In a flurry of action and jostling for space on the startline, 150 yachts representing the spectrum of the New Zealand race fleet commenced the famous Auckland to Russell yacht race on Friday morning 20 October.
The PIC Coastal Classic, in its 35th year, is New Zealand yachting’s annual ice breaker, kicking off the summer season with the opportunity to participate in the famous, iconic regatta.
The week’s weather predictions showed what looked set to be a very long race: a south-westerly that started well but was expected to dwindle during the day, just as the front runners were heading northwards and about to turn into the bay, meaning the first finishers were not expected until dinner time.
Instead a steady breeze was offered up for the first 100 nautical miles of the race, between Auckland and Cape Brett.
For Simon Hull and Frank Sailing (formerly TeamVodafone), who had invited Jimmy Spithill to join them for the race, a wait for wind at Brett was a nail biting moment: Simon’s big ORMA60 had overtaken its rival, the gigantic new MOD70 Beau Geste in the first hour of the race, and achieved their best ever time to Sail Rock.
At that point a new race record was on the cards. Frank Sailing set the current record of 5 hours 13 minutes and 21 seconds just three years ago in 2015.
But then things got more frustrating than a Labour Weekend traffic jam as the curse of the traditional Cape Brett ‘parking lot’ syndrome kicked in, with both boats wasting precious minutes waiting for breeze to reappear while the opportunity of a race record disappeared.
Eventually, careful tactical sailing gave Frank Racing the lead and they were able to gradually extend that on the 19nm upwind leg into Russell, to cross the finish line in a time of 6 hours, 4 minutes and 44 seconds.
Beau Geste, only newly acquired by Hong Kong sailor Karl Kwok, finished just eight minutes later in 6 hours, 12 minutes and 58 seconds.
Shane Bellingham’s 8.5m French built catamaran Charleston, one of the ten smallest boats in the fleet, was third to finish, in 8 hours, 18 minutes and 5 seconds - narrowly outside of the record window for its division.
147 boats are still at sea.