SEA DOGS: Ralph Urwin, 69, left, and John Harris, 72, are reigniting their love of sailing in the boat they first learned to sail in. Photo: Charles Anderson.

Old sea dogs get back on the water


About eight years ago Ralph Urwin was skimming through TradeMe when he came across an old Z Class yacht for sale. It was in pretty poor condition, but Ralph liked the idea of owning a small yacht that he learned to sail in as a young lad. So he transported it to Nelson but then it hung up in his garage, gathering dust.

“I thought it was about time to clean it up. So I gave it a sand and a paint and plugged a few holes and she was good to go.”

All he needed was a crewmate. So, he called up John Harris, who he had sailed with when they were at the peak of their skills in the 1970s. John thought about it for a couple of weeks before eventually agreeing to the task.

“I thought If I’m going to finish sailing soon then I want to start and end it in the same class.”

The pair had competed in trials for the 1976 Olympics but never quite made it. “We didn’t put in the time, effort or money to get there, but we still loved it,” Ralph says.

But their task this time around was slightly less auspicious – Tuesday night races at the Nelson Yacht Club. The pair got out on the water for the first time last week.

“It was a lot of fun,” John says. “A lot of laughs. Russell Coutts wouldn’t have anything on us.”

John says there are a lot of older sailors around Nelson who may not have gotten out on the water for a while.

“We can show it can be done. There might be others who want to come out.” John says there is nothing like sailing. “You are away from everything. It’s just your wits that are keeping you out there.”

Ralph says you don’t need to wait eight years with an old boat to get going.

“You can get an old boat for 100 bucks. Who wants to spend all eternity looking up at their coffin lids thinking ‘I wish I’d done that’? Sailing is for life. There is nothing like it. And if they haven’t got their own boats then they can hire one down here for the night.”