Ash Davey will be one of the yachties tearing across Cook Strait in a contest to deliver new vintages, writes Belinda Feek.

Ash Davey gave up life in the air for a life on the sea.

Now the former Royal New Zealand Air Force staffer spends his time on his yacht, clocking up kilometres around New Zealand and the South Pacific.

Davey spent 24 years in the air force, most of that time based at Whenuapai, but Marlborough's base at Woodbourne, Blenheim, stuck with him so he eventually moved there. That was 25 years ago.

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Davey was attracted to the sailing opportunities in the region and not long after he settled there, a little-known yacht race was established. The WineWorks Marlborough Wine Race remains relatively unknown to those outside Marlborough and Wellington. Yachties and wineries have been racing across the Cook Strait for the past 16 years, all in the name of wine.

The race is loosely based on the traditional Beaujolais Nouveau where the first Beaujolais wines were transported from France to the UK.

In New Zealand, it's based in Marlborough and something Davey has been tied up with from the start. He's never won, but he's not bothered. The closest he got was second a couple of times but he spent the prize money on his crew, shouting them at the pubs in Wellington.

The Kiwi wine race starts just outside the entrance to the Tory Channel in the Marlborough Sounds and finishes in Wellington Harbour.

The goal? To be the first to deliver the new vintage of sauvignon blanc. However, given the diversity of grapes now grown in the region, the 2017 WineWorks Marlborough Wine Race has been tweaked to allow winemakers to enter any variety as well as any or all of their labels.

"It's all serious until you cross the finish line," says Davey.

It was quite the shindig when it was first launched — the respective mayors wore their garb and helicopters were hovering to get a bird's eye view of the proceedings.

Nobody knew what wine they were transporting either, so it was a nail-biter right up until the end.

These days, the wineries choose which wines and how many to take and hope the boat they're on goes the fastest.

But it isn't all grapes and hangovers. Davey recalls their race from September 2011 — the day of the 9/11 terror attacks. The yachties were all on their radios.

"We couldn't understand what we were hearing."

Davey loves the camaraderie of sailing. It's a small, tight-knit community and "everybody knows everybody" which makes the winemaker's race even more fun, he says.

CHECKLIST
Getting there
Air NZ flies from Auckland to Blenheim with fares from $83.

Staying there
Scenic Hotel, Alfred St.

Details
This year's race kicks off on Friday. So far, 28 wines are being raced over from wineries including Villa Maria, Grove Mill, Saint Clair, and Brancott Estate.

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