As years go, 1840 wasn’t a bad one. Auguste Rodin and Claude Monet were born. Tchaikovsky too. And in the spirit of adventure and an age of colonisation, Auckland was founded and a princely sum of £341 was paid for the land where today the most magnificent global city stands. What a find that was. And in typical Kiwi style, how was this establishment celebrated? With a boat race of course. This was 11 years before the 100 Guineas Cup was fought for around the Isle of Wight – the Kiwis were a generation ahead, even before the Cup had started. Plus ca change.
That impromptu race on the Waitemata Harbour was a three race affair after Lieutenant Governor William Hobson rowed ashore and took possession of the land in the name of Queen Victoria. The local rag of the time, the New Zealand Advertiser and Bay of Islands Gazette reported that: “After taking luncheon, a regatta took place between a five-oared gig belonging to the Surveyor General and a six oared gig belonging to the Anna Watson (Hobson’s craft) both pulled in excellent style by amateurs. This was followed by a match for a purse of five pounds between two whale boats pulled by sailors, and by another between two large canoes paddled by natives.”
Brilliant. And today is Auckland Anniversary Day and the sailors are doing it in style down under with a huge regatta featuring everything from foiling moths to dragonboats, keelers, radio controlled yachts, centreboards, tugboats and launches. Everyone is welcome and the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron throws open its doors to all competitors. My memory of Auckland Anniversary Day was of tough summer racing in the harbour and a marvellous barbecue back in Devonport recounting the day. Oh to be in New Zealand.
Well we now go into silly season for two weeks before the racing begins in earnest and it’s a bit of a momentum killer really. February 13th is the next racing and whilst that’s the season for star-crossed lovers, it’s likely to be anything but as tensions ramp up for the Prada Cup Final. Team Ineos have largely gone into hiding whilst the spotlight was dramatically claimed by Prada at the weekend.
Jimmy Spithill was in fine form at the press conference, squeezing every ounce of positivity from sailing in a one-horse race and claiming that “we needed that.” They sure did. And he’s pretty sure that they “left a lot on the table” in the racing against Ineos in the Round Robins. Actually they left crumbs on the table and the ravenous Ineos Lions ate the scraps before feasting on the table itself…and the soft furnishings.
The next thirteen days are crucial not only for the outcome of the Cup but for many of the sailors and shore crew it’s a defining moment of their lives. Life comes down to a few moments and for those that seize it, untold glory awaits. If the British do it, it’s not only a remarkable comeback but it lays down the possibility of a Cup back in a country which has suffered 170 years of losses in this game. It would be incredible.
For the Italians it would be the culmination of a lifelong quest for Patrizio Bertelli who has ploughed so much money, passion and desire into winning this trophy. Whoever comes out on top, and it’s a paper-thin call, history will be written and the prospect of facing Team New Zealand after a white-hot contest could not be better preparation for a Challenger. If the Cup’s going to be wrestled from the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron it’s this time. It’s now or not-for-a-very-long-time.
Can one of the Challengers win? Well these few days of development and training will decide that. The resources that Team Ineos have at their disposal are mighty and we have to hope that Mercedes has been working wonders back in Brackley on the aero mods to get Britannia a speed advantage. They’ve been a tough watch to date. It’s a boat that doesn’t look inherently fast but is being sailed magnificently. The hope is that an ounce, just an ounce of boatspeed over Prada can be found. If so, it’s game over. Prada won’t come close.
For the Italians, they have a super-slick platform with the neatest detailing – their boomless arrangement is peerless but the platform looks half a generation behind when compared with the angularity of Team Ineos or the extremity of Te Rehutai. It’s stable and slick but is it enough? The Italians are back at the measurement committee trying to hide the backstays and are sailing around without them to prove a point. And it’s not just backstays, shock cord and millionaire’s tape that’s being brought into question. Now there’s a request, which could have come from either team, about aero combing and hiding crew. We really are into silly season now.
Two weeks delay between the semis and finals feels too long. The devil makes work for idle hands. Idle billionaires at leisure cause trouble. Watch this space.
It’s going to be a fascinating period.
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