North Shore Times : January 3rd 2013
www.northshoretimes.co.nz 15 NORTH SHORE TIMES, JANUARY 3, 2013 SPORT Mullet boat tradition remains strong By DANIELLE STREET Race day: Mullet boats take over the Waitemata Harbour on race day. Valued trophy: The sterling silver Lipton Cup was donated by Sir Thomas Lipton in the 1920s for the mullet boat class. David Nigh is a life member of the Ponsonby Cruising Club's mullet boat committee. Photo: DANIELLE STREET For life: Kevin Gunn, left, and David Nigh are both life-time members of the Ponsonby Cruising Club's mullet boat committee. Setting sail: The mullets racing on the Waitemata. LOWDOWN At the end of every summer for the last 90 years a fleet of mullet boats can be seen in the Waitemata Harbour rac- ing for the magnificent Lip- ton Cup. The hotly contested trophy stands taller than the America's Cup and was forged from sterling silver by the same British jewellers as its famous counterpart. Donated to the Ponsonby Cruising Club by tea baron Sir Thomas Lipton in 1922, the cup boasts intricate pat- terns of winged mermaids, tiny seahorses and is topped by a sculpture of a miniature yacht. Throughout the year it resides alongside more modest trophies in a glass cabinet at the Westhaven- based club. But each March it comes out for the Lipton Cup race. David Nigh, a life member of the club's mullet boat com- mittee, credits the cup with keeping mulletie'' culture afloat. The 22-foot class has survived because of that tro- phy, the Lipton Cup,'' he says. That is what has kept them alive.'' Now in his older years, Mr Nigh was first hooked into mullet boats as a fresh-faced 13 year old. I was fishing off Ponsonby wharf and this chap came down the wharf with a sail and a dozen beer. He told me to give him a hand, so I grab- bed the beer. I ended up going sailing on the Marika, which was quite a big thrill.'' Since those days he has owned three mullet boats, two of which were custom- built. Unique to the Auckland region, mullet boats are a working-class boat said to have originated around the 1880s. The vessels range from 18 to 26 feet in length and are characterised by their flat bottoms and dispro- portionately large sails. They probably carry the most sail area for their size in the world,'' Mr Nigh says. Because of their ability to travel in the shallows, the boats were originally used to sail up estuaries and net mul- let fish. The fishermen would race back to shore to obtain the best price from the markets. Sailors soon realised the nimble crafts were the perfect racing boat, and held regular races around the harbour and to the surrounding islands. It was in the early 1920s that Sir Thomas Lipton announced he would be gift- ing six bespoke cups to clubs around the world. Sir Thomas was a devout sailor and unsuccessfully attempted the America's Cup five times. His efforts earned him a specially designed cup for the best of all losers'' and made his tea brand famous. The Ponsonby Cruising Club members employed a lit- tle trickery to obtain one of the donated trophies from Sir Thomas for its mullet boat races, Mr Nigh says. The story goes they lined up outside the Esplanade Hotel in Devonport, which was a flash building in those days, and so he got this photo and thought it was very impressive. But the real yacht club was an old tin shed in St Mary's Bay.'' Since 1922 the cup has been presented to the win- ning team of the annual race. Traditionally the winners drank rum from the trophy, says lifetime committee mem- ber Kevin Gunn. For the celebrations after the race, they would fill the cup up with rum, but it's basically impossible to drink because the angels' wings end up in your eyes.'' Mr Gunn says the practice is frowned upon these days, but that didn't stop 2012 cup winner Rob Algie and his six- strong team from giving it a go. We drank rum out of it once all the old guys left,'' Mr Gunn says, conceding that the wings caused a bit of a problem. Mr Algie fell in love with mullet boats about nine years ago after reading a book about them. He says the challenge and camaraderie is what makes racing the boats so fun. They are just such hard work,'' he says. It's like a good game of cards, if you mess up, you really mess up. No one wants to go swim- ming, but you get pretty close sometimes.'' Mr Algie co-owns a kauri- plank mullet boat called Tamatea with three other young men. He had attempted winning the Lipton Cup on other boats a few times, but it was this year racing with Tamatea that he finally snagged the cup. It was like one of life's dreams. I couldn't believe it happened. It took a couple of months to sink in.'' Despite having the Lipton Cup race ticked off his bucket list, Mr Algie says he won't be walking away from mullet boats anytime soon. There is a legacy of rad old dudes that have kept racing, who have been at the helm in their 80s. So I can see me going for a while.'' What is a mullet boat? Unique to the Auckland region, mullet boats are a working-class boat said to have originated around the 1880s. The vessels range from 18 to 26 feet in length and are characterised by their flat bottoms and disproportionately large sails.
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