This coun­try has a rich tra­di­tion of home­grown centreboard classes which were strong enough to re­sist the in­tro­duc­tion of over­seas types un­til rel­a­tively re­cently.

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Home­grown centreboard dinghies Part 1 BY HAROLD KIDD

The out­stand­ing ex­am­ple of the in­dige­nous Kiwi centreboard yacht is the mul­let boat, de­rived from a fish­ing smack but de­vel­oped by 1905 into a set of highly com­pet­i­tive rac­ing classes. But mul­let boats car­ried con­sid­er­able bal­last, ini­tially to re­place the load of fish they were de­signed to catch and carry to mar­ket. In this ar­ti­cle I am deal­ing only with our un­bal­lasted cen­tre­board­ers, ini­tially open clinker dinghies.

The con­cept of rac­ing evenly matched yachts has been around a long time. There are sev­eral ap­proaches to the prob­lem of how to pre­vent the best boat and/or the best skip­per and crew win­ning all the sil­ver­ware all the time, which is the kiss of death to the sport. The All Blacks seem close to that po­si­tion right now, in the South­ern Hemi­sphere at least.

The first so­lu­tion, with ran­domly de­signed yachts, is to hand­i­cap them on the ba­sis of their de­sign char­ac­ter­is­tics by var­i­ous com­plex for­mu­lae, or on their past per­for­mances, and give them a time penalty in re­spect of the oth­ers in the race. The sec­ond is to make the yachts as uni­form as pos­si­ble so that the only ma­jor vari­able in

per­for­mance is the skill of the skip­per and crew.

There are de­grees of uni­for­mity of de­sign and con­struc­tion rang­ing from the mono­type on one hand, where de­sign and con­struc­tion are rigidly con­trolled like the Taka­puna Class (Z Class) of 1921 or the Ze­phyr Class of 1956 and, on the other hand, the 1922 to 1970s Auck­land let­ter classes which had much looser rules in which the two main pa­ram­e­ters were over­all length and sail area. For ex­am­ple, the T Class were round-bilge 14-foot­ers and the Y Class were square-bilge 14-foot­ers with nom­i­nally re­stricted sail ar­eas of 220 square feet, but no ef­fec­tive mech­a­nism for mea­sur­ing.

The cen­tre­board­ers rac­ing in this coun­try from the 1870s were highly de­vel­oped ‘open sail­ing boats’ in var­i­ous classes based on over­all length and were very sim­i­lar to the boats rac­ing in Aus­tralia, where they be­came known as ‘skiffs’. Bet­ting and wa­ger­ing were im­por­tant in­gre­di­ents of the sport. Since most boats car­ried bal­last, the dodge of il­le­gally shift­ing bal­last from side to side on each tack was preva­lent. In the United States, where the prac­tice was al­lowed, the boats were called ‘sand­bag­gers’. In fact, bal­last shift­ing

per­sisted through the early years of mul­let boat rac­ing so that ‘fair­play men’ had to be ex­changed be­tween boats.

In 1898 came the first recog­nis­ably ‘mod­ern’ class of home-grown un­bal­lasted cen­tre­board­ers, the 18ft 6in patikis. Even then, these clinker half-decked yachts were in­spired by an Amer­i­can ‘half-rater’ owned by Capt. Pearce of the Amer­i­can bar­que Sea King which put into Auck­land in dis­tress after a rough Tas­man cross­ing in 1897. Pearce sailed the lit­tle boat to Taka­puna and back in phe­nom­e­nally fast times which stag­gered the lo­cals; clearly it was their first ex­pe­ri­ence of see­ing a yacht on the plane. The yachts­men of Par­nell were so im­pressed that they formed the Par­nell Sail­ing Club to spon­sor the type as a re­stricted class. Lo­gan Bros built five and other builders an­other seven or so. The patikis were ini­tially highly suc­cess­ful, but it was not to last. The Lo­gans built the best boat of the first batch, Ram­bler, ini­tially owned by Dex­ter & Crozier, the agents for Ram­bler bi­cy­cles (and cars later) and then by Roy Wil­son who dom­i­nated the rac­ing. In late 1904 the Lo­gans built Dot­trell, the ul­ti­mate 18ft 6in patiki, for Roy Wil­son. She eclipsed the rest of the fleet. But it was in vain for the Par­nell Sail­ing Club was al­ready in re­cess. The sur­viv­ing boats were soon scat­tered all over the coun­try. In 1922 Arch Lo­gan rein­car­nated them for the younger Wil­sons as the 18ft M Class patikis, spon­sored by the Squadron. Dur­ing the late 1890s Welling­ton yachts­men

The cen­tre­board­ers rac­ing in this coun­try from the 1870s were highly de­vel­oped ‘open sail­ing boats’...

pro­duced some fine 14-foot­ers, many of them of square-bilge con­struc­tion in­spired by the de­signs pro­moted by the in­flu­en­tial Amer­i­can yacht­ing mag­a­zine, Rud­der. But the first true class rac­ing in the cap­i­tal was in the Thorn­don Sail­ing Dinghy Club’s 10ft clinker open sail­ing dinghies from 1903. They were of re­stricted de­sign with a cat rig of 130ft2.

By 1905 new boats were ar­riv­ing from Auck­land built by Bai­ley & Lowe and Lo­gan Bros, while Ted Bai­ley of Welling­ton built sev­eral of the best and was the crack helms­man of the class in his Vera and Thelma. At the height of their pop­u­lar­ity the club had over 100 mem­bers and 12 boats en­ter­ing their evening races. But by 1910 it was all over. The crack skip­pers and the crack boats just kept win­ning and the thrill was gone.

Auck­land had a turn at class dinghy rac­ing next. Al­most in the Thorn­don model, the Waitem­ata Sail­ing Dinghy Club was es­tab­lished in 1907, but plan­ning

to race two classes, a 14-footer and a 10-footer on the lines of the Thorn­don boats. The de­sign pa­ram­e­ters and scant­lings were quite tight for the time: 14ft loa, 5ft 6in beam and 135ft2 of sail. The prime movers were some stars of the Auck­land yacht­ing scene, Tom Hen­der­son, C.P. Mur­doch, J. C. Web­ster, W.H. Oliver, Tom Inglis and young Scott Colville.

Tom Hen­der­son had Tyler & Har­vey de­sign and build him the first of the 14-foot­ers, Rita. Only two 10-foot­ers were built but the 14s be­came a ‘mush­room class’. The club held races ev­ery fort­night in the 1908-09 sea­son, field­ing up to eight 14-foot­ers. But by the 1910 sea­son it was all over and the fleet dis­ap­peared from Auck­land, al­though many were snapped up by own­ers in Kawhia, where they were joined by boats built by the Neil­son broth­ers lo­cally, and con­tin­ued rac­ing for sev­eral more years.

The next class, the fa­mous San­ders Cup/jel­li­coe/rona/x Class 14-foot­ers re­sulted from the ef­forts of one of Auck­land yacht­ing’s great­est movers and shak­ers, W.A. (Wilkie) Wilkin­son, a printer who had a broad view of yacht­ing, not only lo­cally, but in­ter­na­tion­ally.

Wilkie es­tab­lished our first yacht­ing mag­a­zine in 1908, the New Zealand Yachts­man. Boldly, he pub­lished it as a weekly and, un­usu­ally for the time, loaded it with pho­to­graphs. The col­lapse of the patikis and then the WDSC dinghies as rac­ing classes up­set him. As early as the win­ter of 1912 he pub­lished plans of a re­stricted 14-footer drawn up by J.R. Cameron of Dunedin. It was a whole­some stem-head gunter sloop-rigged clinker boat, the Yachts­man 14, but noth­ing came of it.

After World War I broke out in Au­gust 1914 and then Gal­lipoli in 1915, it be­came ev­i­dent that the sport of yacht­ing was in de­cline and some­thing of a frip­pery. Wilkie turned to record­ing the his­tory of New Zealand yacht­ing in his mag­a­zine, thank­fully, be­cause vast quan­ti­ties of ma­te­rial would oth­er­wise have been lost. He could see, too, that the sport had to be kept alive dur­ing the war.

Most keel yachts and many mul­let boats were hauled up “for the du­ra­tion,” “owner gone to the Front”. It was im­per­a­tive to in­volve young­sters more. Wilkie 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.

In 1916 Wilkie com­mis­sioned Glad­wyn Bai­ley, Charles Bai­ley Jr’s el­dest son, to de­sign a clinker 14-footer along the lines of the 1912 ef­fort. In con­cept, if not in de­tail, the new boat was also a reprise of the WDSC 14-footer but in­tended to be so pro­moted and so con­trolled that ev­ery boat would be, as near as prac­ti­ca­ble, iden­ti­cal in per­for­mance.

De­te­ri­o­rat­ing wartime con­di­tions made it dif­fi­cult to get the de­sign go­ing, but Bai­leys built the pro­to­type and launched her in Jan­uary 1917. They named her Desert Gold after a fa­mous race­horse of the time, like the con­tem­po­rary brand of to­bacco. This was a class that set the whole of New Zealand on fire in the post-war years. De­spite con­tro­versy and pol­i­tics, it sur­vived un­til the mod­ern era. More next month. BNZ

LEFT Nor­man (Snorky) Inglis’ crack WDSC14, Ikarere.RIGHT The last and best of the 18ft 6in patikis, Roy Wil­son’s Dot­trell.

BE­LOW Zel, a Lo­gan Bros­built Thorn­don 10-footer. Six 10-foot­ers of the Thorn­don Sail­ing Dinghy Club rac­ing off the wharves at Welling­ton.

FAR LEFT The 1912 de­sign for the Yachts­man 14.

LEFT Desert Gold, the first of many X Class rac­ers.

The first of the Par­nell Sail­ing Club 18ft 6in patikis, Eka, built by Lo­gan Bros for Roy Wil­son in De­cem­ber 1898.

BE­LOW Ram­bler, sec­ond in the Patiki Class. A con­tem­po­rary post­card with a small fleet of Waitem­ata Dinghy Sail­ing Club 14-foot­ers rac­ing off Pon­sonby.

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