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RAINBOW in 2008 sailing on Auckland's Waitamata Harbour with Rangitoto in the background

Intercolonial Yacht Racing Sydney 1900

The Intercolonial races of 1900 were part of an irregular series of such events between the colonial states of Australia and New Zealand, that had occurred for many decades before Australia's federation in 1901. Harry Pittar from Auckland, New Zealand had come across the Tasman to race in Sydney in 1898 with the New Zealand Bailey designed and built 2 &1/2 rater METEOR. While in Sydney he had issued a challenge to a match race BRONZEWING, Sydney's best boat in that class. METEOR won easily, showing the large gap that existed between Sydney and Auckland boats.

When he returned to Auckland he commissioned RAINBOW from the Logan Bros, largely because the Bailey brothers had split and their business was not operating. RAINBOW was launched in November 1898 and immediately Pittar raced it against a crack fleet in Auckland. RAINBOW quickly established itself at the head of the fleet. Meanwhile Pittar was working behind the scenes to create an Intercolonial yachting event in Auckland, to follow on from his initial foray to Sydney in 1898.

The response from Australia for the 1898 event was poor. Only two craft came over by ship, but one was BRONZEWING IV owned by Samuel Hordern. Hordern returned home to Sydney and commissioned a 36 foot Linear Rater designed by William Fife III and built by WM Ford. It was named WHITE WINGS when launched. Meanwhile another Sydney owner had already commissioned a second 36 foot Linear Rater. This one was from the recently reformed Bailey yard in Auckland, the famous cutter BONA.

Pittar and Hordern kept in contact with a view to a match between their two craft, but uncertainty remained over the venue until Pittar committed to sending RAINBOW for the Inter-Colonial Championship Yacht race to be sailed on the 26th January 1900 as part of the annual Anniversary Regatta. Late in 1899 the Sydney Referee had noted that " a meeting before the season is over between RAINBOW and Mr Hordern's new 5 rater [the Referee had not caught up with the change in rating rule] .....would indeed be something to look forward to;.... the popular Commodore of the Prince Alfred Yacht Club is game enough to tackle anything in the aquatic line". Meanwhile Pittar was keen to make his point that the Auckland big boats were better than the Sydney ones, and the Logans were just as enthusiastic to make a big impression with their craft.

Early in 1900 and in less than a months stay in Sydney Pittar, his skipper Arch Logan and RAINBOW made their point emphatically, along with a good dose of drama and spectacle to enliven an already much anticipated event. A measure of the respect and importance of the event was the offer by the well known yachtsman and surgeon Alex MacCormick to put his yacht THELMA's private dock, cradle and housing at Lavender Bay entirely at Pittar's disposal for the length of his stay. RAINBOW was slipped there soon after arrival where the crew polished the hull and stripped the hull of superfluous items including even the skylight over the saloon. These were preparations for a very serious race, but in the end the race that included RAINBOW and Hordern's WHITEWINGS got off to a ham-fisted start for RAINBOW. On the way to the start line the lookout, Pittar's brother, failed to see another vessel and the ensuing collision broke RAINBOW's bowsprit. The committee delayed the start for one hour. RAINBOW returned to Lavender Bay, and promptly ran aground. While the crew pushed RAINBOW off to deeper water, Arch Logan seized a yard from a lugger that had just been launched from William Holmes boatshed (Holmes was a fellow New Zealander and Devonport, Auckland colleague), broke into Holmes' shed and using his tools adzed the yard into shape as a replacement bowsprit before they returned to the startline.

The fleet for the Intercolonial Yacht race was RAINBOW, WHITE WINGS, BONA, AOMA and ZINITA. Curiously all but WHITE WINGS were also built in New Zealand but owned by Sydney yachtsman, and AOMA was another Logan Bros yacht, a 30 foot Linear Rater.

Racing in a black nor-easter, RAINBOW seized the lead from WHITE WINGS at the first mark and pulled away, gaining seven minutes over WHITE WINGS on one downwind leg to win comprehensively, with BONA placed third. A crew member from RAINBOW told the story of their visit to the 'Auckland Star' many years later. 'That night celebrations were held... with at least 700 people.... the first picture shown was RAINBOW getting the gun that afternoon. This caused a perfect furore.' The race had caused a huge impact in Sydney and later in New Zealand when the reports flowed through, and all the attention was on RAINBOW.

The next day RAINBOW joined BONA in a regular Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron club race. At the finish after handicaps were applied there was a rare dead heat between those two craft, then a protest was lodged against RAINBOW over a ballast technicality. It was upheld causing Pittar some ill feeling towards the Sydney sailors.

Meanwhile Hordern had issued a three-race challenge to Pittar immediately after the Intercolonial event. The two boats match raced from the 29th to the 31st of January, with RAINBOW winning the second and third heats convincingly. The third race saw more New Zealand ingenuity rattle the Sydney opposition. Arch Logan invited Holmes to sail as part of the crew. Holmes arrived with two others described as 'crack small boat sailors' , and an assemblage of spars and sailcloth. They asked to be left entirely alone. After rounding the first mark Holmes and his crafty team on the foredeck set flying from the topsail yard a huge spinnaker tacked to a makeshift spinnaker pole, but sheeted as a enormous genoa, creating a cross between an asymmetric reaching spinnaker and a Code Zero headsail to use 2008 sailing jargon. RAINBOW raced away in the light breeze. Hordern was watching all this with invited guests from his steamer BRONZEWING and 'nearly had apoplexy.'

Clearly RAINBOW was demonstrating its New Zealand superiority at every opportunity. However the yacht's next race the following weekend became its last in Sydney when it turned into a debacle. RAINBOW, BONA and a third large yacht DEFENDER collided at the start, causing significant damage to BONA and RAINBOW and both retired. The collision was widely reported and left Pittar furious at the actions of DEFENDER in particular. Unable to sell RAINBOW in Sydney as he had planned, he is reported to have refused having the boat repaired in Sydney, instead it went home scarred, to show 'what the barbarous Australians had done to him'. However, another view on the situation comes from the Sydney Morning Herald on the 5th of February, which carried a paragraph about a 'SMOKE CONCERT' attended by RAINBOW's crew before they left. The occasion 'was in honour of the visit of Mr Pittar and his crew from Auckland. Mr Pittar replied briefly thanking the club for the pleasant time given to his crew and himself'.

In May 1899 The Australian Yachtsman and Canoeist had reported that RAINBOW was likely to visit Sydney , and the editor hoped that it 'would do as much good to Sydney yachting as the METEOR has done". When it did come, RAINBOW raced only six times, but achieved this aim and the follow on for yachting in Sydney was significant. Yachting was still recovering from the effects of the poor economy in the 1890s, with a handful of new craft that had begun to rekindle enthusiasm amongst the Sydney sailors. RAINBOW's visit was the catalyst for a much bigger expansion of the fleet. Orders were placed for more Logan Bros yachts resulting in a class of 30 foot linear raters that developed into the mainstay of fleet racing for over a decade, and it was dominated by the Logan Bros designs. The Linear Rule became popular and locally designed craft were built as well.

Despite Pittar's apparent fury toward the end of the racing, he returned again in 1902 with another Logan design the 30 foot Linear Rater SUNBEAM. After that venture he settled in Sydney and continued in his profession as a dentist. In 1905 he commissioned a new 40 foot Linear Rater from Logan Bros, the impressive RAWHITI, (HV000019) which became the champion boat on Sydney Harbour until the early 1930s.