Calm follows tumultuous times

CHRIS HYDE
Last updated 14:00 19/12/2012
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HUMMING ALONG: Manawatu Power boater Rochelle Dennis in her trusty Clubman.

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During the past few years, members of the Manawatu Power Boat Club have learnt that when things are not going right, you have to keep going left.

Every week the 20-boat club trains on a small stretch of the Manawatu River, south of Foxton, practising for their high-speed, high-adrenalin races, where the most important thing to remember is to always turn left.

The club launched into the calm waters of the Manawatu in 1962, but in 50 years, it has never suffered such tumultuous times as during the past three years.

"I'd love to catch the bastard" are the first words out of club commodore James Knight's mouth as he talks about the arsonist who burned the clubrooms to the ground in August 2010.

The offender has never been caught.

The clubrooms burned so brightly on that day that the Foxton Volunteer Fire Brigade saw the blaze from town, five kilometres away, Knight says.

The power-boating club lost 48 years of priceless memorabilia in the fire, as well as all the infrastructure it needed to host major national regattas.

A "beloved" tractor it used to launch boats snapped in two from the heat.

All up, Knight estimates the damage cost the club about $200,000 and insurance covered only $80,000 of that.

Then, at the beginning of last year, brazen thieves "finished the job", making off with the club's 22,000-litre water tank.

They have also yet to be caught.

"I couldn't believe it.

"It was bewildering," he says.

"We've lost a lot of money that club members have put into this club.

"We've had to scrape and borrow what we can for the last few years.

"A few things are only just starting to come right now."

While the arson might have emptied the club's coffers, it has only strengthened its membership base.

Secretary-treasurer Rochelle Dennis notes with pride that the club's membership has almost doubled in the last year.

Membership now sits at about 50.

"Before the fire, we had only nine boats we used and now we have 20.

"To be honest, the fire has not changed much.

"It has probably brought us together even more. Other than that, not much has changed.

"We just hire everything, such as marquees and chillers, and take them down to the river.

"When we had clubrooms, everyone just drank outside anyway, so there has been no real change."

Attention at the club has now shifted to showing how far it has come, with the club's big annual event, the Gold Cup regatta, in two weeks.

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The regatta runs over two days and features a variety of different classes of boats, culminating in the main event, the 42nd running of the Gold Cup.

Australian Chris Palmer is bringing his 2000hp boat, The Outlaw, to try to win the cup off New Zealander Steve Hughes.

The boats are expected to reach speeds of more than 200kmh.

Dennis will race that weekend in a slightly slower Clubman's boat, attractive to her because they run on the smell of an oily rag. "In a clubman, I would generally go through only 20 litres of fuel in a weekend.

"I don't know any other motorsports where you can go that fast and use that little."

Clubmans are the fastest growing power boat class in New Zealand.

The Manawatu River will host the Clubmans North Island Championships as part of the regatta and Dennis expects there to be up to 20 boats on the water.

It is another step on the path to normality for the club, which is piece by piece restocking its infrastructure.

It recently bought a purple and white second-hand bus, which it has fitted with speakers to be used as a control tower.

Talks about new clubrooms are ongoing, but the club is vowing to rebuild.

For now, the boats will keep skipping across the water, turning left, hoping the river will not throw up any other obstacles.

* The Manawatu Power Boat Club Gold Cup regatta will be held on December 29 and 30 at Whirokino. Entry: adults $10, under-14 free. For more information, phone Rochelle Dennis, 04 905 7380.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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