Every four years, an epic challenge takes place on the West coast of the North Island of New Zealand, in the coastal town of New Plymouth.
New Plymouth is the most western town of New Zealand, and is the closet port to Australia. This wind driven and exposed coast line is the perfect place to start the solo Tasman crossing finishing in Mooloolaba, Australia some 1200 nautical miles away. For any sailor keen enough to push their sailing skills to the absolute maximum, this event is the perfect test.
The event kicked off with a welcoming ceremony at the New Plymouth Sport Fishing and Under Water Club where support families, friends, sponsors and New Plymouth sailing greats were able to catch up for a beer and a yarn. Swapping stories, reliving memories and for the first time solo crossing challengers, getting some inside information about what to expect in the weeks ahead. Local Hero Lindsay Wright was there autographing his book Trial by Tasman
, an amazing compilation of the history of this event and a must read for any sailor living for the adventures of the ocean.
This years 13 challengers represented New Zealand, Australia and Austria. Every sailor adding their own unique personality, set of skills, sailing experience and not limited by age. Bob Wise, in his early 60’s and competing for his third crossing. Cory Mclennan, only 19 years old and Lisa Blair, 28, and the only woman competing. For both Cory and Lisa, this is their first ever solo Tasman crossing challenge.
Since 1970 the race format has not changed and it is still the only solo ocean race in the southern hemisphere. Scheduled to start at 1pm on the 20th April 2014 Easter Sunday, the race was postponed due to strong winds and massive southerly swells battering the West coast of New Zealand.
The call was made by the race committee and some of the more experienced sailors that the start be changed to Tuesday 22nd April. A disheartening beginning to an epic ocean adventure, but put simply by the committee at 10am on Saturday morning asking all challengers, ' Would you leave port and go cruising in this weather' the unanimous answer 'NO'.
This gave the challengers a chance to double check and triple check all their equipment, and spend an extra couple of days with loved ones. With Race day looming, the New Plymouth boat ramp and purpose built marina were buzzing with people checking out the boats and the challengers. The general feeling from the challengers was that the friendly community of New Plymouth was second to none, always helpful and generous with any problems that had arisen. Truly a sign of the hearty spirit of the type of people that live along this rouged coastline.
This was reinforced when Tuesday came around and the start of the race was counting down. Bosses giving employees the afternoon off to go down to the port an cheer for the challengers, even on a Tuesday, midweek. Supporters and boaties lined the break water, jumped into kayaks, small lasers and boats to get amongst the challengers as they sailed to the start line.
With a fleet consisting of 8 sloops, 1 x pogo 40, 1 x cat, 1 x tri, 1 x Forner 37, and 1 x Nicholson 55 the race format has always been run with three different classes, IRC class, Adventure class, Multihull class.
As the wind grew to 15 knots and blowing from the prevailing westerly direction the race was started and all 13 challengers and their yachts left the safe haven of Port Taranaki and started their epic ocean adventure into the Tasman.
Next stop Mooloolaba, Australia…Hopefully!
For more information on the race and the challengers check out http://www.solo-tasman.co.nz
with a live map showing updates from the good people at yellow brick. Safe travels to all challengers.
To see the latest race progress click here