Around 125 years after she was first launched in Auckland, the 1895 58-foot gaff-rigged racer Ida is back on the Waitemata Harbour, sleek and gleaming after an 18-month restoration, ready to take on many of her former competitors once again. Story by Lawrence Schaffler. Still and moving images by Roger Mills.

Designed and built by Chas Bailey Jnr in 1895, Ida was conceived as a speed machine – a serious competitor to the ‘gun’ vessels racing around the Waitemata before the turn of the last century – and by all accounts she was very successful. Anecdotal evidence records many complaints from her competitors – “tired of seeing her backside up ahead.”
Her restoration at the hand of Stillwater’s Wayne Olsen (a seasoned veteran of classic come-back-from-the-dead projects) happened in the nick of time. She was rescued from an almost certain death-by-drowning in Sydney, where she’d been lying for many years, water-logged, derelict and forlorn.

Her return home is largely thanks to John Street – chairman of the Classic Yacht Charitable Trust and passionate advocate for the preservation of New Zealand’s maritime heritage. “She is a very important part of our history and it’s great to have her back,” says John.
That he found Ida – and was able to negotiate her purchase – involved quite a bit of luck. It all began over a casual lunch in August 2018 with a friend who mentioned he’d sailed on Ida – many, many years ago. Did John have any idea of where she was or what had happened to her? John didn’t but, with his curiosity piqued, he contacted Bill Donovan – the historian at the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron.
Bill not only knew that Ida was in Australia and had been lying semi-derelict on a mooring in Sydney for about a decade – but also that she happened to be for sale.
“Within 36 hours of that lunch discussion I was in Sydney talking to Ida’s owners,” remembers John. “My good friend Wayne Olsen went with me to inspect her and check whether she was worth buying and restoring. We decided she was.”
Though the record is a little unclear, it seems Ida went to Australia in or around 1960, and since then had cycled through three sets of owners. The most recent of these – Jerry Brookman and Catherine Shirley – owned the yacht for about 20 years and raced her in Sydney’s classic yacht fleet. But with Jerry’s failing health, sailing and maintaining Ida became a low priority. They accepted John’s offer.


Other than her triple-skin kauri hull and a few fittings, there’s not too much that’s original on Ida. Olsen says the deck beams and timbers were completely knackered and were replaced. “Just as well – at some stage, someone had added a doghouse. It looked awful – we removed it and returned her to a flush-decker – as when she was first launched.”
Ida’s hull had been ‘splined’ by someone in Australia. This procedure is a departure from traditional caulking cloth, and sees the gaps between the planks filled with wedge-shaped lengths of timber. Olsen says Oregon had been used for this – and much of it was rotten and had to be replaced. She was fitted with a new (more streamlined) rudder and pintles, as well as a beautifully-styled tiller. The rudder stock is original and bears her name and year of birth.

Her 20hp engine was well past its use-by date, and she’s now powered by a new 25hp Beta. In a nod to her racing pedigree, the drive train ends in a three-bladed, folding Gori prop. The entire interior is new, and it now includes a toilet and holding tank for extended, bowel-clenching regattas.
Olsen built the new Oregon rig – hollow mast, boom, gaff, spinnaker pole and bowsprit. As tradition dictates, a coin has been set into the base of the mast – this one, fittingly, is a 1c American piece minted in 1895. North Sails provided the new wardrobe, the sail plan drawn up by Paul Meyer.
Her standing rigging, too, had benefitted from modern technology. Where yachts of the period might have used galvanised steel shrouds and stays, Ida’s gear is a fancy Italian product called Armare which is not only much stronger than standard steel but actually looks like galvanised rope. In other words, it doesn’t detract from the yacht’s period styling and authenticity.

While Olsen’s craftsmanship is a pleasure to behold in its own right, Ida’s charm is enhanced by the generous use of gleaming bronze fittings – tiller, gooseneck, cleats – and the forest of belaying pins as the base of the mast. Olsen made the patterns for all of them – they were cast and polished by Silverdale’s North Harbour Foundry.
Remarkably, after all the work and new equipment, Ida has lost weight. She originally tipped the scales at 7,500kg – but is now 450kg lighter.
Owned by the Classic Yacht Charitable Trust (along with a number of other classics), Ida is berthed at Westhaven’s Silo Marina (alongside many other veterans) and is being skippered by racing legend Andy Ball.
If you’re in the area, venture down to the marina to have a look. She’s magnificent.