It began early last year as an idea to race the 1920 former Auckland Harbour Board towing launch Te Hauraki against the 1935 steam tug William C Daldy on the programme for the 2007 Auckland Anniversary Regatta.
Waterfront identity John Street mentioned the idea of a two-boat duel as a regatta feature to Baden Pascoe, tugboat enthusiast and workboat historian. Street's Classic Yacht Charitable Trust had just bought Te Hauraki to act as a tender for the trust's growing fleet of old yachts.
Pascoe was quick to see the potential. "But why stop at two boats, let's invite the tugs and towboats from the past and the latest in tug technology to take part," he said. "We can make a real event of it and give the City of Sails regatta a touch of the sort of marine power that also played a huge past in our seagoing life."
In a matter of weeks Pascoe had the event sorted thanks to an enthusiastic response from tug and workboat owners. He was also quick to enlist the support of Professional Shipper magazine editor Keith Ingram, who came on board and finished up as race director and safety manager of the event that proved a highlight of the regatta on Monday.
Twenty-seven tugs and workboats took part in the race that began off North Head in dull conditions and quickly turned into a race that pitted little boats against some of the biggest and most powerful examples from the modern fleet of working tugs.
Now the first race is out of the way the participants and organisers are planning to do it every year and make some changes to ensure more public involvement.
Street says there is potential to do more at the Viaduct after the racing. He believes the AAR organising team and the Auckland City Council should arrange a serious party at the end of all racing. He wants to see boat clubs from around the region brought into the action so that the regatta can regain some of its former glory.
The classics yachts should be able to come back to the Viaduct where the tugs paraded on Monday afternoon so everyone can get into party mode and the public can get up close to the boats and their crew. "If we start planning now it can be done," says Street. "The Anniversary Regatta has a special place in our history. Our first tugboat and workboat event was an unqualified success and we can build on that for the future."
Ingram has a slightly different take on the event. He sees it as showcasing some of the professional mariners who manage the day-to-day movements of shipping on our harbour and are largely unknown to the general public.
Harbourmaster John Lee-Richards, an early supporter of the plan to stage the event, says everything went smoothly. Like the organisers he was surprised at the size of the fleet and believes for 2008 a course change would be a good idea.
"The race finished out toward Northern Leading Light which took the action out of the public eye," he says "It will be a better event if the finish line is near North Head so the spectators there can catch it all from a great vantage point."
He also had a word of praise for all boaters on the water on Monday who generally observed the 10-knot restriction from North Head to the Harbour Bridge.
The results were: Wakakume and Waipapa (Ports of Auckland), Equal 1; Christine Mary (Thompson Towing, Lance Brown) 2; William C Daldy (Daldy Trust. Neil Hudson) 3; Te Hauraki (CCYT, John Street) 4.