board 14-foot­ers in Welling­ton but, now that he was back from the war with a Mil­i­tary Medal, a wife and a grow­ing fam­ily, and be­cause he had very lit­tle money for ma­te­ri­als and a tiny Pub­lic Works Depart­ment house, Harry halved that di­men­sion.

He built him­self a unique square-bilge, catrigged seven-foot midget boat with a minute cock­pit. The rest of the hull was buoy­ancy com­part­ments, be­cause he could not swim. It was an as­ton­ish­ing, un­prece­dented, al­most comic, con­cept at the time.

Six-footer Harry demon­strated the lit­tle yacht, Mas­cot, at the On­er­ahi Re­gatta on New Year’s Day 1920. He stood up on the gun­wale and, as ex­pected, in­stantly cap­sized. Harry then gave a mighty heave, turned the craft up­right, hove him­self in, and sailed away within 20 sec­onds of the cap­size.

This demon­stra­tion led to Harry build­ing five more boats for lo­cal lads who went off around Whangarei Har­bour rac­ing and cruis­ing. They camped on the beaches by pulling the boats up and put­ting them on their sides to form a shel­ter. Their masts and booms sup­ported their sails to be­come a neat com­mu­nal tent.

The en­er­getic Tau­ranga Yacht & Power Boat Club was formed in 1920. In 1923 the equally en­er­getic Harry Highet, on Gov­ern­ment trans­fer, ar­rived with his midget yacht into a fer­tile

en­vi­ron­ment. By Oc­to­ber 1924 11 ‘Tau­ran­gas’ were rac­ing with the club. A year later there were 16 and the class had spread to Welling­ton where Joe Jukes built 10 at £10 each, all com­plete.

In 1941 the Pon­sonby Cruis­ing Club es­tab­lished the class in Auck­land to train young­sters to sail while nor­mal club ac­tiv­i­ties were sus­pended dur­ing the war. Pon­sonby was plan­ning for a strong post­war cadre of skilled young peo­ple. Tau­ranga sev­en­foot­ers in other cen­tres tended to use ‘ T’ for ‘ Tau­ranga’ on their sails, but that let­ter was al­ready in use by the strong Auck­land class of round-bilge un­re­stricted 14-foot­ers.

The class let­ter ‘P’ was not in use in Auck­land and ‘P’ echoed the ‘P’ of the Pon­sonby Rugby League Club’s ‘Ponies’, the ju­nior foot­ballers from whom Pon­sonby Cruis­ing Club drew many of the boys that it wanted to train to sail. By 1952 there were over 140 boats regis­tered in Auck­land alone.

Since then the P Class has been part of the main­stream of New Zealand yacht­ing. The all-com­ers’ Tau­ranga Cup, first awarded in Welling­ton in 1940, and the in­ter-provin­cial Tan­ner Cup in 1945, are still well con­tested. Thou­sands of Kiwi yachts­men and yachtswomen have learned to sail in P Class in­clud­ing heavy­weights of na­tional and world yacht­ing like Sir Peter Blake and Sir Rus­sell Coutts.


The Taka­puna Boat­ing Club was formed in 1920 to cater for small craft sail­ing off Taka­puna Beach and sub­se­quently in Shoal Bay. The club com­mis­sioned Sul­phur Beach boat­builder Bob Brown to de­sign and build a ba­sic, cheap two-man youth trainer.

The re­sult was a min­i­mal­ist gunter cat-rigged square-bilge ‘flat­tie’ with a small flat- cut spin­naker, 12ft 6ins LOA with a beam of 5ft, with every scantling and di­men­sion of hull, rig and sails rigidly con­trolled. The phi­los­o­phy be­hind the de­sign was that the boats should be so iden­ti­cal that the twoman crews could bal­lot for them and they would all per­form ex­actly the same.

This Taka­puna, or Zed­die ‘mono­type’ had de­sign flaws, but those flaws made it an ideal, chal­leng­ing trainer. It had so lit­tle buoy­ancy for­ward that spin­naker work was tricky, es­pe­cially in heavy con­di­tions when it had a ten­dency to ‘pig-root’, to bury its bow, de­spite its gen­er­ous for­ward splash­boards, but it planed read­ily on a reach and was great fun.

Once again, Walker & Hall pre­sented a sig­nif­i­cant tro­phy, the Corn­well Cup, for com­pe­ti­tion be­tween un­der-19s from in­di­vid­ual ports. Like the San­ders Cup, it again hon­oured a war hero, 16-year old Sea­man’s Boy Jack Corn­well who kept his gun fir­ing on HMS Ch­ester dur­ing the Bat­tle of Jut­land in May 1916 when the rest of his gun crew had been killed. Jack was posthu­mously awarded the Vic­to­ria Cross.

This cup too, gave the ‘Zed­dies’ an ex­tra na­tional di­men­sion like the San­ders Cup gave the X Class, which en­sured that they spread through­out New Zealand and pro­duced a who’s who of fu­ture top yachts­men.

In 1960 John Spencer re­jigged con­struc­tion in ply­wood, but it was too late to save the class. Nowa­days Zed­dies sur­vive only in penny num­bers in places like Whangateau and Hob­sonville but are well beloved by their own­ers.

I’ll re­turn in a few months to con­tinue the story of our na­tional cen­tre­board classes. BNZ

X41 Emer­ald in 1950.

MAIN PHOTO En­trants in the 1941 Auck­land Corn­well Cup tri­als. TOP RIGHT Jack Kendall’s Tro­jan. RIGHT Two early Zed­dies at Devon­port, Tio, Z3 and Tre­vic, Z4.

ABOVE The sail plan and lay­out from the of­fi­cial plans. The 1951 New Zealand health stamps fea­tured stylised Zed­dies.

BOT­TOM Corn­well Cup day at Taka­puna Boat­ing Club, 1947.

BELOW A large P Class day on Lake Pupuke in the 1970s.

Lord Jel­li­coe’sIron Duke, now in the Na­tional Mar­itime Mu­seum.

RIGHT Neville Thom’s Fly­ing Cloud won the San­ders Cup for Auck­land at Ti­maru in 1952.

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