When Alfa Romeo II set a new race record from LA to Hawaii earlier this year, she achieved an average boatspeed of just over 16 knots.
When, back in 1996, Split Enz set the record for the HSBC Premier Coastal Classic race from Auckland to Russell, she achieved an almost identical average boatspeed of 16.3 knots.
These numbers leave the outcome in next Friday's famous Auckland to Russell yacht race wide open for speculation, says HSBC Premier Coastal Classic spokesperson Jon Vincent.
“It could be very close. On one hand, Alfa Romeo – which already has 141 race wins to her name – has the size to deliver top performance in all conditions. But given the right conditions, a number of the multihulls can easily sustain speeds in excess of 20 knots. However, they depend on exactly the right conditions to do so.”
The last supermaxi to appear in the HSBC Premier Coastal Classic, Zana, was able to beat the existing monohull record comfortably in a time of 8 hours 29 minutes and 50 seconds, but still failed to come close to touching the overall race record – Split Enz's best time of 7 hours 20 minutes and 51 seconds.
“What's remarkable is that Split Enz's record has stood for 13 years,” says Jon. “Sailing technology has changed drastically since then, yet so far our record is untouched. It goes to show how incredible the 1996 race was in terms of serving up exactly the right conditions.”
Split Enz, which has returned to the country after a number of years in Noumea, is still sailed in a very similar configuration to the 1996 race.
The crew of Taeping – only rivaled by Frantic Drift in racing over recent seasons – thinks that given the right conditions, they could potentially average around 17-18 knots, with bursts of 22-23 knots. Speeds that the 100 footer may well surpass.
The clash for line honours is most likely to be between the Australian supermaxi, and several other boats less than one third of her in size, including Taeping, Frantic Drift, Timber Wolf, Dirty Deeds and Attitude.
Many of the front runners have been modified since the 2008 race. Taeping, an 11.6m Grainger designed catamaran owned by Aucklander Dave Andrews, has taken line honours in the last two events, and has impressed throughout its 2009 race season. This year the boat has added half a metre to its carbon mast, plus a carbon front beam and main beam, lighter rigging, and equipment to assist with tricky night sailing.
In the race between Taeping and Split Enz, Jon Vincent sees Taeping as favoured.
“She's 5ft longer on the waterline, has a new carbon mast and beams, new sails, new rudders and is sailed exclusively by local sailors. The actual sail plan between the two boats (based on working sails) appears to be very similar. Tai Ping has a slightly more radical square head as the boys onboard believe the carbon mast can take the load. Split Enz runs an alloy rig and has very new sails but is not as radical. I'm not sure how they compare on weight but I'd guess Split Enz to be slightly heavier.”
He also explains that Split Enz has better freeboard on the bow, so may not bury as Taeping does, but that Taeping's five foot waterline bonus may nullify that.
“Last years Coastal was unpleasant and certainly required skill but Taeping had the race to themselves really so that extra 10% wasn't needed.”
Frantic Drift, owned by Olympian Dan Slater, has trailed Taeping to the finish in the last two editions of the race, and is crewed by a line up of world class sailors: Dan, Ed Smyth, Nathan Handley and Aaron Macintosh, showing an edge over Taeping in round the buoys racing.
“With a South-Westerly of 5-10 knots we will have a chance,” says Dan.
Improvements to another fast tri, Timberwolf, include a new carbon rig, more sail area, and structural changes, tipped by the owner to make the boat a good 4-5% faster.
“In the right conditions [light to medium breezes and flat seas] we feel we have a good chance in our division, and in perfect conditions could be an outside chance to be first Multihull to Russell,” says owner Tim Willets.
“We have exactly zero chance against the supermaxi, because in the only conditions that she is slightly weak, we are even worse.”
Line honours victories always steal the show in terms of media coverage and attention, but there are dozens of races within races that will be closely watched within the sailing community, and competition is no less fierce.
Starting at the smallest end of the fleet, the littlest boat entered is one that considers she has the biggest task ahead.
Owned by Grey Lynn resident Rob Hielkema, Geralda is an Elliott 6.5m trailor sailor that will race with just two crew to Russell.
“If the weather plays into our hands we intend to beat some much bigger boats, and we hope to challenge the PHRF and two handed divisions,” says Rob of the boat which has been modified from its original design and has a very similar rig to a Shaw 6.5, plus a 2.4m prod to hold a generous amount of sail area.
“If the weather is not in our favour – if it's a northeaster – then we hope not to be the last boat through the finish.”
Geralda is one of around 30 boats entered in Division 5, including the youngest skipper on the racecourse, Edwin Delaat.
The thirteen year old will race aboard the Farr 727 Crac-A-Jac, a boat which he dreamed about owning since he was four, and saved for by doing odd jobs for over three years. Edwin, who is sailing with several older and more experienced adults, but keen to call the shots, has done hundreds of miles on the water, and earned a string of qualifications, starting with a VHF Certificate earned when he was nine, and a Boatmasters Certificate. He took part in last year's HSBC Premier Coastal Classic aboard Starlight Express, but is aware that completing such a long race in such a small boat, will be a very different experience.
Moving on up, Division 4 is next in the size/speed bracket. Featuring a diverse range of mid sized boats, including some very competitive racers of older design, a handicap win is nearly as sought after as a win on line, and to get both is like the holy grail.
“We are in the race and I am looking for the double,” says Bob Bilkey, owner of the updated Ross 930, Drop Dead Fred, and near the top of the handicapper's favourites for the division.
Bob wants a downwind race this year, and his competition will be No Worries, Recreation, Cool Change, and Cadibarra 6. But if it's on the wind, then First by Farr, Roy Dickson's Playbuoy, Oracle, Pink Cadillac, or the Stuart 34 Prism, will be favoured.
“We are consistently improving our performance with new sails, we are using a smaller main, and have a new tactician,” says Bob, of the entry which has finished every year it enters, regardless of conditions.
“Some years the Coastal is a drag race, the others it is very tactical” says owner of Pink Cadillac, Basil Orr. “You just have to sail around the inevitable wind hole that catches up with everyone else to wind. I note that there are many more boats that sail well at night now – 10 years ago most of the fleet lost ground after midnight.”
Dominating this division is last year's winner, Roy Dickson and his boat, Playbuoy. The septuagenarian is father to Chris Dickson, and with a remarkable race career dating back over fifty years and instrumental to putting New Zealand sailing on the world map, regarded as one of the most canny sailors around. Needless to say, the crew of any boat in its size range that crosses the line ahead of Playbuoy deserve a pat on the back. Playbuoy is one of eight Stewart 34s racing, and there are also nine Young 88s, and four class-qualified Ross 930s on the entry list.
Division 3, which includes the Farr 1020s, and a selection of sloops in the 10-13m range, featured 26 entrants at the time entries closed.
Five boats top the list of handicapper's favourites: Steve Newcombe's Zen, the 15.23m German Frers design Iolanthe II, the Young 11 Peppermint Planet, the Young 9.4 Prawnbroker, and a new boat called Tamateatoru.
Dianne Campbell says that Tamateatoru is a new boat with a crew new to racing. 52 foot long, and weighing in at 26 tonne, and that the crew are picking up experience, rather than going for line honours.
Jon Henry, skipper of Daniade, favours Zen for line honours, but says a boat to watch is Roulette.
“Roulette hasn't raced for years, but used to be something special. It will go upwind better than anything in a blow… Stratocaster could be a contender also, but Div 3 has a wide range of types, so handicap will come down to the conditions.”
Division 2 features around 20 boats, including the Farr 11.6 class and the Elliott 1050s.
Tom Coote owns the Elliott 10.5 Diablo, and says that in the eight years he has done the race, he has never seen such an intense build up, and that the three 1050s, Pretty Woman, High Voltage and Second Nature are now in almost identical configuration and sail area.
“Tactics will make the day in this race,” he says. “All of them are looking at us, and vice versa. It's an exciting buildup. There's a lot of banter at the moment, and sizing up of each other.”
But Cosmic Cruise and Cruise Control have waterline length on their rivals, and Fun n Games is a fast, very well sailed machine that can never be ruled out in this division – should her new saildrive component arrive from Italy in time for her to do the race.
Fun n Games co-owner Mark Mulcare is frustrated by the delay but favours Truxton for line honours, and Outrageious Fortune or Cruise Control, with Waka a promising entrant should the breeze be light or very strong from behind. On handicap, he rates Second Nature, Truxton and Coppelia.
ivision 1 features the big boats: Alfa Romeo is the obvious line honours contender, gear failure or extreme bad luck not withstanding.
This division also includes the new Georgia, launched last week for Auckland barrister, Jim Farmer QC. The 52-footer is a near sistership to the boat that Emirates Team New Zealand are racing so successfully in Europe, and is optimized for IRC racing.
She will be fast, but there are two things that she doesn't have. The first is time on the water to shake out systems and get ready for battle. The other is a canting keel, as sported by the other entrants in the fifty foot category, Upshot, Ran Tan and Wired.
Many people think that Georgia will be faster than the canters, but whether that is the case depends on conditions.
Wired has been re-moded and has shown great performance over winter, and is currently warming up for the Around Australia Race in 2011. With a square topped main and code zero, if the conditions suit them, Upshot owner Bruce Copeland says he doesn't think they will be able to get close – although they will try hard.
“We have beaten Ran Tan before, and we will be trying to do it again,” he says. “Like most boats I guess we have a great crew and although we take the racing seriously it's just as important to us to have fun and hopefully enjoy a nice slide up the coast.”
The pair of Shaw 9's – Deep Throttle and Karma Police – are recent entrants to the race scene. Deep Throttle is based in Kerikeri, and is jointly owned by Richard Tingey, Tony Dalbeth and Justin Ferris, who completed the last Volvo Ocean Race on Puma, whilst Karma Police is owned by the boats' designer, Rob Shaw. The duo are lightweight, feature swing keels, and are designed for harbour and coastal racing, with the ability to go offshore. Constructed to high precision designs and specifications, these fully carbon boats are small but remarkable, and will excite all speed enthusiasts.
For the majority of entrants, most of the HSBC Premier Coastal Classic lies in the preparation. It's no different for Janine and Ant Robinson, owners of Bullrush, who, one week prior to the race, are working furiously to replace the mast they lost in the Noumea race over winter, with a new carbon one.
“Things are slowly getting crossed off the list of things to do, the boat has had its PHRF done to accommodate the new changes, and a new Cat 1 inspection is booked… the list goes on,” says Janine.
Will Bullrush make it to the racecourse on time? Will the record be smashed? Will the powerful multihulls retain local honour, or surrender to the Australian boat? And what will be the outcome of the battles within battles that are so hotly anticipated by so many people? Only time will tell.
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 28 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 companies: Orb, Jucy Rentals, Safety at Sea, Predictwind.com, Harken, Donaghys Southern Ocean, Southern Pacific Inflatables, Sail NZ, Mount Gay Rum, Steinlager, Sunday Star Times, Yamaha Motors NZ, De Walt, Dirty Dog and Trade a Boat.
For those watching the race start from ashore, prime vantage points are Devonport Wharf, North Head, Orakei Wharf and the race website, www.coastalclassic.co.nz which will be updated regularly with photos, commentary and radio positions throughout the race.