Updated: Feb 1
“Sailing is the vehicle, but youth development is the goal,” explains Coach Jonathan Kline, Commodore of the Mercury Bay Boating Club. In the last five years, Jonathan and a team of dedicated local volunteers have inspired dozens of students and adults to take to the sea, creating one of the region’s best known sailing academies and community focused boating clubs.
“When I first arrived in Whitianga in 2016, the Boating Club had just started to revitalise their junior sailing program,” explains Kline. There was an aging fleet of boats in the shed that needed repairs and parts. But with the backing of the committee at the time, and with the help of veteran coach Russell Chaney and sailing Mum, Tara Corley, Jonathan was able to design and implement a range of courses for youngsters aged 8 to 18. “We were given one Seabird to use and I bought an old Hobie Cat that my wife Alanna found in a garage. With the help of local community groups like the Lionesses, the Masonic Lodge, and the Marina Society we were able to repair the boats and start putting kids on the water.” It did not take long; local parents started to see sails on the water; and many, many children wanted to be involved.
The Mercury Bay Boating Club holds a unique place in yachting history. In late 1987, with the help of visionaries like Sir Michael Fay, the club threw down a challenge to the San Diego Yacht Club to race for the America’s Cup. At that time, there was no clubhouse. Local races were run from a Mark 2 Zephyr. The David and Goliath element to the story captured the sailing world’s attention and though the actual race was a bit of a mismatch, with the monohull Kiwi KZ-1 sailing against the wing-sailed catamaran Stars and Stripes, the event placed NZ designers, builders and sailors in the limelight and showed the world what country-supported, grass roots sailing could achieve. About a decade after that challenge, the Mercury Bay Boating Club was constructed on the piece of reserve where it currently sits. “What an honour and inspiration, to be standing on the shoulders of the giants who helped put New Zealand sailing on the map.” Every member of the club inherits a bit of that DNA from the pioneers who came before us.
“We realised early on, that our town is somewhat isolated from the mainstream junior training facilities,” explains Jonathan. “Most of the youth we train do not have the resources to compete on weekends and holidays in the main sailing centres of Auckland and Wellington. So we have made it our mission to foster a love of, and respect for, sailing and the sea, creating ocean ambassadors and voyagers who advocate for the ocean and its inhabitants.” We teach our sailors to race but we also teach the skills of adventure sailing, how to get from here to there, and how the journey of getting there can be as much fun as arriving.”
Jonathan is an enthusiastic believer in learning to sail teaches life skills. “Much of what we teach is hidden in the fun of sailing,” Kline says. He describes how the capsize drills build confidence and teach youngsters how to cope with adversity; how trimming sails efficiently promotes a connection with the environment and fosters a heightened attention to small, unseen details; getting boats and trolleys to and from the water builds teamwork; rigging boats correctly underscores the importance of planning and preparation. “There is no greater buzz or source of pride than launching through the waves, sailing across the bay and returning safely to the beach.“ says Jonathan.
As the junior sailing courses grew, so did the requests from NZ sailing associations to host regattas. Mercury Bay has a unique, amphitheatre-like quality to it - a long sandy beach cradles the stunning bay, while Shakespeare Cliff, Tower Rock, Centre Island and Devil’s Point encircle the outer perimeters. So, in addition to building a group of coaches to teach Junior sailing, the Boating Club had to develop its race management team. Sailors travel from as far south as Christchurch and Twizel and from as far north as Keri Keri to participate in regattas hosted by the Mercury Bay Boating Club. Our bay, with its eventful significance in Maori and European history, provides a powerful backdrop to everything we do.
The coaches have also developed Adult Learn to Sail Classes and sailing days for the Special Needs students at the local Mercury Bay Area School.
Jonathan concludes, "What do we need to continue to thrive? Well, first and foremost we need to secure an area that is safe and sustainable for our club room and training facility. In the last five years, the sea has consumed most of the land in front of the club. The building is at risk of toppling in to the sea. With beach erosion progressing rapidly in areas of Mercury Bay, the club is fighting for its life, with the volunteer committee and coaches exploring all avenues to protect this community sailing club. How do we protect or re-create this important community asset? What value do we place on facilities that allow us to mentor our children in the rugged beauty of the sea? Isn’t it important to recognise the work and achievements of those that came before us and carry the mantle forward?”
Jonathan Kline learned to sail on the beach in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Having watched yachts and ships appear from and disappear over the horizon, he chose a life at sea on board, circumnavigating sailboats, working globally with his wife Alanna for over 25 years, before starting their family and settling between Florida and New Zealand.