Race to Russell

250 yachts due to take part in New Zealand's HSBC Premier Coastal Classic

Tuesday October 7th 2008, Author: Zoe Hawkins, Location: United Kingdom
It’s 12 years since all of the possible race records in New Zealand's HSBC Premier Coastal Classic were broken in one clean sweep. This year, up to 250 yachts of all types will be lining up at the start in Auckland, each hoping to make it to Russell (in the Bay of Islands) and into the record books in first place.

Starting at 10am on Friday 24 October, the 119 nautical mile HSBC Premier Coastal Classic is considered one of the world’s classic yacht races, and while handicap and line honours prizes are much respected, the prize that is most coveted is the one that takes a place in New Zealand yachting history for setting a new race record.

Current record slots are shared by the supermaxi Konica Minolta - which set a new monohull speed record in 2005, the multihull Split Enz which sailed to victory in 7 hours, 20 minutes and 51 seconds in 1996, and four other boats that set records for their size in the same year - Satellite Spy, Mumm 30, Extreme and Redken Cat.

“Last year’s south-easter was the most promising in a long time,” says Jon Vincent of the New Zealand Multihull Yacht Club. “But it fizzed early in the day and we’re still waiting for another year like 1996 and we are all aware that some of the new boats are very capable of setting a record, given the chance.”

These include last year’s winner Taeping, Vincent’s own boat, X-Factor, and the super fifty foot keelboats that would need to average just over 14 knots for the duration of the course, something they could easily do if the wind is strong enough and from the south-east quarter. New and modified boats within each division, as well as previous winners, will be eagerly anticipating this year’s race.

HSBC has returned for its fifth year of sponsorship, headlining their new international service proposition, HSBC Premier. Recently launched into the New Zealand marketplace, this service offers a truly linked-up banking service which takes advantage of HSBC’s significant global reach, with the aim of providing seamless banking across the 40 countries that now offer HSBC Premier.

“As always at Labour Weekend the HSBC Premier Coastal Classic is an event that celebrates much that is fantastic about the New Zealand way of life and community spirit and one that HSBC is very proud to be a of,” said David Griffiths, HSBC CEO. "We're also very excited by the launch of HSBC Premier in this market, New Zealanders are keen travellers and often worker abroad, having a seamless international banking service such as HSBC Premier, allows them to keep in touch financial here and wherever they call home."

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 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.

Open 8.5s - a new breed of fast cat returns in strength

A new breed of racer promises more knots for dollars than any other class, while honouring the great Kiwi tradition of buying a boat on the cheap and tinkering and tweaking it in the boat shed out the back.

The boats - which are called ‘Open 8.5s’ - are multihulls that fit within a box 8.5 x 6.5 x 12.6 metres. Other than that and requirements including minimum headroom for comfortable cruising, minimum weight to ensure robustness, and cost minimisation by prohibiting the use of exotic materials, nearly anything goes.

The rule was originally created by a number of sailors who owned and raced GBEs and were looking for a way to get some growth in the multihull fleet and better racing. It made use of many of the old Great Barrier Express boats that were being underutilised in New Zealand and Australia. The Great Barrier Express or 'GBE' was designed in 1974 by Malcolm Tennant for Richard Pilkington so that he could shuttle quickly and cheaply to and from his property on Great Barrier Island. He began building them in fibreglass and got a 'Boat of the Show' award to the Auckland Boatshow on his first year of making them (1976), and over 300 GBE royalties were sold.

Open 8.5s cover a broad range of price levels. Tim McDowell, who is one of the people responsible for driving the class ahead, says there are currently three for sale, priced between $16,000 and $65,000. He says it would cost approximately $50,000 to build one yourself, but you could spend over $100,000.

“They offer more knots per dollar than any other class, and you can still go away on them at Christmas with the kids,” he says.

Additionally, they are easily sailed with just three crew.

“This minimises hassle for owners getting people organised, and ensures everyone on the boat is busy nearly all of the time.”

The latest new launch was Dirty Deeds, whose performance has impressed everyone. She can occasionally beat last year’s HSBC Premier Coastal Classic winner, the 13.7 metre Taeping, and large monohulls with can cost ten or twenty times the amount Dirty Deeds cost to launch.

Several other boats are in build, and several old GBEs are being purchased and given ‘nose and bum jobs’ meaning waterline length is extended and bigger and bigger square topped mains and masthead spinnakers are added. Four more will be relaunched in the new year, including Tim’s own boat, WHIO.

Recent performances suggest that Dirty Deeds is clear line honours favourite within the class for the HSBC Premier Coastal Classic, but this is a race where anything can happen, so prepare to be surprised by these feisty little felines that are now one of the country’s most popular modes of sailng.

The young guns taking on the big boys

A team that includes three of New Zealand’s top youth sailors will be racing one of the smallest boats in the fleet yet hopes to take out some of the big guys.

Thirsty Work started out in life as a Ross 780 - a trailer sailor designed in the 1970s to do a little bit of racing and some cruising – but was never launched.

These days she is quite different. Purchased by owner Mark Beauchamp as an incomplete project, the boat’s cabin and top decks have been peeled away and replaced with smooth flush decks, her waterline has been extended, and a modified keel and rudder added, as is a much bigger rig (from a Ross 930), a long prod and gennaker.

She has been born again as a light, fast racer and she also sports a crew of the highest pedigree. Mark Beauchamp, who has competed in Sydney Hobarts and been around the local sailing blocks for many years, has recruited veteran racer Brian Hutchings and three top dinghy sailors to join them on their fast little boat.

One is 19-year old Blair Tuke, former Splash World Champion, and second in the Volvo World Youth 29ers in Canada this year. Brad Farrand placed second in the University Matchracing Worlds in Poland recently, and was three times member of the sailing team that won the Interdominion Sailing Champs. And James Sandall, a past New Zealand number one and ranked fourth in the Laser Radial World Championships held off Takapuna earlier in 2008.

Both Blair Tuke and Brad Farrand went to Keri Keri High School and all three are now students at the University of Auckland.

Like the boys, Thirsty Work has also shown herself to be highly deserving of success. The boat won its division on line and handicap in the Coastal Classic in 2006, and came second in the Auckland to Tauranga race, as well as taking out division and line honours in both the B&G SIMRAD Triple SSANZ Series in 2007, and the BMW Auckland Regatta in 2008.

“We want to try, depending on the weather conditions, to be up with boats like Junkyard Dog and Demonstrator,” says Mark Beauchamp. “They all go like stink off the wind.”

Other rivals are the Young 8.4s What’s News and RnB, as well as the Ross 850 Cool Change and other ‘hot rod’ style boats in the 8-9 metre size range.

Despite the fact that his boat may well turn out to be the smallest in the fleet of 230, Mark doesn’t discount a challenge to other much bigger boats including the likes of Blackout, a very high-tech boat that is a successful racer. “We can do 15 knots in 20 knots of air,” he says.

As well as welcoming back principle 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, Maxxium, the Sunday Star Times, Trade-A-Boat magazine, De Walt, Dirty Dog and Yamaha Motors NZ.

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