As the economic depression started to ease in the early 1890s, New Zealand yachtsmen ordered yachts known as raters, built to new overseas racing rules. They were keen to have the same type, even though truly international competition was unlikely.
From 1892 until 1905 there was a golden age of keel-yacht building in Auckland – mainly the international 2½-raters, about 35 feet (10.7 metres) in deck length, and 5-raters.
The two principal builders were the Logan and Bailey families. Robert Logan and Charles Bailey both worked with their sons. The rivalry between the family businesses was intense, and racing improved the yachts. Each season, both produced new 2½- and 5-raters that engaged in fierce competition and caught the public’s imagination.
By the mid-1890s Australian yachtsmen, who came to Auckland to purchase second-hand raters, were commissioning new yachts from Logans and Baileys. Within a few years New Zealand’s yachts dominated keel-yacht racing in Sydney, just as its racehorses were beginning to shine in Australian thoroughbred racing.
Auckland’s first yacht race open to competitors from outside New Zealand was in the summer of 1898–99, at the North Shore Native Regatta and Aquatic Carnival. The event featured races by waka taua (Māori war canoes) and an ‘intercolonial championship yacht race’. Only two Australian boats entered, and the races were marred by the weather – there was no wind for the first two and a screaming northerly for the third.
The large number of raters and similar yachts built from 1890 to 1913 remained the major yachts in Auckland and other ports, especially Wellington, for another 40 years. The majority still survive because of their strong multiple-skin construction, the lasting qualities of kauri timber, and the love and care lavished on them by their owners. These boats are the core of the fleet maintained by the Classic Yacht Association.
Pātiki and dinghies
A smaller craft was the pātiki (meaning ‘flounder’ in Māori). These small unballasted centreboarders were fast, with hulls that could plane. They became very popular in Napier. Other open sailing-boat types dwindled to New Zealand classes of 16-foot, 14-foot and 10-foot dinghies. They were raced at the Sumner estuary near Christchurch, and at Dunedin, while Wellington had active dinghy sailing, venturing into square-bilge designs by 1900.
By the 1890s there were yacht clubs in Auckland, Onehunga, Wellington, Nelson, the Christchurch estuary, Lyttelton, Dunedin and Invercargill. They organised racing outside the regatta days. From 1900 the number of clubs increased, especially in Auckland. Apart from a brief period of New Zealand championships (1892–96), yachting remained largely a local sport.
The one threat to the rise of yachting was the motorised launch. The first internal combustion engines were hard to start, heavy and unreliable, and used fuel that was a fire risk. But by 1905 only the last problem remained. While yachting had always been restricted to men, families increasingly took part in recreational boating.
A number of builders switched their energies to the new motorised craft. Yachties, however, dismissed them as ‘stinkboats’, and yachting quickly recovered its confidence.