With the latest and fastest yachts competing at this year's Coastal Classic race beginning in Auckland today, organisers believe they have assembled a "dream fleet".

What started out 28 years ago as a drag race between Auckland and Russell for just a few boats, has over the years attracted a bigger and more diverse fleet, consisting of grand prix racers, America's Cup boats, and small family cruisers.

It has become the biggest coastal yacht race in New Zealand and is regarded as one of the world's classic races.

Organised by the New Zealand Multihull Yacht Club, the Coastal Classic is a race designed for speed: except for at the beginning and the end of the race, there are few opportunities to use tactics to overtake, and success can often depend on getting a good tactical start.

The race can take as little as seven or eight hours for the very fastest boats, or as long as two days for the slowest movers in light conditions. And if the forecasts prove correct, today's Coastal Classic yacht race has a very good chance of being one for the record books.

This year the event has attracted one of the most exciting fleets in recent memory, with a number of notable entries:

ALFA ROMEO
Alfa Romeo II, the spectacular 98ft Australian-built supermaxi racing yacht owned by Kiwi Neville Crichton, is in New Zealand to compete in its first Coastal Classic yacht race. This is one of the most exciting race boats in the world, arguably the fastest monohull actively racing. The boat has secured 141 race wins on the international race scene and looks set to have a good crack at the race record for the 119 nautical miles from Auckland to Russell.

SPLIT ENZ
Six-times Coastal Classic winner, and holder of the race record set back in 1996, Split Enz, is returning to New Zealand for the first time in 10 years. Now owned by Georges Auteret of Noumea, Split Enz is virtually the same as it was in 1996, although Auteret has done structural work to stiffen the boat, adding two more beams between the main and the rear beam, removing the front beam, and extending the boards by 500mm to improve its upwind performance.

TAEPING
Taeping, an 38ft Grainger-designed catamaran owned by Aucklander Dave Andrews, has taken line honours in the last two events, and has impressed throughout its 2009 race season. This year the boat has added half a metre to its carbon mast, plus a carbon front beam and main beam, lighter rigging, and equipment to assist with tricky night sailing.

GEORGIA
Another new rival but with the ability to perform very well is the 52ft keelboat under construction at Cookson Boats in Auckland. Georgia is the sixth in the family of Georgia Racing yachts owned by Auckland Barrister Jim Farmer, and is modelled on Emirates Team New Zealand's TP52. The new Georgia is optimised for IRC racing and the Coastal Classic marks the beginning of a challenging race calendar for boat and crew. She will be fast, but there are two things that she doesn't have. The first is time on the water to shake out systems and get ready for battle. The other is a canting keel, as sported by the other entrants in the 50ft category, Upshot, Ran Tan and Wired.

FRANTIC DRIFT
Frantic Drift, owned by Olympian Dan Slater, has trailed Taeping to the finish in the last two editions of the race, and is crewed by a line up of world class sailors: Dan, Ed Smyth, Nathan Handley and Aaron Macintosh, showing an edge over Taeping in round the buoys racing.

CRAC-A-JAC
Line honours victories always steal the show in terms of media coverage and attention, but there are dozens of races within races that will be closely watched within the sailing community, and competition is no less fierce.

There are around 30 boats entered in Division 5 (the smallest category), including the youngest skipper on the racecourse, Edwin Delaat. The 13-year-old will race aboard the Farr 727 Crac-A-Jac, a boat which he dreamed about owning since he was four, and saved for by doing odd jobs for over three years.

Delaat, who is sailing with several older and more experienced adults, but keen to call the shots, has done hundreds of miles on the water, and earned a string of qualifications, starting with a VHF Certificate earned when he was nine, and a Boatmasters Certificate.

He took part in last year's Coastal Classic aboard Starlight Express, but is aware that completing such a long race in such a small boat, will be a very different experience.

Weather forecast

The weather forecast for today on Predictwind.com shows a light to moderate start from the southwest of 5 to 15 knots, but a reasonably constant 15 to 20 knot southwesterly for the first 12 hours of the race, making the chances of a record very good.

Best vantage points

The startline extends between Devonport Wharf and Bastion Pt at the eastern end of the Waitemata Harbour. From there they round North Head and progress on the first leg of their 119- nautical mile journey to Russell Wharf in the Bay of Islands.

Prime land based viewing locations are Devonport Wharf, Bastion Pt or North Head.

Catch the pre-start action from 9:30am, with the gun sounding at 10am.