More than 80 vessels ranging from cutters built in the late 1800s to modern superyachts are expected to take part in the Tall Ships and Classic Invitational Race off Russell this Saturday.

Now in its 45th year, it's more a social event and a chance to show off lovingly restored boats than a serious race, but the elaborate trophies – some made with scrimshaw-decorated whale's teeth – are still hotly contested.

Prizes will be awarded for handicap winner, line honours, best wooden boat, best gaff-rigged vessel, "cock of the bay" and more.

Long-time organiser Christine Hall said 30-35 entries were expected in the tall ships category, which was open to vessels of at least 30 feet on deck and two or more masts.


However, the only one square-rigged vessel this year would be Northland's own R Tucker Thompson.

The classic invitational was for monohulls of at least 22 feet while, as in previous years, an all-comers category was open to anyone who wanted to take part in the race. At least one superyacht was expected.

The race would start at noon off Russell wharf and be followed by the traditional prizegiving, hāngī, and live music at Russell Boating Club at Matauwhi Bay.

The hāngī is prepared by an expert team of volunteers drawn from the Russell community and is one of the biggest in the country. This year it will cater to more than 800 people.

Hall said she wouldn't know for sure how many boats were taking part until the day.

"But we expect a contingent of foreign boats that are travelling through New Zealand, plus all the regulars, and we hope to get some classic boats up from Auckland," she said.

The course would be set according to the weather conditions. The forecast so far was for unfavourably light winds.

"We'd like a nice breeze of about 15 knots, please," Hall said.