Coastal Classic a wild ride

HOMECOMING: Kia Kaha soaks up the sun at the end of a wet and windy Coastal Classic.
HOMECOMING: Kia Kaha soaks up the sun at the end of a wet and windy Coastal Classic.

The summer sailing season has arrived in the Bay of Islands.

The Coastal Classic started at Devonport Wharf in Auckland in a 30-knot wind squall and very poor visibility, but a few of the 167 boats that started one of the biggest coastal races in the world caught the sunset on a spectacular evening in Russell on Friday.

Opua's Chris Hornell was among the top finishers as his new TP52 Kia Kaha clocked a time of 8:57.19 for a seventh place overall finish.

Mr Hornell completed his 21st Coastal Classic, a noteworthy feat in itself, and this his first in TP52 Kia Kaha saw him and his crew finish first among conventionally-keeled boats.

He's experienced the windy, wet weather before.

"It's wet, and like the washing machine at times I suppose, and by the time you come around Cape Brett you can get pretty cold," he says.

"We were pretty cold, but it was a quick ride."

Kia Kaha got around to Cape Brett by 5pm and into Russell at about 7pm on Friday. Mr Hornell says it's a nice feeling, racing towards home.

"It probably doesn't give us any advantage, but it certainly is good to get home and be able to park the boat up and then hop into your own bed," Mr Hornell says.

His 21 years in the running at the Coastal Classic is less by design than simply being a New Zealand racer.

"It's the most frequented race by any New Zealand yachtsman," he says.

"It's just the race of the year. It's probably at the right time of the year when people are starting to think about sailing again.

"After the cold wet winter, everyone wants to get out and go for a sail. And it just works out nicely for people on the Labour Weekend to sail up to the Bay of Islands."

Race organisers know those who enter aren't as concerned about prizemoney as they are about finishing well.

"It is an amateur race, but obviously, in New Zealand we have some high calibre race boats," Zoe Hawkins from the Coastal Classic says. "It's one of the races that people talk about around the world, that a lot of sailors want to do.

"Wherever they're from they want to come and do the Coastal Classic."

The 167 at the start this year was a smaller fleet than average and, for whatever reason, this year there were no international entries.

Mrs Hawkins says the draw for many to race in the unofficial kick-off to the summer sailing season is spending the weekend in the bay.

"It's kind of like the icebreaker as far as the big races go and then they get to come up to Russell, have a big party, make a lot of noise," she says.

She says that with an average of seven aboard each of the boats she understands that it's one of the biggest weekends of the year in Russell.

She calls TeamVodafoneSailing, which for the third consecutive year set a race record, a semi-professional entry.

The 60-foot trimaran, which got into Russell more than an hour before any other entry with a time of 5:4.44, was one of a number of boats that spent a lot of effort trying to slow the boat down.

"This was a pretty typical race actually, but just a bit windier," Mrs Hawkins says of the westerly wind that boats encountered.

"It's just a southwesterly normally.

"The odds are on a southwesterly."

It was almost too windy on Friday, Mrs Hawkins says. She says 11 entries had to pull out of the race.

The Coastal Classic has been running up the east coast since 1982.