Mullet Boats 90th Lipton Cup - 19 March 2011

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Mullet boats originated in Auckland around the 1880’s. They were shallow draft centreboard yachts of various lengths, specifically designed for fishing the waters of the Hauraki Gulf.

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They targeted mullet which were found in large numbers in the shallow bays and inlets of the inner gulf. They also fished for snapper. These original mullet boats were designed for easy handling by a man and a boy with a rig that could easily be reduced to cope with the ever changeable Auckland weather. The crew cooked on a wood stove and slept aboard under the small foredeck. Their racing history began with the competition to be first to get their catch of fresh mullet to the market and thus get the best prices.

This soon developed into organised competitive racing with the newly formed Ponsonby Crusing Club. These racing mullet boats, codified and structured by the restrictions of the Ponsonby Regatta Committee suddenly took off and have been a big part of Ponsonby Crusing Club ever since. One reason for the longevity of the 22ft L Class is the exciting racing, with skippers and crew motivated to win the prestigious Lipton Cup.

The mullet boat is as much a part of Auckland’s waterfront heritage as the buildings we so carefully register and regulate. The present owners are enthusiasts both for the history of the class and the challenging sailing. It is encouraging to see a growing number of young people involved with the class.

The Lipton Cup

In 1904 the PCC first made contact with Sir Thomas Lipton, honouring him by electing him vice president which he accepted. He was the son of impoverished Irish parents who emigrated to America, where he eventually started work in a New York Grocery Store. At 19 he returned to Scotland and opened his own grocery store which became an international success. The Glasgow grocer turned millionaire tea merchant became a persistent competitor in the Americas Cup. He funded and participated in five challenges for the Auld Mug representing the Royal Ulster Yacht Club between 1899 and 1920. He named each of his yachts 'Shamrock'.

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Lipton also became a benefactor of yachting around the world by donating ornate silver trophies to various clubs. There are many stories about how the Ponsonby Cruising Club became a benefactor, but maybe part of it was that he recognised something of himself in the working class membership of the club compared to the 'Royal' Clubs.

In a letter dated 29 April 1920 he offered the PCC a silver cup that he had commissioned the 'Goldsmiths and Silversmiths Co of Regent Street London' (makers of the Americas Cup) to produce according to 'a special design which would be typical of New Zealand and also embodying the burgee of the PCC, its general character to be appropriate to yachting.'

He left the allocation of the competition for the cup to the club.

The Lipton Cup has since been a hotly contested interclub challenge administered by the PCC and has served to preserve this historic class.

The hull form of the mullet boat has remained largely unchanged from the original restrictions, so much so that Valeria, the first winner in 1922 is still competitive today (after painstaking restoration).

The rigs were always way out of proportion to the hull, dating back to their original design and purpose. However they have continued to evolve to the present standard Marconi rig with an enormous mainsail and spinnaker. It is little wonder that mullet boats in full sail never fail to catch the eye of the public. Little wonder also that they have been the making of many of New Zealand’s top sailors and that the Lipton Cup is one of Auckland's most coveted yachting trophies.

It is our fervent hope that the mullet boat will be perpetuated as part of Auckland’s waterfront heritage and the L class mullet boats colourful history and association with the Lipton Cup survives and strengthens, towards the 100th Lipton Cup and beyond.

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