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The Soul of the Kawau Boating Club


“I love sailing in to the KBC after the Coastal Classic. I walk in barefoot, tired, sweaty, covered in salt. Have a hot shower, grab a beer and feel utterly relaxed. Kind of like I have reached a far-away place.”

“It’s so not Auckland.”

“It’s like living history. It’s a lot like what I remember when my Dad brought me up here 30 years ago.”

“This is great, watching my kids play while I sit over the water having a quiet drink. I am going to join today.”

“Love running into some of the local folks. Lucky sods to be living here all the time. For me this is a real break from life on the mainland.”

These are just a small sampling of the comments visiting boaties make about the KBC. But they sum up what I call the ‘soul’ of the club. It is imperative that any club, like any business, must evolve and change to stay relevant (and successful.) It is just as important to ensure that change doesn’t happen so quickly or so randomly that the very reasons for the club’s success are lost.

A bit of history could be useful as we consider the future of the KBC.

In the late 1940’s the Lidgard’s, who ran a boat building yard on the relatively flat land along the western side of Smelting House cove, found themselves hosting an ever growing crowd of eager island boaties each summer. From what some have told me, the Christmas and New Year’s racing that took place here lead to some epic parties. In 1952 the Lidgards offered a section of their land for a Kawau Island Yacht Club (KIYC). Within a year Kawau residents and visiting boaties had gathered materials and participated in building the club house. The land lease created between the KIYC and Lidgards stated there would be a “peppercorn rent” collected each year. Several years later, due to family financial problems all the Lidgard land was acquired by the defunct Motor Yacht Club. The MYC agreed that the KIYC continue to exist and pay a peppercorn rent. When the MYC ceased to exist due to dwindling membership numbers, they deeded the land from the old Smelting House ruins, around the point to the site of the KBC, to the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron (RNZYS). The RNZYS ran the KIYC as a separate entity, complete with it’s own constitution and officers, with Bill and Ngarie Schumackers, residents of the island, maiantaining a very popular café and a shop in the clubhouse.

 All during the first 45 years of Kawau Island Yacht Club’s existence,  it was well supported by the residents of the island who numbered in excess of 150 full time residents. Unfortunately, when the Schumackers retired, the next managers did not have the same connection to the island community. So local patronage dropped off and income dropped tremendously. This seemed to coincide with the need for some serious upgrading of the old building if it was to continue to be used. Thus, in April of 2014 it was suggested the land be sold to private interests and the clubhouse and fueling dock was formally closed and the fueling permits allowed to expire.

When word of this spread to the general boating community and to Kawau Island residents and property owners, a movement began to “rescue” the KIYC. Many felt the Squadron did not have the right to sell the KIYC– especially as the buildings were not only an important part of Island and Auckland nautical history but “islander built.”

A group of six determined boaties, three from the Auckland area and three with properties on Kawau, got together to try to find a way to keep the spirit of the original club alive. Together they came up with a proposal to rent the premises and land around the buildings from the Squadron and keep the old clubhouse standing. But some members of the squadron committee were opposed to this as they considered the potential financial gain could be used for expanding their other facilities on the adjoining properties.

Fortunately it was found that, as the KIYC had a separate club structure from the Squadron, the decision to sell the club land had to be approved by a majority of KIYC members. A formal meeting was arranged and invitations sent out to the remaining 300 plus paid up members. (Membership of the KIYC was charged separately from Squadron dues and was open to anyone who wished to join, not just Squadron members. At that time, due to a dwindled island population and the declining state of the clubhouse and less than welcoming managers, only about 25 Kawau Islander residents were still paid up members.) More than 250 voting members from all around the Auckland region attended and unanimously voted against selling off the land and buildings.

Within days of this meeting, the founding committee[1] of the new Kawau Boating Club began formal negotiations with the Squadron. Each of the 7 committee members put $5,000 in the kitty to help get the club up and running. This was to be paid back if and when the club could afford to do so.[2] It was unanimously decided that the goal of the committee was to create a club which was highly inclusive, family orientated and would provide facilities for boaties of all types and financial brackets; kayakers, families who head out fishing in small tinnies, classic launches, and sailors on trailer-able yachts, live-aboard boaties, racers. To keep subs affordable, and also  it was decided that the KBC would not run yacht races in competition with other clubs, but rather to support them by encouraging them to use the KBC premises. Thus the expense of joining YNZ (Yachting NZ) was avoided. The goal of the committee became encouraging other yacht clubs to become associate members and host races beginning and ending at the KBC. i.e. encourage the clubs use as what American yacht clubs call an “outstation”.

A five-year club upgrade plan was created and the concepts were drawn by John Sinclair and circulated to the boating community. This included reinstating fuel sales, increasing the deck in front of the clubhouse, upgrading the kitchen, creating a new bar area, removing part of the wall in the main room to create a store area, turning the old store room into a children’s play area and library by removing the front wall and putting in window doors and create a pontoon area for dinghy landing and small boat fueling.

Though it was hoped that many people would pay for a membership just to help keep the clubhouse open, it was realized that incentives were needed to get a wide variety of boaties, including less affluent ones to not only join, but to renew each year. The benefits of the basic membership incentives were to include free use of showers, a laundry, water top ups at no charge, a discount of 20 cents a litre on fuel and a discount on bar drinks. (It was hoped that other incentives could be provided such as special discounts from vendors – but this has not yet been actioned.)

Almost immediately volunteers from the island, several live-aboard cruisers and Sandspit residents began turning up to help clean and repair the premises which had been closed for almost a year. This was a true mission as trees growing in the gutters had reached up to a metre in height, rats had over-run the kitchen and few of the toilet amenities were still working. More trying was, the permits required to sell fuel had lapsed.

Invitations to join the new KBC began going out in September. A preview reopening of the KBC occurred on Labour Day weekend in 2014, and over 400 members had already shown their financial and in person support. The club closed temporarily for urgent kitchen upgrades and a month later reopened with new bistro managers – Davo and Robyn Lee. The first fuel shipment was finally approved by council and the fuel barge arrived to pump almost $90,000 worth of petrol and diesel into the club tanks just before Christmas. (As the club did not have sufficient funds to pay for this fuel, a committee member provided the funds which were reimbursed as the fuel sold. Twice more in the following years, committee members financed the fueling, until 2020 when, after an amazing amount of hard work by the committee, Hauraki Express took over and provided 24/7 card operated fueling services.) By the beginning of 2015, Davo and Robyn became license holders for what they named, the Bon Accord Bar and Bistro. And with their enthusiastic support, by the end of the first season the KBC had more than 800 paid up members, including more than 50% of the full-time residents on the island.

In recognition that the KBC not only served the greater community, but served as the only community centre for Kawau Islanders, the then Rodney District Council provided grants totaling more than $50,000 in cash and services to help upgrade the ablutions block, provide resource consents for extensions to the club deck, the fueling systems.

Though the original upgrade plans for the club were supposed to take five years, it was six and a half years before the fuel and dinghy pontoon was finally installed. Thus, completing all the dreams of the original committee. During that time more than $700,000 was spent on upgrades. The majority came from membership fees with an average of 650 individuals or families paying to join each year. Approximately 10% came from donations including naming rights to each of the planks on the fueling dock.

At this time the KBC has no major debt, but after paying off the loan for the pontoon an estimate of remaining funds based on information from the minutes of the 2020 AGM (currently there are no financial statements publicly available) is between $20,000 and 30,000.


Kawau Islanders and the KBC

It was Kawau Islanders, assisted by visiting boaties who created the original KIYC. But, interest in becoming paid members dwindled during the years after Bill and Ngaire Shumacker retired. There are several reasons for this. The benefit of free showers and laundry was little incentive to people who had their homes or baches on Kawau. And, unfortunately the poor management of the bar and cafe and an often hostile attitude towards island residents meant, when the Squadron decided to sell the land and building, fewer than 25 island property owners were paid up members. Yet, interestingly, when a special AGM was called to stop the potential sale, more than a dozen more islanders paid membership fees to be able to vote against the sale.

Four of the seven founding members of the committee were islanders (two full time residents, two with holiday homes here). Seventy percent of the volunteers who turned up to help clean up the clubhouse were resident on Kawau.

Now, there being only about 120 residents on the island and less than 300 property owners, but Kawau Islanders make up 14% of the membership or about half the islands permanent or semi-permanent  population. This despite there being little direct incentive for islanders to join. Clearly they see the KBC as important to life on Kawau.

But the contribution of islanders beyond membership fees could be further exploited. They are available as volunteers for events, during the quieter times, their patronage helps keep the bistro viable. Recent events which were conducted during outside the peak summer season, such as the Meet Your Neighbour gathering and ANZAC day celebrations, were fully subscribed and earn both the Lee’s and the KBC much needed funds during the times when few boaties frequent Bon Accord Harbour. Furthermore, by emphasizing the importance of the KBC for the island community, grants from council are much more readily available. And of course, having island residents enjoying the facilities adds the “local colour” often commented on by boating visitors.


The Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron and KBC

Although during the original negotiations with the Squadron there was, at times, a slightly antagonistic feeling towards the KBC. This was partially due to a lack of confidence that the KBC would succeed.This has dissipated through the years as the KBC matured and  now the relationship is considered successfully symbiotic. Though there have been some relatively high costs as landlords, the Squadron has found these are offset by the benefits of having a well-run bar and bistro. The Lee’s provide all of the food for the annual two week long Squadron Youth Training camp, feeding up to 80 youngsters three meals a day, (whilst the club remains open for members). The Lidgard house bookings soared once the KBC opened its doors and provides extra income for the Squadron which they have been using to upgrade the land surrounding the KBC and Lidgard house.

The success of KBC contributed to a renewed commitment by RNZYS to Kawau, the facilities, youth training and special events. Thus the Squadron now is highly supportive of the KBC.


The Lees and KBC

When the founding committee began looking for people to actually operate a bistro in the KBC, Trevor Ready took on the unenviable task. Serendipitously, Davo and Robyn Lees who were living in Italy at that time, had decided to return home.  They had sent their CV’s to Hayden Porter, Gen Manager RNZYS.  Knowing Trevor was ‘on the hunt’ Hayden advised Davo and Robyn to make contact with Trevor. 

They were selected to operate the new KBC as salaried managers.  It was soon evident to the new committee that the task of purchasing alcohol and food, providing and paying staff and finding accommodation for staff on the island was onerous.

When the Lee’s suggested they purchase the Bar & Bistro business within the club – this suggestion was welcomed by the committee and negotiations ensued.  A ‘Licence to Operate’ was drawn up by the KBC’s lawyer, a purchase price and fee structure agreed, and the agreement was signed just before Xmas 2014.[1]

The licence fee paid by the the Lee’s to the KBC is used to pay the lease to RNZYS and a small portion retained by the KBC.

While there is a necessary tension between a Licencor (KBC) and a Licencee (Bon Accord Bar & Bistro) both parties have worked well to date resolving the inevitable ‘who pays for what’ questions in a responsible and amicable fashion. 

The Licence Agreement between the Lee’s and the KBC includes a clause regarding relationships - “to use their best endeavours to ensure the goals of KBC, in providing a welcoming facility for visitors, club members, Kawau Island property owners and Kawau Island functions, are maintained”.


What Next?

It is time for members of the KBC to work together with the committee. We need to create both short term and long term plans which ensure the club fulfills its original purpose.

Every organization has to evolve to stay relevant. But at the same time, it is imperative that change doesn’t happen just for the sake of change. This was supposed to be a short look at what I called the Soul of the KBC. My goal, to distill what makes the KBC special. I personally think the most important reason members, occasional visitors, non-islanders and islanders come to the KBC is to get away from city life, to feel like they are on a bit of an “overseas adventure” and can enjoy a place where history and community still exist.

Our challenge is to keep this spirit alive.


By Lin Pardey

Retired Secretary/Treasurer and member of founding committee 2014-2017

[1] The original group of six included John Sinclair, Martin Farrand, Evan Innes-Jones, Trevor Ready, David Innes, David Jeffreys. Approximately two months later Lin Pardey was asked to join the committee.

[2] After the 3rd year of operations this loan was paid off.

[3] the members’ bar discount is financed willingly by the Bon Accord Bar & Bistro. It should  also be noted that Bon Accord Bar & Bistro employs up to 12 staff during high season and they provide accommodation for most of the staff on their private property.