A Brief History of the Mistral Class

Des Townson the designer of the Mistral Class Yacht saw that there was a gap in the yacht classes racing in Auckland. He saw the need for a yacht to replace the Silver Fern Class which had been a popular clinker built yacht, having nice lines and sailed by young chaps. It was early 1959 when Des was approached to design a two person yacht to complement his already very popular Zephyr yacht. Des went to work and produced his drawing for the "Mistral" Class Yacht. The plan was dated 8-6-1959.


The concept was for a parent and child yacht of one design. Des would build all the hulls on a wooden mould in the same way he was building the Zephyrs. Owners could finish the boats themselves but had to adhere closely to a set of finishing instructions.


Des built the prototype himself to the completely finished stage. It was built for Graham Fulton. It was named “Mistral”. But it was not to be the first Mistral to be launched. The honour of being the first to sail was Mistral number 8, "Sparkle", owned by Robert Brooke. Neil Kennedy witnessed the initial sail "Yes, Robert Brooke did launch the first Mistral no 8, named Sparkle, I was at Bucklands Beach on the first Sunday he sailed it there. There was a fresh westerly blowing and he planed in from the Harbour, with it's brilliant orange hull carving a white bow wave and leaving a long flat wake astern. When he came ashore you couldn't see it for people crowding around asking questions!" What was most important was that here was a lively little yacht which was a delight to sail, was pretty to look at, and more important, it was a simple, yet seaworthy yacht able to handle Auckland's often boisterous conditions, with a forward hand who was often very young.


There were sufficient Mistrals completed or near completion by the end of 1959 that in December of that year a meeting was called of interested people to form a governing body for the Class. At this meeting the Mistral Owners Association Incorporated was formed. Tamaki Yacht Club was chosen as the Home Club for the new class.


Apart from a few Mistrals kept up at Manly, the class consolidated at Tamaki Yacht Club and this was to be the class's racing strength. The class grew steadily until in the early 1970's saw fleets of between 20 and 30 yachts sailing regularly at Tamaki Yacht Club. Entries in the Mistral Championships peaked at 52 in 1972, making the Mistral the largest racing fleet of two man yachts in New Zealand.


The other factor which made the Mistral such a strong class was that it was family orientated. Many of the mums would spend the day on the beach together, looking after the “littlies”. Some of these future forward hands first made their appearance on the beach in carrycots. Back in more sexist days the class was called a "father and son" class but that soon had to be altered. Some years we have had more girls on the water than boys. There have been many married couples sailing together, families with two or three Mistrals on the water, girls sailing with dad as forward hand, grandfathers sailing with grandsons and one lady skipper sailing, who was a grandmother.


The Mistral has made careful changes to its original specifications over the years.


The first change was from a single luff spinnaker to a double luff. The original single luff had a longer spinnaker boom which was two-piece and had to be unslotted so that it would fit in the bottom of the boat. Many were lost in sudden capsizes on the wind. The double luff spinnaker made the work of the forward hand much easier, though they might not have always agreed with that statement.


Later, the working sails were looked at by several sailmaking experts and changes made to make the sails set better, look better and enhance the performance of the yacht. Also it was becoming more difficult to get good wooden masts to a uniform quality and the decision was made to allow people to have aluminium spars. These were made by one sparmaker to try and keep the integrity of the one-design concept of the class.


Des Townson decided that he had had enough of making Mistral hulls and it was necessary for the Mistral Owners' Association to look at the possibility of having a mould made from which fibreglass hulls could be made. Mistral number 27 "Just Mist" was chosen and a mold made from it. These fibreglass Mistrals were still finished with timber plywood decks and centrecases and so retained their traditional appearance. The next stage in the evolution of the present day Mistral was to have the yachts made completely of fibreglass. This would enable the Mistral Owners Association to sell the yachts as a complete ready to sail deal. At the same time, the Association brought in a minimum weight for the hulls of 64 kilograms. So, in thirty years, from 1959 to 1989, the Mistral has changed from the traditional timber of the past, to the modern materials of the present. It has achieved this while still retaining the original concept of a wholesome parent and child class for which this beautiful little yacht was designed.


The social side of the class has always been its strength and apart from the informal after race get togethers at Tamak1 Yacht Club, the annual weekend away has been a very popular part of “Mistralling”. The first venue was Pakatoa Island and this necessitated an “Ocean Race” from Maraetei to Pakatoa. It was necessary for this to be well organized as Auckland's weather tends to be temperamental. Patrol boats, both runabout and larger vessels would accompany the fleet which left Maraetei on a Mark Foy system in about five handicap divisions. A series of races were held at the Island and the single-handed round Pakatoa race was quite an event. After five or six year going to Pakatoa, it was felt that other venues should bd tried and the class has journeyed to Paihia, Lake Karapiro, Kerikeri and Algies Beach near Warkworth. Algies has become popular because it is only just over an hour's drive from Auckland.


The other important factor In the strength of the Mistral Class has been the enthusiasm of its members. Such is this enthusiasm and love of the Mistral, it is quickly inculcated into new members of the class. Perhaps it is this, as well as the yacht itself, which may well see it still around in another thirty years time.


May 1989

© NZ Mistral Owners Association 2008 mail@mistral.org.nz