Norah affectionately known as the Matriarch of Muritai Yacht Club sadly passed away on 6th February. A service to celebrate her life was held at the club on 12th February.
The Yacht club was a major part of Norah’s and the Stagg family’s (Ray, Norah, Geoff, Andy and Susie) life for more than 70 years. And their contribution to the club has been enormous.
Norah’s husband Ray was a foundation member of the club and our longest serving Commodore. He was made a life member in 1970 and sadly died in 1973 aged only 50. Norah has continued a very close relationship with the club since then and was made a Vice President in 1985.
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At the start of this sailing season she again officially opened the club by raising the flag on opening day.
Her sons Geoff and Andy are among the clubs most outstanding yachtsmen and it is a sure thing that their drive and fiercely competitive nature that saw them become successful sailors locally nationally and internationally came from both Ray and Norah’s genes.
Geoff’s resume includes wins in the Sydney Hobart race (several times) , the Kings cup in Spain, Japan Cup, One Ton cup in Belgium, Kenwood cup in Hawaii, line honours in The Fastnet and many more including watch captain in the late Sir Peter Blake’s Whitbread Round the World racer “Ceramco”.
Andy crewed with Geoff in many of those successes and won the non stop Hobie 16 race from Fort Lauderdale to Virginia Beach, in record time. Together with Geoff they built Whispers and Whispers II, a 45 foot Spencer design plywood flyer and then went on to win every offshore race out of Wellington in the early 1970s including the Auckland to Suva race in 1973.
Norah was an accomplished sailor in her own right helming keelers at Port Nicholson and winning the Ladies Cup at Muritai.
Norah met Ray during the war when she was 17 and in her own words:
Our first date was a dance at Evans Bay. We met outside the old post office in Courtenay Place, we walked through the tunnel and over the hill to the clubhouse. I was very naïve of yachties and yacht clubs –as well as a lot of other things- I had worn a long three tiered off the shoulder white taffeta dress totally wrong for a Saturday night yacht club hop. However it was there I heard a lot of this yacht at MYC….Wow A guy with a yacht!
The club shed stood at the end of Karamu street in a snug little spot. The roof at the back buried in shifting sand dunes. The doors opened onto a ramp and behind those doors were the X class, P class and Idle-alongs. The Rogue, The Scoundrel, Aurora, Vagabond, Lonesome – to memorize a few – sailed by. The Ords, McDonalds, Guineys, Doug Cord, Syd Macklin, Peter Fail, Maurice Crisp, and Ray Stagg of course – just a few of the early Muritai yachties.
The social life of the yachties centered within the club house often around a keg, always the portable gramophone, their favourite 45’s, Woody Herman Arty Shaw, The Dorsey Bros, Hoagy Carmichaels. “Stardust” etc. etc., and the parties progressed to sing-alongs.
Norah was an active member of the club until her death and served on the organizing committee for both the 50th and 70th Jubilees.
Murray who was Commodore and chairman of the organizing committee for the 50th Jubilee tells the following story:
At one meeting Norah said ‘I think we should ask the navy to do a sail past and you could take the salute standing on the end of the wharf.’
Well when we had all stopped laughing I explained that the navy was based in Auckland it was unlikely they would come to Wellington to take part in our celebrations.
Norah was undeterred and said ‘I know an Admiral I sailed with at Port Nicholson Yacht Club, he is still in the navy. I will write to him.’ I thought no more of it.
A week before the jubilee I received a phone call from an excited Norah. ‘I received a letter from my Admiral---- shall I read it to you? For a split second I had a vision of frigates roaring up Wellington Harbour with Norah waving madly from the bridge of the leading frigate.
“Dearest Norah, Unable to send a flotilla however I have arranged for Lieutenant Commander Andrew James to attend your opening ceremony and would ask that he be allowed to speak and pass on the navy’s congratulations and best wishes to the club”
And sure enough on the day Lieutenant Commander James turned into the car park in a white car driven by a chauffeur with a white ensign flying from the bonnet. He was dressed in his No.5 uniform covered in gold braid. He joined the official party at the top table and gave a great little speech explaining that Nelson, Drake and James Cook were all good yachties and that the navy was always on the lookout for new recruits.
It was very hard to say NO to Norah Stagg.
Norah had a delightful sense of humour, was a great worker, loved a party and will be sorely missed.