The Sydney to Auckland ocean race is not to be undertaken lightly. But what a great feeling when you step ashore after the finish...
The trans-Tasman rivalry is set to reignite when the Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club’s (RPAYC) inaugural Sydney to Auckland Ocean Race, which starts on Saturday, 7 October 2023 at 1pm, from Sydney Harbour and finishes in Auckland, New Zealand. Originally, the challenging 1,250-nautical mile race was to start in January 2021, taking in the America’s Cup in New Zealand. In the meantime, Covid intervened and RPAYC, based at Pittwater on Sydney’s Northern Beaches, was forced to leave it to one side until travel restrictions were removed.
Organisers at the Club sat down to look at a new date for the race: ‘It had to be carefully planned, allowing crews of boats from both sides of the ditch to make the most of their time in both countries,’ organising committee chairman, Robert McClelland, said.
A Category 1 race, competitors will feel the thrill of starting on one of the most stunning harbours in the world with the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House as its backdrop. The finish line will be in Auckland, home of the America’s Cup and the breeding ground of a horde of the worlds most revered sailors.
In between is nothing but ocean - a true ocean race - a rarity in the Southern Hemisphere.
RPAYC’s new partner, Royal Akarana Yacht Club (RAYC), will be on hand to finish the race. The Auckland club will also host the prizegiving where the overall IRC winner will receive the new Sydney to Auckland Perpetual Trophy.
To have one’s yacht name engraved on an inaugural trophy is a once in a lifetime experience and a historical one, so organisers expect to see rife inhouse competition instigated from each country and fierce trans-Tasman rivalry. Otherwise good friends, when it comes to sport, no matter the sport, competition between the two nations has always been intense.
Open to monohulls from around the globe in IRC, ORCi and PHS – including Cruising and Short-Handed divisions, the race is also open to ocean racing multihulls under OMR.
‘Double-handed racing is one of the fastest growing markets in Australia and New Zealand, with new boats being built and participants looking for fresh challenges. The Sydney to Auckland Ocean Race offers such a challenge without having to travel thousands of miles to Europe and the large expense that entails,’ Nick Elliott, race director at the RPAYC says.
The Sydney to Auckland Ocean Race has piqued serious interest but it will be no walk in the park. Participants will have to deal with the vagaries of the weather from start to finish. A marginal sea in the part of the south-west Pacific Ocean that lies between Australia and New Zealand, the western margin of the Tasman Sea is formed by the coastlines of mainland Australia and Tasmania, the eastern margin by the Norfolk Ridge, the New Zealand coast and the Macquarie Ridge.
Between April and October, the northern branch of these winds from the west changes direction toward the north and pushes against the trade winds. It translates to the sea dispatching regular south-westerly winds during this time.
However, as any sailors worth their salt know, anything could happen, the norm is not a given and the forecast is not always on song. Each yacht will be fitted with a tracker so family, friends and sailing fans will be able to follow the race blow-by- blow.
On the partnership between RPAYC and RAYC, McClelland says, ‘The Royal Akarana Yacht Club has a similar ethos to the RPAYC and similar core values. The club hosts major events such as the Auckland Fĳi and Auckland Noumea races as well as major Olympic, skiff and youth class events and conducts cruising. The club is a good fit with ours for this new race.’
Elliott adds, ‘We host major events and our Youth Development programme has produced stars of now, such as siblings James (Jimmy) and Katie Spithill and upcoming stars of the future. Our Olympic medallists include Bill Northam, Peter O’Donnell, Colin Beashel, Nina Curtis and many others.’
Early entrants include the host club’s Mark Griffith, a regular in offshore races with the DK46, LCE Old School Racing. ‘I think it’s going to be a premier race. It’s certainly the longest fully-crewed (from Australia) and an international race. This is the first time anyone gets to do it, so there should be quite a bit of interest and a strong fleet,’ he says. On the subtleties of the race, he predicted, ‘It will probably take six or seven days. The Sydney Hobart and Melbourne to Hobart are a sprint by comparison. We’ll have to pace ourselves more with the various conditions.’
Above: Mark Griffith's DK-46 Old School Racing was recently crowned IRC champion yacht at the Sydney Harbour Regatta 2023.
Below: French yachtsman Marc Depret recently bought the first Figaro 3 in Australia and has been working his TH campaign towards the inaugural Sydney to Auckland Ocean Race in 2023
New South Wales yachtswoman Sibby Ilzhofer was the first entrant with her Dare Devil. She says, ‘Like the biennial Sydney Noumea (1,064 miles), it will be challenging. It’s a new race, so it starts our hearts beating again. I think It’ll also bind Australia and New Zealand as sailing nations.’ Ilzhofer, from Newcastle, is already bonded to our Kiwi friends and their country: ‘I love New Zealand. Some of my crew from past races are from there. Not only that, Dare Devil is a Farr/Cookson, designed and built in New Zealand.’
‘We have a new mast and rigging that are also from New Zealand. It’s about to go in the boat, which has been painted black, has a new black mast and black sails like the All Blacks,’ she laughs. ‘So, the boat will be heading home in a way.’
On preparing, she says, ‘It hasn’t been easy but the Alfreds have been so helpful. I had a call to see if I needed any help. You don’t get much of that these days. To have internal support makes you feel connected.’
Elliott points out that Sydney and Auckland are two prominent sailing playgrounds and that the race has been created to take a major programme into consideration, enticing would be entrants to Australia and New Zealand. ‘We are trying to create is a circuit, which would justify the cost and logistics of committing to a campaign, he says.
Therefore, the timing of the race was all-important. The date was chosen to allow prospective competitors to compete on the popular northern circuit in Queensland beforehand, such as the popular Airlie Beach, Hamilton Island and Magnetic Island Race Weeks, held annually between August and early September.
Following the Sydney to Auckland Ocean Race, yachts have time to return to Australia for the legendary Sydney Hobart and Melbourne to Hobart yacht races, should they desire. Otherwise, crews have an ideal opportunity to stay on in New Zealand and take part in in the famous Pic Coastal Classic, held later in October. Open to monohull, multihull and rally boats, it regularly attracts large fleets.
Starting in Auckland, the 119- nautical mile Coastal Classic race finishes in the Bay of Islands. A more picturesque place to end a race would be hard to find. It is world-renowned for its stunning beauty and is a subtropical microregion known for its history. For those who love cruising, swimming and all water activities, it is akin to paradise. A three-hour drive north of Auckland, it comprises 144 islands between Cape Brett and the Purerua Peninsula. And the time of year could not be better. It leaves the door open for yachties to make a holiday out of the main event, inviting family and friends to do some cruising. Owners also have the option of then taking part in the Bay of Islands Sailing Week, starting Tuesday 23 January 2024.
Alternatively, competitors could leave their boats in New Zealand and return for Sailing Week, which is open to anything from Elliott 5.9s to large racing yachts, multihulls and anything in between.
Mark Griffith is among those that have already suggested the Bay of Islands is on the “must do” list. The LCE Old School Racing crew plans to take full advantage of the New Zealand end of the race.
‘We’ve got plans to stay over,’ Griffith says. ‘The Coastal Classic is only a week later and gets around 160 entries. We don’t want to miss that. We also plan to cruise to the Bay of Islands, which is one of the most spectacular places on the planet. That’s on the way home, so we might leave the boat there and come back and do the Bay of Islands Regatta. This is not something we get to do every day, so we want to go hard at it,’ he adds.
Entries for the Category 1 Sydney to Auckland Ocean Race close on 1 September 2023. For all information, including entry and Notice of Race, please visit: www.sydneytoauckland.com
Sailing Instructions will be available on the event website from 1 October 2023.
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