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The Soul of the Kawau Boating Club
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
living history. It’s a lot like what I remember when my Dad brought me up here
30 years ago.”
great, watching my kids play while I sit over the water having a quiet drink. I
am going to join today.”
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.”
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.
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 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. 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”.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
New Zealand Yacht Squadron and KBC
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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
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
challenge is to keep this spirit alive.
Secretary/Treasurer and member of founding committee 2014-2017
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.
 After the 3rd year of operations this loan was paid off.
 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.