Atalanta's shaky journey north

JAMES HOLLINGS
Last updated 09:31 22/08/2013
atalanta
ROYAL PORT NICHOLSON YACHT CLUB

Historic racer: Atalanta under full sail, about 1900.

atalanta
JAMES HOLLINGS
Home and dry: Gavin Pascoe of the Wellington Classic Yacht Trust is thrilled to have historic racer Atalanta back in Wellington for restoration.

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The Wellingtonian

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Even an earthquake couldn't stop Wellington thoroughbred Atalanta reaching the finish line.

There was an emotional homecoming on Saturday for the famous yacht, which arrived from Dunedin by truck and ferry for restoration by the Wellington Classic Yacht Trust.

Trust spokesman Gavin Pascoe said Atalanta was on a truck crossing the Seddon bridge when Friday's 6.6 magnitude quake hit.

It made it across just before the bridge was closed - giving the driver a few grey hairs in the process.

"It was fish-tailing; the driver didn't think he was going to make it."

Mr Pascoe said the sleek 40-footer was probably Wellington's most famous racing yacht, being a consistent race- winner for more than half a century.

Built in 1894, it won its division of the prestigious Wellington regatta in 1898.

Mr Pascoe said the regatta was New Zealand's premier sports event, attracting crowds of thousands and yachts from all over the country.

As late as 1948, Atalanta was still winning - being the first yacht to win the Mills Challenge Cup (for Wellington's top first division yacht) three years in a row. It thus retired the cup.

Mr Pascoe said it was "overwhelming" to see the yacht back.

"It's just amazing to be able to be part of bringing this heritage back to Wellington," he said.

"Atalanta has been part of Wellington's yachting history for over 100 years and today we had the descendants of three different owners coming along in the driving rain to welcome the boat home."

Among those who turned out in driving rain to welcome Atalanta were well-known local yacht designer Bruce Askew, whose father, Hugh, owned it when it won the Mills Cup, and former owner Pat Millar, 92.

Atalanta was donated by her current owner, Julian Matson, of Dunedin.

Mr Pascoe said trust supporters Meric and Heather Lindsay donated the $12,000 delivery fee, with sponsorship from Strait Shipping and insurers Allfinanz, and assistance from local yachties, Exclusive Boat Haulage and Evans Bay Yacht Club.

He said it was planned to convert the boat back to its original gaff rig, and to restore the elaborate kauri interior, built for its first owner.

He expected the racer's gleaming wooden spars and billowing canvas would be gracing the harbour in a year to 18 months.

It will join a rapidly growing fleet of wooden classic boats in Wellington.

In the past three years the trust has restored Lizzie, a 104-year-old 22-foot racing yacht, the centreboarder Mystery, and is working on Mahoe, a 109-year-old Sounds mailboat.

There are at least five other classic wooden yachts already restored or being restored.

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- The Wellingtonian

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