Sir Fred Allen- A yachtsman remembered + Audio

Sir Fred Allen, All Black great and longtime sailor.
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Sir Fred Allen, known to most as a top All Black captain, outstanding rugby coach and New Zealander passed away on early Sunday morning at the age of 92 years.

He was New Zealand's oldest living All Black.

But Sir Fred had another side as a long time sailor and member of the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron for 60 years, sailing A class keelers.

In their excellent book on Sir Fred, 'Fred The Needle', authors Allan Sayers and Les Watkins tell of how Sir Fred went into battle for the Manly Sailing Club, built on the beautiful white sand beach about 40 minutes north of Auckland. The club was initially built by holiday bach owners who initially moved into the area, but latterly it became one of Auckland's northern suburbs and the marine playground became a residential area for many.

Going hand in hand with rising property values, many of the newer arrivals would have liked to see the club removed from the foreshore, but as one of those who had helped build the club 50 years previously, Fred Allen stepped forward in the club's hour of need, in 1997.

Faced with a dwindling membership, and struggling to survive, the club needed friends - desperately. Applications to expand had been declined, and the one room facility didn't serve the needs of the sailors it had.

The club faced the usual gaggle of negative protestors who owned nearby properties, claiming that the club would be virtually a pub on the beach, and that it would become a haven for under age drinking.

Fred, deputy Patron of the Club, put his hand up and went into battle against the Rodney District Council for the sailing club.

‘These were cheap shots, below the belt, leveled at a youth and family sailing club that had never had a black mark against its name in more than 50 years,’ Fred told the council, ‘And as for alcohol it had never been a part of this youth and family club, nor will it be in the future.’

Race start photo day two with Mark Overington about to be OCS photo: Tim Griffiths - 2011 3.7 National Championship
Tim and Sean Griffiths and Paterson
Like true bureaucrats, and slaves to their process, the Council in addition to turning down the three applications, turned around and sent the Club a crippling invoice each time for its costs in hearing the applications, totaling $10,000 in all.

While providing racing for its members in variety of small boats, the Manly Sailing Club also ran learn to sail classes for youngsters - providing a vital service for the local community.

In May 1998, the protest group tried to have the club moved off the foreshore, and its death seemed assured. Sadly the club's membership after being repeatedly kicked by the bureaucrats, had lost their fight, and only the Club Patron, his wife and one Club member were prepared to continue.

Sir Fred enlisted the help of another Knight, Sir Peter Blake, who poured scorn on the Council's proposal at a Hearing in May 1998.'‘I certainly would not let my children race it a yacht club which had no surveillance of the sea. That would he foolhardy and unacceptable to me as a parent. I hope that the persons writing such submission will he prepared to front the media if an accident happens that would have been avoidable by the correct siting of such a yacht club facility.'

That was followed by the appearance in the Council Chamber by Fred Allen. Long feared and revered for his team talks to his All Black team in the three years he was an undefeated coach, Fred showed that the old magic was not lost.

(As an aside, most All Blacks feared Fred's team talks, more than what an opposition team could do to them on the Rugby field. Including one where after a dreadful first-half display the team were treated to total, stony silence from their coach. As they left Allen cut them to the bone with the words 'After you, Ladies', and let them get on with it).

Fred refuted the misinformation that had been spread over many years by the protest groups, telling the Council that 'it's about time these selfish people came to their senses and started to think of the welfare of the youth of the district'.

How often have variations of this scenario been repeated in Council hearings around New Zealand? Sadly, how often have these words been required?

Long story short, is that Fred was more than a match for the Council, who approved the extension to the Manly Sailing Club, and left the clubhouse in its place on the foreshore that it had enjoyed for over 50 years. It now has a new yacht club, which has been the host to many sailing regattas over the subsequent years.

Sir Fred will be remembered at his Service today, Wednesday, at Eden Park - but maybe sailors too, should pause for a few moments and reflect on the passing on the passing of one of their own.

Acknowledgements: Our thanks to Peter Montgomery for kindly allowing replay of the interview with Sir Fred Allen on the occasion of the bestowing of his Knighthood in 2010. The above story was adapted from 'Fred the Needle' published by Hodder Moa.