"Magnificent" was the resounding reaction from those who grabbed the chance to farewell the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race fleet yesterday afternoon.
The nine identical 20.8m boats - sponsored by cities, countries and corporations from all corners of the globe - have been moored at Tauranga Bridge Marina since November 23. Race six of the year-long journey is expected to take nine to 10 days to reach Australia's Gold Coast.
After a traditional kapa haka farewell by Tuwairua Performing Arts group, whose members are all Ngaiterangi iwi, and a blast of the horn from a passenger liner at Tauranga's cruise terminal, the teams set sail.
The teams sailed off accompanied by a huge flotilla of local boating enthusiasts.
After the parade of sails down the harbour, during which the yachts assembled into a double chevron formation passing close to the beach at Pilot Bay, they then broke formation as they passed the statue of Tangaroa and made the traditional seafarer's offering before the race proper started at 2.30pm.
With fairly murky conditions and a stiff north easterly breeze, there was no distinct advantage at either end of the start line, and Welcome to Yorkshire was first across, followed in short order by De Lage Landen, Visit Finland, New York and race leader Gold Coast Australia.
The course was set especially so the yachts could come in close to the Mount beach to give spectators the best view.
Retiree Doreen Anderson from Matua said watching the yachts leave Tauranga was a "fantastic sight", especially because it was the Clipper race's first visit to this country.
"They are so beautiful with their flags flying, they're just magnificent. It's just a shame more people weren't here to see them off.
"I thought half of Tauranga would have been here."
Tourism Bay of Plenty's general manager Glenn Ormsby said the Clipper Race had been a great opportunity to showcase Bay of Plenty to the world.
"The race has been great for the local economy too.
"The hotels, bars and restaurants have been booming, there's been plenty of work for the local marine industry doing maintenance and repairs on the boats, and we've had fantastic exposure to international media as well," he said.
With five wins under their belts already, Gold Coast Australia's crew desperately wants to win race six and the coveted home port victory. And if they do they will also have bragging rights by equalling the most consecutive wins in the Clipper Race, a record set by Alex Thomson in Clipper '98 and held for more than a decade.