Americas Cup- A visit to Ravensbourne

Ravensbourne Boating Club on right of pic with view up to Dunedin
Colin Preston

Ravensbourne Boating Club, on the shores of Otago Harbour, Dunedin, was Russell Coutts training headquarters in his P class days before moving to Auckland, and winning gold at the 1984 Olympics.

Crossing the railway tracks to meet club commodore Warwick Graham, the blustery conditions had cancelled the Optimist training plus 29er and Z Class racing for today. The same happened the previous week with the cold dense breeze producing more guts than further north says Graham. Learn to sail and race sessions regularly take place most Sundays to keep the new blood flowing through the club.

Manoeuvring boats across the Port Chalmers freight train tracks has been a regular occurrence for many years, with the access walk bridge needing to be raised recently following track maintenance.

The club formed in 1896 and its current membership of 44 has some big modifications planned to boost its growth into the 21st century. With six 29ers, two 49ers, 10 Optimists, four Z Class, etc. the club is well equipped to get budding new sailors out racing on the water. The Z class built for the younger sailor tends to attract the ‘masters’ age group to their races providing good competition with this years South Island Z Class Champs, due to have sailed the weekend before, one good days racing and the second day lost due to 30 knot southerlies.

As well as the regular roaring forties winds to contend with, sailors must negotiate a man made obstacle beneath the waves. Built by the early settlers and running part of the length of Otago Harbour is a rock wall to force a channel up the western side of the harbour for shipping into Dunedin.

The downside is having a menacing underwater brake waiting to smash any wayward boat appendages should they misjudge its location. Warwick could tell many tales of destroyed centreboard cases and broken boats that have hit it over the years from racers trying to capitalise on as much free water to beat their competition. With the wall to avoid, most sailing is done on the southern side of the wall, with sailors needing to navigate through a small gap in the wall just east of the clubrooms.

It would be interesting to watch an AC45 manoeuvre in this challenging harbour and one shudders at the thought of those carbon fibre rocket ships hitting the wall, so best keep them in safe open waters. But the likelihood of a visit from one these latest challenging designs from the Coutts list of achievements will never be on the agenda.

Similarly the America's Cup may never get another chance to be seen in the club - with its sole hope of that happening being dashed by a protester armed with a sledgehammer. Warwick tells how Russell had organised to bring the Cup to the Dunedin club in 1997 - only for it to be destroyed the day before the planned flight south.

Despite this bad luck, Russell donated his America's Cup winning medal to the club where it is on display amongst the many other club trophies. Likewise his name is displayed on the club wall being a reminder to all members of his origins with the club, and they would welcome a visit from Russell in future.