Last Friday (30 October 2020) was a sad day for those attending the funeral at St Joseph’s Church Takapuna of David Barnes but also a massive tribute to him from the yacht racing community. The occasion, which was attended by everyone who was anyone in New Zealand yacht racing, provided a reminder of the prominent part that Dave played among New Zealand sailors of the past who led the way to New Zealand becoming a powerful participant in International yacht racing.
As is well known, Dave (with Hamish Willcox) was the first New Zealander to win a World Championship in an Olympic Event, winning the 1984 Worlds and then again two more times. Prior to that as a 15 year old in 1973, he had won the prestigious Tanner and Tauranga Cups for the P class. Subsequently, he was the helmsman for KZ5 and alternate helmsman to Chris Dickson on KZ7 for New Zealand’s famous initial attempt in 1985 to win the America’s Cup off Freemantle and 2 years later as skipper of KZ7 won the 12 metre Worlds in Sardinia . He was then in 1988 helmsman on Michael Faye’s Big Boat America’s Cup KZ1 Challenge which was defeated at San Diego, infamously, by Dennis Conor in a catamaran.
Four years later, he was again at San Diego as tactician to Rod Davis on the boat that was beaten by the Italians in the Challenger series following the late protest against the use of a bow sprit. At that point, he gave yacht racing away and took employment at The Warehouse.
This proved to be a fortuitous development for me the following year when I first decided to venture into yacht racing as a means of distraction from an over-busy barrister’s practice. Having learned that the previous winner of the Sydney-Hobart race was an Australian 40 foot yacht called Assassin but designed by Bruce Farr and built by Cookson Yachts in Auckland, I telephoned Mick Cookson and went to talk to him about his building me a similar boat. Mick immediately recognised my naivety and complete (and I mean complete) inexperience in yacht racing and wisely steered me into considering building a new one design boat that was to be the small boat in the Admiral’s Cup and known as the Mumm 36 after the sponsor Champagne Mumm.
I did say to Mick that I thought this was a pretty formidable challenge. His response was that there was a famous New Zealand sailor called David Barnes who was being wasted at The Warehouse and who I should talk to. This I did and so was GEORGIA RACING born. The little Mumm 36 was named GEORGIA EXPRESS after my then 8 year old daughter Georgia.
Dave assumed the running of the boat and we acquired, again with Mick Cookson’s help, a number of young sailors, then virtually unknown but who later themselves became America’s Cup sailors. In no particular order, we had Gavin Brady (who helmed the boat with Dave as skipper and doing tactics), Chris Salthouse, Jeremy Lomas, Jared Henderson and also (a bit older than the young pups) Harry Dodson, Dennis Kendall and Grant Beck. Later, James Dagg and Grant Loretz joined the boat as trimmers. Richard Meacham also sailed with us on a second Mumm 36 which was to finish 4th in the Worlds in Punta Ala in Italy and was the top finisher among the small boats in the Admiral’s Cup.
Our initial outing in the first Mumm 36 was in trials on the Hauraki Gulf for a place in a New Zealand team of 3 boats to contest the Southern Cross Cup in Sydney in December of that year (1993). We won the trials and then performed well in the windward-leeward segment of the Southern Cross Cup, our main rival being another Mumm 36 helmed by Russell Coutts. The last race of the Event was the Sydney-Hobart race which by tradition started on Boxing Day and carried quadruple points. Dave, by arrangement, left us to be at home for Christmas. The race was a horror show with less than 30 boats out of 100 making it to Hobart. We were one of the majority!
The following year, we shipped the Mumm to Hawaii for the Kenwood Cup where we performed creditably and then shipped it on to Hong Kong for the Corum Cup where our main rival was a very well sailed French Mumm 36 who beat us overall in the regatta by winning the last race. Subsequently, we shipped the boat to Europe where (with Murray Jones, fresh from winning the America’s Cup, as tactician and Dave on the helm, we competed in the Worlds in the Solent, finishing 4th despite getting stuck on a sand bar (a fact which managed to be reported in the NZ Herald at home). One thing I do recall about that incident was that Dave never panicked but just set about working out how to get off the sand. It transpired that that particular sand bar was one that regularly uncovered in summer at low tide and the English traditionally played a game of cricket on it. There were subsequent complaints that our keel had made a mess of the pitch!
We also took the Mumm to San Francisco for the Big Boat series, with Dave steering and Earl Williams calling tactics. All of this before the America’s Cup was held there!
After working for the Australian America’s Cup team in San Diego in 1995 and our racing on the Mumm in England (above) and Belgium, Dave and I set our eyes on the Kenwood Cup for 1996. We took the decision to get Mick Cookson to build us a new 43 foot racer-cruiser, modelled on Flash Gordon, a stripped out American-owned racer which was otherwise the same Farr design. After winning the Air New Zealand International Regatta in February (and again the following year), we in fact competed against Flash Gordon in the Kenwood Cup later in the year and beat her to win our Division (based on size), the Racer Cruiser Division also and, as a New Zealand team with two other boats, the Kenwood Cup overall. Dave project managed the construction of the boat and of course the whole campaign. George Hendy began his subsequent stewardship of GEORGIA RACING as navigator at this Regatta, assuring us and a doubting Dave in particular that the rock that we could all see visible in the distance at the next point was by his chart 20 feet below the surface. The “rock” turned out to be a whale scratching its stomach on the rock below!
After the regatta we had the problem of getting the boat back to New Zealand – the cargo ships went north from Auckland to the West Coast of America via Hawaii but did not call there when going South. Four of us were deputised to sail the back to New Zealand – Jeremy Lomas, Jared Henderson, David Munders and me – none of us with real ocean sailing experience. Dave had more confidence in us that we did in ourselves and enthusiastically waved us off from the Royal Hawaiian Yacht Club as we set off for the crossing of the Pacific, with a truly memorable stop off in the tiny Palmyra Atoll which had been a strategic American base in World War II. (For the account of this trip, as subsequently published in the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron’s The Breeze, see http://www.georgia-racing.co.nz/pdf/BreezeMagazine.pdf)
Our next and last venture was the building of the second Mumm 36 by Cookson (which Dave project managed) and, as referred to above, its successful participation in the Worlds in Italy and in the Admiral’s Cup.
I look back on those years with great enjoyment and appreciation for the opportunity to work and sail with Dave. He was at all times a quiet, effective and innovative leader who, by example as much as by tuition, inspired and imparted his considerable skill, experience and knowledge to the other crew members of the GEORGIA RACING boats and in particular laid the foundation for the young sailors to achieve their later America’s Cup stardom.
Dave was also a loyal friend with a quiet sense of humour and all of us have been deeply saddened by the cruel illness that inflicted him and eventually took his life. We all send our sympathy to Karen and his three children.
It was an honour and privilege for me and GEORGIA RACING to have been small participants in David Barnes’ amazing yacht racing career and life.
3 November 2020