Mul­lets a life­long pas­sion


Central Leader - - NEWS - By DANIELLE STREET

At the end of ev­ery sum­mer for the last 90 years a fleet of mul­let boats can be seen in the Waitem­ata Har­bour rac­ing for the mag­nif­i­cent Lip­ton Cup.

The hotly con­tested tro­phy stands taller than the Amer­ica’s Cup and was forged from ster­ling sil­ver by the same Bri­tish jewellers as its fa­mous coun­ter­part.

Do­nated to the Pon­sonby Cruis­ing Club by tea-baron Sir Thomas Lip­ton in 1922, the cup boasts in­tri­cate pat­terns of winged mer­maids, tiny sea­horses and is topped by a sculp­ture of a minia­ture yacht.

Through­out the year it re­sides along­side more mod­est tro­phies in a glass cab­i­net at the Westhaven-based club.

But each March it comes out for the Lip­ton Cup race.

David Nigh, a life-mem­ber of the club’s mul­let boat com­mit­tee, cred­its the cup with keep­ing ‘‘mul­letie’’ cul­ture afloat.

‘‘The 22-foot class has sur­vived be­cause of that tro­phy, the Lip­ton Cup,’’ Mr Nigh says.

‘‘That is what has kept them alive.’’

Now in his older years, Mr Nigh was first hooked into mul­let boats as a fresh-faced 13-year-old.

‘‘I was fish­ing off Pon­sonby wharf and this chap came down the wharf with a sail and a dozen beer. He told me to give him a hand, so I grabbed the beer. I ended up go­ing sail­ing on the Marika, which was quite a big thrill.’’

Since those days he has owned three mul­let boats, two of which were cus­tom-built.

Unique to the Auck­land re­gion, mul­let boats are a work­ing-class boat said to have orig­i­nated around the 1880s.

The ves­sels range from 18 to 26 feet in length and are char­ac­terised by their flat bot­toms and dis­pro­por­tion­ately large sails.

‘‘They prob­a­bly carry the most sail area for their size in the world,’’ Mr Nigh says.

Be­cause of their abil­ity to travel in the shal­lows, the boats were orig­i­nally used to sail up es­tu­ar­ies and net mul­let fish.

The fish­er­men would race back to shore to ob­tain the best price from the mar­kets.

Sailors soon re­alised the nim­ble crafts were the per­fect rac­ing boat, and held reg­u­lar races around the har­bour and to the sur­round­ing is­lands.

It was in the early 1920s that Sir Thomas Lip­ton an­nounced he would be gift­ing six be­spoke cups to clubs around the world.

Sir Thomas was a de­vout sailor and un­suc­cess­fully at­tempted the Amer­ica’s Cup five times.

His ef­forts earned him a spe­cially de­signed cup for ‘‘the best of all losers’’ and made his tea brand fa­mous.

The Pon­sonby Cruis­ing Club mem­bers em­ployed a lit­tle trick­ery to ob­tain one of the do­nated tro­phies from Sir Thomas for its mul­let boat races, Mr Nigh says.

‘‘The story goes they lined up out­side the Es­planade Ho­tel in Devon­port, which was a flash build­ing in those days, and so he got this photo and thought it was very im­pres­sive. But the real yacht club was an old tin shed in St Mary’s Bay.’’

Since 1922 the cup has been pre­sented to the win­ning team of the an­nual race.

Tra­di­tion­ally the win­ners drank rum from the tro­phy, says life-time com­mit­tee mem­ber Kevin Gunn.

Mr Gunn says the prac­tice is frowned upon th­ese days, but that didn’t stop 2012 cup win­ner Rob Al­gie and his six-strong team from giv­ing it a go.

‘‘We drank rum out of it once all the old guys left,’’ Mr Al­gie says, con­ced­ing that the wings caused a bit of a prob­lem.

Mr Al­gie fell in love with mul­let boats about nine years ago af­ter read­ing a book about them.

He says the chal­lenge and ca­ma­raderie is what makes rac­ing the boats so fun.

‘‘They are just such hard work,’’ he says. ‘‘It’s like a good game of cards, if you mess up you really mess up. No one wants to go swim­ming, but you get pretty close some­times.’’

Mr Al­gie co-owns a kau­ri­plank mul­let boat called Ta­matea with three other young men.

He had at­tempted win­ning the Lip­ton Cup on other boats a few times, but it was in the 2012 race with Ta­matea that he fi­nally snagged the cup.

‘‘It was like one of dreams.’’

De­spite hav­ing the Lip­ton Cup race ticked off his bucket list, Mr Al­gie says he won’t be walking away from mul­let boats any­time soon.

‘‘There is a legacy of rad old dudes that have kept rac­ing, who have been at the helm in their 80s. So I can see me go­ing for a while.’’


Smooth sail­ing: Right, 22-foot mul­let boat Ta­matea took first place in the 2012 Lip­ton Cup race. Ster­ling sil­ver: Left, the pres­ti­gious Lip­ton Cup was gifted to the Pon­sonby Cruis­ing Club by Sir Thomas Lip­ton in 1922.

Race day: Mul­let boats take over the Waitem­ata Har­bour on race day.


Life mem­bers: Kevin Gunn, left, and David Nigh were hooked into mul­let boats as young men and are now life-mem­bers on the mul­let boat com­mit­tee.

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