They were doctor’s orders of the kind Bernie Reid could only agree with. Keep rowing, mate – even if it hurts your ageing knees.

So, Akaroa-based Bernie – a multiple single sculls, even world age-group champion – designed a lovely recreational rowing boat in his mind and built it by eye in his shed from one sheet of 4mm plywood. It has no plans on paper.

It’s got lovely lean lines and sports a finely-crafted pair of long oars deployed on elegant outriggers fashioned from a yacht’s spreaders. Only, this boat – unlike all the racing shells Bernie has propelled in the past – has dispensed with the sliding seat.

Akaroa’s Bernie Reid in action.
Akaroa Boating Club’s first boat shed

Bernie had thus far remained relatively injury-free and fit, but a heart scare had cautioned him and his doctor. The solution: a recreational rowing boat Bernie can launch on his own and row every day, without the additional strain on his knees. The boat weighs in at 24kg and the sweeps are six inches shorter than is normal for a racing scull, in keeping with the little-less-effort approach.

So, every morning at about 9am Bernie strolls down to the historic rowing clubhouse and heads off for a quiet circuit on the water, usually accompanied by a few rare Hector’s dolphins. They are both iconic features of the bay.

Staying behind in the clubhouse are the memories of Bernie’s – and his family’s and friends’ – contribution to rowing in these parts, and much further afield.

Akaroa’s maiden double sculls champions, including Bernie’s father Dave
Bernie Reid competing internationally

Akaroa was for many years one of the most powerful rowing clubs in the country. In 1935, the eight from this remote harbour town became the Canterbury representative crew – the only time the entire Canterbury crew has come from one club. Bernie’s father Dave and his uncle Walter were among this champion crew.


Bernie himself went on to win the single sculls Masters’ World Championship in Italy in 1990 and in Miami in 1991.

Born in Akaroa, Bernie’s day job was house builder, but naturally with his wood-working skills, boats have always been a part of his life too. He built his first single scull, a finely-wrought craft sculpted from tortured plywood, 38 years ago.

Akaroa Boating Club’s third and current club house.

He also built the fast trailer-sailer Rapid Ride and worked on and sold quite a few yachts, including a trimaran that was for many years the fastest in the bay – and in all of Canterbury.

Along the way, Bernie helped restore the Akaroa Rowing Clubhouse in 1988. There’s history aplenty here. Old photos of great rowers, extensive honours boards with reams of gold lettering, a rowing four clinker-built from tōtara slid in among the rafters. Now the grand old building also hosts the Akaroa dinghy sailing club, and many a wedding.

Bernie’s bright red rowing boat is a reminder to all of us to live life to the full. And that rowing, just for fun, can also offer quiet, profound pleasure.

Bernie’s workshop – the neatest I have ever seen – used to be where the Walker family built the local coffins. But in defiance to all that, it’s also now produced the nicest wee recreational rowing boat, with the best back story. BNZ

Bernie rows his bright-red rowboat every day the conditions allow.