More than 100 years after she was first launched, an immaculately restored Rawhiti is sailing again. Harold Kidd.
Rawhiti deserved a splendid Auckland spring day and a large crowd of well-wishers and that’s what she got at her relaunch.
I have traced her extraordinary history in three Vintage Perspectives articles recently during the latter stages of her restoration by Peter Brookes, a job that kept on extending, solely in the pursuit of excellence.
Her relaunch was a double celebration – of the yacht herself and of the people who designed her, built her, raced her, maintained her and restored her.
A.T. ‘Harry’ Pittar was a New Zealand dentist and entrepreneur who commissioned some of this country’s most remarkable yachts, starting with the C. & W. Bailey-built 2½-rater Meteor in 1897 which he sold to Australia. That was followed by the Logan Bros 5-rater Rainbow in 1898 in which he won the Intercolonial Championship races in Sydney in January 1900.
Pittar then moved to Australia and commissioned the radical fin-keel racer Sunbeam from the Logans. In 1905 their final commission from him was Rawhiti, built to beat the Melbourne Fife crack Sayonara for the 100 Guinea Challenge Cup put up by Sayonara’s owner. Rawhiti would be Arch Logan’s last major yacht design until the 1930s.
Rawhiti was sailed across to Sydney on her own bottom to avoid import duties into Australia. Pittar sold her to C.T. Brockhoff, and it was Brockhoff who sailed her down to Melbourne in 1907 for the race with Sayonara. Although she won a series of races against other Victorian yachts, Rawhiti lost her challenge races against Sayonara.
In 1909 Brockhoff sold her to Sydney music publisher Frank Albert and E.E. Sayer, who would gain her the status as the champion of Sydney Harbour which she held – even through a conversion to a Bermudan rig in 1927 – until the 1930s when Albert got too busy to race her.
Hec Marler, a St. Mary’s Bay manufacturer, fell in love with Rawhiti on a wartime trip to Sydney in 1944 and persuaded Albert to sell her. At war’s end he had her refitted and sailed her back to Auckland himself in December 1946. After a process of rerigging and tuning, Rawhiti, as A2, settled into a golden period of racing and summer cruising under Marler family ownership.
When Hec died in 1954, his son Bruce took her over and flew the RNZYS Commodore’s flag from her from 1967 to 1969. Bruce always maintained Rawhiti to the highest standard but handed his lovely ship over to Don Brooke in 1969.
Don had needs for family cruising so Rawhiti succumbed – like so many of her contemporaries – to modernisation with a cabin top. With hindsight it was inevitable because the wonderful Logan and Bailey classics were now outmoded and out-performed by the post-war breed of racing yachts. The vigorous classic yacht movement of today was not in anyone’s contemplation, and it was years before Peter Smith’s seminal book on Kiwi yacht restoration, Rebecca, was published. Only two of Rawhiti’s Edwardian major yacht contemporaries, Ariki and Rawene, had retained their original gaff-cutter form. Despite the modifications, Don Brooke must be given credit for keeping Rawhiti alive for the future.
Over the years, Rawhiti drifted around between owners, even spending time on the Manukau Harbour. Greg Lee, his partner Rachael Rush, her sister Gabrielle and her partner Sam Stubbs bought her from a shed in Clevedon 10 years ago. Like many classic yacht enthusiasts, Greg came to the sport influenced by experience in the vintage and classic car movement, so he was well imbued with the principles of originality and authenticity at all costs.
“The original plan was to keep Rawhiti as she was when we bought her, and sail her for a number of years,” says Greg. “We had a vague plan to restore her at some future point. However, when we started racing, I got ‘upgrade-itis’ and started replacing various bits, so got used to spending money on her.”
The partners decided to go the whole hog and commissioned a full and authentic restoration by Peter Brookes of Kumeu. David Payne of the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney designed the gaff topsail cutter rig.
Brookes embarked on a monumental restoration. The virtues of the Logan three-skin diagonal monocoque construction when the boat was new were outstanding, but a tired diagonal hull, with a century of patches, tingles and screws, fractures and rot in inaccessible places requires an immense amount of skill and hard work. To compromise and bodge is a constant temptation but neither Brookes nor the Lee/Stubbs partnership would have any of that.
Along the way, Sam and Gabrielle dropped out, leaving Greg and Rachael to carry the torch. The job went on and on, but the standards of authenticity and tradesmanship were never compromised.
Launch day was sunny and gentle, and the crowd of admiring classic yachties was full of the warmth of Greg and Rachael’s success, and that of Peter Brookes whose workmanship and taste had produced such a glory. Rawhiti looked absolutely beautiful and I’m sure Arch Logan would have approved.
The Wynyard Quarter, now magically transformed into a fun place, was buzzing with people strolling around the fascinating new sights and rejoicing at the red trams. Indeed, one wondered if the Victorian trams gliding along the cobbled streets outside had witnessed Rawhiti’s tussles with Sayonara in Melbourne in 1907.
Waterfront Auckland laid on a reception in the former Team NZ sail loft where they had put together a display of images of Rawhiti, a splendid film of her sailing in Sydney and artifacts from her restoration, plus a lunch and appropriate libations. Bruce Marler gave a moving speech about his family’s ownership of Rawhiti and her four major lovers: Frank Albert of Sydney.
This article was published in the January 2012 edition of Boating NZ.