Tuesday, 27 November 2018

Waikiwi my 12 foot skiff.


At age 14 I had been working for a year or so with a local lawn mowing contractor, during my free time, at weekends and during school holidays. I earned some money which accumulated to a sum sufficient to buy my own sail boat. I trawled through the Auckland Star Classifieds for a boat for sale. One came up in Greenhithe. It was described as a 12 foot sailing dinghy on a registered road trailer. Father and I went to view it and were immediately impressed by its quality. It had beautifully varnished timber decks and varnished spruce mast. The double chine, plywood hull was immaculately painted in bright yellow with white below the water line. No one had any idea what class it was but I did not care, it looked just right to my eye. I paid the $150.00 asking price and made arrangements for its delivery to our family home in Waiake. The owner had to take it for a WOF. This took much longer that anyone had anticipated. My brothers and I sat on the curb waiting for several hours before it finally arrived in the late afternoon.

We rolled the trailer into our driveway and immediately set about rigging it up. 

What a monster it turned out to be. This was a boat to be reckoned with. The rig and sail area were big enough to power a boat of twice the size. The fully battened mainsail and genoa jib were of a beautiful light blue terylene sail cloth. It also had a masthead spinnaker in lightweight, rip stop nylon in navy blue and white stripes. The spinnaker pole alone was almost as long as the boat!
Waikiwi, From Left: Brother Marten, me and Father.

Waikiwi was 12 feet long and the mast was 18 feet. Once rigged it would not sit upright on the beach without the support of its trailer cradle. It had 2 trapeze wires with harnesses. No one locally had any better idea of what this boat could be. Someone suggested that it might be a Cherokee. (designed coincidentally by John Chapple, more of him later)

At the next available opportunity I took it to the beach for my first sail. All my friends were sailing P class and Starlings. They and their parents thought I was mad thinking about sailing a boat like Waikiwi by myself.

I didn't care. My first sail was memorable.

Thankfully the wind was light. Waikiwi shot away from the beach at high speed. The centreboard was close to 6 feet long which made it difficult to manage. I felt mildly anxious but exhilarated. This boat was a thorough bread after the Heron! After a short time I sailed back to the beach and made the obligatory passenger trips for my brothers, my Father and other curious onlookers keen for a ride. Oddly they never wanted to sail with me again after that.

I sailed Waikiwi at every available opportunity including every day after school. This involved handling the heavy road trailer and walking it all the way down the hill to the beach 2.5 km away and back again, up the hill, when I was cold and exhausted. This was no mean feat! There was an incentive for me to attain my drivers licence. (That is another story)

With a newly fitted longer tiller extension I rapidly learned how to manage this oversized sailboat including single handed trapeze, jib and spinnaker handling.

I did not realise it at the time but I was developing a level strength, fitness and skills that few of my peers could match. At age 14 I was a relative giant at over 6 feet tall and I weighed 12 stone. Furthermore I was reading everything that I could find about sailing. I read every book on the subject in our school library, in our local library and it gave my parents the perfect gift idea for every birthday and Christmas for several years running.

My father subscribed to several sailing magazines including Seaspray, a New Zealand wide yachting and boating publication. He also bought back issues when they came up for sale. It was from these back issues that I learned what Waikiwi actually was.

In an issue from the 1960's I found an article about the Silasec Cup which was alternately contested one year in Australia and in NZ the next. This issue covered the shock defeat of the reigning Australian champions to a North Shore based man called John Chapple and his boat Flamingo. Black and white photos illustrated the article and to my amazement and surprise the boats were identical to Waikiwi. Each competing boat featured a Q emblem on the sail. My mystery had been solved, Waikiwi was now identified without question as an unrestricted 12 foot skiff Q class from the early 1960's. The article revealed to me that Waikiwi was between 10 and 12 years old, no longer race competitive in her fleet but still relatively quick for its size and weight. 

Once I knew this I set about painting her new identity on her mainsail in the form of a capital "Q" in black enamel, the start of my sign writing career.

Once I had mastered sailing Waikiwi I began paying the entry fee to join in the local weekend yacht racing at the Torbay Boating club.

The race committee put me in with the Paper Tiger race feet, these were 14 foot racing catamarans, still popular today. We had a summer of comparatively light winds that season, as a result, me in my Q class sailing single handed, cleaned up on the scoreboard more often than not. I was getting attention from the senior sailors in the club and earning the respect of my peers for my skill and local knowledge. I quickly realised that boat speed wasn't everything. I learned to read the wind shifts on the water, to look for the tide and use its advantages when they were there. I read the racing rules and used them to my advantage as well. I could tack very quickly compared to a Paper Tiger which came to a complete standstill when tacking. Once it got above 10 knots of wind though, I was overpowered and they showed me a clean pair of heels. 

The following summer I began to tire of battling with Waikiwi on the race course.
I did not enjoy being the odd boat out all the time and the miss match when the wind blew hard made life very difficult for me. This was to be a summer of cold south westerly winds. I could not find a suitable crew and preferred my own company on a boat anyway, something I have never lost.

I took to sailing long distances, sometimes with a friend Peter Bailey in his Sunburst and occasionally with a girlfriend! The first girl I ever kissed was onboard Waikiwi during a homeward sail from Stillwater where I found a proper rival in the form of an old school friend Jeff Thompson in his R Class, Rebel. He had painted a large wine glass on his mainsail which you could see from miles away.

On one of my solo trips to Stillwater, on my homeward beat, the wind increased to a worrying degree. I could not reduce my sail area and I found myself overwhelmed, unable to make progress. I returned to Arkles Bay, the nearest beach where, fortunately for me, our sailing club fleet had made an interclub day visit. I hurtled down wind and made an impressive landing on the beach in front of a crowd of onlookers. I was able to convince my friend Kim Dikstaal to assist me to sail home. Kim put on my spare trapeeze harness, we tied her unrigged Starling to a stern tow line and set off for Torbay in a stiffening easterly. It was rough going being held back by the towed boat wich lurched and fretted at the end of the tow line, Waikiwi really wanted to be released, Kim was a highly skilled sailor with instincts and reflexes at least as good as mine and we enjoyed the teamwork that we developed, I don't mind admitting I was very impressed by her by the time we got back to the beach at Torbay. Sadly she did not return my interest being a year or so older than me and with a long list of older suiters in the senior ranks of the club, I stood no chance. We remain life long friends though.

That year (1974) there was to be a regatta hosted by the Torbay Boating Club. The North Island Paper Tiger Championships. I longed to compete in this regatta. There was a local Dr, Tom Ord, who was and older gentleman of heavy build who wanted to but could not compete because of his size, inexperience and a certain wilfulness that prevented him from learning. We could all see this and to his credit so could he.
Being a successful local GP Tom had the means to have a very high quality sailboat made for him. It was painted bright orange (which, being the Dutch national colours, my Mother approved of). 
Tom asked me if I would like to campaign his boat in the upcoming regatta which I readily and excitedly agreed to. So that was me occupied at every available opportunity, out learning how to sail a PT as quickly as possible. Off the water I continued to study the art of sailing tactics from Paul Elvstrom and Jack Holt, books in my birthday list collection. I applied what I learned into the mix of my local knowledge. 

When the much anticipated weekend finally arrived I paid my entry fee and set out to beat the fleet. I was in the running the entire weekend scoring a 1st and 2nd though not quite consistent enough to beat the senior, more experienced PT skippers for line honours.
I admit to feeling disappointed and was ready to go home without even a minor prize. However, the race committee had a surprise for me when, with the encouragement of my parents I reluctantly attended the social and prize giving at the clubhouse by the creek on the last evening of the regatta. I was painfully shy at that time and chose to stand at the very back of the room whilst the beer flowed and the smoke filled the crowded, noisy room. I was looking for a way out, when all of a sudden, in a gap in the cheering, I heard my name being called out, I had to hear it several times before I reacted. I was pulled roughly through the crowd and shoved on to the dias where the club Commodore and the class designer warmly shook my hand and presented me with a prize and a trophy! 

I just stood there dumbfounded and even more embarrassed, red in the face. 

"You won the regatta on handicap mate" someone shouted (I think it was Simon Grain, someone I liked and admired who liked and admired Kim). I wanted to disappear. 

I walked home in the dark with my trophy and my prize feeling perplexed and confused, what was a handicap? Father explained it to me with a broad grin on his proud face.

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Toroa by Harmen Hielkema & Mike Toy.

Header Photo: Toroa at Rawene by Julie Holton.

This blog is dedicated to the memory of my father Roelof Hielkema who instilled in me the willingness to learn.
These pages are intended to inform and add to the growing body of knowledge concerning the Canoe Culture of the Pacific, past, present & future, from the Tupuna, the Ancestors of the Pacific cultures to the people of the world.

These pages contain Images and text relating to our two proas, Toroa & Takapu, some history relating to our experiments & experiences.

The dissertation that I posted on this blog in April 2008 "Takapu The Proa" was written by me in 1997 in response to an assignment that I was set whilst studying for my design degree. The dissertation covers many issues that a proa enthusiast may benefit from reading about.

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