Bianca Cook, third from left, meets members of the Queen Charlotte Yacht Club at their new clubhouse. From left, Emily Overend, Kate Overend, Alexandra Thom, Jack Bennett and Harry Edwards. Photo: Peter Jones.

Bianca’s cooking up a round-the-world treat

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.”

Division 1 start, from left, Kaimai Flyer, Global, High Voltage, Khamsin, Satellite Spy and Oldsmobile. Photo Karmyn Ingram.

Brilliant sailing marks women’s regatta

Over 100 sailors delivered some stunning performances on the water during the third Mud House Women’s Regatta hosted by the Waikawa Boating Club at the weekend.

Racing in a wide range of conditions over four races, the regatta was contested by a record turnout of 17 boats, with crews ranging from relative racing novices to current and former national champions.

Racing got underway late on Saturday due to a lack of wind, however the programmed two races were able to be completed.

Sunday dawned drier than Saturday, with extremely light winds testing the crews.

As the breeze filled in later in the day Race Officer Viv Butcher was able to set a tight and testing windward-leeward course as the final act of the regatta.

Division 2 start. Left to right, Sequin, Abracadabra, Freaky and On Appro. Photo: Supplied.
Division 2 start. Left to right, Sequin, Abracadabra, Freaky and On Appro. Photo: Karmyn Ingram.

Close racing in Division 2 saw Lyttleton skipper Karen Selway score a fine double with her Young 88 Abracadabra.

Selway sailed a near-perfect regatta, taking line honours in all four races as well as winning three of the four races on handicap.

The Division 2 podium was rounded out by Waikawa boat ‘Freaky’, the Farr 727 helmed by experienced ocean sailor Jill Bethell, with Waikawa’s Nicky Jenkins sailing the Hanse 385 ‘On Appro’ third.

Division 1 delivered some top racing from many of the best women sailors in the country.

Double Olympic medallist Jo Aleh took to the water aboard Satellite Spy, helmed by Carla Bennet, and contributed to a perfect four-from-four for line honours to the Ross 40.

Current national women’s keelboat champion Sally Garrett brought her crack crew from Auckland and despite stepping aboard less than 24 hours before the regatta began, Garrett and her crew sailed an immaculate regatta, winning four-from-four on handicap aboard the David and Jo Grigg-owned Beneteau 36.7 ‘Global’.

Showing exceptional multi-tasking ability, regatta co-ordinator Juliet Abbott helmed the Young Rocket ‘Oldsmobile’ to second place in the regatta, the racing so close that the final result was decided on countback with ‘Satellite Spy’ third, one point clear of New Year regatta champion ‘Kaimai Flyer’.

With dates for the 2020 event set and visiting crews committing to the event, the regatta looks to have a strong future.

Regatta spokesperson Duncan Mackenzie said, “the event is rapidly becoming a ‘must do’ on the calendar of top women sailors nationwide. We’re looking forward to growing the event alongside our foundation sponsors Mud House Wines”.

Full results here:

Waikawa yacht Bump n' Grind in action during last year's event. Photo: Supplied.

Women’s regatta sets sail

Entries are flooding in for the Mud House Wines Women’s Regatta on September 14-15, which is set to be the biggest women’s keelboat event in the country.

The Waikawa Boating Club event has drawn boats and women from all over the country and a contingent of Australian sailors as well.

From modest beginnings as a “women’s helm” event the regatta has made huge strides and with boat entries over 50 percent ahead of the 2018 regatta the organizers are looking forward to a standout event.

For the third successive year Mud House Wines have signed on as lead sponsor.

While not a “pure” women’s regatta in that there are males aboard some boats, these individuals are there simply as boat owners to ensure they are covered by their insurers. A number of boats feature a 100 percent female line-up making the event, in terms of actual female participation, arguably the country’s largest.

The competition just heated up some more with the entry of current national women’s keelboat champion Sally Garrett of Royal Akarana Yacht Club. Along with her title-winning crew she’s all signed up for a great weekend of Sounds racing, a terrific opportunity for local and visiting crews to test themselves against the best.

With boat and crew numbers increasing daily, the event looks set to establish itself as one of the cornerstone regattas of the Waikawa racing calendar and the national women’s calendar.

Louie Poletti in action in his Optimist. Photo: Lamirana Photography.

Bahamas beckons for Louie

Queen Charlotte Yacht Club sailor Louie Poletti may be just 12-years-of-age, but he is no stranger to hard work, which is beginning to pay off as he rises up the national rankings.

Louie is one of four sailors selected into the New Zealand Optimist Dinghy team which will travel to the Nassau Yacht Club in The Bahamas to compete in the North American Championships from September 27 to October 4. He is the only South Islander in the team, with two of the other sailors living in Auckland and the other based in Singapore.

The team will depart Auckland on September 18, arriving early to acclimatise to the tropical heat and recover from jetlag prior to the event.

This will give them time to claim their charter boats, set them up to their own specifications and practice in Montagu Bay prior to the regatta.  Montagu Bay, Nassau is a protected bay renowned for its reliable and steady winds.

Young sailor Louie Poletti. Photo: Supplied.
Young sailor Louie Poletti. Photo: Supplied.

The predicted conditions are expected to be windy so the seven-day regatta will be a test of endurance with the Kiwi contingent up against 150 sailors from 15 nations in North, South and Central America.

Prior to his departure, Louie is expected to attend several training camps in Auckland to prepare for the regatta as the New Zealand sailors are attending at the beginning of the New Zealand season and the North Americans are peaking at the end of their sailing season.

He will also be committed to training alone over the winter months from his home base in Picton, a regime that is not new to the self-motivated youngster.

Louie started sailing at the Queen Charlotte Yacht Club in 2015 and his progress has been rapid.

For the last two years he has been part of the New Zealand Optimist Development Sailing Team, a selection of the top five eleven and twelve-year-olds, that travelled to Noumea and competed in the New Caledonian National Championships.

This year Louie set his sights on improving his New Zealand ranking. To this end he spent countless hours training alone on the open waters of the Marlborough Sounds to optimise his fitness and master sailing in all conditions in preparation for the three ranking regattas in Napier, Picton, Maraetai (Auckland) and the New Zealand nationals in Murray’s Bay, Auckland.

His hard work has paid dividends, with Louie now ranked No 2 among 13-year-olds and 13th overall in New Zealand.

His latest selection comes with a large financial commitment. His trip will cost over $8000, plus the expense of attending numerous trainings in Auckland. To help raise money Louie is selling raffle tickets and boxes of kindling and plans to stage a Quiz Night Fundraiser at the Waikawa Boating Club.

A fellow Queen Charlotte Yacht Club sailor, 14-year-old Eden Amos, has also gained national recognition after being selected for the Girls’ Development Team that is travelling to the Noumean Nationals.

Emily Overend and Harry Edwards, left, help Bay of Islands Yacht Club sailors Jack Honey and Helena Sanderson bring their shared boat in after the final race. Photo: Supplied. 

QCYC sailors’ sportsmanship a highlight of regatta

Not all winners get to stand on the podium.

Sport occasionally produces instances when an act of sportsmanship, or kindness, from competitors further down the field overshadows the achievements of those at the top.

One such recent occasion involved Queen Charlotte Yacht Club sailors Emily Overend, 16, and 14-year-old Harry Edwards.

The talented duo were at the Royal Akarana Yacht Club in Auckland during February, sailing a Nacra 15 in the Oceanbridge Regatta.

The regatta was important for all concerned, being a selection event designed to choose which crew would represent New Zealand at the Youth World champs in Poland in July.

The Nacra 15 is a catamaran, capable of reaching 20 knots downwind, sailed by mixed crews.  After the first two days Emily and Harry were sitting in fourth position, out of contention for top spot, but still with a chance of snatching third on the final day.

Leading the standings was Jack Honey and Helena Sanderson from the Bay of Islands Yacht Club, who had set the pace throughout and held a handy, but certainly not unassailable lead.

The last day of the regatta saw plenty of action. On the course were a large fleet of Olympic 49ers, 49erFX and Nacra 17, plus the two Youth Classes that go with those Olympic classes, the 29er and Nacra 15.

With 15 to 20 knot winds on a short three-lap course, sailing was fast and technical.

While manouevering to miss a 49er, the Bay of Islands duo collided at high speed with a Nacra 17, neither noticing the other.

The Nacra 15 mast fell on top of the Nacra 17 and, although all the sailors were unhurt both boats, who led their respective classes, were completely out of action.

With two more races to sail it appeared all over for Jack and Helena who, by not finishing the last three races, would lose the chance to win which they had built up over the first nine races.

However, a lifeline was at hand. Emily picks up the story.

“We were pretty new to the [Nacra] class while and Jack and Helena had been in it for a couple of years and had helped us quite a bit.

“So, when their boat was written off we offered to take their crashed boat back to the beach and let them use our boat for the last two races, to carry on and see if they could win it. It was Jack’s last year [in the Nacra 15] as well, whereas we have another year in the class.

“We also wanted to see the best team go and represent New Zealand at the worlds.”

The decision to end their regatta prematurely and help the others was unanimous, explained Emily.

“We were coming down the last run and we saw them crash and thought ‘oh, that’s not great’. We carried on and finished, then talked about it and said we should probably offer [our boat] to them, thinking that they could turn it down if they don’t want it.

“Then we asked the race committee and they said it was alright for us to do that.”

After switching craft, the Bay of Islands duo went out and won their final two races, in an unfamiliar boat, to clinch the title and book a place at the Youth Worlds.

That wasn’t the end of the matter though, with protests being lodged by rival crews after the boat swap. After four hours deliberation, the race committee found in Jack and Helena’s favour.

Darryl Honey, club captain of the Bay of Islands club, said they were overwhelmed by their rivals’ gesture.

“People cried when they heard what [Emily and Harry] had done, for the generosity of it.”

He recalled a similar incident at the 2008 Olympics for the 49erclass when the Croatian team donating their boat to the Danish team, allowing them to finish the medal race and win gold.

“There were also protests then, which were overturned.  For their generosity, the Croatian team was awarded the True Spirit of Sportsmanship Award by the International Olympic Committee. This was a very big deal, only 22 people or teams have ever received this honour.

“Harry and Emily, there is no Yachting New Zealand version of this Sportsmanship Award, but we’re working on it, because there’s a lot of people who are impressed by your quick and clear thinking and action to gift your boat.

“Jack and Helena now head away to Poland, and they carry you with them in their hearts.

“Thank you from the Bay of Islands to your families and the club that supports them. Queen Charlotte Yacht Club, you are the home of amazing sailors.”

Emily and Harry will return to the regatta next year, hoping next time to win both on and off the water.