Wednesday, 25 November 2020


An snapshot of some past action on the waters of Mercury Bay

A contribution by the Mercury Bay Historical Society 


When roads were virtually non-existent in the quite isolated area of Mercury Bay, rivers and coastal harbours, and waterways were our means for getting from A to B and carrying all freight to Whitianga township. Our waterways were also used for recreation.

One of our earliest recorded water sport competitions was a whaleboat regatta held on the Waiwawa River during 1867/1868 at the Te Hoho settlement - Māori versus Pakeha.

Thomas Carina, an early Whitianga businessman, donated £50 for a sculling race which attracted top Australian scullers, Messenger and Floyd.

Between 1873 and 1876, the 30-ton Mercury, which was built at William White’s boatyard in Whitianga, competed successfully in the big trader cutter races in the Auckland Regatta.

By the mid-1880s, a full regatta was being run in Mercury Bay over Easter. Sail boats 16-foot and under raced for a first prize of £4.

With the establishment of the Mercury Bay Hospital in 1898, regattas were part of the many fundraising activities needed to keep the hospital open. This was continued until the Thames Hospital Board took over administration of the hospital in 1939.

Early regatta events included Māori canoe racing between the wharves, swimming horses across the estuary, and a race where the rider had to lead their horse and swim with it around the top wharf and back to the beach on the other side.

In 1946, a group of locals met to form a boating club. On such a casual foundation, the official Mercury Bay Boating Club was born. Harry Carey, captain of the Lady Jocelyn, was the first patron of the club and remained so until September 1959. The first modest fleet of club boats were all motorised and mainly commercial working boats. The first sailing boat to be a member of the club was the 28-foot Mangawai, which was owned by Ben Bendall. This was followed by Norman (Boy) Wells’s Alice.

Regular starters in the launch races during the early 1950’s were Rowley Smith’s Marlin, Burt Chaney’s Ronomor, Bill Clarke’s Norma, Toby Morcom’s Peggy, Connie and Vazey Simon’s Ngarie and Fred Harsant’s Margery Daw.

In 1959 a move was successfully made to have the Mercury Bay Boating Club officially recognized. In November 1961, the first life memberships were earned by A Bowman, A Chaney, M George, J Hawksword and RA Smith.

October 1967 saw the commencement of a yacht race between Tauranga and Mercury Bay.

In 1969, the bicentenary of Captain James Cook’s visit to Mercury Bay was commemorated the. The commemoration included a visit from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II aboard the Royal Yacht Britannia with her husband, Prince Philip, and their children, Prince Charles and Princess Anne. 

On Auckland Anniversary weekend in January 1991, the Jolly Boat World Championships were held in Mercury Bay. Tim Bartlett and Maxine Kavali upheld local honour by carrying off the Championship Silver.

Pictured: The Royal Yacht Britannia in Mercury Bay in 1969.


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