Sailors reunite in Invercargill after 42 years

Barrie Neilson, left, Mike MacKay, Lyn Winiata and Rangi Winiata have all reunited in Invercargill for the first time ...
John Hawkins

Barrie Neilson, left, Mike MacKay, Lyn Winiata and Rangi Winiata have all reunited in Invercargill for the first time since 1974, when they left Bluff harbour for a sailing adventure that would set up their lives. The Southland Times published a front-page story in 1974 when they left Bluff to begin the adventure.

Four Southlanders who left Bluff harbour for an overseas sailing adventure 42 years ago have reunited in Invercargill for the first time since.

In 1974 Mike MacKay, Barrie Neilson, Rangi Winiata and Lyn Diack, all in their 20s, were among a six person crew which left Bluff harbour for a sailing trip which had no end destination in mind, but with the aim of following the sun and having fun.

They spent four months sailing  MacKay's 45 foot sloop Sundancer up the east coast from Bluff to Whangarei, then across the Tasman to Sydney.

MacKay had spent $12,000 and four years building the Sundancer in Invercargill's Otepuni Ave prior to the trip.

The day before they left on their big adventure, they featured on the front page of the July 9, 1974 edition of The Southland Times, with MacKay saying he wanted to sail around the world.

The world trip never happened but the sailing adventure, which ended in Sydney, gave them confidence and changed their lives, they said.

The three men had all worked at the Alliance Freezing Works prior to leaving on their adventure, but bigger things awaited.

MacKay sold the yacht after reaching Sydney and has led a varied life - skippering yachts in the south of France, owning a fishing trawler at Whitianga, working as a lawyer in London and in 1986 he was the first New Zealander to go to Japan and start importing Japanese cars into the country.

"I am still doing it," said MacKay, who is married, has two daughters and three grandchildren and lives in Christchurch.

Neilson travelled to England via the Trans Siberian Railway after leaving the yacht in Sydney.

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He worked as a swimming instructor in London for four years before going to the Greek Islands to work as an engineer with a sailing company.

He and wife Heidi, who have two daughters, later took over the company, called, and are the owners of a 180 yacht fleet which takes tourists on sailing trips around the Greek Islands. 

Winiata and Diack, who were a couple when embarking on the sailing adventure to Sydney, returned to New Zealand and married in 1975 before travelling around the United Kingdom and Russia for two years. They returned to Southland where own a dairy farm at Dacre and have four children and seven grandchildren.

Meeting for the first time in Invercargill since the sailing trip 42 years was special, the four old travelling companions said.

"All of our lives really started on that voyage," Neilson said.

The journey across the Tasman had its "hairy" moments.

"The trip gave us a huge amount of confidence and appreciation of mother nature and the elements," Winiata said. 

As for Sundancer, MacKay said he last saw his old yacht in Half Moon Bay harbour in Auckland 15 years ago and reckons it's probably still being sailed around the South Pacific.







 - The Southland Times


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