A new, super-fast class of racing catamaran has arrived in Northland and is seeking a crew its owner hopes will win the European racing circuit.
The 10-metre, carbon-fibre GC32 is based on technology developed for the last America's Cup. Like the much bigger America's Cup boats it has foils that lift the hulls out of the water, allowing it to fly above the surface and reach much greater speeds.
The boat was shipped to New Zealand by its Swiss owner and skipper Flavio Marazzi, a four-time Olympic sailor, and lowered into the water next to the Bay of Islands Sailing Club at Waitangi on January 5.
It was blessed by minister Wimutu Te Whiu before the nerve-racking operation of lifting it over a row of trees and into the rapidly dropping tide.
Former Olympian and round-the-word sailor Sharon Ferris, of Kerikeri, is the team manager in charge of assembling a top Kiwi crew.
The team, called Marwin Racing, from the Italian words for sea and wind, is taking applications and conducting trials this summer.
Ms Ferris said she wanted to go sailing again after a three-year break. An internet search led her to the GC32 foiling catamaran and her old friend Mr Marazzi.
"I thought it looked awesome. I got in touch with him and went to Marseille to coach for him. Then I twisted his arm hard enough to bring the boat to New Zealand."
Their plan is to assemble a crew to compete in the five-regatta European racing tour in time for the first race of the 2016 season in Italy.
Team Marwin first competed in the GC32 circuit last last year, winning a speed challenge and an event at the Isle of Wight. However, Mr Marazzi discovered the level of competition was high and he was up against big names in world sailing.
He has now started a five-year project which includes building up a professional team of ten sailors. Ms Ferris persuaded him to ship the boat to New Zealand for the southern summer, telling him the Bay was one of the best sailing venues in the world. It also meant he could keep building up a team during the European winter instead of putting the boat into storage.
Conditions were tough during their first day on southern waters on January 6, but it was a good test for the crew, Mr Marazzi said.
The appeal of the GC32 was that it was a one-design class, which meant every boat was identical.
"Because the boats are all the same it's a test of crew against crew, not a test of different budgets," he said.
Ms Ferris said foiling was the future of sailing but, unlike the America's Cup, GC32 boats were affordable and competed often.
So far the team had received 45 applications from New Zealand, Europe, Australia and the Americas. Trials and training would be held at Russell until March. Northlanders who had put their hands up so far included Reuben Corbett and Chris Fewtrell.
Ms Ferris said she was looking for sailors who were also good all-rounders able to put their hands to anything. She was keen to recruit men and women and field the first mixed team on the European circuit.
A future Asia-Pacific GC32 tour was planned, she said.
Team Marwin will take part in the Tall Ships race on January 9, Bay of Islands Sailing Week and the annual Waitangi to Whangaroa race.
The GC32's foils work on the same principle as aircraft wings. The boat rises out of the water once it hits 16 knots. On downwind runs the boat can travel 2 1/2 times faster than the wind speed so a 7-knot breeze is enough. Team Marwin's top speed so far is 39 knots or 75km/h. The boat takes a crew of five.
The only other GC32 in New Zealand so far is owned by Team Vodafone. GC32 stands for Great Cup and the length of the boat in feet. The class is just two years old.
* To apply for the team, or to ask about getting a guest ride, go to the marwin.com website or the NZ GC 32 Facebook page. The team also has an office at 19 York St in Russell. Applicants must be at least 18.