The intense rivalry of trimarans Beau Geste and Frank Racing will be absent from this Friday's PIC Coastal Classic yacht race — but Northlanders can instead look forward to a battle between two of the region's top sailors and America's Cup veterans.
The 119 nautical mile race starts in Auckland at 9.30am on Friday with the first of the 167 boats registered so far expected in Russell by late afternoon, depending on conditions.
This year's competitors include Olympic medallist and Team NZ sailor Blair Tuke of Kerikeri, who will be crewing on Deep Throttle, and fellow Team NZ member Chris Hornell of Opua, who will skipper his own vessel, Kia Kaha.
On paper the 15.8m Kia Kaha should be faster than the 9.1m Deep Throttle owned by Kerikeri's Tony Dalbeth-Hudson, but with winds forecast to be light and changeable tactics could be all-important in deciding who is first across the line.
Also taking part this year will be Tuke's Olympic team-mate Peter Burling, on board the Auckland-based 15.8m monohull Wired, while Russell winemaker Antonio Pasquale will sail his classic trimaran Ave Gitana.
While Beau Geste isn't taking part, its long-time rival Frank Racing, skippered by owner Simon Hull, is hoping for a repeat of last year's line honours. Frank Racing, formerly Team Vodafone Sailing, also holds the course record set in 2014 of 5 hours 13 minutes.
Another boat to look out for will be Aela, a brand-new, 20.6m luxury cruising yacht owned by the wealthy Spencer family, who in 2016 bought up a large swathe of Northland dairy farms.
Steinlager II, the maxi yacht skippered by a victorious Sir Peter Blake in the 1989-90 Whitbread Round the World Race, will also be competing.
As of edition time yesterday 134 monohulls and 14 multihulls had registered, along with 19 vessels in the cruising rally division.
The cruising rally, which is only in its second year, is a non-competitive event for classic vessels, newcomers and social sailors who want to enjoy the trip up the Northland coast without competing against the latest carbon-fibre boats. They are not awarded placings and are allowed to use engines.
The weather forecast was still uncertain yesterday but the signs pointed to light easterly winds switching to northeasterlies.
Race organisers said that could make for a slow, frustrating slog up the coast in which tactics — such as the choice between staying out at sea to make the most of the wind shift or hugging the coast to exploit thermal winds — were all-important.
The Coastal Classic, now in its 36th year, traditionally marks the start of the summer boating season. It is one of the longest races in New Zealand and is the biggest coastal race in terms of the number of entries.