Hamilton's jachtclub wil graag de sport zien groeien in de door land omgeven stadjanuari 22, 2020
A safety message is being instilled into a group of kids at Hamilton’s Lake Rotoroa.
It’s possible that amongst them could be the next sailing champion like Sir Peter Blake, Glenn Ashby or Peter Burling.
The kids are wearing life jackets over their wetsuits on a chilly Friday evening.
There’s constant movement past the front of the yacht club as people stroll around the lake with their children, friends or dogs.
Inside the yacht club parents peer out the large windows – waiting to see how their kids handle the wind that has whipped up during the day.
Ensconced in the chairs a group of men share a beer, some chit chat while “choir practice”, as it’s known, is in session until they’re asked to explain why they spend their Friday evenings at the Hamilton Yacht club – and possibly Saturday afternoon’s racing on the lake – after half a decade.
Lake Rotoroa began forming about 20,000 years ago. It started off as part of an ancient river system – which became two smaller lakes divided by a narrow peninsula.
However, as the water level rose the peninsula was covered to form one larger lake as it is today.
It has a surface area of about 54 hectares and on average is just over two metres deep – although in two corners of the lake it’s over six metres deep.
The barman pops off another couple of bottle tops as choir practice cracks on.
Brian Smith pulls up a chair – he’s a former Commodore of the club is now a parton and also is a past president of yachting New Zealand between 1997 to 1999.
He joined Hamilton Yacht club in 1950 as a nine-year-old.
“I grew up on the hill and I still live there and I obviously got attracted to what was here. When I was pretty young I used to beg people to take me out for rides on yachts. I got my own P class which I got for my 11th birthday which is a few years ago and I’ve had yachts ever since.
“I guess you could call this my spiritual home I’m down here most weeks I introduced sailing to my family and sort of enjoyed the sport.”
Smith isn’t the only person to have gone on to higher honours from the Hamilton Yacht Club.
Current Olympic sailors Molly and Sam Meech learned their trade on Lake Rotoroa.
In 2013, Molly won the 49er World Championship title and at the Rio Olympic won silver alongside Alex Maloney. While her brother Sam, won a bronze medal in the Laser class also at Rio.
Smith said to enjoy the sport you have to believe in yourself.
“You are out there by yourself or with a crew, you’ve got to make decisions, the competitive nature of it probably the biggest thing.”
Smith heads back to choir practice.
Next up I am pointed in the direction of an enthusiastic and extremely smiley young woman – Bridget Gordon is one of those rounding up the kids to get them on the water.
She is one of the club’s coaches and her passion for the sport radiates from the moment you meet her.
The call of the water initially wasn’t strong for the 28-year-old despite sailing being in her family.
“I was actually an avid dancer so it took me awhile to get into so I was a bit older around 15 which is a bit older than most kids.
“I was probably the worst kid learning to sail. I’m sure they parked a coach boat between me and the shore for my first three days on the water because I so didn’t want to be there and because I was so terrified. But after I got over that learning curve I was really hooked I loved the community,” Gordon said.
While she still sails herself in between her nursing shifts at Waikato Hospital – she’s also giving back to the club by coaching.
“There is nothing better than letting 11 eight to 12-year-olds out in their own boat, if you think corralling a soccer team is challenging you try corralling 11 boats it is definitely interesting some days but it’s so rewarding,” Gordon said.
She believes it teaches water confidence and safety along with teamwork and independence.
“Some of the parents have sailing backgrounds, some of the kids I am teaching now are my coaches when I was first learned. So there is a bit of generational loop coming back around. But some have no sailing background whatsoever and we really see no difference in the kids,” Gordon said.
This year the club has one of their biggest intakes they’ve had with 28 brand new sailors going through the learn to sail programme and about 35 on the more advanced programmes.
“Despite being an Island nation and being discovered by sailors of both Māori and Europeans backgrounds a lot of us now have no idea and it seems so fascinating to me that we have so little connection to this key part of our history,” Gordon said.
By now the choir session has all their members for the evening, Jack Nimmes is in the thick of things.
The 69-year-old has been sailing since a youngster, having begun in about 1958.
“I was the only one in the family – because the sport wasn’t an accepted sport back in the day – it was an unusual sport for people to do. But we saved up and bought our first boat and used to use the paper round to save up to buy a sail – it’s tough to do it without it, “Nimmes said.
And since then he’s enjoyed a lot of camaraderie and made friendships for life with people who sail here right throughout the world.
It’s a sport that continues to offer a challenge not matter what age or experience.
“No two days are the same so it’s a constant challenge between you, the environment and the wind to get from A to B as quick as you can.
“And it’s quite a physical workout while you aren’t running it’s like a constant hour and a half of pilates as you are constantly bending and moving and using every muscle in your body so it’s quite a good physical workout on your body, low impact,” Nimmes said.
He acknowledges that it’s a really good environmental sport as you’re not polluting the water in any way as you leave it exactly the same when you got on as when you get off.
Nimmes encourages everyone to give it a go.
“I think there is so much choice for people that they’ve got other things to do, so many other water sports that have been created. The biggest issue now is that people are stuck in front of their TV playing games, so it’s a good thing to get out amongst the elements.
“But if you don’t mind getting your bum wet, you want to have a bit of a physical work out and a mental challenge it. It is seriously a good time. You do have to be a bit of a thrill seeker as the boats can go pretty quick and if you enjoy a little bit of speed and a little bit of risk that goes with it,” Nimmes said.
Werner Hennig is the current club commodore – has been since June – and is still finding his feet.
Originally from Brazil, Hennig is a huge sailing fan but didn’t realise landlocked Hamilton had a yacht club.
Having arrived in Hamilton in 2000 it wasn’t until about 2012 after five years sailing around the world with his family that he was told of the yacht club at Lake Rotoroa.
“With so much sea around New Zealand you always think you are going to sail in the traditional places,” Hennig said.
The club which was established in 1937 – now shares the lake with other water sports like waka ama and dragon boating.
“I think we share pretty well there is a booking on the lake for activities. So like Saturday’s it is for the sailing and Wednesday afternoon and there are days for the waka ama. The lake is not big but we can talk and organise a sharing, it’s a good relationship,” Hennig said.
There have been concerns about the water quality after it declined significantly in 1989/90 following the die-off of the lake’s macrophytes. As they decomposed they released nutrients into the water which resulted in the growth of microscopic algae and a decline in water clarity.
And for this reason the Hamilton City Council advises people not to swim in the water, drink it or cook with it, or eat fish caught in the lake.
However Hennig said they haven’t had any problems and sailors have a shower in the clubhouse when they come in off the water.
What would Hennig like to see for the club?
“I want to see more boats in the water, I think that is what it is for that it is more people being members of the club, more kids getting involved in the sport even if it just to learn and they might not stay – a lot of kids might learn then the next year do something else and that is fine. But we would like to retain more so they went on to racing,” Hennig said.
He knows the sport comes with some preconceived beliefs.
“It has that reputation [of being a rich person’s sport] but in the same way the kids learning to sail here they get the boat from the club or if you are looking at buying a boat there are second hand options – it depends on the boat but an optimist can be picked up for about $300 and there are a lot more sports that you need a lot more money than that,” Hennig said.
Sailing is not only competition, it’s for the family, it’s going out on the water and enjoying time on the boat, it doesn’t need to be only competition it can be a hobby and be fun.
“I think it’s a privilege for Hamilton to have this place the lake and the club and lots of people like in my case may not know it exists,” Hennig said.