Bianca Cook intends to sail around the world – but she’s going around her own country first.
The Auckland-based sailor was in Picton last week outlining her plans to skipper a Kiwi crew in the 2021 Ocean Race (formerly the Volvo and Whitbread round-the-world races).
Bianca has recent experience, having competed in the last version of the iconic race as part of the multi-nation Turn the Tide on Plastic crew, and is keen to see the New Zealand flag flying on a round-the-world racer again. The last time that happened was on Camper eight years ago, but that was alongside the Spanish flag.
She is currently touching base at yacht clubs throughout New Zealand, spreading the word of her yet-to-be-named campaign and sharing her experiences with fellow sailors as the ambitious project gathers momentum.
“It’s all about trying to connect with the yacht clubs around the country and give back. To talk about my experiences with the Volvo Ocean Race and also talk about sustainability and outline the research we found when we were sailing,” Bianca says.
“Also to allow the younger sailors coming through to realise that there are other avenues in sailing … that offshore racing is an option. Plus talking about what I have planned for the next race.”
And plans are certainly afoot. She already has a boat, having raised private funds to buy the familiar VO65 Turn the Tide on Plastic, which has now completed two global circumnavigations and which she describes as “bulletproof”.
Bianca has also recruited well, securing the services of Kiwi sailing legend Tony Rae, a veteran of six round-the-world races and seven America’s Cups, as shore-based team manager. Rae also has recent experience on the boat, having sailed it around the world in the 2014-15 Volvo race.
“I want to get people excited about ocean racing again,” Bianca says.
“We have got such a rich history in this race and it would be fantastic to have a Kiwi team that the country can be proud of and get behind.”
The 30-year-old says selecting a 10-strong crew, which must include at least three women, three sailors under the age of 26, six under-30 and three who have completed the race before, has had to take a back seat.
“The immediate hurdle is to get the finding to ensure we get to the start line. The boat has arrived in New Zealand [from Lisbon] … the beauty of it is that the boats are all one design and there is a bit of history there as well.
“Once they announce the race route it will be easier to approach sponsors … nobody has said it’s a bad idea yet,” she adds with a chuckle.
“I think we will make it to the start line, it’s just a question of how we will look when we get there. It depends on funding really, but we want to fly the Kiwi flag proudly and have the best team to represent the country.”
Bianca is quietly confident she has the experience and skills to skipper the Kiwi team.
“I wouldn’t have stepped up to this position if I didn’t think that I could do it. The people around me believe in me doing it as well.
“We have got time … next year the plan is to train solidly, do a tour around New Zealand … go back to what they did with Steinlager and Camper and others, plus we will do local offshore races, the Auckland to Fiji race, a newly-announced Sydney to Auckland race in 2021 and doing training around the Pacific Islands and in the Southern Ocean.
“We are lucky to have both those on our back doorstep. It’s going to be a steep learning curve but I’m definitely ready to take it on.”
Despite the intense physical and mental challenges that go with the territory, she says the urge to get back on the start line is strong.
“There’s something about this race that just draws you back. It’s the adrenaline rush and the race itself. It becomes like a family community, you just become part of this wider family. And there’s nothing better than sailing into your own country.”
Although a New Zealand stop-over has not yet been finally confirmed, Bianca expects that to happen and has her sights set on sailing into home waters, not only as the first Kiwi female skipper in the 46-year history of the race history, but also under a New Zealand flag with the home nation putting the wind in their sails.
But she is very clear on one point. “We don’t want to be just another boat on the start line, we want to be there to make sure we are winning.”