Day one of the first superyacht regatta of the year was raced in beautiful conditions and moderate breeze at the NZ Millennium Cup regatta today. With the first boat away at 11am, the fleet started off Tapeka Point with three minutes between each vessel on a course which would take them up the Bay to the Orams Marine Mark.
Former winner, Tawera was first to start with Thalia following three minutes afterwards. Both crossed the start line a few seconds after their respective starts, while Sassafras behind them stormed over the line right on the blast of her starting horn.
Freya achieved a tidy start and with Silvertip following suit, the NZ Millennium Cup 2019 was underway. The two ketches, Thalia and Tawera, took a lower line to the mark, heading out towards the iconic Nine Pin while the sloops took a higher approach. But it was Freya around the Orams Mark first, followed by Sassafras before Tawera followed suit, pursued closely by the media helicopter.
Silvertip tacked twice, beating Thalia to the mark by around a minute, though the big ketch slowed on rounding. It soon became evident why. As she turned down the Bay and for home, a crew member could be seen making a quick trip up the rig. A kite went up but came down again and the 48.4metre was forced to slow on the second and final leg of the race.
Ahead, Tawera had taken a starboard line and hit a patch of light air approaching Tapeka Point. The size of Silvertip’s kite showed as she chased Sassafras and Freya downhill though it was Freya across the finish line first as the drama unfolded behind her. Silvertip and Sassafras locked in to battle. Neck and neck, it looked like Silvertip would take the edge, but she hit a patch of soft air and it was Sassafras who won their duel to cross in the lead. Freya could be seen polishing her transom nameplate as race management announced corrected time results. It was Tawera first, then Freya, with Sassafras just eight seconds behind her. However it was to be the last race of the day for Sassafras. The 34metre Royal Huisman was forced to withdraw from the regatta when technical troubles hit.
The second race of the day was designed to challenge over a course of 26nm. The starting order stayed the same and it was Freya home first again, though this time Silvertip came across the line behind her with plenty of space to breathe. It was mighty Thalia who won on corrected time though, in a drastic reversal of fortune after her first race and spectators thrilled to see the big ketch thundering across the finish line.
As the Orams Marine Race Day drew to a close, owners, crew and sponsors gathered in the Duke of Marlborough. Famed New Zealand yachting broadcaster Peter Montgomery was on hand to announce the winners of the day and it was Tawera and Freya tied for first, followed by Thalia and Silvertip on corrected scores for the evening.
Sassafras’ owners received a rousing cheer as they calmly announced that though they might have been forced to withdraw, they were confident they could win Friday’s Tawera Rum Barrel Skiff race. Then it was on to the festivities as sponsors Scapegrace Gin and Mount Gay rum flowed and the tales and ribbing between competitors followed suit.
Racing continues on Friday morning New Zealand time when Boating International Race Day will get underway.
As the day closed in the first country in the world to see the sun, the world’s most southerly superyacht regatta was declared open.
The first superyacht regatta of 2019 was declared open today as the sun set over New Zealand’s Bay of Islands.
Over the next three days from 31 January to 2 February, adventurous yachts which have made the journey to the Pacific sailing hub of New Zealand will race in the New Zealand Millennium Cup around 144 islets of the Bay of Islands.
Kicking off festivities was a welcome function on the edge of the water where the fleet was formally greeted to the regatta at the Duke of Marlborough; an historic hotel renowned for entertaining seafarers since the birth of the modern New Zealand nation. Mount Gay Rum and Scapegrace Gin had crafted cocktails to match the relaxed elegance of the township of Russel, which has been attracting sailors since the early days of the country’s history.
This part of the world has had a long relationship with sailing, explained sponsor Ross Blackman of sponsor Far North Holdings, as he welcomed entrants to the Bay.
“Captain Cook kicked it off in 1769 and we’ve been enjoying sailing here ever since,” joked Blackman.
As NZ Marine Export Group CEO, Peter Busfield, thanked sponsors and welcomed entries he was also able to announce that platinum sponsor Orams Marine had signed on to sponsor the Cup for the next three years. That leads the New Zealand Millennium Cup into the 36th America’s Cup years, when the annual event will run on 29th January to 1st February 2020 and 2nd to 5th February 2021 just preceding the America’s Cup.
“We’re pleased to have the best race management in the world available to our entries,” said Busfield.
“Harold Bennett - many times America’s Cup officer of the day, and great coach and mentor for many New Zealand sailors out there - will be acting as our officer of the day.”
“Another special factor - for the first time this year we’ve changed our handicapping to the ORC offshore racing handicap system. We believe this is the way forward and joining us from Italy and Croatia are Bruno Finzi and Zoran Grubisa, chairman and chief measurer of the ORC respectively.”
Superyacht visits to New Zealand are steadily increasing as the sailing nation builds towards hosting the America’s Cup in 2021, with that growing number set to bolster the NZ Millennium Cup fleet. The regatta is intrinsically linked to the America’s Cup - the first edition of the NZ Millennium Cup was raced in 2000 alongside the 30th America’s Cup in Auckland which saw the largest ever fleet of superyachts to visit New Zealand shores.
As a regatta to which yachts return again and again, the feel of the evening was friendly, festive and excited. Local marine industry figures mixed with visiting yacht owners, captains and crew to share their love of the race’s cruising grounds and eagerness to get out on the water.
During the week, the fleet will race across a series of courses around the Bay of Islands, challenging the yachts while displaying these unique cruising grounds to their best advantage. Off the water, relaxed evenings with a distinctly Kiwi feel will ensure regatta guests are made welcome, while on Friday evening skills will be tested further with a tongue-in-cheek skiff race - the Tawera Rum Barrel Challenge off Russell beach.
Tomorrow will hold a day of fierce racing with a good breeze forecast and a fleet of yachts for whom winning is a serious business. As darkness fell over the Bay of Islands tonight though, the historic town of Russell still rang to the sounds of tactic discussions, crew tenders and the excited buzz that only racing can bring.
From the first country in the world to see the sun each day, comes the first superyacht regatta of 2019, which kicks off 30 January.
At the top of the North Island of New Zealand lies what is referred to as one of the world’s great natural playgrounds. The Bay of Islands is formed of 144 islets and, from 30 January to 2 February, it will host a fleet of superyachts racing through its emerald waters and tearing around its sand-fringed shores.
A series of courses will display the cruising ground to its best advantage while giving some of New Zealand’s best sailors a chance to show off their home turf, as rockstar international race crew fly in for the competition.
“Doyle Sails New Zealand is especially looking forward to this year’s NZ Millennium Cup under the ORC Superyacht Rule (ORCsy). It’s always been such a pleasure to be a part of this world-class regatta and now it will be recognised under a world-class rating system,” says Doyle Sails’ Mike Sanderson, former winner of the ISAF Sailor of the Year Award.
The ORC Superyacht Rule promises exceptionally close racing, with ORC officials joining the race-management team on the water and courses designed for race excitement.
"Short courses with three start options along with one long course promise to provide variety as the regatta progresses, and gives race management flexibility to work with New Zealand’s changeable conditions to create fierce, fun racing,” says NZ Millennium Cup Race Officer of the Day, Harold Bennett.
The Cup is in its 11th edition this year, and was first raced as an adjunct to the 30th America’s Cup in Auckland. Now, with the 36th America’s Cup approaching, organisers have been excited to see an increase of interest both in the regatta and in New Zealand’s wider cruising grounds.
With America’s Cup racing returning, they’re expecting to see a number of visiting spectator yachts enter the NZ Millennium Cup, pushing fleet numbers to an estimated 50 or more.
“We’re pleased to welcome back our long time supporters, Sassafras, Tawera and Silvertip as well as new entry Freya and returning entry Thalia. They’re very evenly matched so we’re looking forward to an epic showdown, says Cup organiser, Stacey Cook.
Royal Huisman-built Sassafras cuts an elegant figure on the Bay of Islands waters and is much-loved for her grace around the course.
“Being a regular visitor to the Bay of Islands makes the NZ Millennium Cup a great way to enhance our time in this stunning part of New Zealand,” says Sassafras Captain Tim Michalick.
"We have raced the NZ Millennium Cup multiple times with Silvertip since its first edition in 2000, and won it twice. It is always a special event which deserves much more success. Racing in the Bay of Islands surrounded by a dolphin pod playing at the bow is always a treat, the organisation is flawless, the scenery second to none and the racing quite competitive. Any superyacht cruising in the Pacific should make a point doing the NZ Millennium Cup, says the owner of 33.8metre entry, Silvertip.
Competing since 2016, Tawera and her owners and crew have become favourite figures on the course with their all-in approach to racing coupled with a sense of camaraderie, fun and inclusiveness that has helped shaped the regatta to what it is today. Tawera is a two-time winner of the Cup and will be going into racing keen to regain her title.
New entry Freya was completed in 2012 and was the 2000th Swan to be built. Freya is a high-performance yacht used for both competitive racing and extended cruising and has exhibited strong performance in previous regatta appearances, including in the Rolex Swan Cup, the Palma Superyacht Cup and the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup.
This year will also see the NZ Millennium Cup welcome back an old friend in S/Y Thalia, which last competed in the regatta in 2009. At 48.4metres, the Vitters-built and Ron Holland-designed ketch will be a graceful silhouette on the Bay of Islands courses and, having recently undergone a refit with Orams Marine, she's fighting fit and ready to race.
On-water the racing will be relentless, but the regatta is proud to announce it has become a certified Clean Regatta to ensure it’s gentle on the environment. That means no single use plastic, minimised paper waste, stringent recycling and a number of other initiatives.
“Our beautiful environment and natural heritage play a huge part in what makes the Cup so special and it was a no-brainer to make sure we’re doing everything we can to protect this spectacular part of the world. From reusable metal water bottles for every yacht, to banning single use plastic, we feel very positive about becoming a Clean Regatta,” says organiser Stacey Cook.
An app - find it at nzmillenniumcup.teamapp.com - has been added to help overseas spectators keep up with events and ensure yachts are instantly informed of updates or race changes.
Change of dates
The regatta dates have been moved back by one week to see it run one week after local regatta, Bay of Islands Sailing Week, giving organisers space to add new and challenging courses.
The regatta’s future
“There’s no better place in the world to sail,” said 2018 New Zealand Millennium Cup winner Marcus Blackmore, owner of Ammonite as he accepted his prize in January last year.
The New Zealand Millennium Cup attracts yachts with a penchant for adventure and is lauded by entries for the sense of camaraderie found in this part of the world - part of the draw for yachts already lining up to be involved in years to come. “We’re already receiving entry enquiries; for 2020 and 2021,” says event organiser, Stacey Cook.
“The J Class Association has also accepted our invitation to race in 2021 and we know having the strikingly-elegant classic yachts race alongside the NZ Millennium Cup will add an extra dimension to our racing.”
A superyacht regatta in one of the world's great natural playgrounds
All photos ©Jeff Brown Breed Media