In February 1891 it looked as if the ‘Little Wonder Syndicate’ – which owned Mascotte – might be falling apart, or perhaps they were trying to cash in on their successes.

John Collins, one of the prominent members, advertised her for sale: “Champion Yacht, MASCOTTE, 14 tons, winner of Akaroa, Lyttelton and Wellington Regattas, complete with all new gear, racing sails &c….”

During that winter, Jimmy Sinclair prepared Mascotte for the first New Zealand Championship race to be held at the Wellington Regatta in January 1892. A new club, the Corinthian Yacht Club was formed at Warner’s Hotel in Christchurch as a breakaway from the Canterbury Yacht Club, with the intention of running races to a higher standard of ‘Corinthianism’.

This was ostensibly a reaction to the common practice of ballast-shifting, but clearly a device to exclude Mascotte and Jimmy Sinclair, who wasn’t invited to join. Prof. R.J. Scott, now the owner of the crack Green-built Zephyr, was a leading figure in the new club, which went on to hold a regular series of races – dominated by Pastime of course.

Bettina at the 1896 Lyttelton Regatta.  

The Akaroa Regatta in December 1891 saw an easy win for Mascotte, well ahead of Pastime and Mahanga. On January 1st 1892 the main race at the Lyttelton Regatta resulted in an effortless win for Mascotte, already cheekily flying ‘the New Zealand Champion flag’, with Pastime second and Mahanga third.

Advertisement

Shortly after, Mascotte and Campbell Brown’s Second Class yacht Onawe set off from Lyttelton for the Wellington Regatta and the first official New Zealand Championship races. Jimmy Sinclair sent a pigeon message from Mascotte: “Monday, January 11th; Mascotte off Kaikoura, 7 miles distant, Peninsula bearing WNW. Weather fine, wind southerly. Running 4 knots; every appearance of the weather holding fine throughout the day. We will have enough tucker to bring us back again; no one seems to care about eating. Onawe is within hail and wants more whisky. James Sinclair.”

The Championship race, for £100 and a trophy, was held in half a southerly gale with the three entrants, Mascotte, Mima and Maritana, double-reefed. Mascotte and Maritana were over the line at the start, allowing the shallow-draught Mima to romp away in the first board, a flat run.


Mascotte’s Dominion Yachting Cup, still in the Sinclair family.

But on the hard beat to Worser Bay, Mascotte gained a commanding lead which she just kept extending, to win convincingly. The New Zealand Times commented: “Yachting men freely acknowledge that there is nothing like the Mascotte in these waters, admitting that her builders have taught them a great deal. They also admit that the members of her crew have done the same by their superior skill”.

The syndicate offered Mascotte for sale in Wellington for £600, later reduced to £500. The best Wellington offer was £450, so they decided to keep her and sail her home. Jimmy Sinclair sailed her home under a jury ketch rig in company with Onawe.

Starting early in a light northerly they struck a strong southerly off Kaikoura and sheltered at Amuri Bluff for five days. They headed south in a light NE which hardened to a gale, forcing them to hang oil bags over the stern, finally arriving at their moorings “after a long and perilous voyage” at 2am the next day.

Mascotte (white hull) meets her match in Waitangi (black hull) at Wellington, January 1895.

At the Akaroa Regatta in December, Mascotte, giving a lot of time to the others, was over the line first, followed by Pastime. Mahanga won on handicap. The second of the New Zealand Championships for First and Second Class yachts was held at the Lyttelton Regatta on 1st January 1893. It was a fiasco.

Mascotte was the only entrant in the First Class and Onawe in the Second Class. They sailed over for a win. The Corinthian Club yachts had boycotted the races. Their sporting spirit and their ‘Corinthianism’ were not apparent. The newspapers carefully made no comment.

During the winter of 1893 there must have been some dissension among the members of the Little Wonder Syndicate, which owned Mascotte in shares, for she was offered for sale by Christchurch auctioneers on 31st July. Jimmy Sinclair bought her for £200 with others of the syndicate.

Colin Wild’s version of the bipod mast in 1947 on Tara

All was smiles again when the Canterbury Yacht Club held races at Diamond Harbour with the Corinthian Club in November. Pastime had been further ‘improved’. Mascotte took line honours but Pastime beat her on handicap. Mascotte did not enter the Akaroa Regatta in December; Pastime was first on line but was beaten on handicap by Zephyr, now owned by Scott, back to her bermudan rig, heavily modified in the hull and very fast.

Advertisement

On January 1st, 1894, the Lyttelton Regatta was a drifting match won by Mascotte with Pastime second. The third New Zealand Championship events were held in Auckland during its Anniversary Regatta at the end of January, when there were no outside entrants but drama when the Bloomfield brothers’ new Bailey Viking beat Tom Henderson’s import from Sydney, Volunteer.

Zephyr was the only Lyttelton yacht to enter the Akaroa Regatta that year and won easily from Mahanga. Enthusiasm for yachting in Canterbury seemed to be waning, but the next two years proved to be its high watermark, with some surprising twists favouring Pastime.

Mascotte recovering a crewmember overboard at Wellington, January 26th 1895

The 1895 Lyttelton Regatta resulted in another win for Mascotte with Collins’ Kia Ora second and R.J. Scott’s Zephyr third. Pastime retired with broken gaff jaws. The fourth New Zealand Championship races were held at the Wellington Regatta on 22nd January. Mascotte and Pastime again took the long trip north on January 14th 1895 where they met the new Robert Logan Auckland crack Waitangi sailed by Robert Logan Sr himself.

Waitangi won, with Mascotte second, Pastime third and Maritana fourth. In a handicap race a few days later Pastime went to the assistance of a crewman overboard from Mascotte. The race was resailed and Pastime won. Sinclair put Mascotte up for sale at auction while she was in Wellington, but failed to achieve the reserve of £300.

For some time Sinclair had been building highly competitive small yachts including Pakeha (1891), Queen Mab (1892) and later, Waterlily (1897). He was interested in alternatives to the conventional gaff rig of the time. Pakeha went a short way with ‘a French lug’.

Advertisement

Pakeha with her ‘French lug’ rig.

In December 1895 he built Bettina (named after the heroine in the comic opera Mascotte), a totally radical yacht that performed very well in the under one-rating class, starting with the 1895 Akaroa Regatta.

The Christchurch Press reported, “Bettina, an exceptionally smart little yacht, just built by J. Sinclair. Her rig is quite a novelty in these parts, and is a design of Mr Sinclair’s, for which he has taken out letters patent.” The dhow-like lateen sail was suspended between two iron sheer-legs in place of a conventional mast.

In the light centreboarder, it performed very well. It was an ancient rig, of course, used first by the Nile reed boats. The ‘hairpin’ or bipod mast has had revivals from time to time, notably in Colin Wild’s successful Tara of 1949.

In a gale at Lyttelton in early January 1896, Sinclair demonstrated a side advantage of the rig when he and his crew, his 12-year-old son Jimmy Jr, dropped the sail as the worst gusts hit and raised it again when they passed. In the third re-run of the Regatta up to one-rating, Bettina won handsomely.

Sinclair was having so much fun sailing Bettina with his son and refining the rig that he seemed to lose interest in sailing Mascotte which was beginning to show deterioration in the hull, probably through the hard off-shore passages she had made when additional shoring of her frames had been necessary and through electrolysis deterioration of her fastenings.

The fifth New Zealand Championship races were held in conjunction with the Lyttelton Regatta in January 1896. The First Class event was a dramatic race, the high water mark of South Island yachting contests of the period, with £100 prize-money.

Waitangi, now Wellington-owned, sailed down for the event and led all the way from the three Canterbury yachts, Zephyr, Pastime and Mascotte. But even the ultra-modern Waitangi could not make up for nippy little Zephyr’s handicap and skilful sailing by R.J. Scott.

On time, Zephyr was first by a whisker, Waitangi was second, Pastime third and Mascotte a bad fourth. Sinclair had taken two tons of ballast out of Mascotte and shortened her rig to lower her rating and increase her time allowance on handicap, but the alterations had ruined her performance.

This was the last of the New Zealand Championships. The interport journeys were hazardous. This was demonstrated by the Centennial Regatta in 1940, a bold revival race from Lyttelton to Wellington, when the fleet was scattered. Then, in 1951, in the Canterbury Centennial Regatta from Wellington to Lyttelton, conditions were even worse than in 1940. Despite vastly improved facilities for offshore racing, including better forecasting, radio and RNZAF air cover, the yachts Argo and Husky and their crews simply disappeared.

In 1898 Pastime again won the Lyttelton Regatta, Onawe was second and Mascotte withdrew. Sinclair had installed a Bettina- type lateen rig in Mascotte, “hardwood sheerlegs to carry a huge lug sail, in place of the ordinary pole mast with mainsail and gaff. She will spread considerably less sail, which has reduced her rating very considerably, but I am somewhat dubious about the success of the alteration,” said the Lyttelton Times. It was a light day. The rig failed to propel the hefty yacht adequately or to point. Jimmy gave up after the second round. Later, when the sheerlegs collapsed on a trip to Akaroa, Jimmy abandoned the experiment.

In a later article I shall follow the fortunes of Jimmy Sinclair, his brothers and their many sons, mainly in centreboard yachting. BNZ