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Mahurangi Regatta 1865 comparable with Cowes

by 20 Nov 2014Regatta history0 comments

New Zealand Herald, page 3 advertisements column 6

Going at Least Seven Years: Given that a Mahurangi Regatta was recorded by a passing farmer in 1858, the event was at least seven years old by the time this 6 January 1865 advertisement was placed. Given that, in 1832, the Mahurangi Harbour was home to the first Pākehā settlement in the Auckland region—it predated the founding of Auckland by eight years—it is possible that the regatta is older than Auckland’s. image New Zealand Herald

Dr Ronald H Locker writes in Jade River : A History of the Mahurangi:

The first Mahurangi Regatta is not remembered, but 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.

When the Mahurangi Regatta was revived by Mahurangi Actionfounded 1974 as Friends of the Mahurangi in 1977, it had lapsed, some said since World War Two. But there had been at least one in that period; the suggestion for its revival came from a local yachtswoman who had participated, having grown up in the Mahurangi as Leonie Dawson—Dawson Creek is named for her family.

The idea was promptly picked up by founding chairman John Male, who saw the potential for Mahurangi Action:

…to be seen to be doing something other than just objecting to things.

John, in his inimitable manner, delegated the work of organising the event, to Christopher Hart.

In his masterful history, Ron Locker included, abridged, the account of the 1865 regatta that appeared in the 17 January 1865 edition of the New Zealand Herald:

The Mahurangi regatta came off successfully on Thursday. Those who have witnessed regattas on the Thames, at Cowes or Cork, would find interest in this one, got up exclusively by the settlers at Mahurangi harbour. The weather was all that could be breeze sufficient for the sailing craft, and not too much for the frail ‘flat dinghys’, pulled by mere mannikins under 12 on the land-locked harbour.

The first race was arranged for ten o’clock but families assembled long before in groups along the shore, under the shade perhaps of a large portikaua, each puff of wind sending a shower of blood-red blossom. Stalwart settlers trailed strings of rosy-cheeked children. A number of Maoris present, principally William Pomare’s tribe, entered into the spirit of the sports with great zest. The Māori, bedecked in many colour, formed the mass of spectators, their faces scarcely darker than those of the weather-beaten settlers they mingled with.

But one foul eyesore marred this fair scene. Four or five of the gambling fraternity, imported the previous day, were pursuing their nefarious business: cards, roulette, dice etc. More unprincipled swindlers never plucked the unwary. The rattle of dice, and shrill discordant cries of ‘Make your play gentlemen’, arising from a mob elaborate in brass jewelry, wide plaid pants, saffron waistcoats and coats with many pockets, gave one a sickening feeling, when you looked around at the honest brown Europeans and Māori. The police will now see that they are protected in future from such devilry. William Pomare used his influence, and prevented red two Māori playing at once. Hemare, the resident magistrate was absent on business. About ten o’clock there is a bustle. The whaleboats are launched: Oddfellow belonging to Mr Morgan, Fanny Young belonging to Mr Nicholson, and Lion belong to William Pomare. The first two were well matched, but Lion, a heavy sea boat, could be seen at a glance to have no chance. A fair start is made. Lion soon falls off and race is between the others. The course from the flagship to Grants Island and back is about six miles. Tide and wind against them for three miles put the men on mettle, but they pulled with unabated vigour the whole course. Oddfellow won by a boat length.

After this several dinghy races came off. In the first, four started, and after a well contested match, Mr J Clare came in winner. Then a boys race. Men children (who if in England would be under a nurse, and whose fond mammas would go into hysterics if they had the least idea that their darlings were near the water) contested this match I forget the winner’s name but he handled his oars with much skill and dexterity.

Next came a yacht race which would provoke a broad grin on any with a remote idea of what a yacht is. Members of Royal Yacht Clubs listen! Three yachts– First, a medium sized punt with a sprit and lib; Second, a flat-bottomed dingey with a sprit sail Third, another punt, yawl or skiff, entered by the starter. The last two gave up at once — the crews, one lad each, not feeling inclined for a sail, returned to Mr Short’s hotel. Punt No. 1 sailed the course, and the lad who sailed her came back to the consolation of winning seven for his employer.

The next race (trading vessels) was the event of the day. Six started: Sea Belle, Betsy, Volunteer, Rosella, Mary Ann and Prince of Wales. The course was around the south of Saddle and Eden Islands and back. The start was really beautiful. At the get-ready signal the sails were unfurled as if by magic, and they danced off their moorings line like things of life. Sea Belle belonging to Mr McGechie soon takes and maintains the lead, coming in at about eight o’clock.

When these boats were fairly off, spectators turned to amusements on shore, notably a first rate dinner provided by Mr Short, who was indefatigable in promoting the comfort of all. Foot races got up on the beach afforded much amusement. The winner ran in bare feet, no small feat on a half-mile course over broken oyster and pipi shells.

To a new arrival there was much else to interest: a convoy of sharks, their black fins miniature sails above the water; the leap of mullet and snapper, oysters growing on mangrove trees. Hazy and dream-like in the background the Mahurangi Ranges, and towering from their midst the now celebrated Omaha, the delicious softness of the air, the forest trees ‘flaked with blood’, all combined to conjure up a vision like a joyous landscape of Turner’s, or a sublime poem of Tennyson. — A Spectator