Sails from a bygone era

Shore-bound regatta watchers are in for a treat on Monday when the M-Class fleet travels close by, as ROBIN BAILEY reports.

It is appropriate that one of the dinghy classes sailing in the Auckland Anniversary New Zealand Herald Regatta on Monday has a link with the founding family of the publishing company Wilson and Horton.

As it has done since the class was established in 1922, the 18-foot kauri-clinker M-Class will be racing again, on a course that will take the yachts down the harbour to a buoy off the Viaduct Village. The aim is to give shore-bound regatta-goers a close look at one of the most distinctive classic yachts taking part.

The Emmy was developed by the legendary Arch Logan from the then-popular Patiki half-raters. Among the first owners, in 1897 and 1898, were the Wilson cousins Willie and Roy. William Logan built and raced Niobe for his own use in 1897, then a year later built Eka for Roy Wilson.

The performance of these yachts led to the formation of the Parnell Sailing Club in 1898 and the first restricted class sailing on the Waitemata. The class was given the name Patiki (Maori for flat-fish) and 15 were built in the years leading up to 1904 and their evolution to the M-Class as we know it today.

The class has experienced mixed popularity over the past 79 years, with more than 20 racing in the 1930s and a fleet of 15 contesting major events today.

Dedicated M-Class owners are kicking off the millennium with a serious bid to lift the profile of the classic survivor.

Monday's regatta race is the first stage. Next weekend the fleet is going overland to Lake Pupuke for the first 18-foot Wooden Clinker Freshwater Worlds. Eight boats have confirmed their entries and some late starters are expected.

The event has been organised by the M-Class Association, with the help of the Pupuke Boating Club and the North Shore City Council. The appeal of the event is the challenge to sail at close quarters within the confines of a relatively small lake. It all adds up to superb spectator viewing.

The programme includes short, sharp fun races with Le Mans starts, helm-swapping, old codgers and invitees races and even a single-handed event. The fresh-water worlds will be on Saturday afternoon, with points racing on Sunday. Eight or 10 boats planing downwind with 400 sq ft spinnakers up will be a memorable sight.

The confirmed fleet (by launch date) is:

Myth (1947). The oldest starter and the favourite. Designed by Laurie Davidson and skippered by Ted Miller.

Mystery (1954). Another Davidson, Graeme Cook will skipper.

Marquita (1955). Dave Bush will steer this classic M-Class.

Mahina (1960). The light and fickle Pupuke winds could suit skipper John Gillespie.

Matapan (1963). Rob Martin will helm the three-time Logan Memorial winner.

Masquerade (1963). Gordon McLean will be on the tiller of another Davidson design.

Mistriss (1992). One of triplets designed and built by Owen Reid.

Margaret (1992). Built in planked plywood (all other Ms are solid kauri), this is a top contender, helmed by Stewart Morley.

In his 1994 book Emmy, 70 Years of M-Class Yachting, sailing historian Robin Elliott paid this tribute:

"The M-class has experienced a waxing and waning in popularity, seemingly every 10 to 15 years. But there has always been a new generation to come in and rebuild, restore and in some cases build new hulls from scratch.

"Today the Emmy stands alone as the last of the big, unballasted centreboard dinghies racing on the Waitemata Harbour. Its survival appears to have been a subtle and finely tuned mixture of good design, tradition, comradeship and plain honest fun, coupled with the gradual introduction of modern ideas without sacrificing its essential character."

Anniversary Day on Monday and the Freshwater Worlds on Lake Pupuke will write another chapter in the history of the classic Emmy.

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