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A Superb Regatta - beginners race with top Grand Prix teams and all go for 2023

Competition in yachting, as in most sports, is usually all about winning - but sometimes it is as much about taking part.

In Mercury Bay Boating Club’s big regatta (Elliot 5.9 Association) at the weekend, a family who towed their boat Bob all the way from Christchurch for the event, came virtually last in every race.That was hardly surprising, as they were up against some of the top sailors in the country, who regularly compete in regattas overseas. But despite their lowly ranking, there was nothing but praise from Mercury Bay Boating Club Commodore Jonathan Kline for skipper Joanna Lowrey, her partner Rodney Ball, who was the boat’s pitman, and her son, Ben Lowrey who crewed as Bob’s bowman. “They finished in the bottom three for every race but they seemed to be having the best time,” Jonathan said of the family who only bought their boat last July. “They had never sailed Elliotts before, but Joanna told me she joined this particular fleet because she wanted to get better at racing and she wanted to have fun on weekends. She had never raced with her son before but had cheered him on as a junior sailor on P-Class and Optis and Starlings.”

Jonathan was speaking after the MBBC hosted the Elliott 5.9 yachts for their winter Traveller Series. He said the racing was closely fought and the boats were evenly matched. “It was really only seconds separating first from fifth with all these boats.”

In the end, the final results saw a new boat in the fleet at the top of the pile - Shapeshifter, sailed by Brett Elliott, Matthew Stuart and Nick Bastow from the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron who took first in all but two races, winning overall by a handy margin. Against top opposition like that, Bob’s crew really had their work cut out, but Jonathan said all competitors had to start somewhere.

“It is all about competitors coming up from small beginnings and working their way to the top,” added Jonathon.

“As an indication of how closely matched the contest was, the top 10 boats normally rounded the marks with less than 15 seconds separating first boat to 10th. This made for thrilling racing and close quarters manoeuvring,” Jonathan said. Last year MBBC’s flawless hosting of the Elliott 5.9 Association Nationals saw the club added to the association’s winter Traveller Series. “They were impressed with the Boating Club’s Race management skills and appreciative of the town’s hospitality and stunning surroundings at last year’s national event, so they asked to return for a two-day regatta as part of their Traveller Series,” Jonathan said.

Sixteen crews registered, towing their yachts from as far away as Napier, Opua, Wellington, and Christchurch, with many coming from Auckland. Each boat was raced by three crew who, with family and friends, made up a travelling group of about 50 visitors to the town. Saturday’s racing featured wet conditions with a flat, grey sea and very light winds. Despite the race committee’s best efforts, only two races were run, even though the boats were on the water waiting from 10am to 3pm. Nonetheless, the soggy crews were happy to get those two races in and then head for some of our local hot spots to warm up for the evening, The Lost Spring for hot soaks, Grace O’Malleys and Smitty’s for the rugby finals.

Sunday dawned much clearer but with a glassy sea. However, by 10.45am the predicted southeast wind started to fill in and Race Officer Phil Hart set the Windward - Leeward course in stunning Cook’s Bay, with four backto-back races run in near perfect conditions. There were occasional fouls - a boat touching a mark or not giving way according to the racing rules of sailing - but these were cleared by the competitors, with those in the wrong doing their penalty turns to clear the infractions. There were many place changes within each race; errors made by some were capitalised on by others.

At the awards ceremony, Association President, Stu Clarke, praised the Mercury Bay Boating Club for its hospitality and exceptional logistics management and asked if the fleet could return to Whitianga again next year. The club’s volunteers had managed four patrol boats that not only set marks, ran the start sequences, and recorded finishes, but also had to tow all 15 boats to and from the Whitianga Marina.

Jonathan said that the success of the regatta was due to the calibre of the volunteers and their genuine passion for this sport. He thanked the Whitianga Marina for providing a “superb” staging and launching area for the boats.

Pictured is the 15 Elliots - "thrilling racing and close quarters manoeuvring". Photos by Helen Hart.

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