FYC Jubilee Meeting - Greetings from New Zealand

I send Greetings to all my fellow yachties and especially to Pete my friend aye and mentor of so many years ago.

I’m sorry about my absence but I was unaware of your gathering until last week. 

I’m sure the following will be debated but it is my own memories and subject to hazy recollection. But I do recall that I was onboard Rosemary at anchor in the Holy Loch not Trilby when we gave the Polaris sentry such a hard time. 

Pete and I attended the Meeting at Musselburgh Arms with me not knowing what to expect never having been within a pub before or at any important meeting with adults. I’m sure Alex Stewart was there but I did not know him well at the time.

I found the debates about how the club was to function interesting but still a bit boring. As I recall there was a long discussion about voting rights for junior members. We juniors eventually became a very influential sub group which collapsed in crisis. The other debate I recall was the naming of the club which to my relief was Fisherrow Yacht Club.

Maud was a 32-foot gaff cutter, long of bowsprit, low of freeboard, shallow of draft, but without doubt the flagship of the club. She sailed on every occasion rain, hail or shine. She was the first to do everything and fulfilled Pete’s ambition to go through the three canals and home again. One of my favourite memories is sailing her in the snow with a mound of snow building on the coach roof as we tacked. The cabin was hot with the stove going like a blast furnace and the kettle on the boil. She would sail herself with us drinking tea on deck. Her skipper Pete led us teenagers into adventure some of which were a bit on the high side. But we all reveled in it and the skills I learnt during those eventful years have lasted with me ever since.  Even today when racing they know I will miss the stand-on boat as long as her skipper’s nerves hold. But it was engineless Maud who gave me those time and distance skills and Pete let me do it. 

I think it was Eric Scott, Mike Fairnie, Graham Thompson and I think one other whose name I forget who built an Enterprise dinghy called Casaba in the club’s kitchen. Tom and Edith Mitchell also built one in their second story flat and lowered it out of the window into Lochend road. One chap was trailing his boat home with the mast up and in a blinding flash shorted out the tram wires as he left New Street. Ian Mason was a truly gifted sailor; the rest of us had to work at it. Old Joe’s boat handling under sail was our yardstick. He put me ashore one day because I tied reef knots at the points of the second reef instead of a half bow, which leads me onto the old fishermen who would watch us sail in and out of the harbour. My mentor was Big Sandy (Mr. Brown to me).He would only give me information if I was stuck. He showed me how to take in a perfect reef to unload the sail and reefing has been my job on every yacht I’ve sailed on since. The old men as we called them would have endless discussions about us at their club at the bottom of Bush Street.


Crisis 1960?

The junior club members had now grown to serious proportions. The club and its activities were the centre of our teenage lives. I think Gus Mackay was junior captain and we were holding a super successful dance in the old Pavilion picture house. That night a storm was raging in the North Sea and all the East Coast fishing communities were glued to their short wave radios, my Mum and Dad included. My brother Walter was on a sputnik trawler which went off the air after turning over. When she came up  the watch keeper was half drowned all the wheelhouse windows were smashed and the instruments ruined. Miraculously the Gardner engine did not stop. I think my mother fainted when two policemen came to our door. But when Dad found out that they were looking for me about Epsom salts having been put into the FYC committee’s sugar bowl he was furious and told them in no uncertain terms to go back to Musselburgh until the storm was over. When I came home at 2300? Well thank God I was innocent.

The only humor in the whole sad affair was at the special meeting held about what should be done can be attributed to Sandra Moffat who was about 16 at the time. She stood up and said. ”It was a storm in a tea cup” talk about punning.It was the very best. The upshot was that our keys had to be handed in. The club’s junior membership avalanched but was saved from extinction by three people Johnny Downs, Rannie Aitkin and Pete Danahay. The culprits were eventually discovered and the club slowly recovered.  

We sailed to all the regatta venues and were put up in the club rooms if transport was a problem.

When I was 21 and my apprenticeship over I went to sea and although still sailing when back home I eventually reached New Zealand where sailing yachts was totally different. 

The champion yacht was the 60 foot cutter Ranger owned by Lou Tursell, a harbour board crane driver. He and his brothers built her during the Great Depression. Many great yachts were built to beat her but for 30 years she reigned supreme. I’m pretty sure from where they snitched her lines. 

In NZ it matters not how much money you have if you are good enough you will get there, only the best go forward. This system can be seen in NZ’s outstanding achievements in yacht racing. Around Whangarei harbour the WCC and all the other clubs will run all sorts of fund raising events to send a rep to a world champs if he or she is good enough.  A few years ago we were lining the funding up for a young chap’s entry to a world championship in Europe and at the final placing he was neck and neck with one other competitor. He was declined because he did not help the other competitors after the races. He got no sympathy. On the water competition is fierce where no prisoners are taken but once the race is over “esprit de coeur” is the rule.

New Zealand was the place for me and Joan was there.


I have just read your e-mail and am writing a bit about ourselves out here in NZ.

Joan is now the Whangarei Cruising Club’s Commodore, the first woman commodore since inception in 1921 and I am still racing every other Sunday in a Etchell which is a cross between a Dragon and a 6 metre. They are easy to sail but difficult to race there being lots of critical adjustments. Joan races on a lovely old sloop which I’m sure should be named “The Happy ship”. Temptress never misses a race whereas the Etchell is not supposed to sail in more than 28 knots.  But Graham her owner cares little about such things as blown out sails and staggering to windward. My job onboard Kahu is to point the boat in the right direction and tweak things. We sail with Phoebe Joan and my 12 year old granddaughter. She is the foredeck hand. Graham and I are too old and stiff to gybe the pole and play around on a narrow foredeck.

I arrived here in Jan 1966 and started sailing almost immediately onboard a engineless 62 foot Bluenose lookalike cutter called Cutty Sark and it was onboard her that Joan went for her first sail belting around Port Nicolson (Wellington Harbour) with two reefs in the main but having 16 ton of lead as ballast my only concern was losing the mast. Up until then Joan thought that sailing yachts was like travelling by snail coach. 

We bought a GP 14 in 1969 but only used it a bit before it was wrecked with a few other dinghies during Cyclone Carlotta.

In 1969 we decided to build our own yacht and I set to in designing her. After three months of painstaking drawings and calculations I decided to consult a designer. John Woolacott had a look at the drawings and said “What do you want me for?” This was very gratifying but I had had enough and could see insanity fast approaching as I tried to true up sections, waterlines and buttock lines. I had given up when only 4” out. The upshot was a corrected drawing and a list of offsets from which Odyssey was built.

The first frames were built onboard the good ship MV Karetu which had a large  and almost  empty tunnel space. We felled trees to make building blocks and smaller ones for scaffolding uprights which were rotting out fast by the time Odyssey was ready for launching. 

I was still at sea but did not have enough leave to finish our boat so I went ashore Jan 1972. Joan and I raced onboard the local keeler fleet whilst I was ashore. 

We lived onboard “Martinet” a fifty foot ketch for 18 months until virtually penniless. With Odyssey still unfinished and Joan pregnant with Suzie we decided that I had better go back to work. But first we had to deliver Martinet to her owners in Fiji. This was to be our first trip to the Islands leaving in June 1974. We were about half way there and I was working out the noon sight when I noticed that our chronometer (the kitchen clock) was stopped. We thought we knew where we were on the DR from the morning sight and I had to work the afternoon sight backwards to correct the clock. I was thrilled to see my first landfall (Cape Washington) appear where it was supposed to be. Joan was pregnant with Suzie on that trip and all six of us had a great time.

On arrival back in NZ I wrote to the Union Steamship Company and was immediately given a job back where I had left off but with one proviso - all my seniority had been wiped. I had to watch all those who had worked for me step up the ladder whilst I stayed on the same rung. I cared not a fig because my ladder went in another direction entirely.

Odyssey was launched in Jan 1977 almost 7 years to the day after starting. During that time Joan had to suffer the negativity of people who would say nothing to me. But we did have a few supporters of note mainly Frank Marks and Ces Watson who were both well known in NZ sailing circles.  They thought that Odyssey would be all I hoped for. “Just get her in the water and you’ll see”’ they both said. Meanwhile Joan soldiered on. As Odyssey went down the harbour for the first time she told me how hard it had been listening to all the negativity. Suzie was had just turned 2 and told all who would listen that “Mummy broke the bottle.” 

Suzie was born in Jan 1975 and whilst a baby would be quite happy watching us in the cockpit from her swing hanging from the cabin skylight. I think she was 1 when she sailed over to Great Barrier Island for the first time.

After her launching in 77 for eight years we sailed Odyssey visiting every harbour we could get into between Whangaroa and Tauranga. 

Then in 1987 it looked like we would end up very well off with lots of money in the bank but how would we feel when looking back at what we had exchanged the bank balance for. When I told the boss that that I was leaving and why he said that they would give me whatever help they could. They of course knew all about what I was doing whilst on leave and at my farewell lunch the boss said “I wish I had the guts to do the same.”

We sailed around the planet between June 1988 and Nov 1992, many of you will remember Odyssey laid up for the winter in Fisherrow harbour. Our trip had few hitches in fact from one grounding in Loch Hourn and near disaster at Minerva reef the voyage was incident free. Well nearly incident free.

We sailed via Torres strait, The Cape of Hope, The Caledonian Canal and the Panama Canal. Was it an adventure? Well I suppose it was but as anyone who has done it will tell you, “Starting is the hardest.”

We did a shakedown cruise to Tahiti in ‘86 just the four of us. Suzie was 11 and Morag 7. Both children had sailed all their lives. I asked Ru Smith the yacht inspector who was giving us our clearance. “What about our crew?” His reply was, “You’ll find it easy after what you’ve been doing.”

We did a lot of improvements to the rig after our Tahiti trip and in June 88 were on our way. We always took another person with us as a change in company for ourselves and the children. Some had been sailing, some had never been on a boat before, it did not matter to us as long as they were good company. But it was just us four after Trinidad.

Odyssey was mightily pooped crossing the Tasman then we sauntered up the Australian coast and through the Torres Strait. We stopped at Cocos Island for a lovely week after which we reluctantly sailed. 2 hours out of Cocos the port lower shrouds parted. A very slow gybe put us onto the starboard tack and I set up a jury rig. It was eight miles up wind to Cocos and 4000 down wind to Durban. We arrived in Durban in November 28 days out of Cocos. It was a fabulous trip under a jury rig with dolphins, whales, tuna and flying fish for company. Our decks were awash lots of the time as we ran down the windy Indian Trade.

We had Saint Elmo’s fire in the rigging as we rounded Madagascar. I had everyone come on deck to look at the phenomena but they all took one glance and went below.

We spent 8 months in SA staying for two months with my aunty Sophie in Johannesburg then sailed round to Capetown. What a dangerous coast that is. And the west coast (The Skeleton Coast) is worse.

The Atlantic trip up to Fisherrow was trouble free and Odyssey made Fisherrow her home port for a couple of years. We had a short holiday on the West Coast and a longer one in Norway then it was time to head back home.

We left Bowling basin in April. It was very windy and the new mainsail had never been used in anger before. Odyssey tore down to Larges where we moored to a laid up ferry and watched the coastguard rescue people in trouble. After dropping Walter and Suzie off in Campbelltown, we went to Peel, Falmouth, then across Biscay to Madeira where Walter’s wife Aunty Wilma joined us.

Odyssey was anti fouled in Trinidad and we wandered along the Venezuelan coast to Panama to avoid the hurricanes that were raging to the north of us. All we got was huge swells out of the East.

The Panama Canal dues were ridiculously cheap at $148 US. 

The Pacific trip had its highs and Lows.

The high was when we did a big series of runs in the trade SE of the Galapagos - they were 222, 283, 250 and 2 - -I forget the exact figure but we fairly leapt across the chart. 

The low was when we nearly hit Minerva Reef on the last leg to NZ. We been on a on a DR (Dead Reckoning) course since the previous evening with a big sea running (just as well). 


Odyssey was broad reaching with one reef down and averaging 9 knots. I knew the reef was close but exactly where I did not know but expected to see it around sunset. When darkness fell I went below to check a very poor 9 degree sight that Suzie had taken as the sun was going down. Suddenly the boat gave a jerk. Backwash flashed into my mind and I leapt on deck. I doubt if my feet touched the companion steps. Ahead was a wall of white foam. Grabbing the helm from Joan I put Odyssey across the wind. She was swept by the first sea then gathering speed I sent her through the wind. The No 2 genoa lost its clew and tried to destroy itself but the rig held and we clawed to windward and clear. 

We arrived back off Whangarei a few days later. It was a beautiful summer’s day in late November. ‘Why did we ever leave’, thought I.

That was 25 years ago. Joan and I are still sailing and as I said she is the WCC Commodore. Odyssey is a bit big for us now. But she is still very fast and sails like a dream. The grandchildren love being onboard her let alone sailing. Whangarei Cruising Club is a great club but we do not have a Maud nor a Peter Danahay to throw the rules aside and step into the unknown.

After our circumnavigation we had summer holidays onboard Odyssey but getting the family (Joan, Suzie, Morag and I) settled down into shore life again was the priority and with the children at university Joan started on her bucket list. First off was a B of Education and the bucket must have a hole in it because the list has no end. 

We are older now, but the sailing bug is still there and what is more the grandchildren love it. What more can one ask?We, out here in Kiwi wish you well even though we massacred Ben Ainslie and his challenge in the Louis Vuitton Cup. Next it was the Swedes, and now the Americans are lining up to face us.

We hope we enjoy your sailing as much as we are, and all the best for your Jubilee celebrations.

Best wishes, 

Sandy and Joan Livingstone