Between the first and second world wars yachting progressed at a remarkable rate.
Small centreboard classes
Many more people participated thanks to a series of small centreboard classes that provided fast and exciting competitive sailing at a reasonable cost. All were built locally, although some were influenced by overseas designs.
Perhaps the most significant factor in the nationwide yachting fever was the introduction of an unballasted 14-foot open boat, a centreboard dinghy, with a restricted design. Promoted by New Zealand Yachtsman magazine in 1916, it was taken up by wealthy patrons.
In 1920 the yachtsman Lord Jellicoe, naval hero of the First World War Battle of Jutland, arrived in New Zealand as governor-general. He had a boat, Iron Duke, built to the design, and took a great interest in the class. The response around the country was phenomenal.
The Sanders Cup
Dunedin yachtsmen challenged Lord Jellicoe to a race in Auckland, and a trophy was donated – the Sanders Cup. It was named after an Aucklander, Lieutenant Commander W. E. Sanders VC, who died heroically during the First World War.
After the Otago boat Heather won the first challenge in 1921, the cup became one of the foremost sporting trophies and a focus of yachting activity, especially outside Auckland. In the 1920s and 1930s, Canterbury tended to dominate. These boats were known in Auckland as X-class.
Before 1914 it was believed that any yacht could be recognised by ‘the cut of its jib’. The Auckland Yacht and Motor Boat Association, formed in 1913, pushed for a system of registration. At first, yachts were given permanent sail numbers in blue bunting. But as the number of yachts rose, the system changed in 1921 to letters: from A-class for keel yachts to Z-class for Takapuna dinghies. O was for ‘Odds and sods’.
Z- and P-classes
Another local class that became national was the 12-foot 6-inch, square-bilge Takapuna class (in Auckland, the Z-class). This became very important in youth training as the major competition, the Cornwell Cup, was exclusively for boys or girls under 19. It was the fastest crew, rather than individuals, who won the cup.
The 7-foot Tauranga (in Auckland, the P-class) was developed by Harry Highet in Whangārei in 1920, and became popular in Tauranga. This safe little boat served as a trainer for thousands of children, and is still a viable class. Its popularity was bolstered by national competition for the Tanner Cup.
Other centreboard classes that achieved some national following included:
- The Wellington square-bilge, 12-foot 8-inch sloop-rigged Idle Along class. This was popular everywhere outside Auckland, and prompted the Moffat Cup competition in 1936.
- Arch Logan’s 12-foot clinker Silver Fern class.
- Two major 18-foot classes from Auckland: the unrestricted V-class and the clinker-built restricted M-class. Both had large fleets. Their moment of glory came in 1939 when the M-class Manu II won the J. J. Giltinan Trophy after competing against an Australian contingent of skiffs on the Waitematā Harbour in what was touted as the ‘World 18-Foot Championship’.
It is said that 100,000 spectators watched the 1939 Giltinan Trophy competition. Many new yachting clubs appeared, including at least 10 in Auckland, where the Westhaven seawall provided safe mooring, and four in Wellington. Others sprang up from Whangārei to Dunedin.
From the mid-1920s a few new keel yachts were built. Ten years later, as New Zealand recovered from the economic depression, the numbers surged. Many fine yachts were designed by Arch Logan and built by Colin Wild and Arnold (Bill) Couldrey.
In 1938, the ultramodern yacht Ranger ended the long reign of the Logans’ Ariki (1905). It was to dominate Auckland’s first-class fleet until the 1970s. Ranger was built by the Tercel brothers, of Dalmatian working-class background.
Overseas yachtsmen visited frequently, fostering a passion for offshore sailing. Casual challenges from these circumnavigators resulted in a series of ad hoc trans-Tasman races which, after 1945, developed into regular events.