A superyacht regatta in one of the world's great natural playgrounds
All photos ©Jeff Brown Breed Media
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.