OBC Memoirs

From humble beginnings...

Piece of land

At the Club's 2nd Annual General Meeting in 1957/58, the name President was abolished and changed to Commodore. With a healthy bank account following the Club's first Boat Show and still no place to call home, members decided to plug for the rubbish dump at Hobson Bay - land they knew belonged to the Harbour Board but was vested in the Auckland City Council as a reserve. It was an eyesore - on a main entrance to the city and, without dredging lots of mud to form a channel approach, it was not the ideal site for the Club's purpose. However all attempts to obtain space at Okahu Bay or Westhaven were hopeless so beggars could not be choosers. In desperation members approached the Harbour Board with some practical ideas for the dump which were rejected out-right. By now though, a group of passionate members were determined to have this dump. After months of hammering, arguing, string pulling, lobbying sympathetic listeners plus good publicity from The Herald and The Star, they got it.

Oozy mud, shovels and gumboots


The first conception of a boating club for small boat owners, particularly boats that could be transported by trailer, was the idea of John Mallitte, editor of Sea Spray magazine in 1955. 

"In March I published an article I had written called "Outboard Cruisers" which in general described the advantages of these craft and their development in the USA. During the remainder of the year I published more information on this type of boat as the interest in them was growing rapidly and, by the end of the 1955-56 season, there were several more in the water and many more being built."  Outboarder, July 1976.

The desire for a trailer boat club in New Zealand came at a time when the boating season was just taking off in New Zealand.

Building materials such as plywood and glue that were previously hard to get hold of became available, and the first kitset plans were designed for people to build their own boats.

Import restrictions made it virtually impossible to get hold of outboard motors, so boaties came up with the idea of substituting them with car engines. Ford 10s were considered the best, followed by Dodges.

John Mallitte was aware that this type of boating was not catered for in New Zealand by any of the existing clubs, so he wrote to the OBC of America for guidance in forming a similar organisation in New Zealand. 

"Shortly after all the helpful literature arrived, trailer boat enthusiast Fred Walker came to my office clutching a duplicate set. He too thought it was time a club was formed and had also enlisted help from America."

And so, one afternoon in August 1956, 19 interested people gathered for a meeting in the boardroom of United Business Directories, publishers of the Sea Spray magazine.

The meeting was chaired by John Mallitte, and it was agreed that a club to be known as the Outboard Boating Club of New Zealand be formed along the lines of the OBC in America, including the constitution, it's officers and their duties.

The discussion and planning led to a public meeting held in the Auckland Sunday School Hall and was attended by around 70 boating enthusiasts. 

This was the inaugural meeting of the OBC of New Zealand.

"The formation of the OBC of New Zealand in Auckland last week has already created wide interest among the myriad of small boat owners. Seventy enthusiasts were present at the inaugural meeting and the local response since has been nothing short of amazing. The purpose for which the club was formed is to serve the interests of boating and in particular those propelled by outboard motors, and to set a high standard of safety at sea."  Auckland Star, June 1956.

As one of the prime movers, Fred Walker seemed the obvious choice to be the first President but he declined, instead offering his services as chairman of one of the working committees. Stan Gleadow was chosen to be the Club's first president at that meeting. Others elected at that first meeting were:

  • Secretary/Treasurer - Gore Fisher
  • Club Captain - Bob McRae
  • Chairman Programme/Attendance Committee - Fred Walker
  • Chairman Publicity/Membership Committee - Ron Abel
  • Chairman Technical & Safety Committee - Gordon Brookbanks

In all there were 15 foundation members.

The 1956 pioneers were elated with the enthusiasm surrounding the formation of the Club but soon realised it was one thing to start the club, but it was an entirely different proposition to find it a home.

From 25th October 1956, monthly meetings were held in the Commodore's Lounge of the Tamaki Yacht Club on a Thursday night. However the date was later moved to Tuesday night as the clash with "Coronation Street" appeared to be the cause of poor turnouts. 

Communication among members was provided by a monthly club report published in Sea Spray magazine. Sea Spray also featured articles on any new boat that was built or owned by a member.

At the end of the first year the Club had some 70 members and an annual income of a pound a head per entrance fee.  After all, the club had nothing to offer the members so it couldn't charge them much.

Early Difficulties

The early pioneers had no home, no ramp and above all, no money. Private offices, or members' homes were used for meetings other than the monthly one, and the Club's first registered office was in Secretary Ron Martin's garden shed.

Although members were allowed to launch at Takapuna Beach and Torpedo Bay, it was the steep and slippery ramps at Okahu Bay that became the club launching pad.

It was not uncommon to see a car and trailer slide into the water in those early days, and a quick tow was necessary for rescue.

"Launching at Okahu Bay was a slimy process," recalls John Cross.

"I remember one time when I was helping a guy launch his brand new boat. He put his foot on the brake and the wheels stopped but the car and trailer slid straight into the water. It went so far in, the boat floated off the trailer by itself, and the whole back of the car was floating in the water. I was standing with one foot on the trailer and one foot on the car bumper and I looked down and saw bubbles coming up from the exhaust - the car was still going! After that the guy lost all interest in the boating trip - he just wanted to get home to wash out his car."

Although the Club managed to persuade the Harbour Board to clean a section of the Okahu Bay ramp and paint it with anti-foul to help overcome the problem, any other local body help was out of the question.

"With the slightest breeze from the wrong direction waves lapped the ramp. Wives were left to hold the boat against the wind and waves while the skipper went off to get the trailer. Sometimes wet to the waist in their determined efforts, our womenfolk often got a bit unfriendly towards our love of boating."  Outboarder, 1976.

Early Outings

Lack of money and facilities didn't dampen the enthusiasm, and weekend outings were what held the Club together. The Club's first big run was organised in February 1957 when 21 smart cruisers, runabouts and high powered dinghies turned up at Mercer, each laden with wives, children, drink and food for the day - about 100 people in all.

"Proceeding at 12mph the flotilla made an impressive sight in those days, and we met up with two boats from the Waikato Power Boat Club who guided the formation through the narrow Rangiriri/Lake Waikare channel. The run home was at your own course and speed. Dad overboard pushing his craft off sandbanks was a common sight, but it was a wonderful family affair and that was what the OBC was all about."  Newsletter, 1957.

The OBC's most ambitious outing to date was an organised weekend to Kawau Island. The majority of boats trailed from Auckland to launch at Martin's Bay, although one made the voyage by sea from Takapuna Beach.

Boats ranged in size from John Hicks' 12ft dinghy to Club President Stan Gleadow's 21ft giant. 

Vivian Bay became headquarters for the afternoon skiing, then back to Mansion House for dinner and dancing. The following morning some of the keener ones were up at 6am water skiing.  Sea Spray, May 1957.

At the end of the first year, the Outboard Boating Club of New Zealand was in full swing. The increasing interest in membership was drawing Club members with wide experience and interests such as water skiing, skin diving and photography and, above all, export knowledge in marine engineering and boat building. 

Early in the year the club's pennant was designed and a supply was sent from Scotland. The first pennant was a real flag bunting which was unobtainable locally at the time. At all times emphasis was laid on the "family angle" and wives and children crowded the monthly meetings.

Entertainment at the monthly meetings was of great importance and included practical demonstrations of boating equipment, demonstrations from the Fire Department showing the best way to extinguish fires on boats, talks on navigating the inner Auckland harbours, slides on club outings, and slides and speeches on topics like skin diving by the Auckland Underwater Club.

Often of greater interest though was the healthy democratic debate that went on among members. 

"We all had our own votes and we all believed our vote was as good as the next one, and we were right until proved otherwise," recalls Ron Martin.

"The best speaker was Stan Gleadow. He could really draw a meeting. If he had an idea and no one else agreed, he would just talk and talk until we finally all agreed."

Technical & Safety meetings for the men were held between monthly meetings when representatives from the boating industry came to talk about their products and how to use them. One of the most popular subjects was fiberglass, the latest and greatest product on the market, and how to apply it without it bubbling.

As well there were mid-week visits to boat and trailer industries.