They'd expected to battle the remnants of a tropical cyclone - instead contestants in the 38th Tall Ships and Classic Invitational Race were treated to near perfect sailing conditions.<inline type="photogallery" id="17517" align="outside" embed="no" />
Saturday's race, one of the top events in Northland's sailing and social calendars, saw just under 70 historic sailing ships and boats race from Russell to the outer Bay of Islands and back under clear skies and a steady 18-knot southerly.
Line honours were claimed easily by Lion New Zealand, the huge monohull sailed by Sir Peter Blake in the Whitbread Around the World Race in 1985-86, while the first tall ship across the line was the Auckland-based Ponsonby Scow.
The handicap winner of the tall ships division was Charlotte Rose with the 1910 gaff-rigged yawl Spray of Great Yarmouth, owned and skippered by Paihia's Vicky Houry, second. The classic was won by Banksea, a steel sloop based at Kerikeri's Opito Bay and skippered by Larry Larrivee.
However, it was a 28-foot gaff-rigged mullet boat, built by the Logan Brothers for the Hauraki Gulf in 1910, which grabbed most of the trophies.
Owned by Kerikeri's Bob Van Pierce, Cora placed third in the classic and also took home the trophy for best gaff-rigged vessel and the Joe Cotton Memorial Award.
The event is organised by the Russell Boating Club and touted as a celebration of sail as much as a race.
Commodore Steve Hardcastle said a huge community effort went into the event, particularly the hangi catering to 600 hungry sailors.
This year's course of about 25 nautical miles started and finished at Russell, with contestants sailing to Okahu/Red Head Island then around Motuterakihi Island off the Purerua Peninsula. In all, 43 classics and 17 tall ships made the finish line.