The Olympic Games
In 1952 a New Zealand Yachting Federation (now Yachting New Zealand) was formed to administer the national classes and prepare for the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games, at which Cantabrians Peter Mander and Jack Cropp won a gold medal in the Sharpie class.
Eighteen months later, Geoff Smale and Ralph Roberts won the Prince of Wales Cup in the International 14 class at Cowes, England.
In 1964 New Zealand won a second Olympic gold medal when Helmer Pedersen and Earle Wells won the Flying Dutchman class at Tokyo.
Subsequent Olympic golds have been won by Rex Sellers and Chris Timms (Tornado) and Russell Coutts (Finn), both at Los Angeles in 1984; by Jo Aleh and Polly Powrie (470 Women) at London in 2012; and by Peter Burling and Blair Tuke (Men's 49er) at Rio in 2016.
The outlook of New Zealand yachtsmen and designers became increasingly international and eclectic from the 1950s. Nouméa, Suva, trans-Tasman and coastwise races such as the Labour Weekend Coastal Classic from Auckland to the Bay of Islands tested keel yachts and their crews to the limit.
There were some tragedies; yachts disappeared, foundered through whale strikes, or piled ashore in terrible weather. In the 1951 race from Wellington to Lyttelton, 10 people lost their lives. But there was rapid improvement in standards of design and construction of boats and their gear, in safety standards and in seamanship.
Southern Cross Cup
Three Kiwi yachts entered the 1967–68 Southern Cross Cup competition, which included the Sydney–Hobart race. Chris Bouzaid’s entry, Rainbow II, won the classic ocean race and came second overall.
One Ton Cup
In 1968 Rainbow II was shipped to Germany for the One Ton Cup, and gained second place. In 1969 it won the event. New Zealand was emerging as a major force in world yachting.
One small step
New Zealanders heard about the success of Chris Bouzaid’s team in the One Ton Cup on 21 July 1969 – the same day that the first moon landing was broadcast. Some New Zealanders glued to the radio were unsure which was the more important achievement.
Young designers experienced in the centreboard classes began designing keel yachts of an international standard. Prominent among them were Laurie Davidson, John Spencer, Ron Given, Alan Warwick, Jim Young, Hal Wagstaff, Alan Wright, John Lidgard and Des Townson.
In 1979 the government introduced a 20% tax on boats. As boats built for export were exempt from the tax, some entrepreneurs developed this market. Expertise in infrastructure, design and materials, and unrivalled standards of workmanship, took New Zealand yachts to the cutting edge. These new designers included Bruce Farr, Ron Holland, Paul Whiting and Greg Elliott.
International success turned amateur yachties into professionals. Kiwi men and women worked internationally, crewing in high-profile events, including the Whitbread Round the World race. With the rise of sponsorship, boats displayed corporate names and logos.
In 1980 Ceramco New Zealand won line and handicap honours in the Sydney–Hobart race. Designed by Bruce Farr, the yacht was skippered by Peter Blake. In the 1981–82 Whitbread race, Ceramco broke its mast in the South Atlantic while in contention for line honours. The team flew a new mast to Cape Town and the yacht completed the race.
Blake’s subsequent career as both an offshore yachtsman and ambassador for the sport was outstanding. His multihull Steinlager 1 won the round-Australia race in 1988, and Enza won the Jules Verne trophy for a world circumnavigation in 1994. Blake won the 1988–89 Whitbread in Steinlager 2, while Grant Dalton won it in 1994 in New Zealand Endeavour.
New Zealand’s advances in design, construction and seamanship led to the next step: a challenge for the America’s Cup.