Yachting: NZ's new ocean event welcomed

The new annual ocean race from Auckland to Bluff has received the tick of approval from the organisers of the notorious Sydney to Hobart event and it's likely to be almost as challenging.

The Auckland to Bluff race, or A2B, will be staged for the first time on Waitangi Day, February 6, 2014, and has been scheduled to cater for competitors in what is usually a brutal event off the Australian coast which traditionally starts on Boxing Day.

The A2B, which will be the longest ocean race to start and finish in New Zealand - taking place over an 1100 nautical mile course - will start in Auckland, head north to round Cape Reinga and travel south along the west coast of New Zealand to Bluff.

The Government has backed the event, contributing $440,000. Economic Development minister Steven Joyce said it was an excellent opportunity to show why New Zealand's marine sector was among the best in the world.

Crucially, it has also received support from the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia, an organisation which has been running the Sydney to Hobart race for 67 years.

In a letter to A2B organiser Murray Francis, a New Zealand filmmaker who was involved in the World's Fastest Indian movie about Invercargill's Burt Munro, Cruising Yacht Club of Australia chief executive Mark Woolf said: "We are very pleased you have chosen to conduct the race in February as this will not only give Australian-based yacht owners something to consider participating in, we also think international yacht owners who are planning on making the journey to Australia in participate in our great race [will] find the idea of crossing the Tasman ... an obvious addition to their itinerary.

The A2B, initially limited to 30 entries, would be run by Auckland's Royal Akarana Yacht Club. When asked how the sea conditions would compare to the Sydney to Hobart race, which was marred by tragedy in 1998 when five boats sank and six people died in a strong storm, Commodore Mark Woodley said: "It would compare favourably to the Sydney to Hobart.

"[But] it is a race in the southern ocean. Down the west coast, there is a strong current that runs through there and there is often a southerly that runs up, together with a big swell that comes across the Tasman. It's an adventure race, it will be challenging for the yachts, but I think that's what will attract people to the race.

"This is not a race for a weekend warrior, put it that way. This is a race for someone who has experience in ocean racing, who have boats designed for it, are capable, and have the equipment which is required for this type of race and crews with experience of sailing in the worst of conditions."

While the race is scheduled to travel south along the west coast, a very poor weather forecast would force the fleet to travel through Cook Strait and down the east coast.

Francis said he began organising the A2B because of New Zealand's sailing tradition and talent and the gap in the yachting calendar. He said he had spent 18 months on the concept.

Invercargill mayor Tim Shadbolt was involved in the race launch in Auckland today.

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