Tough race predicted for north-bound sailing fleet
by Zoe Hawkins
On the nose, close hauled, sailing uphill, beating to weather, punching into it, pounding into it, smacking the snorer, doing the dead maggot or taking the elevator – whatever you call sailing into a headwind, the long range forecast for this weekend’s HSBC Premier Coastal Classic Auckland to Russell Yacht Race suggests a toughie.
The forecast for the race start on Friday morning varies according to who you talk to, but likely to be a moderate to strong northerly or, at best, an easterly. And that could mean a long day and night at sea for the estimated 1,000 sailors taking part. It also means this could be one of the rare years that a keelboat takes overall line honours over the multihulls.
“Northerlies in this race aren’t uncommon, but we generally expect the wind to come from the south at this time of year,” says race spokesperson Jon Vincent. “These conditions leave the opportunity wide open for a keelboat to take line honours – although it’s too early to make a firm prediction and the forecast could easily change between now and race day.”
Nearly 230 boats are entered in what is regarded as one of the greatest races in the world, and thought to be the biggest yacht race of its type in the Southern Hemisphere.
Only five keelboats have ever won the HSBC Premier Coastal Classic in its 26 year history - multihulls by their nature are lighter and swifter, but they also favour downwind races where the breeze comes from the south-west or south-east. The last time that a keelboat won was in 2004, and that was no ordinary boat and at 98 feet long was nearly twice the size of the favourites in this year’s race. The Farr 50 Georgia, newly launched, took line honours in 2000. The Davidson 66 Antaeus won in 1992, and Future Shock took line honours in 1991, after 25 hours and five minutes. Emotional Rescue was the first monohull to win the race, in 1989.
If the forecast holds true, favourites for this year’s race are the spectacular fleet of fifty foot-swing keelers: Formula One, V5, Sportivo, Systems Thunder, Ran Tan II and Wired.
A very new addition to the fleet, the Farr 55 Living Doll, will be using the event as her maiden race. While lack of tuning and crew practice could be a factor in such a new boat, her size and leading edge modern design should give her a running edge. The boat is owned by Melbourne yachtsman Michael Hiatt, and was built in Auckland by Cookson Boats.
But the big multihulls can’t be written off, particularly X-Factor (winner, 2006) whose 55 feet of waterline and heavy design makes her a contender in offshore conditions from any direction.
If the breeze lightens off or swings to the south, last year’s line honours winner Taeping, and second place getter Line 7 Marine, crewed by Dan Slater fresh from the Beijing Olympics, will be well up the front.
Wildcards for line honours are Lion New Zealand – Sir Peter Blake’s former Whitbread campaigner was built for races like this – and Ragtime – formerly Infidel, a 44 year old boat which at nearly 20m long has travelled from California to do this race. Dirty Deeds, an Open 8.5m multihull, was launched this winter and claims an occasional win against Taeping in winter racing.
“The HSBC Premier Coastal Classic is shaping up to be absolutely terrific,” says David Griffiths, HSBC New Zealand CEO. “We are very excited about seeing the boats line up for a spectacular start off Devonport Wharf and being there to welcome them to Russell. It’s one of the best weekends of the year for us.”
The HSBC Premier Coastal Classic started life 26 years ago as a drag race between Auckland and Russell for just a few boats, and over the years attracted a bigger and more diverse fleet, consisting of grand prix racers, America’s Cup boats, and small family cruisers.
Organised by the New Zealand Multihull Yacht Club, it is a race designed for speed: except for at the beginning and the end of the race, there are few opportunities to use tactics to overtake, and success can often depend on getting a good tactical start.
The race can take as little as seven or eight hours for the very fastest boats, or as long as two days for the slowest boats in light conditions.
As well as welcoming back principal sponsor HSBC, the HSBC Premier Coastal Classic is supported by some of New Zealand’s pre-eminent marine companies: Donaghys Southern Ocean, Harken, Line 7, Cookson Boats and Sail NZ, as well as the Duke of Marlborough Hotel, Steinlager, Mount Gay Rum, the Sunday Star Times, Trade-A-Boat magazine, De Walt, Dirty Dog and Yamaha Motors NZ.
For those watching the race start from ashore, prime vantage points are Devonport Wharf, North Head, Orakei Wharf and the race website, which will be updated regularly with photos, commentary and radio positions throughout the race.
The Start: Watch from approx 9.30am Friday 24 Oct, first divisions away at 10am
The Course: 119 nautical miles from Devonport Wharf in Auckland to Russell Wharf in the Bay of Islands
The Entrants: 230 race yachts
New Boats: The Farr 55 ‘Living Doll’, a swing keeled Elliott 9m ‘Overload’, Open 8.5m multihull ‘Dirty Deeds’, and the Ross 30, ‘Physical Favours’
Overseas Entries: ‘Living Doll’ (Australia), ‘Ragtime’ (USA), ‘Internautic 6’ (New Caledonia)
Oldest Entrant: Jim Allen, 86, skipper ‘Zgy’ of Birkenhead
Youngest Entrant: Nick Egnot-Johnson, 10, son of America’s Cup and Olympic sailor Leslie Egnot racing on ‘Marshall Law’
Multihull Record: 7h20.51 set by Split Enz in 1996
Monohull Record: 8h29.50 set by Zana in 2005
The Organizing Authority: The New Zealand Multihull Yacht Club
HSBC Coastal Classic