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Xarifa: Our Club’s first yacht

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Xarifa at her moorings at Thorndon

Launched 01 August 1874, Xarifa was the first “proper” yacht to be built in Wellington – her purpose for nothing more than the recreation of sport and cruising. She was built by Henry Berg, a Norwegian boatbuilder who made his home variously in Nelson, The Marlborough Sounds and Wellington. During the mid-1870s he was particularly busy in Wellington. The build took 14 weeks.

Xarifa was also reputedly the first Wellington build to carry all of her design ballast under her keel, as opposed to a centreboard/moveable ballast combination.

There were no yacht clubs at this time in Wellington, so beyond the annual regatta, run by a committee convened each year, there was not a great deal of organised sailboat racing. Races would take the form of a public challenge and proposed stakes published in the Evening Post newspaper, followed by a response. These races were generally administered by the regatta committee.

Xarifa, under her first owner (G. Firmin) campaigned in the inter-provincial regattas in Wellington and Lyttelton, the Anniversary regattas of both ports, and cruised around the Marlborough sounds. The first of her challenge races took place in February 1875, against the Garibaldi, also built be Berg in 1874. Garibaldi was a centreboarder built as a fishing boat; judging by the name, for some Italians working out of Island Bay.

Xarifa departing for Lyttelton 1880. Rob Roy canoe in foreground

Each party put up a stake of 20 pounds, though the owners soon notched up 200 in stakes on side betting. The Xarifa, skippered by Lancelot Holmes (Port Nicholson’s chief pilot) came out clear winner, when the Garibaldi overstrained her garboards and filled with water. A rematch was held, though the result doesn’t seem to have been recorded.

Lancelot Holmes ca. 1883

Though not unbeatable, under the ownership of the E. C. Mills (helmed by his son) Xarifa dominated racing in the region during the 1870s. This came to an end when Thetis, built by Charles Bailey Sr at Auckland in 1879 and the Isca, a Dixon Kemp design built by Jack Chalmers at Clyde Quay in 1880, came on to the scene.

The newly-built Thetis had won the first class race in the Auckland anniversary regatta in 1880. Shortly thereafter she was sold to Edwin Charles Batkin and partners of Wellington. She struggled a little at first, but a reduced rig and lighter internal ballast improved her performance in Wellington conditions. The Isca also had teething troubles. A great disappointment to her Nelson owner, she lay idle until she was purchased in 1884 by Robert Scott – a founding RPNYC member and an engineer who applied himself to the science of boat performance and design as a hobby. He made some significant alterations.

Xarifa, with her sensible sail plan, gets a nice lift and climbs to weather of Thetis ca. 1880

By the early 1880s the Wellington Regatta Committee found itself officiating challenge races on an increasingly regular basis. It was decided that a yacht club be formed to organise and develop the sport. The Club was known as the Wellington Yacht Club, formed in 1881. It folded quickly, and renewed as the the Port Nicholson Yacht Club in 1883. The Governor-General William Jervios consented to be Commodore for the new Club, and retained that post until he left government office in 1888.

Xarifa  holds the honour of being the first boat to be registered with the Port Nicholson Yacht Club, and she had good racing until 1891, when Mills moved to the West Coast. He would return ten years later, as the owner of Rainbow, then Iorangi.

From the first rule book of the Port Nicholson Yacht Club 1883

1891 rang the death-knell for Xarifa, Isca, Thetis and their ilk, as Dixon Kemp’s new rating rule was introduced this year. New designs – based on sail area and penalising waterline length (and which gave rise to the rule cheating “Classic” look associated with long overhangs) spelled their end.

Xarifa was eventually sold as a cruiser to a Blenheim owner in 1894, and she continued to be cruised and chartered in the Marlborough Sounds through the decade. One night in June 1900, while in charter to a group of surveyors who were camping ashore, she slipped her anchor and disappeared without trace.

Xarifa at Nelson in 1892

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