Despite the long economic depression in the 1880s, yachting became an important sport in the four main ports: Auckland, Wellington, Lyttelton and Dunedin. It also appeared in provincial ports such as Nelson and Whangārei.
From the 1870s, regattas and clubs promoted yacht and open sailing-boat racing. The Ponsonby Regatta Committee was set up in 1879, and there were proper yacht clubs in the English and American model, such as the Auckland Yachting Club (1871) and Wellington’s Port Nicholson Yacht Club (1882). Match racing set boat against boat for wagers, or among several for sweepstakes. This fostered racing for both participants and spectators. Increasingly the participants were middle-class youth rather than Māori and European watermen.
Many large keel yachts were built, while the open sailing-boat classes reached a peak of development. Sporting yachtsmen began ordering mullet boats built for racing, to a finish of yacht quality. When they were past their peak there were ready buyers for them in the fishing industry. There was a large interest for some years, too, in the worldwide craze for the clinker-built (with overlapping external planks), wood-decked Rob Roy sailing canoe.
Specialist yacht builders set up in business, especially in Auckland. It had a generally good climate for the sport, and cruising grounds for the bigger boats in the Hauraki Gulf and along the Northland and Coromandel coasts. As the centre of the timber industry and the Pacific Islands trade, the city had chandlers (equipment suppliers), sail makers, riggers and other necessary businesses.
A century at sea
In 1988, 100 years after it was built, the Akarana was restored by the New Zealand government and presented back to the Australian people to mark their bicentenary of European settlement.
The native kauri is a light, strong timber, exceptionally resistant to rotting in sea water. Many kauri yachts built before 1900 are still in good condition. New Zealand boat builders began using a multiple diagonal-skinned, frameless construction, introduced by Robert Logan. Most of the hull was kauri, making for a strong, durable structure.
New Zealand builders continued to turn out safer and more usable craft than the British, whose rules led to yachts so deep and narrow as to be difficult to sail.
Exporting to Australia
Yacht building was also stimulated by the export of boats across the Tasman. The first export, Thomas Niccol’s Secret, was sailed to Australia in 1875. The success of Robert Logan’s Akarana (1888) brought prestige and pride to New Zealand boat builders. By the 1880s the family firms of Logans and Baileys had begun a long and productive rivalry.