The greatest global boating grand prix is set to return to Auckland, with confirmation expected today that the City of Sails will host a stopover in the 2011-12 Volvo Ocean Race.

Auckland has seen some of the closest finishes in the history of the event, dating back to the late 80s and early 90s when it was known as the Whitbread round-the-world yacht race.

Thousands of spectators lined the Viaduct in the early hours of the morning to welcome back in port the yachts and local heroes Grant Dalton, Chris Dickson and the late Sir Peter Blake, who were all involved in numerous round-the-world campaigns.

Despite its rich history with the event, Auckland hasn't hosted a stopover since 2002.

The race's return is the result of a lengthy campaign to bring the top event back here and enhance the city's reputation as a sailing destination.

The next Volvo Ocean Race will start in the Spanish port of Alicante in late 2011 and finish in Galway, Ireland, during the northern summer of 2012.

The fleet will travel to Auckland from Sanya in China before setting sail to Brazil. From Brazil they charge north to Miami before crossing the Atlantic.

As well as New Zealand's history with the event, one of the reasons Auckland was chosen as a stopover is because it has some of the best boat yards and marine services in the world.

The boats will need to be in optimum condition to go through the Southern Ocean around Cape Horn on what will probably be the toughest leg of the race - where icebergs, whales, huge waves and fiercely cold temperatures are commonplace.

The Auckland stopover would see teams stay for 16 days in March 2012 and would likely bring huge economic benefits to the region.

The 2011-12 race will be the 11th time the event has been run.