Part 4 – George Andrews and Betty

The furore surrounding George Andrews and Betty’s win in the 1926 Sanders Cup contest in Dunedin, did not so much die down as simmer (See Vintage Viewpoint November 1998). Rumour and innuendo, sometimes of a personal nature, continued to bubble up from the South. Betty, was `not a true Rona-Jellicoe’, she was `too fine’, `too full’.

If there were any genuine irregularities, they were not obvious and her detractors could only speculate on some vague `unfairness’ about her, to rationalise her successes. To them, it seemed well nigh impossible for an amateur to design such a boat, let alone build her; sail her and so comprehensively beat the professionally built hulls. She had to be illegal, for nothing else made any sense.

Aucklanders largely remained above the debate, which was essentially a southern affair, but were quite taken aback by its intensity. AYMBA members, E.J. `Manny’ Kelly and Charles Palmer, on their return to Auckland following the contest deplored the criticism leveled at Betty and her owner-skipper, who had been dubbed `a farmer’. In the parlance of the old style Edwardian yachtsmen, to be called a `farmer’ was a most derogatory term indeed and implied a sort of uncultured, unseamanlike approach to the noble sport of yachting.

By a peculiar twist, calling Andrews `a farmer’ was almost accurate. During the 1920’s he owned a tomato garden in the Heathcote Valley and had an interest in a West Coast dairy farm, so such a remark was probably intended as feeble joke. However, amid the indignation and rhetoric, it seems likely that his supporters assumed the worst, that a fine yachtsman was being grossly insulted.

It was ironic given the same Edwardian attitudes to professionalism that had racked the sport for many years, and the number of professionally built boats in the Jellicoe Class, that the venom was directed at the only truly amateur campaign in the entire competition.

The man at the centre of the storm, while largely unknown in the north, was already a legend in Canterbury. George Grey Andrews, named after his father’s close friend, Governor Sir George Grey, was born in 1880 and spent his early years messing about in boats on the Christchurch Estuary. He built and raced dinghies and punts of his own design, and for many years competed with distinction in the busy Estuary scow scene with the Christchurch Yacht Club.

During the First World War he was attached to the hospital ship Maheno as officer in charge of the ship’s launches evacuating the wounded from Gallipoli. He later gained a commission in the RNVR engaged in the Dover Patrol, in the North Sea and operations out of Great Yarmouth. He had earlier served an apprenticeship as an engineer and by War’s end had obtained a third class marine engineer’s certificate. At the end of the War, he returned to Canterbury and his hobby of small boat design.

In the many articles written about George Andrews’ yachts, one factor is common and that is his emphasis on weight reduction. From his champion 16-footer Ariti, through Betty, and his infamous Zeddie Gadfly, which won every race in the 1927 Cornwell Cup competition (with a different crew sailing her in every race), Andrews attributed their successes in no small way to his attempts to achieve a minimum weight.

This type of thinking is commonplace today but at the time, hull weight in small boats was not considered particularly important. Even Wilkie Wilkinson, a strong Andrews supporter, professed himself to be `impressed with the fact that her skipper attributed her wins to this lightness’, as if it was somehow unbelievable. In this approach, Andrews was probably well ahead of his time and more akin to the type of thinking Uffa Fox was then engaging in, half a world away.

Many years later in an article for Sea Spray, Andrews with hindsight, had this to say,

`[Betty’s] only feature of note was that she was lighter than most of the others. I wanted a boat that would always be good off the wind, where the boat had the most say, and which would rely on the crew and trickery to get her to windward.

In our first season in the class we had no time to get familiar with the feel of the boat and we had nothing to spare in our first contest in Dunedin. In the next two contests we could play with the other boats. Having the legs of them on or off the wind we could dawdle among them or let one have the lead at the last mark to make it look close racing.

The only race I recollect in which Betty was sailed all the way with conditions that suited her was the [Canterbury 14-foot] championship race at Lyttelton in 1927. In a fresh flawless breeze she finished 11 minutes ahead of the next boat.’

While much has been made of Betty’s lightness, she was built in kauri like all the others, it was a class rule, so any gross under building should have been obvious. Yet there was never any suggestion, even from her critics, that she was markedly different in weight and scantlings.

If she were truly light, she would have run away from all the opposition off the wind, yet in several of the Cup competitions, she was run down off the wind, and did not win every race by huge margins. The Sanders Cup races, with one or two notable exceptions, were hard fought campaigns, all around the course, and of Avalon, Rona and Betty, neither appeared to have any particular advantage over the other.

During a recent interview, Jack Gifford, who travelled to those Cup contests as an observer, recalled George Andrews as being a quiet, unassuming man and `a thinker’. In Gifford’s opinion, Betty and Avalon were the ` two best prepared and finished boats in the competition. There was nothing wrong with Betty, she measured and she was sailed exceptionally well.’

We suspect there may well have been significant weight differences between Betty and some of the Canterbury boats she defeated during the trials and in club races. Alongside her two great rivals Avalon and Rona, which were the only boats that regularly troubled her, there was probably very little difference. In fact the Aucklanders, rather than display the outrage of her southern competitors, treated Betty and her owner with the respect deserving of a tough and skilful competitor.

Many years later, George Andrews told Graham Mander that it was Betty’s sails that gave her the edge; their cut, and the care he took in their setting. Andrews already had a reputation on the Estuary as a brilliant helmsman. He had now shown his superiority, not only over the `harbourites’ at Lyttelton, which is how the Betty controversy started, but over the best in the Dominion as well. Perhaps, given his well-known reluctance for self-promotion, he allowed the boat to take all the credit, rather than tell everyone how well he had tuned her and how cleverly he had sailed her.

The 1927 Sanders Cup series was sailed on Lyttelton Harbour. Betty again dominated the local triallists and won the right to defend for Canterbury. Her opponents were a mix of old and new. Two restricted pre-Rona designs were present. Peggy again represented Wellington, while Otago challenged with the Winifred, the boat many thought should have represented Otago in the previous contest.

The Auckland scene was again in a state of flux. Many Waitemata clubs were extremely reluctant to pay the AYMBA-required Sanders Cup levies for a class that was so poorly supported. Others were disheartened by the unpleasantness arising from the previous series, and continued calls from Wellington and Otago to abandon the one-design ideal and return to a restricted class.

Only two boats, Joan and Rona had contested the Auckland trials and Alex Matthews skippering Rona was selected. Avalon’s owner, railwayman Frank Cloke, on transfer to the Hawkes Bay region, offered Avalon as their representative. Southland was there again, only this time the Stewart Islanders had a new Rona-Jellicoe design, named Murihiku II, built that winter by Glad Bailey.

Avalon, Rona and Betty were the only boats to show any form. Betty won the first race handsomely, while Avalon took the second, passing Betty downwind on the last leg to win by 8 seconds. Betty won the third, by a minute from Avalon.

In what has been described as a grand show of sportsmanship, but was also a display of supreme confidence with two wins in the bag, Andrews handed the tiller over to 18 year old Ian Treleaven for the fourth race.

In a building breeze, Rona all but ran away with the race but Betty, under young Treleaven, kept coming back at her. On the downwind leg to the finish, both were neck and neck and, as the Christchurch Press described it, “wing level with wing came Rona and Betty fairly booming down the wind. Sometimes Rona would poke her nose in front, sometimes Betty. A few yards from the line, Rona picked up and drew slightly ahead and in a dashing finish won by 2 seconds.”

The final race was another struggle between Betty and Rona. Betty made the early running but Rona caught and passed her on the final upwind leg to round 15 seconds ahead. Betty got ahead by a length or two and another grim downwind battle took place with Rona unsuccessfully trying to blanket Betty who ran out the winner by 18 seconds, to take the cup for a second time.

Apart from being Andrews’ second triumph, it was yet another emphatic victory for the Rona-Jellicoe supporters. Even Murihiku II, which had barely been in the water a week and lacked tuning, totally outclassed both the restricted boats Winifred and Peggy.

The congratulations had hardly subsided before the rumours about Betty’s alleged irregularities arose again. At the Dominion Conference, the rumblings again came from Otago and Lyttelton where, as the Press reporter said, `there appeared, however, to be a strong undercurrent of jealousy between Lyttelton and Christchurch.’ This time the doubters even went as far as implying that Rona, the prototype was not a true Rona-Jellicoe according to the plan.

Auckland’s Wilkie Wilkinson again defended Betty’s measurement certificate. Once again he went into print, waving the Union Jack and retelling the dramatic story of plucky young Sanders and his VC, reminding delegates that this memorial to Sanders’ heroism, should not be cheapened by petty squabbles. It all got rather messy as delegates postured and pontificated yet again, over just what was a true Rona-Jellicoe. It was even agreed that a Dominion measurer be appointed to measure all boats three months out from future contests, but nothing came of it.

The conference did, however, recognise the sterling efforts from the Southland men who, in the last six contests, had travelled some 6000 miles to compete. The 1928 series was set down for Paterson’s Inlet on Stewart Island, Murihiku’s home waters.

Delegates returned to their provinces and began to dissect the respective successes/failures of their campaigns, and make plans for Stewart Island.

Sanders Cup articles curtesy of Robin Elliot and Harold Kidd