After the Second World War, as prosperity and leisure time increased, New Zealand yachting boomed as a participant sport.
At the lower level, the centreboard classes blossomed. For a while pre-war designs like the Idle Along, the Silver Fern and the Zeddie (Z-class) remained popular. In Auckland, the glamour classes were the racing 18-footers, the V- and M-classes.
Once shunned, overseas designs – particularly those of Uffa Fox in Britain – began to gain popularity. The first to catch on was the International-14. An English example of a deep-chested planing hull, it triggered a revolution in the unrestricted classes, especially the 12-foot Pennant class in Auckland, the 12-foot 9-inch R-Class in Canterbury and the 18-foot V-Class in Auckland. The Moth class also eventually attracted a large following.
Plywood, and glues developed during the war, transformed construction. Leading the change was the fast 12-foot Pennant-class Cherub, from maverick Auckland designer-builder John Spencer. The plywood craft could be built cheaply and quickly by talented schoolboys. Soon it had its own class. This was the death knell for the heavier New Zealand centreboard classes of the previous 35 years.
The new techniques spread to the 18-footers, and soon these lightly built and lightly crewed yachts were sweeping the field in the V-class.
It was the age of the do-it-yourself yacht builder. The most popular craft were the 7-foot plywood P-class dinghies, on which thousands of youngsters learned the art of sailing. In Auckland these new light boats were the plaything of people in the suburbs, leaving the Westhaven marina to the larger keel yachts.
Appearing in the 1960s, the safe, easily rigged and inexpensive trailer-sailer could be towed to lakes or harbours. With bunks and air-mattresses in the cockpit, it enabled a family holiday.
Fibreglass, and a new tradition
In the 1970s ferro-cement, then fibreglass, were used to build speedy boats – from Lasers and Sunbursts to multi-hull catamarans. Crews began to use trapezes to get their weight further out from the side of the boat.
Who are the yachties?
In a 2001 survey, 50,000 adult New Zealanders had sailed in the previous month, and 150,000 in the previous year – about the same numbers as had played rugby. 70% of the regulars were male, and 60% lived in the greater Auckland region. In 2005 there were 125 clubs, with 30,000 members.
By the 1990s, the do-it-yourself sailing tradition was dying. Busy city dwellers were learning on comfortable, expensive keelers rather than in the P-class. Advances in sails and in equipment, such as powerful winches, opened the way to smaller crews and family sailing. More women took part in yachting, but increasingly it also became the domain of the well-off.
New keelers in a range of modern designs overtook the fine old Logan and Bailey yachts. A prominent local designer was Bob Stewart, while Arthur C. Robb from Auckland’s North Shore had become successful in England.
Increasingly keelers were designed for offshore racing and cruising in local waters, or in the Pacific or even further afield. The Hauraki Gulf, Bay of Islands and Marlborough Sounds became favourite cruising grounds.