Sailing in this country is still not necessarily a rich person’s sport, but your life is all the richer for doing it. For many, the honour of owning your own boat may be at the expense of owning a second car, or an annual holiday. And the pleasure and prestige of racing in the HSBC Premier Coastal Classic, which is one of the world’s biggest and most famous yacht races, is no less for racing a boat that you built yourself at home, as opposed to one priced in the six – or even seven - figures.
In the race’s 26 year history, only two Tracker 7.7s have ever completed the HSBC Premier Coastal Classic, which starts this Friday, 24 October, in Auckland.
The Tracker 7.7 is a small cruiser/racer keelboat that was designed by Alan Wright back in 1974. Today, 61 boats are still registered with its Class Association and many are actively cruising, racing and socializing together.
Costing somewhere in the vicinity of $20,000 they are a perfect example of boating on the cheap. This year four Tracker 7.7s are taking on the 119 mile challenge north up the coast from Auckland to Russell by competing in the 2008 HSBC Premier Coastal Classic - Cantara (Peter Worsley), Elly (Andrew Neame), Sound Track (Wayne Stuart) and Wimoweh II (Steve Horner) - believed to be the highest number of small class keelboats that have ever entered the race.
The Trackers will be competing in Division 5, designed for smaller keelboats, which with nearly 40 boats is one of the biggest and most closely fought divisions.
“There is a big handicap spread in this division,” says Richard Limbrick, skipper of the SR26 boat, Travellin’ Man, “from Elly, Wishbone and Sound Track in the low 6’s to Buoy Racer, Camellia and Mixed T Motions in the low 7s.”
He says that he will be watching Screw Loose, a Ross 830 on .67 which is very well sailed and sails well. “If the breeze is up the tail, she’ll go well.” Mixed T Motions is an Edlin 8.5 that is currently being fitted with a new keel and bulb, designed by Brett Bakewell-White. “This is one to watch if the modifications are successful,” says Richard.
Holger Zipfel, co-owner of Buoy Racer, is hoping for a south-wester. “In a SW blow the SR26s, Buoy Racer and the sports boats will look good on line. In light winds Buoy Racer could be very competitive, but in high northeast winds the larger boats will be outclassing the sports boats.”
As for value for money from their entry fee? The handicapper has the Trackers down for getting the most value of money from their entry fee in the fleet of 220, but Quartette, a Farr 727 owned by David Rose, is the smallest boat currently entered.
Division 4, which predominantly consists of boats in the 8.5-9.5 meter range, including the popular Ross 930 and Young 88 designs, also features a couple of relative giants, such as the 13.6m Ilex owned by Sefton Powrie, and will be no less hotly contested. Many entrants in this division are older designs that have been ‘tickled up’ with new keels and rigs to perform at far higher levels than their 1970s owners could have dreamed possible.
Playbuoy is a 50 year old design, a Stewart 34, owned by Roy Dickson (father to Chris Dickson) and is the entrant that sailors are, quite rightly, most wary of. Glen Jeffrey, who will be sailing his 9.75m Nelson-designed boat, Oracle says that Playbuoy is always well sailed, and its crew have the ability to read the weather well. However following years of improvements to Oracle, he fancies his own chances of a strong handicap position. “We now have the new smaller mainsail working well, and the new rudder is back on after breaking it in the Round North Island Race,” he says.
One of the disadvantages of ‘hot-rodding’ your boat with a fast keel, bigger rig and asymmetrical sails is that the handicapper soon catches up with you. David Mason, owner of 88% Proof - a Young 88 class boat that is not tricked up, says the Ross 930s will need exceptional gennaker conditions to really shine. The Young 88s, he says, are consistent performers and of the 15 of them racing, any could win the Young 88 First Class Trophy.
“ Slipstream is new to Auckland and is very good on the wind,” he says. “But 88% Proof has done very well two-handed and in the 88 fleet overall in the last two Coastal Classics.”
But Basil Orr, skipper of the 88 Pink Cadillac, says that tactics can count for more than form. When asked who is most likely to win he says, “Whoever goes the right way, and being lucky helps a lot too.”
Gary Kirkland-Smith owns the Ross 850 Cool Change. “I think the turbo 930s like Drop Dead Fred and Recreation will go well on both line and handicap,” he says of the Ross 930s retrofitted with deeper bulb keels and bigger sails. “But Ilex is 44 footer and if it’s a two sail or on the wind the rest of us are stuffed. First by Farr is a 35 footer modern design, so should go well, and 88 Proof is always sailed well.”
Looking up to Division 3, we see a new era of racers, and a step up in size, with some very big, veteran racers like Pacific Sundance, a 12.2m sloop designed by Bruce Farr, lining up against some very small boats, including the Young 8.4m RnB. The winners between these types of boats will mostly come down to conditions.
“If conditions are on the nose and over 15 knots then Pacific Sundance will be hard to beat, with Zero Tolerance and Stratocaster not far away,” says Mark Beauchamp, owner of Thirsty Work. “However if it’s light or off the wind, allowing the hotrods to light up… Handicap could go to Thirsty Work if we get a blast, or even if it’s light air on the nose with flat water, which isn’t asking for much.”
However he says even then Stratocaster - a Davidson 11 - or Zero Tolerance - a Davidson 10.4 - could take it if they get breeze they like, or Rock n Roll - a Craig Loomes 10.4 - as an outsider.
Rhys Hegley is co-skipper of the modern Young design What’s News and he adds Elliphunk, Cadibarra and arch rival RnB into the list of top boats in Division 3. “If it’s light and downwind, almost anybody could take it, as the longer waterline length will keep us all close together, but if it’s upwind then almost certainly one of the biggest boats. I’m sure Stratocaster and Drums of Time (Farr 1020) would be there abouts.”
Within the fleet, Division 2 steps up yet another notch in terms of budget, size and prestige.
Mike Elley, owner of the Chris White-designed 12m Nosaka, says that assuming downhill sailing - with the breeze coming from the southwest, or even more ideally the southeast, which enables a run or broad reach all the way to Russell, Truxton (owned and designed by David Tiller) will do very well on line and handicap, with Frenzy (Lambert 10.66), Surething (Elliott 12m), Force Eleven (Jim Young 11m) and Second Nature (Elliott 10.5) also up there on line.
“It’s hard to beat the sports boats on handicap so if it’s downhill Waka (Thompson 8.7m) will do well,” he says, “ but if it were upwind in a breeze then boats like Cosmic Cruz (Beale 12.8) and Perchance (Judel & Vrolik 13.25m) will go well. Of course there’s us too but we’ll be the dark horses!”
Andy Wilgermein - who owns the Bavaria 46 Bella Rossa, rates Sure Thing and Cosmic Cruise as line honours favourites. “But then again… variables like wind strength, wind direction and how these variables affect different types of boats come into play,” he says. “Having taken that into account, the decision as to whether to go outside or inside the Hen and Chicks will play a part, as well as any gear failure.”
The frontrunners in Divisions One, Six and Seven will be sitting back relaxing in Russell long before many other competitors will finish. Those with a realistic chance of beating the standing race record of 7 hours and 20 minutes set by Split Enz in 1996 will be hoping to arrive in time for afternoon drinks and an early dinner.
Division One consists of the big keelboats, including the swing keeled 50 footers, and Divisions Six and Seven are the boats this race is really all about - the multihulls.
The HSBC Premier Coastal Classic was started in the early 80s as a drag race between multihulls, and is now organised and owned by the New Zealand Multihull Yacht Club.
There is no doubt about who the overall favourite for line honours is. Last year’s winner, Taeping, has since been extended by several feet on the waterline, to 11.6m and fitted with a number of new sails. Her crew also have an entire year’s additional experience since owner Dave Andrews acquired the Grainger-designed catamaran last year.
But if it’s light, they will be closely followed by Line 7 Marine, owned by Dan Slater, who is freshly returned from the Beijing Olympics, and crewed by renowned international sailors Grant Beck and Derek Scott. In 2007 Line 7 Marine trailed Taeping to the finish line by just 23 minutes. “We have added 1m to the rig height and hope for a light or medium air race,” says Dan.
2006’s line honours winner, X-Factor, was designed specifically for the HSBC Premier Coastal Classic, and will be in hot contention, as will a number of Division Seven entries, should the conditions be right for them, particularly the newly launched Open 8.5m Dirty Deeds.
In Division One - the top division for monohull entries - there is no doubt that the handful of canting keelers top the favourites list: Ran Tan II and her sistership Sportivo, Rob Bassett’s Wired, and the Transpac 52, V5, as well as Formula One and Upshot all have reasonably equal opportunity for taking line honours, even over the top multihulls if the conditions are heavy and from the north.
The are two historically interesting entries, one of which the handicapper rates as having the best chance of winning on line: Ragtime (nee Infidel), was built in New Zealand for the late Sir Tom Clark, and has returned to the Southern Hemisphere via breaking the race record in the California to Tahiti Race, specifically for the HSBC Premier Coastal Classic. But the 19.73m (64 footer) is only beaten by Sir Peter Blake’s old Whitbread contender, Lion New Zealand, in size, but with a handicap of 1.15 is ranked more harshly than the next highest boat, V5. Whether this is justified or not, only time, and the skill of the boat’s mixed New Zealand and American crew, will tell.
Within Division One, racing will be intense among the 40-foot boats, with the smaller but very well sailed 35 footers, former New Zealand Yachtsman of the Year Ray Haslar’s Jive Talkin’, and Brian Trubovich’s Higher Ground, in contention.
“To hear names of boats that are so much a piece of the yachting community taking part in this weekend’s race is fantastic,” says David Griffiths, CEO of HSBC New Zealand. “The calibre of sailors is very high, and it is great to see not only international names lining up for the race, but also dozens of cruising yachts and family boats that make the HSBC Premier Coastal Classic their must-do event every year. The start is going to be quite spectacular.”
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, 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.