There are a few important factors you need to run a successful women’s regatta: a great location, superb sailing conditions – and plenty of high-quality wine. Story  by Sarah Ell.

The Mud House Regatta, sailed out of Picton’s Waikawa Boating Club each spring, ticks all those boxes and more, providing challenging and exciting racing accompanied by gorgeous surroundings, fun social events and hundreds – yes, hundreds – of dolphins.

Waikawa’s been running the event for several years, and it’s growing – this year there were 24 crews competing, up from 17 in 2019. Even Covid-19 couldn’t stop it, though there were a few anxious moments for the Auckland crews in the weeks leading up to the event. But in the event it was masks on for a weekend in a slightly chilly version of paradise.

The regatta’s open to all female sailors, either full crews or individuals, who are then assigned to teams. Crews must be at least 50% female (with a woman on the helm) and local boats are chartered to race.

The focus is on fun and participation but there’s also a definite competitive element – this year there were two former women’s national champion teams competing, along with crews from Tauranga, Christchurch, Wellington and Nelson.

The team I sail with, the Marine Insurance Sailing Squad (MISS) led by Sally Garrett, won the event in 2019, and the crew came home full of stories and enthusiasm. I was determined not to miss out this year, and months before this year’s event (September 18-20) we’d kept our fingers crossed that regional travel would be allowed.

Flying down to the regatta, we bumped our way through the weather front that would sweep up the North Island (and wipe out a truck on Auckland’s Harbour Bridge), landing in Blenheim to grey skies and a distinct feeling of snow in the air. But by early afternoon the sun was shining and the touch of white on the hills above Picton quickly melted away.

We were lucky enough to be able to charter the same yacht the Mariner team won on last year – Global, a Beneteau First 367 owned by Marlborough farmer Dave Grigg. Dave’s a fantastic chap – he was happy to let us to take over his boat and just do what he was told.

This included trimming, providing vital local knowledge on the tricky Totaranui/Queen Charlotte Sound and making cups of tea between races. Another advantage to sailing Global is that it is about the same size as the MRX we usually sail on in Auckland and has similar systems, which made it easy for us to jump on and race.

My job for the weekend was trimming, along with Dave. Making up the rest of the MISS crew were skipper Sally, Jenny Price and Emma Stenhouse on bow and mast, Christine Weston on keyboards, and Sally’s partner Neil Easton as a floater.

The festivities – I mean the regatta – began with one of the highlights of the weekend: a cruise on Waikawa members’ launches out to a private bay for a comprehensive tasting of a flight of Mud House Wines.

This year the destination was the family bach of Kiwi Yachting founder (and regatta sponsor) Richard Macalister and his wife Isabel, who graciously allowed a gaggle of sailing women to descend upon their private haven, look around the gardens and drink wine in the sunshine on their beach.

On the cruise out to Macalister Cove, on the eastern side of Blackwood Bay, we were treated to a spectacular show by a huge pod of common dolphins, who seemed happy to come along for the ride and put smiles on everyone’s faces.

Saturday morning dawned beautifully clear and cold, with two Sounds races scheduled. We waited for wind in impossibly picturesque conditions, watching a seal sunning itself on the surface, one flipper in the air as if it was a solar panel.

In contrast to the Hauraki Gulf, it was like sailing on a lake, the satin-smooth waters of Totaranui hemmed in by dark-green hills, receding in the distance down the sound. And instead of avoiding the usual bunch of Auckland day-trippers there were several interisland ferries and a honking log-carrier departing from Picton.

Once the breeze came in the committee sent us off down the Sound on an upwind leg, then a two-sail reach towards Luke Rock at the entrance to Ruakaka Bay, opposite the Tory Channel, with the intention of a kite ride back to the finish.

But the race quickly turned into a masterclass in Sounds sailing, with the breeze coming, going, changing direction, building, dying out, and shifting left and right – sometimes all within the space of a few minutes.

Fortunately, with a combination of Sally’s meteorological know-how and Dave’s local knowledge, we tiptoed our way up the southern shore past the mouth of Whatamango Bay and emerged from the minefield with only the Ross 40 Revs ahead of us.

The course was shortened to finish at Luke Rock, and the other Ross 40, Satellite Spy, ran us down on waterline length just 200m from the finish line, but the Farr 30 Loco couldn’t quite catch us. Another nail was hammered in our handicap coffin as we crossed the line third.

After a leisurely cruise back up the Sound to Waikawa to start race two (enjoying the lunches provided as part of our entry fee), the racing began in a building breeze. The course was a triangle around Allports Island in up to 18 knots of cold southerly. Again, we took the southern shore to the top mark, then bore away and hoisted for a fast, tight kite ride across to the island.

The breeze did its ‘Sounds’ thing again when it came to the gybe, and after watching several of the other boats ending up on their ears we decided to drop and two-sail into the finish.

On Saturday night the yacht club hosted a dinner with guest speaker, but in the interests of social distancing we Aucklanders surrendered our tickets and had an early night before heading back out onto the Sound on Sunday morning for two windward-leeward races.

Just as well we’d rested – after another long wait for breeze it came in with a vengeance and we were straight into a vigorous windward-leeward in winds of up to 20 knots. True to form, though, it dropped back out again and we’d almost reached the time limit when the race committee, with admirable enthusiasm, managed to get the last race away to complete the series.

With a rather strenuous handicap (inflicted after winning every race in 2019), the best the MISS squad could manage this year was fifth overall in division one, but we still walked away with plenty of wine – and, more importantly, the 100% conviction that we will be back next year.

The Mud House Regatta has become one the largest women’s sailing events in the country, and no wonder. Everyone who comes and sails it wants to come back again and again, for that blend of fun and camaraderie, good racing and beautiful views.


Can we use your boat?

Would you lend your boat to a bunch of women? A WoW sailing woman might just ask you. Story by Kinsa Hays.

Of course! It’s what you do,” says Gun Caundle, member of the Tauranga Yacht and Power Boat Club (TYPBC) and owner of Rascal Tom, a Young 88 keeler. “If someone needs a boat and you’ve confidence in them, why not? It’s what I grew up with – you lend your boat.”

WoW – Women on Water – was established in 2001 by TYPBC to give women across a range of backgrounds, occupations and abilities the opportunity to experience sailing. The concept – taking complete beginners out sailing on Tauranga Harbour – now attracts over 100 women each WoW night during the summer season.
“What is remarkable,” says WoW sailor Lyndsay Hayward, “is that Gun trusts us to take the boat out and sail it without him on board. Most boat owners stay with the women.”
Race plans and courses are organised by the club while boats and crews are assigned by the WoW committee: women register and pay a fee. About 20 boats are available – four in racing, the others in the training division. All sail the same course with a Mark Foy start.

Gun was already racing with male crews. When his daughter came back to live in Tauranga in 2018, she crewed for him and later joined the WoW division. “I made my boat and myself available to WoW,” Gun says, “and asked the organisers to send me the same crew to save me explaining the same thing over and over again. There’s a better outcome with crew that turns up regularly.”
Sometimes women switch between boats as they become more experienced. “Having a different skipper each week is harder but a good way to learn,” says Anita Lala, another WoW veteran. “Skippers teach us different things about their yachts and how to sail them. I moved here from the South Island in 2016 and always wanted to sail so I signed up with WoW. I crewed with Elly’s father on his boat, then got talked into crewing on Rascal Tom.”
“I saw WoW advertised on Facebook,” adds Lyndsay. “If you want a regular spot on a boat, my advice is show up regularly, say YES every time you’re offered a sail, and bring some rum or beer along. I grew up sailing and knew I wanted to race, so I joined that particular division.”
“I met Lyndsay during the 2018 WoW season,” says Robyn Caundle. “Now we’re both part of the set crew who sail year-round on Gun’s boat.”

Working bees
I’m sitting on the steps of the slipway in the haul out area at Sulphur Point chatting to five women. Rascal Tom is up on a cradle, white paintwork polished and gleaming. The keel has been scraped down for a coat of antifouling and Gun is applying bog in places. The all-women crew who’ve helped prepare the yacht for the coming season are relaxing with a beer.

Gun joins us. “I’ve never had a working bee like this,” he observes. “With men, it just doesn’t happen.”
“We’re incredibly privileged in what you do for us,” someone says.
“Lending your boat is an attractive idea for an owner,” Gun grins. “The crew turn up with food and drink. They steer and sail. You sit back in the cabin and enjoy watching the dynamics of the crew, how they share and what they get out of it”
At first he sailed with the ladies, using only his voice to guide. He watched their enthusiasm while sailing in the 2018 Mount Maunganui Yacht Club (MMYC) winter series. He realised they should be sailing regularly in a competitive fleet, rather than every second week in the WoW Racing Division with only three other boats. He decided making Rascal Tom available would be one answer.
When Robyn asked, “May I put together an all-women’s crew?” he agreed without hesitation, knowing these women were competent and able to manoeuvre the boat safely. After all, he’d taught them!

The set crew for the 2020 summer racing season consists of Robyn, Lyndsay, Kate Harvey, Anita Lala, Rachel Watchorn and Bethany Ross and Elly Warren when available. They range in ages with various day jobs but, as Elly says, “it makes such a difference being a team, learning to work together, learning your role, becoming friends and discussing tactics together rather than only one of us making the decisions.”
“The women are way more enthusiastic than male crews,” Gun says. “Since they’re racing on Wednesday nights, I had to sack my male crew as well as myself. They didn’t mind. All in a good cause, they said.”
It’s a first – the only boat helmed by a female in the male-dominated event, a fitting development for TYPBC’s centenary year. In summer the MMYC organises Blue Water racing. It’s most exciting event is the Legends Regatta to Great Mercury Island over Labour Weekend. In 2019 boats started a day late because of a gale.
“After ten hours of boisterous winds we made it to Coralie Bay at dusk,” says Robyn, with a beaming smile. “Gun leapt on board before we’d even parked the boat – he was so pleased to see us. We received dozens of congratulations as the champagne corks popped.”

“On the way back, Rascal Tom set a record 13-knots while towing a tender,” adds Lyndsay. “We’ve done the Whangamata race, another overnighter. This year we’re entering the Bay of Islands Sailing Regatta. Hundreds of boats go. We’ll sail up, and when it’s over, Gun and Adelle will take the boat away for five weeks of cruising.” The ladies write up Rascal Tom’s logbook and include pictures as a visual record.
Gun has written two books on sailing, both well-received. Our secret weapon is a history of the P-class, which has played such a big part in New Zealand’s sailing history (it’s available on Amazon) and X-Rated, an account of the dramas in P-class Tanner Cup trials in Tauranga. He gave each contestant a copy as a memento.
Gun is also a cancer survivor. “It’s not a death sentence, but there’s a certain amount of discomfort. It’s a matter of confronting it, accepting the situation and getting on with what you’ve got. I have a lovely wife, four good kids and sailing to appreciate.”
He has written a poem as his salute to Big C. I hope it brings comfort to others facing the same kind of challenge.


We’ve known each other for a while;
what we’re going through is quite a trial.
You know I’m not a fearless man
but I’ll hang in here as long as I can.

Big C, you’re a pain in the arse,
but I can live with that.
I knew you only by reputation
until you introduced yourself
with a gob of blood in the toilet bowl.

Remember that fellow we saw who said:
it’s squamous cell carcinoma
and I said: That’s a relief.
I thought it was cancer

Our relationship had just begun
when we agreed to have some fun

We started doing things together
like hard drugs
A chemo session on paclitaxel was always good
for a three-day hangover.

What about those people at the Cancer Centre?
when I hooked up a bottle of Guinness
to the feeding tube up my nose?
That gave them a laugh.

And lying in a corpse pose on the table
with that mask over my face
looking like an alien
glowing with radiation.

You may be a pain in the arse
but you haven’t given me a lot of grief:
it wasn’t you
that made me so crook

Just you and me and the nurse,
we realized that it could be worse.

They call it being in remission
I call it being in remand
because when you show up again
I’ll be up for sentencing.

You’ve been a good mentor.
I’ve learned to appreciate
what I have
and that Big D is not to be feared.

Although you’re a pain in the arse
and you’re not well thought of
I don’t dislike you.
We’ve become mates.

We’ve been together for a while;
What we’re going through is quite a trial.
I won’t become a very old man
But I’ll hang in here as long as I can.

Gun Caundle, 2017