Maybird Classic Sailing

Robin MacDiarmid

1924 – 2009
Robin MacDiarmid 1945

Robin MacDiarmid 1945

Robin was the only son of a Presbyterian minister and missionary who had spent his early years as a sailor on tall ships that regularly plied the Tasman from New Zealand to Australia and back. An amazing account of his early life at sea is contained in his autobiography – Ship Ahoy and Halleluyah. Robin grew up in Auckland as the son of the manse but spent many of his formative years in the Sudan where his parents were missionaries. Senior school was spent at Auckland Grammar School where he played outside half for the first XV. In 1945 Robin and six other sixth formers from Auckland Grammar were transferred to Cable and Wireless’s training school to become radio operators. They learnt morse, could touch type at 80 words a minute and learnt the intricacies of MF and HF radio. In April 1945 they joined the Allied forces who were fighting the Japanese down the Malay peninsula in order to retake Singapore. The Japanese had cut all of the underwater cables and so Robin and his colleagues were transmitting messages over HF radio to the nearest underwater cable station that was in tact so the transmissions could continue back to London, Wellington and elsewhere. The impressionable 19 year old enjoyed his time attached to the 8th Indian Division as part of the South East Asian Command (SEAC) and would often regale people with his stories from these times.

Bay of Islands

Dove's Bay, Bay of Islands, NZ

Following the retaking of Singapore, Robin and the Cable and Wireless team were transferred to Jakarta, Indonesia. There was a civil war going on at the time and Robin spent 3 years there. By 1947, the Cable and Wireless team had been transferred back to civilian status and Robin had to decide where his future lay. He had three options – continue to work for Cable and Wireless, work on a pearl lugger off Broome in Western Australia or become an orchardist in what was in those days a small township in the Bay of Islands – Keri Keri. He chose the latter course and settled in Keri Keri with his wife and childhood sweetheart, Renee.

Over the next 30 or so years, Robin and Renee developed a very successful orcharding business and had five children. It was in these years that Robin’s love of sailing and the sea came to the fore probably inherited from his father. His first boat was a Ralph Sewell designed and built shallow draft cutter called Marguerita. Robin and his family regularly sailed her in the Bay of Islands. Robin had always hankered to make more long passages out to the South Pacific and during the late 1970’s began to look seriously for a suitable boat. He bought Maybird in 1978 from Brucie Shallcross and spent the next couple of years bringing her up to scratch for such a voyage. An account of his family’s voyage to Tonga, Fiji, Vanuatu and New Caledonia can be found in the Voyages section.

Robin MacDiarmid

Robin MacDiarmid 2009

Maybird was also used for coastal passages to Auckland and to the Poor Knights Marine Reserve. Robin’s daughter, Ali, a renowned marine biologist with a specialist knowledge of crayfish conducted many weeks of research at the Poor Knights from Maybird in her role as dive support vessel.

Maybird was also used as a sail training vessel to teach children from Keri Keri High School how to sail with Robin as skipper/instructor.

Ownership transferred to Trixie Newton in 1988 but Robin looked after Maybird for the current owner from 2000 to 2007. Indeed it was Robin who introduced the current owner to Maybird back in 1988. Robin’s love and passion for Maybird was contagious as was his love for ‘proper’ poetry that rhymed. Renditions of Sir Henry Newbolt’s Drake’s Drum and Vitai Lampada could often be heard from her cockpit. Despite his ill health he was very keen to keep in touch with Maybird’s restoration and we sent him regular updates and photographs as the work progressed. Sadly Robin died in November, 2009 after a long battle with cancer but we did manage to take him sailing in his beloved Bay of Islands before he ‘crossed the bar’.

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