The Volvo Ocean Race Auckland Stopover is officially underway, with a team of over 100 Race staff welcomed by local dignitaries during a Race Village opening ceremony on Saturday.
It is the tenth time that the Race – dubbed the toughest test of a team in professional sport – has visited New Zealand, with a long history of hosting the race stretching back to the 1977-78 edition.
The ceremony began with a formal welcome from the Ngati Whatua to mark the special occasion, including a wero (ritual challenge) and a haka powhiri (welcome chant).
The Hon David Parker and Cllr Bill Cashmore were also present to welcome the race to the City of Sails for the stopover, which is being held in the Viaduct Events Centre in Auckland and will run until Sunday 18 March.
The fleet is currently racing Leg 6 of the 2017-18 edition and the current ETA for the boats is Wednesday 28 February local time.
Parker said that New Zealand had held a strong connection to the round the world race since Sir Peter Blake and Grant Dalton won the race.
Photo: Taiaha Hawke, representing Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei
There are currently Kiwis racing on six of the seven teams – including national heroes Peter Burling and Blair Tuke, who are both challenging to be the first ever sailor to win the Triple Crown of the Volvo Ocean Race, Olympic gold and America’s Cup.
Turn the Tide on Plastic’s Bianca Cook, who is from Auckland, is the first Kiwi female to compete in the event in almost two decades, since Keryn McMaster, Bridget Suckling and Sharon Ferris in 2001/02. James Blake, son of Sir Peter Blake, the nation’s most decorated sailor, is currently the Onboard Reporter on the boat.
On the water, the racing is tight, with the fleet split into two packs – Scallywag, Turn the Tide on Plastic and team AkzoNobel in the west, and MAPFRE, Dongfeng Race Team and Team Brunel further behind in the east. At the 1900 UTC position report on Saturday, just 57 miles splits the boats, with Brunel currently in Stealth Mode.
The stopover will feature a spectacular The New Zealand Herald In-Port Race on Saturday 10 March before the Leg 7 start on Sunday 18 March, when the boats will head into the Southern Ocean for a race to Itajaí, Brazil.