Ivor Wilkins describes it like an archaeological dig, sifting through the various layers to interpret 150 years of history of the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron.
What Wilkins has produced in Salt in our Blood is a richly-illustrated, 464 page, coffee table publication worthy of the club's proud history, dating back to the foundations of the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron in 1871.
Putting the book together was a monumental task, and involved combing through 14,000 items which had been transferred, rather haphazardly, onto CD-roms, hundreds of spidery, hand-written accounts dating back to the mid-1800s and countless interviews with those involved over the last 60 years.
"I would like to say all of the records were well organised but it was like stumbling through a dark forest and finding little treasures here, there and everywhere," Wilkins said.
"I was hoping the project would be done in two years. We'd allowed three and it took all three of those years and, even then, it was a bit of a push in the end to get it done."
There were a few minor skeletons rattling in the cupboard: employees with fingers in the till; members poaching oysters; causing a ruckus in quiet anchorages; chasing livestock; shots fired in the clubrooms; hooking the piecart to passing trams; the time it took for the Squadron to admit women as members.
But what resonates more throughout is the hard work many put in to building the club and the sport in this country. Wilkins is careful to balance this and the contribution of the broad membership throughout Salt in our Blood with the success the club achieved internationally.
It's not hyperbole to suggest the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron is the most successful yacht club in this country, having won anything and everything from the America's and Admirals Cups through to the One Ton Cup and Olympic titles.
"To a large degree, the story of the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron is the story of New Zealand yachting," Wilkins said. "That's not to claim that every major campaign was won by Yacht Squadron campaigns but most of them were and almost all of them involved Squadron members in some way or other.
"I think our trophy cabinet is unrivalled in the world. If not, it would rank alongside the other major yacht clubs and it's something our members can be very proud of.
"What did come as a surprise to me was the extent to which the Squadron helped lay the groundwork for New Zealand’s Olympic success... and the Squadron also took a leadership role in the establishment of the New Zealand Yachting Federation, without which Olympic participation could not take place."
Salt in our Blood is available from the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron's shop (when the club reopens) and online here.
The following is an edited extract from Salt in our Blood, tracing the origins of the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron in 1871.
For the best part of a century and half, the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron has taken 1871 as the date earlier faltering efforts at setting up a yacht club finally took hold. Part of this conviction arises from a club legend recounted by Noel Holmes in his book Century of Sail, published in 1971 as an official history of the RNZYS. With some equivocation, he relates that after the 1871 Anniversary Regatta prizegiving, a group of keen yachtsmen gathered at the Thames Hotel and decided that a one-day regatta every 12 months was not sufficient for their needs.
Not everyone was impressed by this development. A curmudgeonly letter appeared in the New Zealand Herald on March 13, under the cryptic signature R.Y.Y.C. Expressing the belief that the Daily Southern Cross ‘stands alone in its condition of astonishment’ at the absence of a yacht club, the correspondent said that a city that failed to support a boat club decently (a reference to rowing) was scarcely likely to do better with a yacht club.
Certainly, every Annual Meeting of the Auckland Yacht Club and the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron thereafter takes its numerical order from the first AGM of 1872. Hence, by that logic the AGM of 1971 was the one hundredth, and that of 2021 the one hundred and fiftieth.