Bungy McRae, life on the seas…

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TangataWhenua.com came across an except in the book “the Pope of Sailing” by Former ISAF President and Int 14 sailor, Paul Henderson who represented Canada in the 1958 Prince of Wales Trophy. In it Henderson details life with Bungy McRae, a Maori from the “the capital city of the Maori”, Rotorua. We wanted to share this with you.

Did you know Bungy McRae? Was he your whanaunga? Please get in touch and tell us more, he sounds like an incredible man!

Bungy McRae

The most memorable Kiwi crew was a Maori from Rotorua, Bungy McRae.

A very powerful man, Bungy was uncomfortable in this milieu mostly because it was his first time out of his homeland. He wore a tiki which his wife had given him to protect him on his long trip.

Royal Yacht Squadron -Polly Durrant

Bungy was renowned in New Zealand for his sailing skills and was a wonderful addition to their team. When he found out that I was a plumber and was traveling overseas for the first time myself, he bonded with me.

We went everywhere together. Bungy was over 50 and, I am told, had 18 children. I was still wet behind the ears and 23, with very pale skin. It was a hot, sunny summer in the south of England that year. He said to me once, when we were out in the noon day sun, ‘Henderson, you burn and I shine!’

Our first dinner in Cowes was a formal reception at the Royal Corinthian Yacht Club with all the Sirs, Ladies, Dukes and Duchesses the Brits could muster, plus the famous dinghy designer and resident of the docksides of Cowes, the bizarre Uffa Fox.

All teams were asked to sing for their supper. Bungy, in a beautiful resonant voice, sang the Maori farewell, ‘Now is the Hour’. The Canadian Team sang Alouette. The Americans sang God Bless America with their hands over their hearts.

Uffa Fox sang, with the many verses that only he knew, ‘Oh! Dear what can the matter be? Three old ladies were locked in the lavatory.’

Sitting opposite to me at the table was ‘Sir Somebody or Other,’ escorting a striking, young blond lady with swept back hair and a nice cleavage. I was fascinated by her and was sure I had met her before, but as I had been in the U.K. for only a week at that time, I was puzzled. I pondered and pondered, wracking my brain to remember where I might have seen her before. Finally at dessert, the light bulb went on and I blurted out, ‘Youre the head nude at Eves?’ To which she replied, ‘Did you like the show?’

A few nights later we were all invited to another formal dinner at the Royal Yacht Squadron (RYS). The invitation was quite specific, right down to insisting that we all wear blazers, grey trousers and black shoes.

The RYS is such an exclusive club that it refused Sir Thomas Lipton membership because he traded. Being a tradesman myself, I was worried that I might not be allowed in the front door. Ralph Roberts was an electrician so he was also suspect. We all got dressed and started down the hill to the dinner. I walked by Bungys bunk and he was lying there undressed.

‘Bungy!’ I called out. ‘What the hell are you doing?’

‘Im not going, Henderson. Im not going there,’ he explained.

‘Yes you are, and Im waiting for you to get dressed.’

Bungy finally agreed and the two of us walked together through the front door of the RYS, just as the last person was going in to dinner.

At the RYS, one enters for dinner in order of your club number, which means that the oldest go first and the most junior, last. Bungy and I were in our proper places entering last.

POW Cup winners, Geoff Smale and Ralph Roberts (NZL) sailing Atua Hau sailing in Cowes at the 1958 Prince of Wales Cup - Click Here to view large photo

Each table was round and seated ten. By the time we got inside there were only two seats left and they were at the centre table where our host, Sir Peter Scott, was sitting and Bungy and I duly took our seats.

Son of the famous Antarctic explorer Robert F. Scott, Sir Peter was an excellent sailor. At that time he was President of the International Yacht Racing Union, an office I myself would hold some 30 years later. He was a painter of wild fowl and marine subjects, and had been appointed ‘Keeper of the Royal Swans.’

Many Christmas cards featuring scenes with wild fowl were painted either by Sir Peter Scott or by Keith Shackleton.

The room was rather musty with photos of past commodores hung on the wall, alongside several tapestries depicting royalty, The club had not been refurbished after World War II and the ceiling was cracked and water-stained. As happens at most noisy banquets, there is a quiet time when port is usually served.

During one of these lulls, Bungys stentorian voice could be heard to exclaim, ‘Henderson! I am the first Maori ever to be in this place and by the look of the ceiling you are the first plumber!’ I almost threw up.

The Canadian team won the team race series, beating the Kiwis ri the finals. Geoff Smale and Ralph Roberts, from Takapuna, New Zealand, won the prestigious Prince of Wales Trophy, the first foreigners ever to do so. Paul McLaughlin and Jim Stephens were second.

Thirty years later, Mary and I went to an IYRU meeting in Auckland and decided to travel the length and breadth of the wonderful country of New Zealand, which has been prolific in its production of the most successful racing sailors in our sport.

One of our stops was Rotorua, the capital city of the Maori. I had heard that Bungy McRae had died a few years earlier and I told Mary that I wanted to visit his family, but I had no idea how to make contact after all this time. Next to the hotel, a bridge crosses over to the traditional Maori village where many of the older Maori sit and talk.

Brashly I walked up to them and asked if they knew Bungy McRae. They were less than friendly and I suppose apprehensive about this interloper. Why do you ask? He has died,’ one of the men replied.

I then explained how I had known him from sailing and that I wanted to say hello to his wife and family on this my first visit to New Zealand. They immediately became exceptionally friendly and called a taxi-driving friend to escort me, paying the fare.

We were taken to a well loved house a few miles away. I knocked on the door and a nice lady answered. It was one of Bungys many daughters. I told her who I was and she invited me in. The walls were covered with pictures from Beken of Cowes.

Prominently displayed was a photo of Bungy and me saying goodbye.

She demanded that I go and see her mother, who was at that moment involved in a very important meeting with the government down at the Maori Meeting House. Mary and I boldly walked into what was evidently an intense meeting between English government officials and Maori chiefs. It was obvious we were not welcome.

A self-important English official intercepted us: ‘You are intruding. What do you want?’

Recovering quickly I replied, ‘I am a Canadian sailor and sailed against Bungy McRae in 1958 in Cowes. I would like to say hello to his wife.’

The distinguished leader of the Maori stood up at attention.

I am sure he was one of Bungys relatives. With his hands clasped behind his back and in a resonant voice that called my old friend to mind, he announced to the crowd: ‘Any friend of Bungy McRae is a friend of ours. By the way, our yachties are better than your yachties.’

With that there was a shuffling in the back of the hall and a small, elegant lady came forward with tears streaming down her face. We went outside and hugged one another. Bungys wife said that he had talked about Cowes and his Canadian friend many times over the years.

5 COMMENTS

  1. Kia Ora,

    I am koro Bungee’s great-granddaughter. I have fond memories of my koro Blackie detailing the sailing efforts of his dad and seeing his picture placed high on the wall. The pride in his voice was thick. Thank you so much for this acknowledgement-

    Ngaa mihi,

    Kara

  2. I also am a Grandaughter of Bungy McRae he Died before i was born but i was born on the anniversary of his death. Our grandmother loved him very much.

    Thank you for posting this story 🙂

  3. I am Bungys eldest grandson (55 years old now) he has 21 grandchildren and I am very proud of all that my grandfather achieved in his short lifetime

    Thank you very much for acknowledging my (Koro) in such a special way.

    I have such fond memories of him and my grandmother;

    The unconditional love they showed for each other was truly

    inspirational to the whole family and the standards and values they lived by kept us all in good stead.

    Once again thank you for the wonderful memories

  4. I am also a grand daughter to Bungy McRae and my mum and I were also delighted to see him acknowledged in this way

    Nga mihi nui – Segina and Rakapa Te Ahuahu

  5. I am Koro (Grandfather) Bungy McRae's grand-daughter and was delighted to see your posting, I was 6 months old when koro passed away, he was much loved by his whanau (family). I will send the link to this sight to all his mokopuna (grandchildren) kia ora, nga mih Karyn.

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