Spectators came in their droves to see the Bay of Island's annual tall ships and classic invitational race in Russell on Saturday.

About 100 ships filled the bay outside of Russell's wharf before the event began at noon. The informal race is primarily held to showcase sailing in the area rather than promoting competition.

The race, in its 44th year, saw several different sized and shaped boats out on the water before the crews and much of Russell's boating community came together at the Russell Boating Club for an hangi. Designed to cater for about 800, it was sold out before it was even dug up.

Winners of the classic invitational race were Tony and Nina Kiff who were on board Weatherley, a 45-foot Nicholson built in 1972.

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"We've been coming for years and years and years trying to get the trophy and finally we've got it," Nina said.

Tony said the day's conditions had been fantastic and although winning the trophy was great, sailing with his family was the main benefit of the event.

"Our family just get together for the race, we've got boys who sail all over the world and they'll always try and be here, which is great."

About 20 boats were entered in the tall ships section of the event, which race judge Christine Hall said was small in comparison to years gone by

"We do hope one day we'll have a few more tall ships back," she said.

"This was first race ever set up in 1976 and the event has grown since then."

The tall ships winners were John Bertenshaw and Kirsty Hardie Boys on board the 14m ketch Riada. The pair, formerly of Auckland, were just in the process of moving to their new home in Kerikeri.

A triumphant John Bertenshaw, owner of the 14m ketch Riada, with the tall ships trophy. Photo / Peter de Graaf
A triumphant John Bertenshaw, owner of the 14m ketch Riada, with the tall ships trophy. Photo / Peter de Graaf

Bertenshaw said he was ecstatic to win the race after a few years of trying.

"We've had a few line honours over the years but we've never got our hands on that trophy."

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He said despite conditions being a little light at times, he lauded Matauwhi Bay local, Richard Stevens, who was on board and had some great insights for sailing in the area.

"We've sailed the Bay of Islands for decades, but to have him on board was a privilege."

Club commodore Jay Howell said he was happy to see so many people turn out to support the event. Funds raised from the event were to go to the club's goal to raise the level of the beach-side clubrooms to reduce flooding.

"It's just one of these challenges that the club faces at some point in time and we've got plans to get grant funding but we need to do some internal fundraising first," he said.

"Like a lot of things with community clubs, you've got to get the pulse of the community and work through what the community wants."

Howell said he didn't know what the total cost would be to raise the level of the clubrooms as there were options which needed to be discussed with the club's members.

"At some point, we are going to need to put together plans to do that and we're working on that behind the scenes."