Part 1: The 14-foot One Design

Apart from those few hardy souls racing in the 14-foot Javelin class, the Sanders Cup is mostly unknown to today’s yachtsmen. It is still the ultimate goal in the New Zealand Javelin national calendar, but for the rest of New Zealand, the event passes with barely a whisper.

It was not always so.

There was a time when the Sanders Cup was the ultimate prize in New Zealand yachting, and its raison d’etre, the 14-foot X-class (also known as the Jellicoe Class), was the ultimate New Zealand centreboarder nationwide. Nothing else matched them.

Such was its stature, that for almost forty years, newspapers around the country devoted as much space to the Sanders Cup in summer, as the Ranfurly Shield during winter. Details of who was racing in the local trials, the winners, the losers, and the unlucky, followed by tack for tack descriptions of each Sanders Cup race, province against province, were eagerly read by yachtsmen all over New Zealand.

The Sanders Cup elite, George Andrews, Billy Rogers, Peter Mander, Graham Mander, and all the other top-notch regional skippers who competed for it, were giants in their day and tremendous influences on their peers. To aspiring youngsters, they were heroes but at the same time, were yacht club regulars who rigged up alongside everyone else, you could see them most weekends, speak to them, watch them set up their boat, watch them race. By comparison, many of today’s yachting icons, having gained their (quite justifiable) nationwide recognition on an international stage, seem somewhat remote. The Sanders Cup in its heyday was New Zealand yachting through and through. The rest of the world did not matter.

X-Classes racing for the Sanders Cup
X-Classes racing for the Sanders Cup

The competition had its origins well back before the First World War. Following the demise in 1904, of New Zealand’s first centreboard class, the 18ft 6in Restricted Patiki (See Vintage Viewpoint August 1998), there were a number of moves to establish another modest centreboard class to attract young men into the sport. Little happened until 1908 when the Waitemata Dinghy Club was formed as an offshoot of the Devonport Yacht Club. For several years, this club held races for their restricted design 14-foot and 10-foot dinghies, but by 1912, WDC had gone into recess (most of its better dinghies had found a new home in, of all places, Kawhia).

W.A.`Wilkie’ Wilkinson, in his magazine, the New Zealand Yachtsman, was a regular champion of the smaller boats and again called for the re-establishment of `a small dinghy class suitable for young boys’. His proposed `Yachtsman 14-foot Dinghy’ was even backed by the offer of a completed 14-footer from Ernest Davis as a prize. Apart from a lot of talk, nothing much happened, although from time to time over the next four years his editorials peevishly brought up the topic, and complained about yachtsman’s apathy in general.

As well as influencing the yachting public through N.Z. Yachtsman, the energetic Wilkinson was also commodore of the powerful North Shore Yacht Club and did not readily let go of his `pet’ projects. On 23 October 1916, he submitted plans to the Auckland Yacht and Motor Boat Association for a smart little clinker 14-footer, drawn by Glad Bailey, son of Charles junior, and asked that they adopt it as a strict one design class. Within a month most clubs had agreed in principle, although perversely, Richmond adopted it unrestricted, Ponsonby and Manukau adopted it undecked, while North Shore’s fierce rivals, Victoria Cruising Club ignored it altogether.

With so much indecision, North Shore Yacht Club, under Wilkinson’s direction, went ahead and adopted the design as it stood. He then announced that Bailey was building a 14-footer to the plan for Messrs Frank Cloke and Joe Patrick, owners of the crack 24-foot linear rater Speedwell. The first 14-foot One Design was named Desert Gold (after a famous racehorse of the time), and launched in January 1917. Like Speedwell, she carried a huge red star on her mainsail, an indication of her owner’s strong socialist leanings. She was joined a few days later by another, La Ola, built by the Ross brothers of Orakei.

In the 1917 Auckland Anniversary Regatta, Desert Gold easily beat La Ola and Dixie, the last of the old WDC dinghies, and went on to win every race she entered that season. She dominated all 14-footers in 1917/18 season as well, and then for reasons unknown, was laid up.

Despite such a clear superiority over existing 14-footers, there was little interest in a new yacht class. The Great War in Europe was grinding to a close and yachting, like many other sports was still in limbo.

The 1918/19 season however saw the arrival of Betty, built by Walter Bailey and sailed by Norm Bailey. Like Desert Gold, Betty trounced any opposition and won both line and handicap in the 1919 Regatta. Among the opposition that day was George Honour in a chunky new square-bilge 14-footer named Sasanof, to whom Betty was giving 12 minutes. This lengthy handicap stands in sharp contrast to Ronald Carter’s florid prose in Little Ships wherein he described Sasanof, the prototype of the popular Y-Class, as being `light as a feather …..’, and how she ` .. blew across the water light as a piece of thistle down’. Pity any wildlife downwind of that particular thistle. By the end of the season, Betty was giving Sasanof 17 minutes.

Desert Gold returned to racing in the 1919/20 season, and immediately went into a head to head battle with Betty. The arrival of another, Meteor sailed by T.G. Parker added spice to the racing and all other 14-footers were left in the wake of the three One Designs. They dominated the 1920 Anniversary Regatta, all three raced off scratch. Next lowest handicap in that event was George Honour’s newest square bilge 14, Sea Sprite on 10 minutes handicap. More thistledown to endanger the local wildlife.

Post-war optimism, coupled with the social and economic changes that followed the end of World War I, fueled a boom in yacht club membership, yacht building and racing. It seemed the time was right for a new yacht class. Wilkinson was now shipping correspondent for the Auckland Star, and writing a weekly yachting column under the by-line `Speedwell’. He promoted the merits of the fledgling 14-foot class at every opportunity.

During the winter of 1920, the AYMBA approved the rules and restrictions for the 14-foot One Design Class, and guaranteed a period of 5 years before any further changes were to be made. Following this news, Wilkinson announced that inquiries had come `from all over New Zealand’ and that `Mr. H.P. Nees of the Otago Yacht Club was in town and will take back with him full plans of the 14-foot One Design class’.

Over the next few months, he endlessly reported the building news in the 14-foot class. Certainly, from a standing start, it was impressive stuff. Eleven were under construction, for such famous names as Lidgard, Bailey, Wild, Ewen, Gifford and Endean, with others imminent. Wilkinson canvassed prominent Auckland yachtsmen and raised £30 for prize money to be won over ten races, a small fortune by today’s standards. Even the august Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron, who had previously ignored centreboarders altogether, announced its intention of holding an Under-21 series for its junior members.

Mind you, their main reason for being involved in the first place (and indeed the main reason for the sudden popularity of the new class) was the knowledge that New Zealand’s incoming Governor General, Viscount Lord Jellicoe, was a keen yachting man. He had a preference for racing one-design class keelers, but at the time Auckland had no such class. Even so, he had indicated that he was prepared race smaller craft as long as they were `to a class design’.

The closest `class’ racing Auckland had at the time was among the red-hot 22-foot mullet boats. They were providing the most exciting racing on the harbour, but to the RNZYS patricians, the mere thought of Jellicoe patronising the smoky working class clubs of Ponsonby and Victoria, instead of the Squadron, would have been too horrible to contemplate. The 14-foot One Design it had to be then.

The entry of the Squadron into the One Design fray was good for the class, as all Auckland yacht clubs were now involved in some form or another.

All was not rosy however. The predominance of boatbuilders among the new owners raised eyebrows among many older yachtsmen for whom amateurism was a requirement for all proper yachtsmen. At the 1920 AGM of the North Shore Yacht Club, Mr. F.W. Chalmers commented on the construction cost rising from £35 to £76 and that `… instead of being sailed and handled by boys, they were sailed by men, including a number of professionals who were not out for the love of the sport but for what they could get out of it.’

Any further discussion on such Edwardian niceties paled into insignificance on 6 November 1920 when Wilkinson breathlessly announced in the Star, that the Governor General, Viscount Lord Jellicoe, the hero of Jutland, had placed an order with Charles Bailey junior for a 14-foot One Design. Prominent Squadron member, W.P. Endean, already had one being planked at Bailey’s, and sportingly offered to wait until another could be built, to allow Jellicoe to start the season on time. The new boat was a birthday present from Lady Jellicoe.

Model of the X-Class "Iron Duke", with the much newer Javelin "Night Nurse" in the Background
Model of the X-Class “Iron Duke”, with the much newer Javelin “Night Nurse” in the Background

Any likelihood of the class being purely an Auckland affair now vanished completely. A governor-general has always been the closest to royalty we have ever had, and in the patriotic fervour of post-war New Zealand, to have one sailing his own boat, in club races, and a war hero to boot, was just too appealing. Everyone wanted to be seen with `the great man’.
Model of the X-Class “Iron Duke”, with the much newer Javelin “Night Nurse” in the Background
The 1920/21 season opened to high expectations, and heightened further when the Otago Yacht and Motor Boat Association challenged their Auckland counterparts to a race to decide the championship of the 14-foot One Design class. Just how much Wilkinson had in engineering this is not known, but given his extensive contacts in the yachting community and the fact that he had been advocating just this sort of thing for well over ten years, it seems likely that he prodded his old Dunedin mates into a challenge.

Jellicoe’s boat, named Iron Duke was launched Monday 13 December 1920. The following Saturday at the North Shore Yacht Club, skippered by Jellicoe, with designer and builder, Glad Bailey in his crew, she finished fourth. Both officials and contestants complained about wash from the large spectator fleet.

By New Year 1921, fourteen One Designs were racing in Auckland; six were building in Dunedin and one at Russell. The class was further elevated by news that Messrs. Walker & Hall Limited had donated to RNZYS (who then vested it in the AYMBA), a 50 guinea championship cup, open to all New Zealand. The cup was dedicated to the memory of Devonport born Lieut.-Com. W.E. Sanders V.C., D.S.O. R.N.R., lost on the Q-ship Prize in August 1917.

The first bout of national Sanders Cup fever was under way.

Sanders Cup articles courtesy of Robin Elliot and Harold Kidd