Mercury Bay History Series – Water Sports and Recreation in Mercury Bay
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Mercury Bay History Series – Water Sports and Recreation in Mercury Bay

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Royal boat on the Water at Mercury Bay near Whitianga

Mercury Bay Historical Society presents ‘Snippets of local Mercury Bay History’ – a series of online articles sharing key moments and themes of local history.

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When roads were virtually non-existent in our quiet isolated area of Mercury Bay, rivers and coastal harbours and waterways were our means for getting from A to B, and carrying all freight to our Whitianga township. Our waterways were also used for recreation.

One of our earliest recorded water sport competitions was a whale boat regatta held on the Waiwawa River during 1867-1868 at the Te Hoho settlement, Maori versus Pakeha. Thomas Carina, an early Whitianga businessman donated £50 for a sculling race which attracted top Australian scullers, Messenger and Floyd.

Between the years 1873 and 1876 the 30 ton Mercury, which was built at William Whites boat yard in Whitianga, competed successfully in the big trader cutter races in the Auckland Regatta. By the mid 1880's a full regatta was been run in Mercury Bay over Easter.

On December 30 1887, the Northern Wairoa flagship the SS Iona, skippered by Captain Amodeo, sailed in from Auckland, complete with visitors and Sheehan's band. Sail boats 16 foot and under raced for a first prize of £4.

Early Regattas To Fund Raise For the Mercury Bay Hospital

With the establishment of the Mercury Bay hospital in 1898, the regattas were used as part of many fund raising activities that were needed to keep it open. This was continued until the hospital's administration board came under the Thames Hospital Board in 1939. 

Early regatta events included Maori canoe racing between the wharves. Swimming horses across the estuary and a race where the rider had to lead the horse and swim with it around the top wharf and back to the beach on the other side. With the outbreak of the Second World War any thoughts of continuing the regattas was suspended. 

Establishment of the Mercury Bay Boating Club

In 1946 a group of locals met to form a boating club. On such a casual foundation the official Mercury Bay Boating Club was born. Harry Carey Captain of our Lady Jocelyn was the first patron of the club and remained so until September 1959. 

The first modest fleet of club boats were all motorised and mainly commercial working boats. The first sailing boat to be a member of the club was the 28 foot Mangawai which was owned by Ben Bendall. This was followed by the Alice owned by Norman (Boy) Wells. 

Regular starters in the launch races during the early 1950's were Rowley Smith's Marlin, Burt Chaney's Ronomor, Bill Clarke's Norma, Toby Morcom's Peggy, Connie and Vazey Simon's Ngarie and Fred Harsants Margery Daw

In 1959, a move was successfully made to have our Boating Club officially recognized. In November 1961, the first life memberships were earned by A Bowman, A Chaney, M George, J Hawksword, and R A Smith. 


Cook's Bicentenary and Royal Visit

October 1967 saw the commencement of the yacht race between Tauranga and Mercury Bay. 1969 was a big year for Whitianga residents commemorating the bicentenary of Captain James Cook's visit to Mercury Bay. This commemoration included a visit from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth 2nd in the Royal Yacht Britannia with her husband Prince Phillip and their children Prince Charles and Princess Anne. 

America's Cup Challenge and World Championships

Bob Scott wrote in his December 1990 editorial "By choosing our Mercury Bay Boating Club as the challenger for America's Cup challenge in 1988, Sir Michael Fay succeeded in bringing the name of our Mercury Bay Boating Club to the fore with the yachting fraternity around the world ". 

January 1991 Auckland Anniversary weekend the Jolly Boat World Championships were held in Mercury Bay. Tim Bartlett and Maxine Kavali upheld local honour by carrying off the Championship Silver. 

Mercury Bay Historical Society Inc

The Mercury Bay Historical Society provides its members with a regular newsletter including fascinating information about local history. New members are always welcome to the society – $25 for family membership and $15 for single. 

Article Contributor

This article was provided by John Jackman, Chairman Mercury Bay Historical Society (2020).

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