150 Story #3: A tribute from a grateful sailor – By Chris Bouzaid, MBE

Image by Andrew Delves RNZYS – One Tonne Revisted Regatta 2015 – Chris Bouzaid on the helm of Rainbow II

As the 2021 sesquicentenary of the RNZYS draws attention to the Club’s heritage it also marks a personal milestone for this maturing skipper – a member of the RNZYS for nearly half of its existence – tenure that I am equally humbled and proud of.

I’m best known in the yachting world for being the first New Zealander to win major international keelboat regattas, including the Sydney to Hobart Race (’68), the One Ton Cup (’69 and ’72), Cowes Week, Kiel Week and the Fastnet Race.  These wins over a very short period of time singled me out as the father of NZ international keelboat yachting but none of them would have been possible without the support of my mentors, my world-class crews and the RNZYS.  

I was introduced to the Club by my father, Leo Bouzaid, who joined the RNZYS in 1937. I was only nineteen when he died in 1962 and my brother and I inherited his company, Sails and Covers Ltd or “rags and bags” as it was affectionately known by yachties.  My brother and I stuck with dad’s old sales pitch  “they’re turning out great this” year referring to whatever sail the customer might think they needed and with the mentorship of Bob Stewart, designer of the famous Stewart 34, we defied our skeptics and captured most of the keelboat market within two years.

Back then keelboat racing was somewhat of a gentleman’s sport and Lou Tercel, champion of the Waitemata, and the crew of Ranger were among our best customers.  But by 1965 we started to lose business to a new loft run by our American competitor Hood Sailmakers. When Jim Davern turned up with Fidelis fully equipped with Hood sails, I knew I had to prove that our rags were as good if not better. (Little did I know I would one day be tapped to run the Hood company.)

In 1966 I commissioned a 36’ Sparkman & Stephens sloop, built in just eight weeks, and named her Rainbow II after my father’s 50-foot famous Logan yacht.  She was something of an ugly duckling but with a well-drilled team and good sails I knew she would be almost unbeatable.  I assembled a top-flight, if motley crew, and using the age-old strategy of PPPPPP (prior preparation prevents piss poor performance) we trained, worked out and practiced, practiced, practiced. 

Two months after launching we won our first race from Whangarei to Noumea then sailed to Australia to compete in the famous Sydney to Hobart Race.  

Rainbow II beat all comers from around the world, including Eric Tabarly and Pen Duick which ended their record-setting global winning streak. In all these races we flew the RNZYS burgee. 

On the strength of our achievements, Bruce Marler the Club’s Commodore suggested that Rainbow II should go to Germany and compete for the One Ton Cup which at that time was second only to the America’s Cup in terms of prestige and reputation. This was beyond the realm of my finances but the RNZYS formed a committee and raised the funds we needed to send Rainbow II and crew to Germany in 1968.  We finished second that year but with the help of the Auckland Star and legendary correspondent Noel Holmes, our ugly duckling became the darling of New Zealand. 

Returning from Heligoland I knew I had to make Rainbow II more competitive in lighter air. A teak deck was unaffordable, so I added a steel layer on top of the plywood decks and a much heavier diesel engine. Those modifications increased the sail area by fifteen percent. We went up with the mast by nearly a meter and built larger sails for both upwind and downwind.

The modified Rainbow II continued beating all comers and once again the RNZYS came to our financial aid so we could campaign again in Europe in 1969. We won all but three of forty-eight races including Kiel Week, Travamunde Week, the One Ton Cup, Cowes Week, Channel Race and our Class in the Fastnet Race, proudly flying the RNZYS flag.

Rainbow II won the One Ton Cup on the same day that astronaut Neil Armstrong took mankind’s first steps on the moon, landing us both on the front page of most NZ newspapers.  On our return to Auckland, the great Sir Edmund Hillary was among those waiting to welcome us into the annals of our country’s great sporting history.

Our success put New Zealand on the worldwide sailing map and set a course that still guides our country’s best yachting talent today.  My crew and I were honored to help establish the RNZYS as our country’s premier yacht club.  Half a century later it is unquestionably one of the most recognized and prestigious yachting organisations in the world and it’s among my proudest accomplishments to have contributed to that legacy.  

The RNZYS has always been my club and always will be.

By Chris Bouzaid, MBE

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