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In Greek mythology, Atalanta was a huntress who sailed with the Argonauts in search of the golden fleece. Atalanta was quick and independent; she refused to marry unless the suitor could beat her in a footrace. If he lost, he was killed. She was only defeated through trickery.
This boat was well named.
The Wellington fleet has taken on different characters over the years, but when there was a division 1, Atalanta remained in it from 1895-1967. From 1968 she was in division 2, and kept winning until 1978/79, when she was purchased to race in Otago. There she kept up her success through the 1980s.
A book could be written about this boat and the people involved with her, here is the bare bones:
Atalanta, or “Attie” as she is affectionately known, was launched in Auckland, 7th May 1894. She was built at the yard of Charles Jr. and Walter Bailey.
These are her dimensions as reported at the time:
Centreboarder with a lead keel (two tons) shoe
Beam 9′, 6″
Draught 3′ (centreboard raised), 5′ (centreboard down)
Attie was built for Napier clients Messrs J. H. Smith and J. Canning. She was not long for that port – being sailed down to Wellington to compete in the Wellington Anniversary Regatta, January 1895. She came more-or-less in company with the Waitangi – a first class racer designed and built by Robert Logan for a Wellington syndicate solely to win the first class division of the regatta and the National championship. Logan was on board the Waitangi acting as navigator, and would helm her through to victory on the day. Both boats arrived 16 January 1895. Logan also had his eye on the second class yacht prize, and tweaked up the Rona (Built by him in 1893 for Alexander Turnbull) to compete for what was to be her first of many regattas.
The Anniversary regattas of the 1890s were the greatest sporting spectacles of the age. There was fleet racing for keel yachts, centeboarders, rowing and swimming events. Boats from around the Dominion would come to compete, and thousands would line the waterfront to watch. The event was considered to be the National Yachting Championship, which were hosted alternately each year at Wellington and Lyttelton.
In 1895 the second class race was for boats rating above 2.5 and less than 5.0. Atalanta was rated 4.2. Canning had a new set of large racing sails, and briefly considered entering the first-class race (rating 5.0 and over) with them. He ultimately decided on staying in the second class but asked the Regatta committee to allow his bigger sails. This was declined, but he used them anyway. Atalanta won the race but was disqualified. Turnbull’s Rona therefore took the prize. The trophy from this race is still with the RPNYC, now known as the Turnbull Memorial Cup
Atalanta‘s owners returned to Napier, leaving her in Wellington and up for sale.
Atalanta was entered again in 1898 and won the two-race series. She came third following year. In 1900 she was on holiday across the Strait and didn’t compete. She came second in 1901.
In early 1914 Atalanta was converted from a centreboarder to carrying external lead ballast. This is somewhat ironic, as within a few months, yachts were finding themselves denuded of their lead to go toward the war effort!
From around 1900 to the late 1930s Atalanta continued racing the inshore and offshore events, but largely owned by people more interested in cruising, wasn’t hugely successful around the cans.
However, she did perform well in the offshore races, the crews being experienced sailors of Cook Strait.
It wasn’t until Cliff Cunningham, owner of a slipway at Island Bay purchased her in 1937 that Atalanta got a true second wind.
Cunningham set about tightening Atalanta up by refastening her. He then stripped her out completely and removed her engine.
Cunningham also converted to her a bermudan rig, and fitted the main with tapered full-length steel battens. She was once more scratch boat.
After WWII, Atalanta was purchased by Hugh Askew. He put another rig in her – this one towered over 60 feet, and was milled from a single length of douglas fir, snaffled from the departing American armed forces. He also further deepened the keel.
The most prestigious cup in the Royal Port Nicholson Yacht Club is the Mills Askew trophy, which is for the best season aggregate for first class yachts. When donated to the club in the 1890s by E. C. E. Mills, it was known as the Mills Challenge Cup. If you managed to win the first division season aggregate three years running, or three times in five years, you could keep it indefinitely.
Hugh Askew achieved this with Atalanta in 1948 and was presented the cup. He took it away, had a representation of Attie engraved large on it, and re-gifted it to the club to be presented for season winners of the division, on the proviso that it would remain the property of the club. Since then, it has been known as the Mills-Askew Trophy, and is the most prestigious trophy in the Club.
Askew sold her 1951. She was subsequently owned by Cox and Cameron, among others, and in the 1970s by Pat Millar, who continued to race her with RPNYC and Evans Bay YMBC. Her most recent owner, Julian Matson, purchased her in the late 1970s and took her first to Waikawa, then Dunedin when he moved there. She continued her racing success through the 1980s.
Matson donated Atalanta to the Wellington Classic Yacht Trust in 2013.
For all queries and information, contact the Trust or Gavin Pascoe via facebook or firstname.lastname@example.org