A NEW ERA
This month marks the official opening of Royal Akarana Yacht Club’s new facility in Auckland’s Okahu Bay. It’s a fitting edifice for a club steeped in history and tradition.
It all began in 1895, on the shores of Devonport when a little sailing club was founded for those yachties who rallied against the white-collar option. The North Shore Sailing Club, as it was known back then, was the perfect way to get on the water and race in sailboats that are now considered classics of the yachting world.
W.E. Bennett was the first Commodore of the club and, in its inaugural year he presented a blue silk pennant embroidered with the letters ‘NSSC’ for that first season’s racing. W.A ‘Wilkie’ Wilkinson’s fast mullet boat-type Hinemoa won the pennant and up until 2016, this 121-year-old memento took pride and place in full view of visitors.
As the club prospered and sailing grew in popularity, the mix of members and boats began to change. In 1898, in collaboration with the Parnell Sailing Club, NSSC promoted the Arch Logan-designed 18ft 6in Restricted Patiki Class, which raced successfully for the next five or six years and was New Zealand’s first properly established centreboard class. Royal Akarana Yacht Club’s current vintage centre-boarders, the 18-foot M-Class, are the direct descendants of that early Patiki class.
By 1901 there was a subtle shift in the club membership and at the 1901 AGM Charles Murdoch moved that the name of the club be changed to that of the North Shore Yacht Club on the grounds that there are now more ‘yachts’ in the club than ‘sailing boats’.
Throughout all these changes, one person stood at the centre – W.A. ‘Wilkie’ Wilkinson.
He’d been the prime mover in the formation of the club back in 1895 and had been its secretary ever since. But a rift at the 1905 AGM saw the club split in two, with one group heading off to Bill Oliver’s shed to create the Devonport Yacht Club and Wilkie left with a band of followers to keep the North Shore Yacht Club afloat.
Initially the club struggled to keep its doors open, but by the start of the 1905/06 season, Wilkie, who was now Commodore, had the club cranked up and flying. Membership continued to grow and by the outbreak of war in 1914, the North Shore Yacht Club was by far New Zealand’s biggest yacht club, running up to 10 divisions on any race day.
WW1 pretty much stopped everything in its tracks, but the club continued through this time while others were suspended, meaning Wilkie and his North Shore Yacht Club provided the only option to get on the water and forget for a moment about the war and its after-effects.
With the club continuing to grow there was a need to relocate for the expansion and, in 1922, a plot of land on the new reclamation of Mechanics Bay was presented as an option. At the AGM on the 29th September 1922, the club accepted the new site and the move from north to south was approved.
At the same time a new identity for the club was presented and with it a rebirth for the club. The name Akarana (the Māori name for Auckland) was approved, and from that day on the club was known as Akarana Yacht Club.
It had long been a cherished ambition to obtain a ‘Royal’ prefix to the club’s name, and it was thanks to links with the Royal Navy, in particular with that of Lt. Commander Jack Lean RN who was a strong supporter of the club, that the Commodore applied for a Royal Warrant in July 1935. Following Lean’s return to England in 1937, he was appointed as Akarana’s representative to the Yacht Racing Association.
The Royal Warrant finally arrived in 1938. The most interesting point about the Royal Warrant was the permission to deface the Blue Ensign with the naval, rather than the Imperial crown. At the time, the only other club to be so honoured was the Royal Ocean Racing Club in 1928. It would seem that Akarana Yacht Club’s close relationship with the Navy and its commitment to blue-water racing was recognised.
Royal Akarana Yacht Club had arrived! After members agreed to the relocation and name change, the doors of the new club finally opened on the 22nd August 1953 at Okahu Bay.
In 2016 Wilkie’s blue silk pennant was lowered for the first time in 122 years. It was covered with layers of protective bubble wrap and placed into a storage container. It was time for the next phase of changes for RAYC – the redevelopment of the site for the new club building.
It had been 88 years since the Okahu Bay clubhouse opened, and the building was tired. The members had outgrown the building’s capacity and their activities called for a new purpose-built facility.
In fact, a new design for the club building was first floated in the early 80s, but it would take 30 years for a workable concept to come together, with a new and community-inclusive model. Creating pathways to the sea for the wider community was the driving force in securing the future of one of New Zealand’s oldest and most-respected clubs.
In 2012 the Akarana Marine Sports Charitable Trust was formed by unanimous approval of all members and a collective of passionate and enthusiastic members entrusted to ensure RAYC’s preservation set to work securing the funding and consents required for the new building.
The club had grown from a group of enthusiastic yachties to include over 80 paddlers who now based themselves at the facility, and the membership was further enhanced by a keen group of Waka Ama athletes.
Olympian’s also saw the benefit of being based at RAYC with Peter Burling and Blair Tuke training in the waters off Okahu Bay and Mechanics Bay prior to their 2012 London Olympic Games silver medal win.
And the trend continued, with Alex Maloney and Molly Meech choosing the club as their base for the 2016 Olympic Games where they too won a silver medal. Burling and Tuke, training alongside Maloney and Meech at RAYC, claimed the gold medal at the same event in Rio.
With the support of Orakei Local Board, Auckland City Council and a wide group of community stakeholders, the Akarana Marine Sports Charitable Trust received approval to demolish the old club building which had stood since 1928 – and build a new home. This year the doors of the new Hyundai Marine Sports Centre open to give all RAYC sailors, paddlers and water enthusiasts from right across the wider community a new home and a continued path way to the sea.
Taking pride of place at the new facility is the RAYC Sailing Academy. During the 2017/2018 season the Akarana Sailing Academy saw over 6,000 young sailors learning the ropes under the guidance of qualified Yachting New Zealand coaches and managers. The academy was first introduced in 2001 and this year celebrates 18 years of on the water teaching. Since the academy’s launch, RAYC has acquired 85 training boats and aims to have 120 by the end of 2019.
Training Optis, racing Optimists, O’Pen Bics, RS Fevas, 420s an RS Quest and now 20 brand new Lasers make up the fleet of boats available for the Academy classes, as well as a fleet of coach and safety boats to ensure every sailor is well-monitored on the water.
RAYC has really established itself as a youth club over the last five years and collaborates with Kohimarama Yacht Club, Glendownie Yacht Club, Tamaki Yacht Club and Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron for the development of youth sailing.
Academy graduates Eli Liefting and Rose Dickson became the first world champions who honed their skills under the guidance of the Akarana coaches. Liefting and Dickson won the 2016 RS Feva World Championship in Europe, showcasing the Club and bringing focus to its resources as a sought-after location for sailor development.
RAYC is known as the ‘home of bluewater sailing’ – a title it’s held since establishing the first Auckland-toSydney trans-Tasman race in 1931. Since then the club’s hosted an abundance of offshore races including the introduction of category one offshore races to Fiji and New Caledonia.
Four-time Olympian and two-time medallist Rod Davis, who has over 40 years of involvement with the America’s Cup as both a skipper and a coach, has taken on the role of Akarana Sailing Director and is charged with taking the club’s sailing programmes into the future. Everything from grassroots through to grand prix inshore and offshore events are on the schedule over the next few years.
“We plan on expanding our current blue water programme to reach further destinations and cover more sea miles to ensure we have options available for those wishing to expand their sailing career into the world of offshore yachting,” says Davis.
“But with that we are also ensuring we have state-of-the-art local programmes, including the commencement of the Twilight grand prix midweek Laser series which will utilise our fleet of 20 Lasers, but is also open to those who wish to bring their own boats to the club. Of course we can’t forget about the foiling generation and the club is working towards moving into this area of sailing as well,” he adds.
In December this year RAYC will host the 49er, 49erFX and Nacra 17 World Championships. The best sailors from around the world will descend on the club for weeks prior to the regatta and call the club home leading into the event.
While the name of the club, its location and premises may have evolved since 1895, the member’s passion and commitment for the sport of sailing has continued to be driving force behind all major decisions.
With the move into the new clubhouse this year, they will be housed in a modern building, with access to new facilities, a seven-day-a-week bar and restaurant, and abundance of meeting space. But the core values remain the same.
RAYC is an inclusive, access all areas club with the best sailing and water sports options on offer to anyone who is keen to experience the Hauraki Gulf and beyond.
Since 1895 RAYC – and its forbears – have been creating path ways to the sea, and this is guaranteed for at least the next 124 years.