AUCKLAND’S OWN CLASS
“Speedwell” writes about Mullet Boats – Sea Spray Aug. 1951.
15th August 1951, Vol VI, No 9.
Fishermen the world over are noted for evolving the best type of boat for their requirements.
50 years ago Auckland’s fishing boats were the “Snapper” Boats and the Mullet Boats. The former were all keelers fit to go to sea in all weathers mostly with straight stems and short round, counters. Their design evolved into our current short end keelers. When at work they had to lie to with a close reefed mainsail and their staysail hauled flat to windward. Fishing was all by handlines. Now the trawlers take their place with their diesel engines and trawl nets. (Some still may carry a small sail aft to help hold the boat head to wind when stationary)
It is the mullet fisherman’s boat in which we are interested although as a fishing boat they are almost defunct except for a few flounder boats working out of the Thames and all now have motors. (1951)
The typical Mullet boat was 24ft overall with an average beam of 8 feet and a draft of 2 to 2’6” & with big 6ft centreboards. The centre-case helped to divide the fish keeping half to windward on a beat home for the fish were usually carried loose on the floor…The tuck stern was necessary to enable the long nets to be set and pulled in , usually by two men, after reaching the fishing grounds….Sometimes one man would propel the boat with a pair of long sweeps while his mate paid out the net over the stern after removing the large rudder typical of these craft. When a full load of 40 dozen were hauled aboard the course would be set for home.
As the Mullet boats usually left port on Sundays in company a certain amount of rivalry in speed was the outcome and better boats were built which were able to bring home the catch first.
Venice, Italy, Waimarie, Swift & Welcome Jack, were the earliest boats as far as I can remember.
The best skippers of the fishing boats, who I knew well as I frequently raced against them in Hinemoa, Dais, Rogue, & Speedwell, were Danny Holland, Charlie Nelson, Ike Hunt, and his two brothers, the Moore Brothers, Teddy Pearce & Jimmy Quin. When not racing their own boats they were in demand on keelers for Regatta Day. Danny Holland usually sailed Viking in all her regatta races. Charles Bailey and his brothers Ted & Walter were equally popular while Bob & Jock Logan usually sailed the latest keeler built by their firm for her first season.
Other yachtsmen and Mullet Boat skippers were Jim Braund, Bob Murphy, Vince Hogan, Olley Riley, Ron & Vic Lidgard, Arthur & Billy Clare, Jack McWhirter, “Farmer” Willets & Bill Swinnerton.
About 1890 some of these boats were bought for pleasure use. Auckland yachtsmen quickly recognised their good sailing qualities and handiness in shallow water. They were also cheaper than keelers to build and maintain.
In My recollection the first Mullet Boat to be used solely as a yacht was the Manola a regular 24ft boat built by Charles Bailey, then known as Chas. Bailey Junior, for a fisherman and about which something occurred to stop the sale. She was bought on the stocks by two Parnell yachtsmen, Bill & Sam Holder who fitted her out as a yacht with bunks and cabin doors etc. The Holders and their original crew of Jack Winks, Angus Campbell, & Harold Speight all raced Manola successfully for many years in Auckland Anniversary, Ponsonby, North Shore and Judges Bay Regattas. In some of these events the best of the fishing fleet competed on even terms with the pleasure fleet.
The class caught on and a large number of boats were built. Although Charles Bailey built most of the fishing and pleasure mullet boats for the first few years, other builders also turned out boats for the class: Jas. Reid (Father & Son), the Clares, Dave Gouk, Jock Wine, Bailey & Lowe, Bailey & Tyler, Tyler & Harvey, Dick Lang, Joe Wheeler, Chas. Wild, (Elder Brother of Colin Wild) who was killed in action in France. Le Huquet of Devonport built at least one, “Punch Winders built Euphemic, while Joe Slattery of Judges Bay added to the fleet. Later the Logans built several while the Lidgards built many, also Percy Vos and Col. Wild a few each.
About 45 years ago (1906) a new firm, Clare & Collings (Arther Clare & Chas. J. Collings) started at the foot of St Mary’s Bay Road Ponsonby, specializing in the designing and building of Mullet boats for pleasure. Arthur Clare built Vavau & later Emerald which he raced while Charlie Collings built and sailed Okere, both 26 footers. These boats proved decidedly faster than most other Mulleties of the day and keen rivalry was the outcome. Emerald was sold to Albie Braund and Okere to John Hanna while Jas Braund had Ronaki built by the firm. Mowai, a crack 22fter was the next best built by this firm for Bob Murphy who sailed her for 20 years with success.
The pleasure fleet grew to such an extent that in 1905 or there abouts, the Ponsonby Regatta Club set up a committee consisting of delegates from each of the clubs interested in the class and the leading boat builders, for the purpose of drawing up Rules and Restrictions with a better classification, and with uniform depth of hull, size of planking, and timbers etc. Four classes were decided on: 20, 22, 24, 26 overall with suitable specifications. These have been in use ever since.
Then as now, several owners built their own boats, Ned Parker who built Starlight in 1919, and sailed her with great success for 32 years. Before that he had Sadie & Sea Horse, which was Jasper Calder’s first yacht. A keen rival of Ned’s was W.A. “Farmer” Willets who built and sailed the 24ft Waitere, and later the 26ft Waitere II, Harold Martin built and raced Mystery. The Lidgard family were all keen supporters of mullet boats, Roy Lidgard building his first and possibly fastest Marie which he owned and raced for 10 years, many times winning the coveted Lipton Cup, the valuable and most valued trophy on the Harbour. Later the Lidgards turned out good boats in Macushla, Komuri, Valkyrie, & Kohara all racing today (1951.)
The most successful boat of later years was Tamariki built by Chas. Collings for himself, to help the class. Charlie seldom raced his own boats but about 1901 Mr C Murdoch, then Commodore of the RNZYS, organised a big race for keelers and mullet boats to Kawau. It was held in half a gale from the SW and Chas. Collings at the tiller of Ronaki was first in of about 30 boats doing the run with spinnaker set in 2hr. 58min from Kings Wharf to Momona Point.
Tamariki is very fast holding the record number of wins in Lipton Cup Racing and she was usually sailed by Farmer Willetts. Four years later Tamariki was bought by Mr Alf (Dick) Thompson and still Farmer Willetts handled her and continued winning the Lipton Cup. …
Tamariki was followed by Taotane built in 1939 for Mr S. Naismith & she won the cup in her maiden race for Tamaki Yacht Club. Mr Alex Collings says his father considered Taotane his best 22 fter and Corona his best 26fter. Corona was built for Nuns & Wells and frequently got the gun.
Starloch was another good boat built over 30 years ago at Northcote.
Other notable 26fters: Bluestreak, Calypso, Arawa, Varuna, Cloud, Spray, Esma, Sadie, Mermaid, Mystery, Awatea, & Emily.
24fters included: Manola, Why Not, Zoe, Glady, Maru, Mistletoe, Marere, & Kotiro.
22fters – the most popular size and type and their names are legion! the earlier ones are:
Mowai, Venus, Welcome Jack, Aoma, Hetty, Waimea, Ngaru II, Rona, Valeria, Waialae, Koriri, Doreen, Hilda, Wairangi, Valrosa, Malua, Lucille, Lovelight, Daphne, Otira, Varuna II, and Huia. The latest boats were Stardust & Eranie, the latter being built 2 years ago (1949) by Guy Goodman at Bayswater.
The 20fters include Winifred, Wairere, Ngaru, Ngawa, Ngaro, Waiapu, Matariki, Rita, Lorna, Allies, Nyanza, Wayward, Anita, Gloaming, Wyoming, Decima and Sea Horse.
The Logan brothers, Archie, Jock and Robert (with William as Junior) built mostly keelers, but they also built a few mullet boats, one of their best being the 26-fter Omatere. She was first owned by the Oxenham brothers who raced her successfully for many years and finally took her to the Thames where Bert Oxenham lived for a time. This gave rise to the oft published statement that Omatere went into the fishing industry at the Thames. (Not confirmed) Other Logan built mulleties were Celox, Ngaire, Venus, Aoma, Rakoa and the best of the lot Valeria winner of 6 Lipton Cup Races.
“Speedwell” reluctantly admits that the popularity of this once paramount class is steadily declining, few have been built in the last ten years (1951) Their place has been taken by the more modern short end keelers of the C & F Classes and all who have had actual experience sailing Mullet boats and later the modern keelers, admit their preference for the keelers. I owned and sailed the 24fter Hinemoa for two seasons 50 years ago. She carried a topsail with a jack yard of 100 feet!
A factor in the decline of the mullet boats was that they carried a big sail area with a boom 8 to 10 feet out past the tuck and they required, and usually had, a good crew of six or more. But “every dog has its day” and the mullet boat certainly had theirs for during World War I they filled the bill at Regatta and Club Races. They will never completely die out as long as our present-day skippers, whom I have mentioned, can hold a tiller. Good luck to them from one of their oldest admirers,
“Speedwell” W.A. Wilkinson.