Atalanta

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Atalanta is a storied vessel, registered with RPNYC from 1895-1979; and from 2015. No other boat has such a long association with the Club. The Wellington Classic Yacht Trust plans to restore her to her original configuration and join her stablemate Lizzie in sailing her in local events and racing. There is an open invitation to Club members and Trust supporters to sail with us.

The Trust is seeking donations to finish the redecking and building of a cabin for Atalanta. Considerable work has already been done in straightening her twisted hull, refastening, caulking, and repair to various areas of the hull and rudder. We have over the last few years collected enough timber for her framing, hatches, and spars – we just need to get the work over the line in seeking assistance with paying for marine grade ply for her decks.

More about Atalanta

In Greek mythology, Atalanta was a huntress who sailed with the Argonauts in search of the golden fleece. She was quick, and refused to marry unless the suitor could beat her in a footrace. If he lost, she killed him. The Greek Atalanta was only defeated through trickery.

This boat was well named.

The RPNYC fleet has taken on different characters over the years, but when there was a division 1, Atalanta remained in it from 1895-1967. From 1968 she was in division 2, and kept winning until 1978/79, when she was purchased to race in Otago. There she kept up her success through the 1980s.

A book could be written about this boat and the people involved with her, here is the bare bones:

Atalanta, or “Attie” as she is affectionately known, was launched in Auckland, 7th May 1894. She was built at the yard of Charles Jr. and Walter Bailey.

These are her dimensions as reported at the time:
Centreboarder with a lead keel (two tons) shoe
LOA 40′
LWL 27′
Beam 9′, 6″
Draught 3′ (centreboard raised), 5′ (centreboard down)

Attie was built for Napier clients Messrs J. H. Smith and J. Canning. She was not long for that port – being sailed down to Wellington to compete in the Wellington Anniversary Regatta, January 1895. She came more-or-less in company with the Waitangi – a first class racer designed and built by Robert Logan for a Wellington syndicate solely to win the first class division of the regatta and the National championship. Logan was on board the Waitangi acting as navigator, and would helm her through to victory on the day. Both boats arrived 16 January 1895. Logan also had his eye on the second class yacht prize, and tweaked up the Rona (Built by him in 1893 for Alexander Turnbull) to compete for what was to be her first of many regattas.

One of two hand painted milk glass panels, done in 1894

The Anniversary regattas of the 1890s were the greatest sporting spectacles of the age. There was fleet racing for keel yachts, centeboarders, rowing and swimming events. Boats from around the Dominion would come to compete, and thousands would line the waterfront to watch. The event was considered to be the National Yachting Championship, which were hosted alternately each year at Wellington and Lyttelton.

In 1895 the second class race was for boats rating above 2.5 and less than 5.0. Atalanta was rated 4.2. Canning had a new set of large racing sails, and briefly considered entering the first-class race (rating 5.0 and over) with them. He ultimately decided on staying in the second class but asked the Regatta committee to allow his bigger sails. This was declined, but he used them anyway. Atalanta won the race but was disqualified. Turnbull’s Rona therefore took the prize. The trophy from this race is still with the Club, now known as the Turnbull Cup

Atalanta‘s owners returned to Napier, leaving her in Wellington and up for sale.

Atalanta wasn’t entered in the Anniversary Regatta again until 1898 when she was owned by Otto Schwarz. That year there were two races for each division, and Atalanta won both. She came third following year. In 1900 she was on holiday across the Strait and didn’t compete. She came second in 1901.

Atalanta photographed on the occasion of her arrival to Wellington in 1895

In early 1914 Atalanta was converted from a centreboarder to carrying external lead ballast. This is somewhat ironic, as within a few months, yachts were finding themselves denuded of their lead to go toward the war effort!

From around 1900 to the late 1930s Atalanta continued racing the inshore and offshore events, but largely owned by people more interested in cruising, wasn’t hugely successful around the cans.

However, she did perform well in the offshore races, the crews being experienced sailors of Cook Strait.

Attie at her Clyde Quay mooring ca 1920. Note the Lemon Squeezer hat emerging from the hatch

It wasn’t until Cliff Cunningham, owner of a slipway at Island Bay purchased her in 1937 that Atalanta got a true second wind.

Cunningham set about tightening Atalanta up by refastening her. He then stripped her out completely and removed her engine.

Cunningham also converted to her a bermudan rig, and fitted the main with tapered full-length steel battens. She was once more scratch boat.

After WWII, Atalanta was purchased by Hugh Askew. He put another rig in her – this one towered over 60 feet, and was milled from a single length of douglas fir, snaffled from the departing American armed forces. He also further deepened the keel.

The most prestigious cup in the Royal Port Nicholson Yacht Club is the Mills Askew trophy, which is for the best season aggregate for first class yachts. When donated to the club in the 1890s by E. C. E. Mills, it was known as the Mills Challenge Cup. If you managed to win the first division season aggregate three years running, or three times in five years, you could keep it indefinitely.

Hugh Askew achieved this with Atalanta in 1948 and was presented the cup. He took it away, had a representation of Attie engraved large on it, and re-gifted it to the club to be presented for season winners of the division, on the proviso that it would remain the property of the club. Since then, it has been known as the Mills-Askew Trophy, and is the most prestigious trophy in the Club.

Atalanta on the Mills Askew trophy

Askew sold her 1951. She was subsequently owned by Cox and Cameron, among others, and in the 1970s by Pat Millar, who continued to race her with RPNYC and Evans Bay YMBC. Her most recent owner, Julian Matson, purchased her in the late 1970s and took her first to Waikawa, then Dunedin when he moved there. She continued her racing success through the 1980s.

Matson donated Atalanta to the Wellington Classic Yacht Trust in 2013.

Atalanta driven hard by Pat Millar in the 1970s

Although light on the helm, Atalanta was known as a wet boat, which drove one wag to comment “I wouldn’t sail her across the Strait if she were full of ping pong balls!”

The Wellington Classic Yacht Trust is seeking individual donations of a sheet of marine grade plywood, If you would like to contribute, payment details are on our website homepage

The Trust researches and publishes on local history, If you are unable to make a donation, please consider subscribing to our journal, which contains stories and information, published quarterly.

For all queries and information, contact the Trust or Gavin Pascoe via facebook or wgtnclassic@gmail.com

see: wcyt,org.nz and facebook.com/

For more pictures of Attie though the years, see Atalanta Photo gallery.

For more primary material on the history of the RPNYC, we have a dedicated page

Below: A certificate from the 1950s, and championship pennants from the 1960s. See the full set here

A version of this article appears in the October 2021 issue of the Journal of the Wellington Classic Yacht Trust

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