By John Welsford - Hamilton, New Zealand

Mahurangi Regatta 2009

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This event has been held here pretty much uninterrupted other than during the First and Second World wars, I cant recall the dates but its way past its centennial year so the locals  have had time to get used to the huge collection of boats that arrive here on the friday of Auckland Anniversary weekend. 

Rigs like these are rare Except at Mahurangi on the last weekend of January

These are mostly classics, but the interpretation of “Classic “ is a bit loose, there was a  60 ft plus Hawaiian double canoe there, a number of oyster flats (like mini landing barges, one had a trampoline, several large parasols, a big domestic fridge full of beer and several families aboard. The kids were having a great time bouncing off the tramp and into the water, and as the beer level got lower the adults were doing the same.

This would be the most efficient small powerboat I think that I have seen.

Each year there are several classic yacht races, small boat races, rowing, and even a race for sculling with one oar.  There are sandcastle competitions, tug o war, (that’s a serious event with teams training for several minutes in order to be competitive for the annual event) and a lolly scramble (with wrapped toffees, one definition of mean, is to hold a lolly scramble on a beach, with unwrapped candy!)

Its not ALL about boats. Where would a day at the beach be without pretty girls?

This year was every bit as good as ever, somewhat over 300 boats, probably half of them racing and I can tell you that there were parts of the estuary course that felt like the freeway at going home from work time, with us on the wrong side of the road at that.

The racing was often very close quarters But the bigger boats were a lotfaster than we could ever hope to be.

I had the pleasure of helming Varuna, the Paul Groom built yawl rigged 17 ft Pathfinder  of my design.  Owner Frank and I had been debating the virtues of the two masted rig with Mel who sails Cavatina, a gaff sloop rigged Pathfinder , and boat boats were out to make a point.

Pathfinder Cavatina Skipper Mel had been living aboard for 15 days at thispoint.

Both boats were loaded up with camping gear, Barb and Frank were there for the weekend, and Mel had sailed in from Thames a good 100 km away exploring many of the islands and inlets of the Hauraki Gulf as he went and had been living on board for 15 days by the time he arrived at the regatta.  Both boats were a bit heavy for the very gentle winds, but it made for an even race.

In very light weather we were a fraction early to the line and had to turn away and come back losing perhaps 15 seconds in the confusion at the windward end of the line, but Mel was out of position at the other end and we had about 100m on him up the windward beat to Slipper Island. 

It's tricky around the back of the island, there are reefs and rocks and even in the crystal clear water is hard to pick them from any distance.  There is also a big wind shadow and the gamble is, go out to clear air and deep water and cop a lot of extra distance or creep along the edge catching little puffs and watching like a hawk for the rocks.

Ive been there many times, so chose to take the risk that the heavily loaded Varuna would catch enough breeze to keep Cavatina covered, and sure enough even though it was low tide and there were ugly brown lumps very close to us several times we still had that magic 100m on our opposition as we turned back into the estuary.

It was pretty much the turn of the tide as we entered the rivermouth, and I positioned us to catch the first of the inflow, we needed every trick as the big gaff main on Cavatina gave Mel an edge downwind.

But, after threading our way through the big boats, the anchored boats, the steam and the vintage diesel launches, the square riggers and the kayaks, the mylar sails of the modern racers and the cream cotton of the vintage boats we still had that 100 M on our nemesis at the mark at the top of the river.

Pathfinder Cavatina coming back down toward us after wed rounded the top mark.

We lost a little of that on the last leg, mainly through larger boats overtaking us and blanketing us as we headed back toward the finish line against the current.   But we made it, and  the time for the two boats would have been almost identical when Mel's slow start was allowed for.  I bet though he’s thinking over his preconceptions about the virtues of the yawl rig,  just to demonstrate one of the good points I reached along under full sail into the beach in the onshore breeze and sailed her backwards into quite a narrow space between Cavatina and another boat, a trick that you cant do without that big mizzen.

Built by a retired professional boatbuilder this would be the best example I've seen of my Rifleman design.

It was a great day, I got to go for a ride in a Rifleman, beautifully built by a retired professional boatbuilder, a row in a Joansa and a Seagull, marvelled over many of the exquisite replicas of Whitehall boats and such, a Herreshoff double ended gig, a lovely strip planked kayak, I met up with Rique whom I see every year and seem to be the one to help him lift his Wharram Proa onto his cars roofrack each time, and a lot of friends who I don’t see often enough.

A nice example of my Joansa design This one won the rowing sprint race.

Sunburn, 28 deg C, perfect sailing breeze at least most of the time, wonderful boats to watch and someone to race against, picnic lunch, ( thanks for the sandwiches Barb)  interesting people, and wonderful wonderful boats.

Lots of pics, not as many as I’d like as I was busy with friends and sailing most of the day but heres a few of those I did get.  Not too many names, I was way too busy to take notes and if I cant get them all and get them right, then I won't put many in, just the ones pertinent to the story.

I’ve been attending this event for near enough to 25 years, I’ll be there next year for sure.

John Welsford.


Tomorrow: More Pictures from Mahurangi

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