The all-tide ramp is getting more use as residential areas around Stillwater grow, putting the squeeze on parking. Member Hilton Markwick sorts through the old leather suitcase of documents from the boating club’s early days. From left, long time members Stu Hunton, Hilton Markwick and Dee Barry with commodore Mike Dance.
Stillwater Boating Club is celebrating 50 years and although details of its early days are a little unclear, current members credit “two grumpy old dudes”, Jack French and Buster Elliot, among others, with the idea of forming a club.
A total of 38 people attended the inaugural meeting at Buster Elliot’s home on January 31, 1971 but member Stu Hunton who has lived in Stillwater all his life, says things got going informally before that.
Stu says the club began as a group of boaties getting together for social activities including sailing from Stillwater to Shakespear Regional Park or Kawau Island. Many have fond memories of ‘the dingy run’ that ended at the Wade Hotel – an event that is set for revival after it was last held four or five years ago. There were also tug of war competitions across the Weiti River, near the Wade Hotel.
The first commodore, 1971-73, was Les Griffith, followed by Buster Elliot (1973-75). First female commodore, Margaret Faulkner, took the helm from 1975-77 and the only other woman in the role, Rachel Zeisler, was commodore from 2008-2010.
Currently the club has around 370 memberships, half of them families. Current commodore Mike Dance says it’s the highest ever.
The club has a loyal volunteer culture. The site, at 70 Duck Creek Road alongside the Weiti River, was reclaimed by volunteer labour. Volunteers fundraised for, and built, the boat ramp (now a public ramp), as well as the wharf and clubrooms.
Member Dee Barry ran the bar for 22 years, initially as a volunteer, and Mike says 40 volunteers took part in a recent working bee.
The first clubroom is recalled as “a tiny building with a little Zip for cups of tea”. In the early 1990s an old Ministry of Works building was trucked onto the site and the current clubrooms were completed in 1998.
Key to the club’s popularity is its role as a community hub – it has been the venue for everything from Playcentre and coffee groups to birthdays, weddings and funerals. When the club hosts dress-up themed nights and karaoke, the place is heaving.
Some of the activities shifted to Stillwater Community Hall which opened in 2015, but the club’s social reputation remains – demonstrated by the high number of family memberships, demand for functions, and the fact that commodore Mike Dance does not even own a boat.
“I paddle a SUP,” he says. “But I get invited onto other boats!”
“These days it’s more of an actual boating club,” member Hilton Markwick says, “with a strong emphasis on very successful fishing competitions.”
The club is also the base for Waterwise courses and the annual Stillwater Raft Race – this year, flares and tie dye will be on show as the theme for rafts is the 1970s, a nod to the club’s formation date.
Recently Sunday Sounds, featuring live bands, was introduced.
The all-tide boat ramp and other facilities are increasingly popular and resource consent has been granted to extend the pontoon at the end of the wharf by 12 metres to accommodate more boats.
There is expected to be increasing pressure on the club’s resources, including parking, as more residents move into adjacent suburbs.
Current and past members are invited to Stillwater Boating Club in Duck Creek Road, on Saturday, March 20 for an informal afternoon of sharing stories. It will include the unveiling of a plaque and flying of a Jubilee flag. If Auckland is not in Alert Level 1, it will be postponed. Info: see What’s On.