It was another photo finish on the Hauraki Gulf as the last day’s racing proved once again the fierce competitive spirit of the event. Spectators and crew alike knew the racing would be ferocious when Janice of Wyoming set the tone; sliding out of the harbour slingshotting a hail of waterbombs at her competitors.
Less forecasted wind meant a shorter course to make sure the exciting racing standard was maintained, and a quick handicapping adjustment saw Janice of Wyoming whipping up the harbour first. Cowboy hats at a jaunty angle, the renegades were off and speeding for the turn around North Head, chased by Sea Toy.
Off on her shorter course, Sea Toy’s tactic of not raising the gennaker until further into the course proved fatal as Zefiro charged past within the inner harbour stretch.
And then Zefiro was flitting off after Janice of Wyoming; Silvertip and Ohana in hot pursuit, as the fleet poured out of the harbour mouth to tear down the channel between Rangitoto Island and Auckland’s North Shore.
Approaching the Gulf Harbour buoy, where the yachts would turn about and head for home, Janice was looking comfortably in control of the situation. Silvertip and Ohana were out to starboard and Zefiro, though closest to the leader, still had some catching up to do.
She was out and around the mark, and heading off toward the suburbs to starboard as Zefiro rounded, hounded by Silvertip . But a tactical tack saw her suddenly within range of the two pursuants, and catching the scent, Zefiro and Silvertip were off and chasing.
The three beat up the harbour, crossing and recrossing, as Ohana flew up to port-side. Zefiro and Silvertip were moving from strength to strength. Smaller Zefiro maintaining the upperhand, just, as Silvertip circled. Despite a valiant battle, Janice of Wyoming was starting to slip away, while big, powerful Ohana gambled on taking a different route close in to the dormant volcanic island.
But it was Silvertip and Zefiro as they flew back into the inner harbour. Zefiro looked to be holding on, and a final tack into the mouth of the harbour, facing Auckland city, saw her square up strongly for the run home and surge ahead.
The two crews were metres from each other. Line looming ahead, they were neck and neck, fighting for supremacy. And then Ohana , appearing around the headland, close to Devonport beach and dashing for the line on the inside of the leaders. But it was Zefiro and Silvertip flying close into Auckland’s port; close enough for cruise ship passengers to run to the rail for a bird’s eye view of the battle.
With a short dash to go, it was too tight to call. Until the turn, Silvertip edging her bow toward the line and slowly, inescapably widening a little breathing space to edge over the winning mark metres in front of Zefiro and to the cheers of both crew.
The last race might be over, but the celebrations and prizegiving are still to come. The NZ Millennium Cup has shown once again it’s a regatta that draws yachts who race with class, sportsmanship and fierce grace.