Racing was cut short today, at the Thunder at the Cove, Marsden Cove, with the intrusion of not one, but two large cement ships heading through the course and, despite being asked by race officials, refusing to wait for the race to finish.
This was disappointing for everyone as the organisers go to a lot of trouble several weeks before the race to ensure the waterway is closed to traffic and official notice given to vessels so the boats can race in a safe environment. The Whangarei Harbour Master had given special dispensation for the powerboat race to go ahead by raising the speed restriction for the duration of the race and closing the waterway to all traffic.
It was touch and go at Marsden Cove this morning with thick heavy rain making racing conditions difficult and drivers waiting to hear if the helicopters could fly, and racing proceed. Racing in the Rayglass New Zealand Offshore Powerboat series does not take place without the support of Marine Paramedics who follow the race closely in low flying helicopters, ensuring a minimum wait for assistance if an incident occurs.
After a ten minute delay racing got off to a flying start with plenty of spray flying in all directions. The boats collected at the western most part of the course and built up speed in the first long straight past One Tree Point in the direction of the Marsden Point Oil Refinery. 'Profloors' and 'Fairview' were first to the corner at the end of the long straight, followed closely by 'Schick Hydro' who spun out quite spectacularly, breaking off both of the outdrives in the process.
The crew of 'Doosan' who were close behind them said they saw the twin hulls of 'Schick Hydro' pointing skyward and thought at first that they might have flipped. It turned out that they had caught a wave and spun a full 360 degrees before going backward in the water and submerging the back of the boat up past the cockpit. Both Scott Lewis and Murray Tuffin were uninjured and were able to get out of the boat which was quickly taking on water and had to be assisted by support vessels. After the race it was plain to see that both the port and starboard drives had sheared off with the force of the water during the spin.
Several boats paused to render assistance and check that the crew were OK. Others carried on racing and there was some confusion as to whether the race would be restarted. The race continued however, and Schick Hydro was towed from the course by the coastguard who used their pumps to remove the water from the hull. Doosan also retired after standing by to assist Schick Hydro, having lost too much time to rejoin the race, and sustaining suspected damage to their gearbox after reversing quickly to go to the aid of Schick Hydro.
At times during the race the rain became heavier making it difficult to see the length of the course and the smaller boats found the short chop hard going. In the Honda Class the battle continued between Auckland District Collections and Rayglass, with Mikey Smith and Bobby Lloyd from Rayglass taking their first win of the series, again only metres away from their arch rivals. CRD Automotive and Total Oil also had another close race with Total Oil just managing to keep ahead. The Gambler was back this week after repairs to fix a split in the hull deck seam incurred from the race at Maraetai. They finished the race today but appear to have reopened the same area this week, so will need more attention if they are to race at Auckland in two weeks time.
'Konica Minolta' won their sixth consecutive race in the Classic class today, confirming their place as champions for this season. Also in the Classic Class, it was great to see the raceboat 'Topaz' back out on the water. Driven by a local Whangarei boy Bryan McLean, and Ian Reeves from Rotorua, the boat had a great tustle with 'Auckland District Collections from the Sports Restricted class who also compete in the 60 mile race. After five straight win, this was not however to be Auckland District Collections week in the Sports Restricted class, and they were beaten when Jono Hanley took his first win for the season in 'Marineworkz'.
This week saw the return of two other race boats today,' Back 2 Bay 6' in the Super 60 class and 'Barracuda Kayaks' in the Superboat Lites. 'Back2Bay6' had missed two races after sustaining damage at the start of the Maraetai race. Keen to show their speed the team of Chris and Glenn Powell won today ahead of Espresso Engineers driven by Mike Gerbic and Dave Vazey.
'NZ Blokes' won again this week in the Superboat Lites despite some confusion at the end of the race as the race was shortened. 'Red Steel' were close behind again this week, and the two boats will no doubt be looking forward to another opportunity to compete at close quarters under better conditions at Auckland in two weeks time. It was great to see Gordon Robinson and Andrew MacBeth back racing in 'Barracuda Kayaks' after missing several races with major mechanical problems.
After the drama of the first corner, racing settled down in the Superboat class. 'Profloors' driven by Wayne Valder and Richard Shores looked and sounded fantastic as the charged round the course hot on the heels of 'Fairview' driven by Warren Lewis and Chris Hanley. 'Fairview' won their fifth race today, which all but assures them of the championship title for the season, but has to finish fourth or better in one more race to cement the title.
Stace Hopper - .. .
Marsden Cove has special significance to The NZ Offshore Powerboating Association with the race held in honour of Stace Hopper, the son of Leigh and Gwen Hopper of Hopper Property Developments, who was the key project manager in the development of the Marsden Cove Marina Waterways, and was killed last year in an aircraft accident. Stace was an avid motorsport competitor, in both cars and boats and was involved with the Marsden Cove 60 Mile Powerboat race. As a tribute to him the New Zealand Offshore Powerboat Association race each year for a memorial trophy in both the 60 mile and 100 mile races. This year the 100 mile trophy was won by Warren Lewis and Chris Hanley in 'Fairview', and the 60 mile trophy by Ross Christiansen, David King, Paul Handsen and Adam Smale in 'Konica Minolta'.
Several factors including the weather, spinning boats, boats pausing to see if the race restarted, and the race cut short due to uncooperative cement ships made todays race more difficult to administer than usual and all will be looking forward to a more straightforward event in Auckland in two weeks time.
The NZOPA would like to thank Hopper Developments, Placemakers, The Whangarei District Council, and Energizer for their support in making the Marsden Cove Race possible.
They also acknowledge the ongoing support of the series sponsors Rayglass.
The remaining two rounds in the 2011 series are: Auckland (9 April) and the final round in Wellington on 23 April.
More information and updated championship points table can be found on the New Zealand Offshore Powerboat Association website www.nzoffshore.co.nz