7 Mar 2016

Classic boats on show in Nelson

7:08 pm on 7 March 2016

A chance sighting of a run-down boat on the side of the road was the genesis of the annual Antique and Classic Boat Show at Lake Rotoiti in the Nelson Lakes National Park.

Founder Pete Rainey, whose family has a long-held attachment to the area, said when he saw the old boat it sparked an idea that over the years has grown into an event that attracts boats and people from around the world.

"I found an old runabout from when I could remember as a kid, that was for sale on the side of the road when I was heading up towards Lake Rotoiti and I bought it.

"It spurred my interest in restoring this boat and subsequently I took quite an interest in what was happening in the States with classic and antique boats.

"At that point no one was really doing anything like it in New Zealand, so that's why I kicked it off."

The show has run on the first weekend in March for the past 17 years and has survived the heat and dust of drought-stricken summers, like this year, and the bitter alpine winds of early winters in other years.

Classic boats of all types, from launches to steamboats, clinker sailing boats, burnished mahogany Great Lakes power boats and varnished rowboats hold centre stage at the show which began with a grand parade led this year by piper Lachie MacDonald of the Wellington Scots College Pipe Band.

The show has evolved into a mix of theatre and craftsmanship, as the public has embraced the nostalgia of the event and the lake's rich nautical heritage.

One example is the "unofficial" Royal Kerr Bay Motorboat Club, founded 17 years ago by Bruce Batty and Johnny Malthus in honour of the bay on which the show is held.

Mr Batty recalled one of their finer moments, involving a boat named Camilla Parker Bowles.

"She needed a bit of work done on her bottom but we got her sailing. She was a beautiful boat but unfortunately the Camilla passed away about three or four years ago and went to the recycling centre - never to be sailed again," Mr Batty said.

He and Mr Malthus have since turned their attention to sleeker American lines, such as the shiny, classic Chris Craft powerboat My Love.

Mr Rainey, who along with Glenn Common are the names behind youth music competition, Smokefree Rockquest, said so far there was no similarity, but he was working on it.

"We have some bands in Rockquest with some pretty unusual names, and equally there are some boats with pretty unusual names and when I get a cross-over between both competitions I'll be very happy."

Mr Rainey said his favourite band name so far was Bash the Bishop, but he had yet to see a boat with that name.

The standout for him this year was the presence of former world speed record holder Peter Knight, his son Peter Knight junior, and grandson Andrew Knight.

In 1968 Mr Knight senior and his self-built hydroplane Bel Aire III set a world record speed of 177 miles an hour on Twizel's Lake Ruataniwha. He retired from racing in 1970 and Bel Aire III was mothballed, but revived by his son and re-launched last year.

The Knights were awarded the hand-crafted copper and silver Jens Hansen Cup for best overall boat at this year's show.

Mr Knight, 86, said it was a special time for him being back at Lake Rotoiti. He was last there 43 years ago.

"I won the Masport Cup here - New Brighton had won the race and we decided to defend it up here."

Mr Knight said the only bad accident he ever had was at Lake Rotoiti, when a back injury during a "bad cornering" forced him into hospital.

Long time judge and Nelson boat builder John Harris said the job had got tougher as more people turned their attention to restoring old craft. The panel first had to see something special, and then listen to the story behind it before picking a winner, he said.

Prizes were awarded in several categories, including restoration, rowing craft, jetboat, sailing boat, motorcraft and steamboat.

The Knights have decided to leave Bel Air III on display in the Classic Boat Museum in the Lake Rotoiti township of St Arnaud.