Local legend and Tauranga Yacht and Powerboat Club member Alf Rendell has reached the grand age of 102.
Born in November 1917, he came to the small, coastal fishing village of Tauranga as an eight-month-old baby from Whakatane, and like his father before him, became a well-known photographer in the region.
Alf was the rear commodore of the Tauranga Yacht and Powerboat Club in 1940 and 41.
“At the end of that season I put my boat up for sale, sold it and went into the army,” says Alf.
“They asked me ‘what would I like to do?’, and I said I’d like to go into signals or the army services corp, but they put me into machine gunners.
“I went as an observer in September. Soon afterwards in December, the Japanese came into the war. They’d sent us to Fiji, but I was lucky. I had the flu so I followed the battalion about a month later and missed all the hard work. They had to dig out the sandstone to put petrol tanks into the ground.”
After three months, Alf returned to NZ before being sent to Tonga. There he manned the machine gun posts around the coasts at night, and was given the job of photographer.
“They issued me with a bicycle, so when I wasn’t doing army duty I could cycle wherever I liked.”
He took a series of pictures, with some of them now on display in Tonga’s first public library which was opened in October 2019.
After the four months in Tonga, Alf was sent to New Caledonia, where he was able to use a dark room to print out photographs for every chap in the battalion, spending the rest of the war mainly doing photography.
On returning to NZ in 1945, Alf didn’t buy a boat again for a long time.
“I got married. And went into business doing photography and just became very busy.”
He dropped off his membership of the yacht and powerboat club for a few years.
“But I’m a member now. I’m probably what you call a social member.”
Alf is also a member of the Order of the Blue Gavel, a group of ex-NZ commodores.
Back in 1940, the Tauranga Yacht and Powerboat Club was located next to the Matapihi rail bridge.
“I joined the yacht club in 1933 when I was still going to school. We were building the yacht club in the last year or two of school, and we used to do working bees.”
The current commodore Andrew Knowles says the club moved to its new location at Sulphur Point because the then new harbour bridge was not high enough to allow yachts with masts up to pass underneath.
Alf recalls there were about 100 members back in the 30s.
“There were about 20 or 30 boats – including three or four yachts, and launches. We used to have the odd race.”
Alf sailed a Patiki yacht called Mavis. Arch Logan had designed the small skimmers at the turn of the century, calling them Patikis, the Maori name for flounder or flatfish.
Alf recalls with a chuckle that as rear commodore he didn’t have to do much.
“It was just a nominal position.”
He does remember a tragedy though that happened in the harbour.
“On 14 January, 1940, four men who were on board the Ngahuia drowned off Matakana Island. There were five on board coming back in in a storm, and they grounded in the middle of the night. Only one lived, four drowned.”
The B class keel yacht Ngahuia had run into a storm with heavy seas on a return trip from White Island.
The survivor and yacht owner Frank Gresham made it to shore through 50 yards of boiling surf, and although injured, alerted a nearby resident who sent for help.
The four who died, all club members, were 19-year-old John Willcock, 23-year-old Roy Tonkin, 33-year-old Phillip Neilson, and 38-year-old Leslie Mellows. Despite a search by 150 men, Phillip’s body was never recovered.
“At their funerals I represented the yacht club,” says Alf.
In October 2020, it will be 100 years since the Tauranga Yacht and Powerboat Club held its inaugural meeting on October 20, 1920, with the Opening Day celebrated on November 25, 1920. A history of the club was edited by Marion Smith at the 75-year mark, and the club is having an updated history written ready for the centenary. On most Mondays, John Weston, another club member, picks up Alf from his home at Oaklands and they head to the club for coffee. On his 102nd birthday Alf enjoyed a tour of the city in a beautiful vintage car. Happy birthday Alf.