The first event of the 2011-2012 NZOK Tour was the third annual Rum Bucket Championship, which took place over Labour Weekend at Wakatere Boating Club in Auckland.
With the Rugby World Cup final between New Zealand and France scheduled to take place on Sunday evening following the conclusion of the Rum Bucket, there was also much to be fought for in the waters of the Rangitoto Channel. Like the All Blacks, the Auckland sailors had a monkey which needed removing from their backs: both previous Rum Buckets had been won by a sailor from Worser Bay Boating Club in Wellington. Would a home sailor finally win the Bucket?
With forecasts of 25 knots and more for the first days sailing, the '1 Ton Club' (sailors over 100kg) were all smiles at the briefing. Luckily the forecasters were wrong (again) and, while there was the odd gust in excess of 20 knots, the majority of the racing took place in 12 - 15 knots. The program was for 5 short races per day and the shifty conditions meant that a good start and hitting the first shift correctly were all important.
Wellington’s Paul Rhodes got off to a good start with 2 first places, 2 seconds and a seventh for the first day. Hot on his heals was Wakatere sailor Brad Douglas with a 3, 2, 6, 1, 1 scorecard. Brad was a newcomer to the OK class in 2009 and, after winning the OK Interdominions in Melbourne this year he is now campaigning a Finn (as a trainer for the OK, of course).
Defending Rum Bucket champion Luke O’Connell from Worser Bay lay in third after a string of top 4 results, while Russ Wood won the other race of the day, clearly happy in the breezy conditions, and Mark Perrow rounded out the top 5. So, after Day 1, with Wellington sailors in first and third, Team Wakatere was in danger of yet another heartbreak at the hands of the ever-consistent Worser Bay.
The wind was lighter on the Sunday and with larger shifts. Alistair Deaves from Wakatere won the first race in diabolical conditions, with Brad Douglas and Luke O’Connell each winning 2 of the remaining 4 races.
After 10 races, Douglas had done enough to take the Bucket by a 4 point margin from O’Connell, and claim an historic victory for Auckland. Rhodes suffered in the lighter conditions (usually a strength of his) to drop to third, while Ben Morrison did enough on Day 2 to climb to fourth, with Mark Perrow holding on to fifth.
Highlights of the weekend were undoubtedly watching Ben Morrison sail around a gate mark the wrong way while leading a race, watching the J Class yacht Endeavour undergoing sea trials, the huge ham cooked by team Douglas - and of course that rugby match, which led to wild celebrations by the whole fleet which lasted most of the night.
The Aucklanders would say that all is right with the world again – the Rugby World Cup is in the hands of the All Blacks, and the Rum Bucket stays in Auckland – at least until next year.
Wakatere Boating Club should be congratulated for another excellent event, smoothly run by that smoothest of race officers Dean Coleman. The next event on the NZOK Tour is the world famous International Turangi Open, always a favourite event.