Auckland: Sailing's in the blood

By Kieran Nash

Penny Whiting has a long association with the regatta. Photo / Martin Sykes
Penny Whiting has a long association with the regatta. Photo / Martin Sykes

The Auckland Anniversary Day regatta has always been a family affair for yachting legend Penny Whiting - while she was being born, her father was on the Waitemata Harbour racing in the very same regatta.

Now, more than 60 years on, Whiting is sailing with her grandchildren watching the action.

Whiting is one of the legends of New Zealand's yachting scene, being the eldest child in a family of sailors and owner and operator of the Penny Whiting Sailing School.

She has never missed a class in more than 40 years and her school is listed as one of travel guide Lonely Planet's things to do in Auckland - with her expertise and sailing experience from all over the world it's no surprise why.

"It's huge for me because it's my birthday," says Whiting. "My father was racing in the regatta when I was born."

Although the event is a great spectator sport for young and old alike, Whiting would not recommend getting the kids out on a boat that's racing on the open ocean.

"They're racing and it would not be a suitable family event - things happen too quickly."

Whiting won't be racing this year but she will be on her boat Endless Summer "tearing round the harbour" with her three grandchildren, watching her son, Olympian and America's Cup sailor, Carl Williams in one of the high-performance races.

"There's a huge spectator fleet which follow certain divisions and people get a lot of pleasure in watching it by boat."

But, over the years, Whiting says the crowds watching the regatta have not got any larger - even if there is more interest from those racing in the event.

In years past, Whiting says, the regatta was such a major event because people had little else to do.

"These days, people have so much choice as to what they do with their leisure time."

What has changed is the number of people racing due, she says to the organising committee doing a good job.

Other changes include the races themselves. There are more races now than ever, and one major difference is the boats venture further out of the harbour.

"It has changed. It used to be all in the harbour. Now, there are far more cruising races. They're coming from Rakino, Matarangi and the Kawau Islands , which is great."

One of Whiting's favourite parts of the regatta is seeing the grand old racing boats of years gone by back on the water.

"What I really enjoy about the Auckland Regatta is the resurgence of the lovely old vessels of yesteryear. It's just fabulous to see that."

Whiting has been out on all manner of craft: "I've done the regatta for as long as I can remember, whether it was in a big or little boat.

"Oh so many, I've raced on so many different boats. Usually with my father and brother and sister racing."

One thing which usually stays the same for the day is the conditions. "It's usually blowing like mad out there on Anniversary Day. We've no idea why. But we usually have some really good sailing."

The event brings all the clubs from Auckland together for one day - and there are no rivalries between the clubs like in other sports.

"It's the only day in the whole year where all the clubs get on together to put on the event. I think it's going to be a really great event this year."

- NZ Herald

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