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Mahurangi Regatta and the revival of a tradition

by 28 Dec 2008About the Regatta, Regatta history0 comments

Rodney Times 1901

Mahurangi Regatta 1901: When Devonport Yacht Club commodore Martin Foster conceived the race to Mahurangi, in 1966, he was continuing a long-standing relationship between city ‘Yachtmen’ and their first harbour north. publication Changing Times, 2009

The first Mahurangi Regatta is not recorded. The first possibly dates from the establishment of Gordon Browne’s spar station in the harbour, in 1832.

More probably, Mahurangi’s first occurred when hms Buffalo called in 1834—spoiling things, in Browne’s opinion, by paying local Māori too much for their labours extracting kauri spars. In any event, as Dr Ronald H Locker writes in Jade River: A History of the Mahurangi:

Joseph Gard noted in his diary that he saw the event in progress on New Year’s Day, 1858, while passing up-river on his way home from Auckland.

The Mahurangi Regatta effectively lapsed during World War Two but was revived in 1977, by Mahurangi Action, which initially chose the earliest Saturday in January with a tide convenient for boat launching, 8 January, as opposed to the traditional Boxing Day.

The popularity of the revived regatta was such that its destiny as an annual fixture was inescapable.

Coincidentally, that same year, Devonport Yacht Club moved the start of its annual Mahurangi race to the Friday evening of Auckland’s anniversary weekend—the club had been racing to Mahurangi since 1966, but on the Saturday. It took Friends of the Mahurangi and the Sandspit Yacht Club, which organised the sailing races, until 1979 to embrace the obvious synergy.

The Mahurangi and Auckland programmes are perfectly complementary:

1901 Mahurangi Regatta by Henry Winkelmann

Ghosting to the Line: Renowned marine photographer Henry Winkelmann captured the 1901 Mahurangi Regatta, in this possibly the earliest extant image of the event. Winkelmann was secretary of the Warkworth-based Coastal Steamship Company, which brought hundreds of his fellow Aucklanders to the event as spectactors. photographer Henry Winkelmann

Friday night
Mahurangi Night Race
Mahurangi Regatta
Saturday night
Mahurangi Regatta Prize-Giving and Dance
Mahurangi to Auckland Race
Auckland Anniversary Regatta

While the Saturday is emphatically regatta day, the Friday night race to Mahurangi can create a unique visual spectacle. When the weather is reasonably light and clear, the fleet arrives after nightfall in a continuous, flowing river of red and green navigation lights stretching from the heads all the way back to Whangaparāoa Passage—best viewed from the editor’s rooftop deck, 100 metres above Ōpahi.

The regatta immediately became a mecca for ‘traditional’ boats. Ralf Sewell attended with the Ripple, and subsequently with the Breeze. The historic steam tug William C Daldy was a regular attendee—a massive and aromatic presence.

In 1987, owner of the gaff-rigged cutter Sorceress, Peter Bailey, prevailed upon Robertson Bros. Boat Co. to donate a trophy for wooden-hulled boats of pre-1955 design: the Mahurangi Cup. The 1988 event was thus the dawn of the Mahurangi Regatta as the classic wooden boat meet in Aotearoa.

Pete and co-conspirator Peter Oxborough (1936–2005) consolidated this success by forming the Mahurangi Cruising Club, ahead of the 1990 regatta.

Historical footnote Governor William Hobson did himself a favour, and Aucklanders since a great service, when he fixed their anniversary as the Monday nearest 29 January, the date not of the city’s founding, which was in September, but the anniversary of his own arrival in Aotearoa—he arrived in the Bay of Islands.