Hold on to your foils, the America's Cup is ready for liftoff.
With the pre-season Christmas regatta fading to the shallows, the fight for the right to take on Team New Zealand begins in earnest today as the Prada Cup takes hold.
For the three challengers — Luna Rossa, Ineos Team UK and American Magic — there is no more foxing, no room for error as they tack, jibe, jostle throughout January and February, before one vessel progresses to the deep-water showdown in March.
As Team New Zealand's dramatic capsize during practice racing last Monday proved, even the slightest manoeuvring misstep brings new meaning to Isaac Newton's action reaction formula.
While the sun-baked Waitematā Harbour prepares to showcase the futuristic foiling monohulls, much of globe remains gripped by a second highly contagious Covid-19 strain and fresh, in many cases more stringent, lockdown measures. America, shrouded by the second impeachment of the same president for the first time in its history, inches further and further from the so-called United States.
The staging of the 36th America's Cup in our buoyant backyard — the unrestricted gatherings and comparative stability, meanwhile — encapsulates the luxurious freedoms New Zealand continues to savour.
After much uncertainty, including two cancelled World Series events in Sardinia and Portsmouth, the Cup's starting gun is another reason to appreciate New Zealand's privileged position.
The absence of foreign fans due to the closed border policy perhaps dilutes the cosmopolitan atmosphere and apparent vast economic benefits taxpayer funding was supposed to generate.
But there is much still to enjoy, and locals will flock to the thriving Viaduct, North Shore beaches and popular North Head vantage points to consume the high stakes drama.
New Zealand's fascination with the America's Cup stems from its success and sailing history.
With Ineos Team UK splurging more than $230 million on their, to date at least, dud of a boat, the stage is set to again prove billionaires alone can't buy the Auld Mug. They will hope improvements made in the New Year are enough to significantly lift their competitiveness.
For now, American Magic starts the Prada Cup favourites after they were the only team to defeat Team New Zealand in an official race, but challenger of record Luna Rossa bring nous, experience and motivation.
Personalities, as much as the on-water duels, will drive interest.
Luna Rossa's Australian helmsman Jimmy Spithill, a two-time winner with Oracle, is never short of a quip.
Former Team NZ skipper Dean Barker would love nothing more than to upstage the hosts with American Magic.
Decorated Olympic champion Sir Ben Ainslie is as competitive as they come.
First, though, one challenger must chart a course to meet Peter Burling and Team New Zealand. That treacherous navigation starts today.
Heading into the Cup racing?
• Be aware that traffic will be busy, and parking will be very limited.
• Give yourself plenty of time and think about catching a ferry, train or bus instead.
• Make sure your AT HOP card is in your pocket. It's the best way to ride to the Cup.
• For more ways to enjoy race day, visit at.govt.nz/americascup.