Everything was in place.

The antique mullet boats, the big square rigger, the gleaming superyacht, the old sea dogs and their even older boats were all milling around the start line under a blazing sun.

On shore one of New Zealand's biggest hāngī was steaming quietly in the ground while a band played sea shanties on the wharf.

Only one crucial guest was missing. Tāwhirimātea, the god of wind, apparently hadn't read the invitation.

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Sails hung limp and lifeless. Sailors gazed forlornly at the sky. It looked like the Russell Boating Club's Tall Ships and Classic Invitational Race, held every January for the past 45 years, was going to be very dull indeed.

Then, as if someone had flicked a switch, at precisely 11.30am a breeze sprang up. Starting at 12 knots it built up to a 15-knot-plus northerly.

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''It was a miracle,'' club commodore Barry Newland said, though he added it was exactly as he had predicted.

''The weather certainly treated everybody well. There were lots of smiley faces everywhere I looked.''

About 100 vessels took part in Saturday's event in tall ships, classic and "all comers" divisions. While the trophies are highly sought after it is primarily a social event, a once-a-year catch-up for Northland's sailing fraternity.

''It's a celebration of sailing, of families coming together.''

The big and the small of it: Silvertip, a 34m superyacht, dwarfs Ruru, a tiny, lug-rigged sailing dinghy known as a Northumbrian Coble. Photo / Peter de Graaf
The big and the small of it: Silvertip, a 34m superyacht, dwarfs Ruru, a tiny, lug-rigged sailing dinghy known as a Northumbrian Coble. Photo / Peter de Graaf

Newland paid tribute to the volunteers, on water and on land, who made the event happen.

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He put the crowd at the club's Matauwhi Bay headquarters at close to 1000 with the hāngī's 800 tickets sold out well before evening.

''Our facilities are stretched to the max but we cope with the help of our volunteers who turn up every year because they love the event,'' Newland said.

This year's shortened course was a loop via Onslow Rock and a buoy off Moturua Island then back to Russell.

The biggest boat was the 34m superyacht Silvertip; the smallest a tiny, lug-rigged sailing dinghy. Many oozed history, such as the 18.5m wooden yawl Pantagruel which was celebrating its 100th birthday.

A moment's silence was held during the prizegiving for Russell sailing legend Bill Sellers who drowned at Matauwhi Bay last year. His scrimshraw whale's teeth carvings adorn the event's top trophies.

The tall ships hāngī is one of the biggest in New Zealand. Photo / Peter de Graaf
The tall ships hāngī is one of the biggest in New Zealand. Photo / Peter de Graaf

The line honours winner in the tall ships division was Zindabar, owned by Tony Browne of Opua, while first across the line in the classics was Longfellow.

Due to what race officials described as a ''combination of unforeseen factors'' the handicap winners could not be announced on the night.

The ''cock of the bay'' trophy was awarded to Silvertip and accepted by navigator Tom Schnackenburg of America's Cup fame.

■ The winner on handicap of the tall ships division was a ketch called Saskia owned by Kerikeri couple Kim and Sally Taylor. In second place was Sina, a yawl owned by Whangārei's Noel Barrott, while third place went to an Auckland ketch named Se Swalker owned by musician/reviewer Nick Atkinson. The winner in the classic division was Nocturne, a sloop owned by Kent Thwaite of Russell, with second place awarded to Northerner, a sloop owned by Totara North's Mike Webster, and third to Colonist, a historic cutter owned by Gary Wilson of Russell. The Joe Cotton trophy for best wooden boat went to Nocturne while the Zeke Patterson trophy for best gaff-rigged vessel was won by Corona, a 1936 mullet boat from Auckland. Pango was named the best junk-rigged vessel.