Of an original 229 entrants, around 30 boats withdrew prior to the start, and the remainder departed Auckland at 10am, bound for Russell in the Bay of Islands, a 119 nautical mile marathon.
Last year’s winner Taeping and the Open 8.5m Hooters were the first to radio in at Sail Rock, Taeping being in contention despite stopping to fix equipment a number of times. The Elliott 16 Go, and the big 50ft canting keelers, V5, Sportivo and Anteaus make up the remainder of the line honours contenders. Ragtime (nee Infidel), the legendary John Spencer-designed boat built for Sir Tom Clark and which returned to New Zealand for this race has also featured strongly.
New Zealand Multihull Yacht Club spokesperson Jon Vincent says the leaders are making very good progress. “Sail Rock is half way, it’s six hours since the gun, so they are averaging 10 knots. They are doing well.”
The fleet has consistently seen 20-30 knots of breeze from the north-east, but a predicted easterly swing could make life a little easier for many of the boats. A front bringing a direction change is expected to pass through later tonight or on Saturday.
Vincent says it was expected that a number of starters would withdraw in the first half. “It’s the direction of the wind, not the strength, that presents the major issue,” he says. “Anybody finding the conditions difficult can turn around and sail away from it on the way home, or shelter at Kawau if necessary.”
High profile withdrawals include early leader Sundreamer, Dan Slater’s Line 7 Marine, the hot off the blocks Farr 55, Living Doll and the canting keelers Ran Tan II and Wired.
The first boats are expected to arrive in Russell late on Friday evening.
The HSBC Premier Coastal Classic is the biggest coastal yacht race in New Zealand, and one of the biggest in the world. It 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 in a southerly, 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.
Earlier today hundreds watched the race start from Devonport Wharf, North Head, Orakei Wharf.