With the Volvo Ocean Race just over 24 hours out of Auckland, and the boats racing neck and neck, current predictions suggest that we could see a nail-bitingly close match race into the Viaduct on Tuesday evening.
But it wouldn’t be the first time that Auckland has played host to a grandstand Volvo Ocean Race finish. In fact, the City of Sails has seen some of the closest battles in the Race’s history – and this week, we could be adding another to the list.
Here’s a look back at some of the most exciting and epic Volvo Ocean Race finishes into Auckland.
Boats: La Poste and Galicia ’93 Pescanova
Time difference: 12 seconds
That’s the equivalent of: Tying your shoelaces
Twelve seconds. It’s barely long enough to have read this far – but it’s the paper-thin difference in time posted between La Poste and Galicia ’93 Pescanova in 1993-94. French boat La Poste, led by legend Eric Tabarly, edged out Spanish team Galicia ’93, featuring current MAPFRE navigator Joan Vila, in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it finish battle worthy of any top-level sporting event. In fact, if you extrapolated that to a 100 metre sprint, it would make a difference of just 0.000q2 seconds! It’s still the closest finish ever coming into Auckland – but, incredibly, it’s not the closest finish in New Zealand’s history. In the 2005-06 race, movistar beat ABN AMRO ONE into Wellington by just nine seconds!
Boats: Atlantic Privateer and NZI Enterprise
Time difference: 2 minutes
That’s the equivalent of: Making a cup of tea
This bay sprint between sisterships Atlantic Privateer, led by Padda Kuttel, and NZI Enterprise, skippered by Kiwi Digby Taylor, is the perfect example of different strategies for racing into Auckland. On the final approach to the city, the leading pair split, with Atlantic Privateer hugging the shore, and NZI Enterprise heading further offshore. At first, the latter’s decision seemed to be paying off, with the boat moving within half a mile of the leaders, and a few blunted fingernails on the South African boat, but in the end, it was too little, too late, and Atlantic Privateer took the honours, to a rapturous Auckland welcome. The second-place finish would prove to be the last for NZI Enterprise, a campaign masterminded by Taylor, who built the boat himself, using only local NZ suppliers in a shed on a farm in Kumeu, on Auckland’s west coast. Just 72 hours after NZ Prime Minister David Lange fired the Leg 3 start gun, Enterprise broke her mast 380 miles southeast of the Chatham Islands – and was forced to retire from the race.
Leg: Fremantle to Auckland
Boats: New Zealand Endeavour (maxi) and Tokio (W60)
Time difference: 2 minutes 12 seconds
That’s the equivalent of: Listening to ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’ by The Beatles
Leg 3 of the 1993-94 edition saw a spectacular spinnaker start – with the fleet surfing past the magnificent Perth beaches, pushed by the famous ‘Fremantle doctor’ – and a fittingly furious finish coming into Auckland. After an enthralling tactical battle, Tokio was first to the top of New Zealand with a six-mile lead over New Zealand Endeavour off Cape Reinga. Ten miles behind were Winston, Yamaha and Galicia ’93 Pescanova. Tokio and New Zealand Endeavour were neck and neck, but as the wind changed strength and direction to suit the maxi, New Zealand Endeavour – featuring a host of Kiwi Volvo Ocean Race legends including Grant Dalton, Mike Sanderson, Brad Jackson, Stu Bannatyne and Tony Rae – slowly ran Tokio down to take the lead three miles from the finish. The margin between them was just over two minutes. Both divisions of the race were won by Kiwis that year – Dalton on Endeavour in the maxi class, and Ross Field on Yamaha in the W60.
Leg: Sydney to Auckland
Boats: Merit Cup and Toshiba
Time difference: 2 minutes 36 seconds
That’s the equivalent of: Cooking the perfect rare sirloin steak
After a disappointing start to the edition which saw original skipper, Kiwi Chris Dickson, fired after Leg 1, his old America’s Cup antagonist Dennis Conner took the helm of Toshiba to try and see for himself why the boat was lagging behind. After an overly eager start, he crossed the line three seconds early, but after 24 hours, he was among the top three – and was still battling leaders Merit Cup, led by Grant Dalton, on the final approach to Auckland. These last-gasp miles were raced in 45 knots, and a frantic finish saw Merit Cup rip through a convoy of spectator boats at breakneck speed to cross the line first, blowing their mainsail to shreds as they went. Toshiba crossed the line just over two and a half minutes later.
Leg: Fremantle to Auckland
Boats: Steinlager 2 and Fisher & Paykel
Time difference: 6 minutes 4 seconds
That’s the equivalent of: Replying to that lengthy email you’ve been putting off
One of the most famous finishes in Volvo Ocean Race history – and between two Kiwi boats, to boot! This battle between Sir Peter Blake’s Steinlager 2 and Grant Dalton’s Fisher & Paykel has gone down in sailing history, not just because the fierce rivals were neck and neck coming into Auckland, but due to the ferocious 40-knot squall that awaited them. On the final approach to Auckland, Grant Dalton turned off the navigation lights of Fisher & Paykel after she rounded the North Cape. Meanwhile, onboard Steinlager 2, Blake tuned into the local radio channel to get some idea of the conditions around Auckland, a move that prompted a change of sail that gave Steinlager 2 a smooth passage through the storm. Fisher & Paykel was still flying her spinnaker, which dropped into the water, and the boat lost time as the crew reconfigured, allowing their rivals to stretch their lead to a mile. Steinlager 2 enjoyed a rapturous welcome, racking up another leg win on their way to a spectacular clean sweep in 1989-90!
Leg: Sanya to Auckland
Boats: MAPFRE, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing and Dongfeng Race Team
Time difference: 8 minutes 2 seconds
That’s the equivalent of: Taking a super power nap
To win a Volvo Ocean Race leg, you need expertise, power, speed, and a little bit of luck, and that’s what MAPFRE took first place into Auckland despite a communications black out which left them without detailed weather data during Leg 4 from China to New Zealand. The leg started in brutal fashion, with upwind, buckaroo conditions making life hard for the sailors – and a doldrums crossing to negotiate, too. The leg from Asia down through the Pacific is one of the trickiest in the route – a whopping 5,264 miles raced …and just over eight minutes between the top three. Who said sailing wasn’t exciting?