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Mahurangi Regatta anniversary weekend 2060

by 2 Jun 2009Open-ground, Regatta 20600 comments

Locker Lookout prior to extraction of pines

Tantalising Vision: The view from the proposed lookout at 443 Mahurangi West Road—to the degree possible until the old pine trees there are milled or otherwise cut for firewood. tree climber Cimino Cole

It presumably was not the sentiment Rod Oram had intended to invoke in his audience:

This is all quite depressing!

Oram had begun his Urban Design and Auckland Governance talk by quoting an undisclosed inside source claiming cabinet to have been in disarray over the implementation of the Royal Commission on Auckland Governance recommendations.

It was mostly downhill from there. Perhaps if even a few of the attendees had read the recommendations, or had read Oram’s report commissioned into the future of Makaurau—particularly his sublime scenario, Auckland Anniversary Day, Monday 26 January 2060—the ensuing discussion might have been useful.

Instead it was mostly a venting of indignation at the supposed stupidity/duplicity of the government, in supposedly largely rejecting the commission’s recommendations. The fact that the recommendation to retain the existing jurisdictions was a clearly-confessed expedient—to allow implementation in time for the 2010 elections—wasn’t allowed to get in the way of a good story: Six local councils, it seems, has now become the Holy Grail.

Regardless of whether there are six or thirty local councils—or much less whether certain short-sighted, self-serving Rodney councillors succeed in their bid for secession—the Mahurangi needs to plan its future.

And to visualise:

Mahurangi Regatta, Saturday 24 January 2060

Usually, on a Saturday morning, the place is a hive of activity.

Rows of nursery technicians and volunteers would be intent on the job of placing recently propagated seedlings into planters. It is only labour-intensive phase of a system of raising indigenous plants, long-since known as the ‘Mahurangi method’.

A mechanised method was also developed to do this part of the operation, but the visual evaluation of the seedling plugs was found to be crucial in ensuring that no plant was compromised. A few days too long in the plug trays can see the root circling that can subsequently doom a tree before it reaches maturity—not a fatal flaw in some restoration scenarios, but if the plants are part of a sustainable forestry project, a potential dead loss.

One hundred and thirty years earlier, the nursery had briefly been pasture. The land had been created from an area of mudflats, which were largely the result of deforestation the century before. But the stop banks had been allowed to fail and mangroves had re-colonised the area. That is how it might have remained, but for the vision of Peter Thompson.

Peter had grown up with accounts of the river during the scow and steamboat era. First, he rebuilt a steamboat, then the widely adored scow, the Jane Gifford.

But his sights were always firmly on the dredging his beloved Mahurangi River to allow it to again become vibrant with water traffic. Besides, for the Jane Gifford with her six-metre beam to again operate from her old homeport of Warkworth, dredging was essential.

Key to the dredging programme was finding a handy site to accommodate an initial 90 000m³ of mud, and another 10 000m³ annually.

This had been a tall order. Some believed all mangrove areas were sacrosanct. Some believed the river should be left natural, not realising that its clogged state was a direct consequence of the deforestation that had swiftly followed the introduction of steel tools.

Accommodating the ongoing dredged material was a challenge. One site, a vast lime quarry just east of Warkworth, had sufficient capacity—perhaps until sediment generation in catchment, and the need for maintenance dredging, was reduced to 2060 levels. But this would have involved trucking by road and double or triple handling.

The elegantly simple solution has been to reclaim the sediment, as high-quality soil—washing it free of salt with treated wastewater. The soil is then returned to the erosion-prone parts of the catchment, firmly bound together by the roots of flourishing indigenous plants—the Mahurangi, or enzopen™, method. The plants’ open-based biodegradable containers are then simply being pinned to the ground, eliminating the need to laboriously hand plant.

As a filler species, between these plants, open-ground harakeke is planted at ratios of up to 15:1. Harakeke proved to be a silver bullet, in the 2010s, being produced by methods borrowed from the exotic forestry industry, a government initiative from a century earlier. While open-ground techniques were developed to produce most indigenous species, the hybrid Mahurangi method ultimately proved to be more cost-effective a reliable method to establish specimen and production trees. Harakeke, on the other hand, is singularly adapted to being bare-rooted. Once the automated planter jet had been perfected, hectares of harakeke could be planted in a day, with just two operators.

By combining these two revolutionary methods, the 5% of the catchment that had been producing 90% of the sediment has now protected. Easier land has also being planted, much of it in tötara and pūriri. The latter, the fastest growing indigenous forestry species, is now starting to be milled, and is in great demand.

But on this morning of 24 January 2060, the vast Dawson Creek Nursery is deserted.

An hour ago, nearly one hundred people departed the nursery en masse, aboard the Vesper, bound for Sullivans Bay. A number of other electric-powered boats left from the Dawson Creek Basin at the same time, as has been the tradition since the basin was built, with the proviso that craft moored there not be fossil fuel–powered.

That the decision was initially deeply unpopular wouldn’t be recalled, but for it being taught at the school in Dawson Road, as part of its history of the response to anthropogenic climate change—its focus on such subjects unsurprising given that Snells Beach Primary was the first in Aotearoa designed from the outset as a ‘walking school’.

Purists were initially derisive regarding the design of the Vesper, as she influenced not by the dominant historic form but by the lesser-known soft chine scows built by Charles Bailey, which were known for their shapeliness. With the limited power available from battery storage, it was important that the nursery’s purpose-built scow was easily driven. For the same reason, she is also much longer than the original, making her faster for the same power, and under sail.

Building her to be fast was a deliberate strategy to attract attention to the work of the nursery. The Vesper, like her 1902 namesake, had immediately became the boat to beat in the Makaurau Anniversary Regatta. (Auckland Anniversary Regatta, until the region embraced the ‘many lovers’ part of its Māori name—a move that helped the region move beyond the acrimonious aftermath of the ‘one Auckland’ initiative, implemented in 2010.)

The other consequence of the Vesper’s length is displayed as she noses onto the beach at Sullivans—the 25-metre scow draws so little water that the passengers step ashore, through the bow door, onto dry sand. This attribute is very useful when unloading plants at the various shallow landings around the harbour.

The shoreside events are already underway. It seems that the starting time for rowing and waka races has got earlier and earlier, such are the numbers lining up to compete. At one point in the regatta’s history, at the end of the 1900s, early 2000s, it seemed that rowing dinghies was a thing of the past. The fashion for inflatables had taken hold, most being propelled by noisy petrol engines.

But then, during the Second Depression, the education system returned to the values of post World War II period. Children were again taught, not only how to swim, but also to paddle, row and to sail. It took Aotearoa a full generation but it succeeded in regaining its reputation for breeding the world’s best sailors. Mahurangi Marine School, established by the venerable Mahurangi Technical Institute at Dawson Creek, had led the way.

With most of the shoreside events contested, the first of sailing races are getting underway. The huge and hugely successful ex America’s Cup multithull Fay, is the start boat.

Pre 1950s–designed classic wooden boats still compete for the Robertson Boats’ Mahurangi Cup as they have done since 1988. But now the magnificent John Meiklejohn Trophy, awarded to for the first scow home, is the premier event. The Vesper won it two years running but that was before the big scow revival of the 2020s. The three-masted Zingara was the first of these, and she is here today. Built to sail Mahurangi’s finest wine to Europe, she is a monster nearly half as long again as the 1906 39-metre George Niccol original. Also raising sail is the Pirate, which had been built primarily to beat the Zingara, probably will do so again this year. Some suggest it is time there was a working scow only race, but by the banter heard at last year’s prize-giving and dance, Zingara’s crew wouldn’t have it any other way.

The Jane Gifford has been the regatta flagship since she was reconstructed and re-launched by Peter Thompson in 2009. She will probably be so for the next fifty years, having been re-built to last, unlike the original scows, which were expected to have a working life only a decade or two.

The iconic Jane Gifford was eventually responsible for the revival of the anniversary day scow races. It took a few years, but eventually the city’s competitive streak kicked in. During the 2010s scow after scow was built, as enterprises scrambled for their share of the exposure that the hallmark clouds of sailcloth provided. Their anniversary weekends commence with the night race to Mahurangi, on the Friday evening, a tradition that dating from 1966 and the Devonport Yacht Club.

Two years earlier, the Mahurangi Regatta quietly celebrated its bicentennial—because the date chosen was somewhat arbitrary, not too much was made of the milestone.

The shoreside regatta director looked relaxed, pleased with his second year’s efforts and enjoying the respite before the grand finale, the tug-o-war, which will be held when the burly scowmenof all genders return from their racing. He says to the chairman:

You realise, don’t you, that in another 14 years, Mahurangi Action’ll actually be a hundred.

She replies:

Yes, but that’ll be your baby; I’ll be well-retired by then.


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