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Written by Bryan Treleaven, photos from CYC collection

The club during the Ray White Ferrymead Sprint Series 2019-20

Olympic gold medal in the Lightweight Sharpie class by Peter Mander and Jack Cropp at Melbourne in 1956. Seen here sailing Jest, their Olympic boat, close hauled in Lyttleton Harbour. (Give a Man a Boat, P. Mander, B. O'Neill 1964)

Located in the picturesque Moncks Bay for over 130 years, the Christchurch Yacht Club has easily stood the test of time, providing excellent sailing for its many members over the years.  The Club's location is such that it provides the perfect training ground for yachties, with numerous sandbanks, strong currents and overlapping wind shadows. 


The Christchurch Yacht Club is embedded in so much of the history and development of boats and sailing activities, that it is impossible to capture even a tiny bit of the significance of the Christchurch Yacht Club to yachting in New Zealand, a legacy which, in part extends to the now almost expected success of our New Zealand international yachtsmen and women.


New Zealand’s very first entry to sailing in the Olympic Games occurred at the 1956 Melbourne Games, where two Christchurch Yacht Club members, Peter Mander and Jack Cropp were the first New Zealanders to win an Olympic Gold Medal in Sailing.


Numerous members of the Club, have continued this sailing success with National, International, and Olympic Games, and Americas Cup achievements worldwide, much to the delight of the sailing community.

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peter mander and jack cropp in jest_olym

The maritime heritage of the estuary in the younger years early days of the Christchurch Yacht Club, played a large part in the early settlement of Canterbury. The main outlet to the sea was a deep water channel between Shag Rock and Cave Rock, with the jetty beside Cave Rock (Still there today with a restaurant trading on it) being one of the many jetties for discharging cargo from the numerous coastal traders that dared sail into the estuary with their cargo for the ever growing city of Christchurch.


There was a large and thriving boat building industry along the foreshores of the estuary and up the Heathcote River to and beyond Radley Rd Bridge, and also the Avon River beyond New Brighton.


Vessels up to 55 tons displacement and 60 ft (18.3 metres) overall in length, one being a three masted screw steamer, and many large schooners, were built at these shipyards, and were typical of the scows trading the inland waterways of New Zealand. Very careful navigational skills were required to survive the hazards of the shallow, forever changing channels of the estuary.


These coastal traders regularly berthed in Moncks Bay near the Yacht Club, or simply steamed past to discharge their goods further inland closer to the city of Christchurch.

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The Annie Hill entering the estuary in 1923. She was moored off Bay View Road as a training ship for three years

Burns' Jetty, located between the rowing shed and Shag Rock, the club visible in back right


1897 Notice to Mariners of the dangers of the Bar (Displayed in the current Bar)


Racing for the Cornwall Cup in the Shag Rock area in 1945

The Sumner Bar has claimed many vessels and lives over the years, some being vessels owned by Yacht Club members.


In the early years of the Christchurch Yacht Club, the estuary and the Heathcote and Avon rivers were still a thriving busy inland port “The Port of Christchurch”, with over 250 coastal trading vessels crossing the dangerous bar to enter the estuary. Sadly by 1886, thirty-three vessels had been lost while attempting to cross the bar.


The estuary channels and the estuary were much deeper, and more defined than they are today, allowing large vessels to navigate these waters, which would not be possible today.

There was a pilot / signalman stationed on Cave Rock directly above and right beside the outlet channel of the estuary to the sea, and it is recorded that on at least one occasion there were twenty three coastal trading vessels waiting under Clifton Hill and in Moncks Bay for a weather clearance to clear the estuary.


This Shag Rock Cave Rock channel also provided plenty of deep water for Yacht Club racing much like today, where the outlet channel whilst now being west of Shag Rock, is ideal for both low tide and high tide racing, a facility not available to all estuary yacht clubs.

In 1891 the Club was founded as the Christchurch Sailing Club, with the fleet initially being twenty centreboard yachts, mostly gaff headed sloops with a bow sprit, and up to 24 ft (7.3 m) in length. A few years later much of the fleet were 30 ft (9.1 m) scows of similar rig without a bowsprit. These flat bottom scows had their origin from those sailed in America on the Great Lakes. They were fully decked with a small cockpit, and were very fast.

Yacht racing was very much to the fore, right from the founding of the Club, and a keenness to introduce one design racing didn’t take long to occur, no doubt in order to establish sailing skills over who had the best boat. Design competitions were held with prize money offered for the best design, and prize money for the winners of some races.


Opening day each season was social and a fun day with frivolity being key. A selection of activities such as a swimming race, a rowing race, greasy boom race, menagerie race, a handicap yacht race, and a Sumner brass band playing music and, occasionally, an 'explosion'. The following day there was a large family picnic on the spit across the water from the club.


At the turn of the century and in 1902 the Club introduced launch racing to the programme as power boats were playing a large part of Club activities, and in 1906 the first powerboat was added to the fleet register.

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Scows and 30 footers sailing in Moncks Bay, circa 1913. Possibly Sea Queen in the foreground (Unballasted with no rig)

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The first club building, the shed was completed in 1892, for the sum of 20 pounds

The first proper clubhouse was built in 1906 by J. W. Beanland for 178 pounds, and was finished within 2 months

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Centerboarders rigging up in front of the clubhouse, almost as it stands today. Date unknown

1906 saw the construction of the first two level Clubhouse, which was again replaced in 1938 with the clubhouse we have today, although there were many extensions and modifications in between. In 1935 the Club was renamed for the third time, this time to The Christchurch Yacht Club as it is known today.


In 1909 following burglaries in the Clubhouse, a resident caretaker was appointed to the club, but the outbreak of the first World War ended the roll of a resident caretaker.


Unlike today the fleet stayed in the water all season, being kept on 30 or more moorings in the bay. The fleet supported regattas organised elsewhere, especially Lyttelton and Port Levy, and this required crossing the bar in ever-changing conditions to sail to each venue, often sailing home a few days later with more hazardous conditions on the bar. The social activities at these regattas were certainly equal to the best of today.

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On reflecting through recorded history of the Club it clearly displays a progressive pioneering, let’s do it now approach, for not only club boating requirements, but for the entire national scene. The Club and its members have led the introduction of numerous new National classes of yachts to New Zealand, created class design rules, National Contest sailing instructions, race management code of practice, and the formation of Yachting New Zealand.


The Club’s style and approach to its members, coupled with the superb training waters of estuary sailing, has contributed hugely to the success of our members in competing and winning numerous International and World titles, Olympic Games medals, and many National Championships in New Zealand.


This progressive approach continues today, as the Club is developing the former Sumner Rowing Club site in Moncks Bay, to house the fleet of rescue and coach boats, and launching of yachts, and when completed, will commence the rebuild of the clubhouse, which suffered damage during the many earthquakes since 2010.

1898-99 Committee in the sandhills of the spit


More Olympic success at Barcelona in 1992 with Leslie Egnot and Jan Shearer in the 470 class

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2019 saw the relaunch of Rapanui after an extensive rebuild. Dave Lloyd (Boatbuilder) is at front right

The New Clubhouse, together with the new facility on the old rowing club site, when completed will be prime strategic assets in Moncks Bay, appealing not only to our sailing and boating members, but the entire community of the surrounding coastal villages and beyond, and to the many who are enjoying activities and now using the wonderful new, almost completed Coastal Walkway to Sumner, which passes within one metre of both buildings and our surrounding rigging and launching area.


The walkway will add another strong flavour of value to the Club, much like the Christchurch to Sumner tram did many years ago, when it also passed within one metre of the Clubhouse on the same tracks as the walkway does now, bringing club members and sightseer’s from the city to the club to sail, or enjoy watching yacht racing in the bay.


The Christchurch Yacht Club certainly has a strong vision for the future of the club, for many more years of boating and social activities in the bay.

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