Pure racers stole the limelight but performance cruisers took the trophies on a spectacular opening day of racing in the New Zealand Millennium Cup Superyacht Regatta 2003 today.
In Division 1 for the biggest boats, Italy's Francesco de Angelis, winner of the Louis Vuitton Cup aboard Prada three years ago, steered the 105-foot Italian fast cruising sloop Ulisse to a corrected time victory, ahead of American developer Harry Maclowe, racing his 112-foot sloop Unfurled. Third was Louis Vuitton Cup winner Paul Cayard, steering Briton Mike Slade's sleek 97-foot sloop Canon Leopard.
Some of the biggest and fastest competition yachts in the world broke clear of the pack as the international fleet of 50 superyachts showed their paces on the Hauraki Gulf. They were closely followed by a clutch of super-sized performance cruisers in a tightly-packed spinnaker reach that segued into a Technicolor traffic jam as the contestants crowded around the first turning mark off North Head.
The three division starts off Devonport Wharf on Auckland's Waitemata Harbour, attracted crowds of spectators ashore as well as a sizeable fleet of spectator vessels whose owners forsook Monday morning in the office for the spectacle on the harbour.
Motoryachts made an early start, with eight heavyweights powering off the line in a welter of foam on a predicted log cruise taking them to an afternoon of golf at Gulf Harbor on the Whangaparoa Peninsula. The water was flat and the breeze at eight knots from the southeast on a perfect Kiwi summer morning.
Division 1 for the most super superyachts, saw the contestants crowding the committee boat end of the starting line with all the verve and audacity of a group of college kids knocking about in dinghies. Kiwi owner and skipper Neville Crichton, at the helm of his 90-foot water-ballasted race boat Alfa Romeo, blasted clear early, showing the same turn of speed that won him an elapsed time victory in the last Sydney Hobart Race but he was pushed hard by Cayard and Canon Leopard as the boats converged on the gybe mark off North Head.
Slowed by the incoming tide, the big boats tucked into a tightly packed bunch as they fought for clear air and the shortest course to the open sea. "We'd rather be lucky than smart,"
said Cayard after the race. "We were fighting shifty northeast and southwest sea breezes, making it a tough day's racing. In the end we were lucky and Alfa Romeo was unlucky."
The 80-foot Nautor Swan cruiser/racer Innovision from Finland, owned by Hans Eekhol and steered by Prada Syndicate's Kiwi tactician Gavin Brady, was a handy winner in Division 2. The year-old sloop, started right at the committee boat end at the gun and led the procession out of the harbour, pulling steadily away to take the finishing gun 59 minutes ahead of the custom New Zealand 65-foot Davidson sloop Antaeus, owned and steered by Charles St Claire Brown.