Rona and Lizzie are their names. Rona is 125 years of age while Lizzie is a mere 108 years old. These two classic old yachts are both in Oriental Bay — Rona, owned by the Rona Preservation Trust, is tied up in the corner of Chaffers Marina, while Lizzie, owned by the Wellington Classic Yacht Trust, is moored in Clyde Quay Marina just out from the clubrooms of the Royal Port Nicholson Yacht Club.
The Rona, a classic kauri racing yacht, was built for wealthy merchant and benefactor Alexander Turnbull and launched in 1893. It is the oldest continuously registered ship in New Zealand, winning the 1893 Auckland Regatta, the Wellington Regatta in 1895 and continuing to appear on the Royal Port Nicholson Yacht Club honours board right up until the 1960s.
According to the introductory sign beside the yacht, Rona’s state-of-the -art design and construction represents a rare blend of local and overseas ideas and shows New Zealanders were keenly aware of the best technological developments between the depression of the 1890s and World War I. The longevity of the diagonal hull construction relies on the unique stability of kauri. Had the Rona been built of any other timber, it’s extremely unlikely she would have lasted so well. She also provides insight into the way yacht racing was experienced by sailors then — there are no winches, and her low freeboard would have guaranteed a wet ride.
Rona was in a sorry state when bought in 1981 by Nelson architect John Palmer, who recognised its pedigree and spent nine years reconstructing and restoring it before it was purchased by the Rona Preservation Trust in 2006. Chairman of the trust, Tom Love, says the old yacht now needs a good deal of work, especially to the deck, which is leaking. They hope to tackle this soon and are fund-raising now to that end. Restoration of these old yachts is a long and painstaking process, stresses Gavin Pascoe of Wellington Classic Yacht Trust. “The trust tries to go back as close as possible, using the original building methods and building materials. Rona was initially restored in that way — that’s how she is now. She was finished quite a time ago. She was looked after on her moorings but she hardly ever went sailing. Now she needs some maintenance work.”
“There’s a discussion in the trust as to whether to keep her looking original but to use modern methods. Initially you spend more money going back to the original,” he explained, “but when you mix traditional methods with modern methods, I don’t think it really works. For instance, she’s got a slight twist to her stern, you can see it if you look at her from behind. The Rona Preservation Trust wants to untwist her and put in a whole modern deck to stop it happening again. But the thing is, it took 50 years for it to happen in the first place and with a modern deck there’s little air circulation underneath and it can rot quickly.”
The Lizzie is owned by the Wellington Classic Yacht Trust and bobs at its mooring in Clyde Quay Marina amongstthe modern yachts which are so much higher from the water than she is. It was the plight of Lizzie that caused the formation in 2010 of the Trust, which is registered as a New Zealand charity. A collective back then raised money to pay salvage and return Lizzie to Wellington. After more than two years of volunteer work and donations of money and material, she was re-launched in March 2013.
The very process of restoration and getting back to original material has given valuable lessons on techniques and materials and the particular practices of different boatyards of the classic era. These skills can be shared by the trust with anyone wanting to learn traditional boatbuilding methods in joinery, metalwork, ropework and boat handling.
Lizzie was built at Balaena Bay by Ted Bailey and launched in 1909. Ted Bailey was from Auckland — a younger brother of Charles and Walter Bailey (Bailey Bros shipbuilders) — but had set up business in Wellington around the turn of the century. Lizzie was the champion vessel of her division running up to World War I. Bailey, who also built champion racing centreboarders, carried the principles of what makes a fast boat into building Lizzie.
She had been significantly altered over the years, though her original keel structure and planking are complete. Over 2½ years, the Wellington Classic Yacht Trust restored her to her original configuration and she is once again sailing and racing in Wellington.
“Lizzie is the oldest surviving Wellington-built racing yacht,” says Gavin Pascoe. “She was very successful in her early years, an original and innovative design, not bound by class rules. She has been restored back to her original state and it is our intention is to keep it all original.” Other classic old yachts in the Clyde Quay marina, owned by the Trust are Atalanta, Mabel and Galatea. Atalanta was launched in 1894 in Auckland by Bailey Bros as a 40-foot centreboarder. She won the Wellington Interprovincial regatta in 1895 but was disqualified, which gave Rona the victory. She remained in Wellington and stayed highly competitive in racing for more than 70 years.
Mabel was launched in Auckland in 1895, also built by Bailey Bros. She sailed down the east coast to Wellington, then on to Nelson in 1917. From there, she was in Lyttelton for a time before returning to Wellington some time in the early 1960s. She is being restored back to her original configuration.
Galatea was launched in Auckland in 1910. Built by Le Huquet, she was one of many of his yachts which came to race and cruise in Wellington during the first 20 years of the century, due to being particularly well-suited to local conditions. These Le Huquet yachts were consistently top boats in Wellington during the 1920s and 1930s.
We’re lucky to have these marine treasures in our neighbourhood.
— Judith Doyle, Bay View newsletter 69, May 2017