Auckland is gearing up for a 23-day waterfront party to celebrate the return of one of the toughest sporting events in the world.
The Volvo Ocean Race boats are expected to appear over the horizon on February 27, on current forecasts. The party begins in the race village at Viaduct Harbour prior to their arrival - next Saturday - and runs until the fleet departs for Brazil on March 18.
The race village will feature the racing boats on display, big TV screens, a challenge of muscles, information exhibits, entertainment and activities for children. The village extends from the Eastern Viaduct across Te Wero Island to the Viaduct Events Centre and the racing teams will be based on the wharf beyond the events centre.
Grant Calder, of the company running the race village, said of the round-the-world race: "We are excited to have it back. We are expecting around half a million people to come down to the race village.
"We've got 23 days of entertainment and activities that are free to everyone that comes down to the village."
The 85,000km race around the world started at Alicante in Spain last October and ends at The Hague in the Netherlands in June. The boats stop at 12 host ports and are at present on their way to Auckland from Hong Kong. They will leave Auckland on March 18 on the gruelling, longest leg around Cape Horn to Itajai in Brazil.
This is the 13th "edition" of the round-the-world yacht race. The first began in 1973.
Seven boats started. Vestas 11th Hour Racing withdrew from the fourth leg last month after a fatal collision with a fishing boat on the approach to Hong Kong - an incident which claimed the life of a crew member on the fishing boat.
The damaged racing boat has been brought to Auckland for repairs and the team intends to rejoin the race.
The village will have attractions for everyone from tech-heads to kids.
The boats will be pulled out of the water for an overhaul and parked at "Pit Lane" in cradles near the Viaduct Events Centre. It will be their second dry spell since the race began, the first being at Cape Town in South Africa.
Maintenance and repairs will be carried out in the events centre at the Boatyard, a mobile workshop that follows the race. Visitors can take a behind-the-scenes look at the care lavished on these high-tech boats to help them survive in the tumultuous Southern Ocean.
Entertainment will be provided on the island, which will have two bars, screens to watch the sailing action, a stage for acts including Elemeno P, Sons of Zion, Hipstamatics, Anika Moa, and the Jordan Luck Band. There will be magic shows, face-painting, glow-in-the-dark stilt walkers, poi dancers and a children's obstacle course.
At the Eastern Viaduct, people will be able to test their strength on two grinders, the manual winches the racers use to control the boats' sails. Half a boat of the same design as those in the race will be set up as a exhibit for inspection.
"Visitors will be able to crawl through a full-size Volvo Ocean 65 boat display and see what it is like to sleep in a bunk, stand at the helm, check out the living conditions and get a real feel for every aspect of life on board," the organisers say.
Videos about the race and the organisers' sustainability programme will be shown in "The Globe" on the Eastern Viaduct.
A number of New Zealanders are involved in the race, including victorious America's Cup sailors Peter Burling and Blair Tuke. James Blake, son of the late Sir Peter Blake, who won what was then called the Whitbread Round the World Race in 1990, is an on-board reporter.
Burling and Tuke will speak at a Q&A session at the main stage at 3pm on March 3. A Kiwi female sailor in the race, Bianca Cook, will speak at a breakfast session at one of the bars on the island on March 8.
Race Village timetable:
• February 24 - Race village opens
• February 27 - Fleet expected to arrive
• March 9 - In-port practice race
• March 10 - In-port race
• March 15 - Peroni Pro-Am Practice Race
• March16 - Peroni Pro-Am Race Series
• March 18 - Fleet departs and start of race to Brazil