Sports-starved Northlanders can take heart from a national sailing regatta in Kerikeri this weekend — the region's first big sporting event since the Covid-19 crisis began.
The New Zealand Open Teams Racing National Championships, hosted by Kerikeri Cruising Club at Dove's Bay, will feature a roll-call of top Kiwi sailors including Olympians Blair Tuke, Peter Burling, Alex and Andy Maloney, and Sam and Molly Meech.
Others taking part include Team New Zealand grinder Josh Junior and ocean racer Brad Farrand.
The national champs were reinstated in 2018 after a 15-year hiatus and have been held in Kerikeri ever since.
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Organiser Reuben Corbett said this year's line-up was the biggest yet.
''There's some big names coming up, we can't wait to test ourselves against them. They're professionals, we're just weekend warriors.''
The event pitted full-time sailors against amateurs, husband-and-wife crews and kids as young as 11. All used the same boats so the results were based on skill, not who had the best gear, Corbett said.
Originally he hadn't planned a group briefing or prizegiving due to Covid-19 restrictions, but an increase in permitted gathering size to 100 as from noon yesterday prompted some last-minute changes. Prizegiving will be held after the final race on Monday.
Teams racing is done in sailing dinghies called 420s with a minimum 130kg combined weight for the two-person crew.
It's a highly tactical sport which has been likened to on-water chess. Each race lasts about eight minutes and involves two teams of three boats. Teams try to out-manoeuvre their opponents and collect the lowest combined placings.
Kerikeri's Blair Tuke, a gold medallist at Rio and a member of the Team New Zealand crew which won the America's Cup in 2017, said the Covid-19 pandemic meant there weren't many chances for racing so he contacted the rest of the Tokyo Olympics sailing squad to see who was keen to come up to Northland.
''Basically everyone said they were. We're all keen to get as much experience as we can at the moment and to learn. There's definitely a feeling of missing out on racing. For some people it's going to be new but for half of us, especially those of us from Kerikeri, this is where we started sailing.''
With last year's world 420 youth champions taking part and Tuke's weight putting him at a disadvantage he predicted he would ''get dusted by some young kids''.
''We're all a little bit big and the weather is looking quite light but I'm really looking forward to it. I'm sailing with my little brother, Jesse, so that will be pretty cool, but I think we're going to have our work cut out being in 420s and about 10-15kg too heavy. It's all part of the fun.''
Fourteen teams of six sailors will compete in three days of racing due to start just after 9am today.
Last year's nationals were won by Corbett's Kiwis Team Racing.