It’s not just a race, it’s an event of epic proportions – that’s the way that sailors describe the Evolution Sails Shorthanded Sailing Association of New Zealand’s (SSANZ) Round North Island (RNI) Race, which officially started at 1012 hours on Saturday 25 February with an on-water spectator fleet which was triple the size of the entry list.
And if enthusiasts weren’t on the water watching, they were lining the shores on both sides of Auckland Harbour to farewell the fleet of 33 boats who signed on to complete the three-legged, 1,195 nautical mile expedition.
Traditionally the RNI is four legs; however, with the recent devastation caused to the Napier / Hawkes Bay region after the recent Cyclone, the decision was made to bypass the area and change the RNI from a four-leg race, to a three-leg race. With Napier officially off the lineup of stopovers, the 66 sailors had to rethink their strategies from previous years.
While the weather in Auckland has been far from a typical summer offering, things finally took a turn for the better and the fleet started in a light to moderate north-easterly breeze from Devonport Wharf, however, while the conditions were perfect for the start, eventually the puff of breeze vanished, with the fleet left bobbing in the ocean in the early hours of Sunday morning.
While the Thompson 38 Serena (Josh Adams & Ryan Parkin) had the best start in the fleet, it was Equilibrium, a Botin 55 with Pete Geary and Angus Small as co-skippers, who took the early lead and held their position for the entire leg.
The 55-foot racer-cruiser, owned by Graham Matthews, has all the creature comforts you could ask for such an epic adventure, however with Graham watching the race via the YB tracker page and the owner’s cabin off-limits, Pete and Angus were “forced” to use the two aft cabins and share a head for the race, however with better facilities in the gallery than some apartments in the city, they really have nothing to complain about. Pete and Angus crossed the finish line in Doubtless Bay at 11:17:17 am on Sunday, 26 February, giving them plenty of daylight time to celebrate their iconic win over rivals Wired.
“Graham has set this boat up beautifully and we are absolutely delighted that he has handed us the keys to his pride and joy so that two old guys like us could do some yachting together,” said Pete on the dock after crossing the finish line of Leg 1 in Mangonoui, located in the far north region of New Zealand.
Equilibrium was one of the few boats that managed to avoid the massive hole off Cape Brett, staying closer to the shoreline than the other boats, picking up some early morning land breeze which extended their lead over the Bakewell-White 52 Wired (Andrew Duff & Chris Bassett). “Some sailors thought that we winged such a great result, but we like to think that it was a proper thought out plan!” said Angus.
“We had an intense tacking dual with Wired for about 100nm until the bungee stretched too far and broke, which basically means we just kept pulling away from them, and not only did they spend their race staring at our gorgeous transom, but they sat in a massive hole for a number of hours. Hahaha!” laughed Angus. The rivalry between Equilibrium and Wired has been going on for years, with both teams the best of friends in everyday life.
Equilibrium was not only first online, they also took out first on PHRF in Division 1, and first on PHRF overall – a great opening leg for this well-oiled team.
The standout for Leg 1 was the young team of Anna Merchant and Aaron Hume-Merry, who are celebrating their fifth anniversary by racing together in their Davidson 40 Southern Fun. The two youngsters in their fleet finished first overall in Division 3 and sixth on PHRF overall. The two yachties have been planning on racing in the RNI for a number of years and had one of the biggest support teams on the water watching the start.
“First leg for the RNI23 done!” said Anna once on the dock in Mangonoui, crossing the finish line at 20:32:07 on the 26th of February. “What an adventure and it’s really only just begun! We’re super stoked with the boat and our result. We had a pretty good start up near the windward end and a great tactical beat with Waka (Sam Cremer & Brett Elliott) and Kick (Brendan Sands & Josh Tucker) before we found ourselves in the first real hole of many on the course,” continued Anna.
“We went from fifth overall to 28th, which helped our next move, working up the coast seeking any hint of a land breeze. It was a long slow night but we made some great gains and managed to end the leg on a high!”
Zest, a 36’ Fast Cruiser, co-skippered by husband and wife team Tom & Vicky Jackson are also celebrating a significant milestone. “Our 50th wedding anniversary happens during this race, and doing a lap of the North Island of New Zealand is our gift to each other,” said Vicky after having an awesome leg 1 finishing second in Divison 4 and third overall on PHRF.
Prior to the Leg 1 warning signal, an incident involving the Stewart 34 Playbuoy (Guy Pilkington & David Whyman) and Start Me Up, a Ross 30 with Harri Wren and Peron Pearse as co-skippers, forced Playbuoy out of the entire race with significant damage to their rig. Start Me Up was able to continue racing after a postponement to the start and a re-check for Category 2 by a Yachting New Zealand safety inspector.
“We had to remove our prod from the boat as it was stuffed and we were completely blown away by the support we received from sailors in the fleet, our shore crew, and friends who have worked around the clock to ensure we had a new prod ready to go for Leg 2,” said Peron once the new prod was in place and complete.
“The funny thing is, when you rely on your mates to help you out, anything is bound to happen – and now we have a rather impressive pink prod stuck to the front of our boat – but hey, it’s better than no prod!” laughed Harri.
The Class 40 Vixen is officially out of the race after co-skipper Scott Fickling suffered a serious fall, injuring his back. James Tucker, who was on board with Scott for the race, kept him in a safe position, withdrew from the race and motored into Whangarei harbour where he was transferred to the hospital for x-rays and a proper medical check. Scott is now home recovering and Vixen is back in her berth at Gulf Harbour Marina in Auckland.
Arbitare, the Farr 1106 from Wellington, skippered by Murray Hartley and Lawrie Stewart has also been forced to retire from the race with engine issues. Murray and Lawrie plan to head to Wellington via the west coast with the remaining race boats in the fleet to undergo repairs on the engine and therefore have withdrawn from the entire race.
With the official withdrawal of Playbuoy, Vixen, and Arbitare the SSANZ RNI now has 30 boats competing in the three-legged race. Leg 2 is scheduled to start at 1000 hours on Tuesday 28 February taking the fleet north around Cape Reinga before heading south down the West Coast of New Zealand’s North Island, through the treacherous Cook Straight before finishing in the northern Marlborough Sounds and a stopover hosted by Marlborough Sounds Marina’s and the Waikawa Boating Club at Waikawa Marina.
You can follow the race via the SSANZ social media channels and a live stream of the start will be published on the Facebook page. The SSANZ RNI is proudly sponsored by Evolution Sails with the support of the NZ Sailing Foundation and PredictWind.
Leg 1 Results – Auckland to Mangonoui
PHRF Overall 1. Equilibrium (Pete Geary & Angus Small) 2. Shimmer 2 (Ben Freedman & Reuben Cameron-Harker) 3. Zest (Tom Jackson & Vicky Jackson) 4. C U Later (Ben Sinton & Chris Skinner) 5. Southern Fun (Anna Merchant & Aaron Hume-Merry)
Division 1 1. Equilibrium (Pete Geary & Angus Small) 2. Serena (Josh Adams & Ryan Parkin) 3. Relapse (Mark Edwards & Ash Edwards)
Division 2 1. Whichway (Bruce Gault & David Brooke) 2. Simply the Best (Chris Dent & Richard Dent) 3. Motorboat II (Alan Quere & Vincent Trinquet)
Division 3 1. Southern Fun (Anna Merchant & Aaron Hume-Merry) 2. Waka (Sam Cremer & Brett Elliott) 3. Flying Boat (Chris Beaumount & Damon Jolliffe)
Division 4 1. Shimmer II (Ben Freedman & Reuben Cameron-Harker) 2. Zest (Tom Jackson & Vicky Jackson) 3. C U Later (Ben Sinton & Chris Skinner)
Full Results – Leg 1 www.ssanz.co.nz/Results/EvolutionSailRNI20231
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by Suellen Hurling / Shorthanded Sailing Association