Nelson Yacht Club


Ever since 1843, when crowds gathered on a wet and windy summer day to watch the first official boat racing in Nelson, port officials have enjoyed a close alliance with the city's yachting clubs. In 2007 the Nelson Yacht Club celebrated 150 years since its foundation.  

Nelson Yacht ClubNelson Yacht Club sailing boats. Bill Evans image courtesy Nelson Yacht Club
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James Smith Cross, coxswain on the Deal boat that had slipped the European expedition party into Nelson Haven in late 1841, became the first man in Nelson to win a sailing race in his vessel Pilot in that inaugural 1843 Anniversary Day regatta. He would later become Nelson's pilot and harbourmaster.  

Nelson RegattaNelson Regatta, the Nelson Provincial Museum, AC959
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It wasn't long before ship chandler and marine surveyor William Akersten and Nelson merchant and wharf owner Captain Nicholson formalised their association with the fledgling sport of sailboat racing. They saw the potential for Nelson in boating development, which they knew could be achieved through regular sailing events.   Captain Akersten would become a founding member of the Nelson Yacht Club, on March 25 1857, and Captain Nicholson the donor of a trophy - the Nelson Yacht Club Grand Challenge Cup,1 first presented in 1858. This cup caused such bitter rivalry between two men vying for it that in 1859 the Sydney Yacht Club intervened to settle the score.

The support from these early merchants fostered a level of sophistication that attracted nationwide attention. From the 1860s swift and elegant sailing boats from Auckland and Canterbury would regularly race on Nelson Harbour, for grand trophies and large amounts of prize money, while the public placed their bets.

At this time the Shaw Saville & Co Trophy2 was presented to Nelson's sailboat fraternity by shipping line founders Walter Shaw and Robert Saville, who would later form a shipping service to New Zealand.

From the 1920s the Brown family, who were behind the Anchor Shipping & Foundry Co, made a formidable contribution to yachting not only in Nelson, but also in New Zealand with the later success of Noel Brown and his beautiful yacht Tawhiri. Through the family firm, Noel had close links with the Nelson Harbour Board  and after approaches from the sailing club (known then as the Aurora Sailing Club), the Harbour Board built it a clubhouse, with pine decking, including caulking from the SS Ngaio. Board chairman Alfred Gould officially opened the first clubrooms on December 21, 1938. 

In 1928 the Nelson Harbour Board established a firm link with successive sailing clubs that exists today. It stepped in to help settle a decision by the City Council to allow the Nelson Power Boat Club to build clubrooms on Haulashore Island. The Aurora Sailing Club argued that the beach in question was the only sandy space suitable for safe bathing inside the harbour, and was ‘particularly frequented' by the children of Nelson. They won only after the Harbour Board told the Council it controlled the foreshore below high-water mark. The Harbour Board overturned the power boat club's proposal and offered it the Government Magazine site on the Boulder Bank for a rental of £1 per year.

Nelson Yacht ClubNelson Yacht Club activities. Image courtesy Nelson Yacht Club
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Since then, the board and the various sailing clubs have enjoyed a close relationship, despite a few ups and downs in the 1960s, when there was much talk about the 'boat harbour' development that led to the new marina. Until the Port reform of the 1980s the Harbour Board owned the land where today's yacht club sits on the waterfront and was always a helpful landlord, assisted by people with a foot in both camps, such as Alfred Gould, Bob Highet (Sr), and Captain Gilbert lnkster.

Port Nelson remains a firm supporter of local yachting, and wishes club members past and present all the best for their celebrations in March next year.

This article was first published in Port Nelson Unlimited  November 2006 (updated 2022)

Sources used in this story

  1. Correspondence (1859, July 20) Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle, p. 2
  2. The Nelson Evening Mail (1872, January 18)  Nelson Evening Mail, p, 2

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