The black fleet consisted of ten boats in all (not bad considering that we had five boys). Naturally our 45 ft ketch New Zealand Maid was the mothership, looking in her piratical colours and rig rather like a ketch version of Viper from Peter Duck.
She had two black tenders – our 12 ft cutter and the 8 ft gig – which nested together on her cabintop (one inside the other) on our ocean passages. They both could be rowed or ‘jury rigged’, and were regularly used by the boys for expeditions covering dozens of sea miles.
Sam learned to row the ship’s gig before he turned four years old.There were two Optimists, both black with a gold jolly roger on each quarter. Dreadnought had a red sail and a removable rowing seat (like Jake’s Privateer in Those Shipwreck Kids), and Buccaneer had a gold-yellow sail. Arthur Ransome fans will recognise these evocative names.
The rest of the fleet comprised five P-Class sailing dinghies. These Kiwi 7 footers are notoriously tough to sail and have trained some great Kiwi sailors from a young age. Death ’n Glory and Jolly Roger were the two older heavy ones, great for expeditioning in local lakes and waterways with tents stowed in their lockers.
Ben and Dan rebuilt the more competitive Privateer and Pieces of Eight from discarded racing hulls and went on to compete in the Nationals. The fifth P Class, Capt’n Flint, ended up in NZ’s National Museum (Te Papa, in Wellington) in the Kiwiana nostalgia section.