The premier windward leeward racing divisions at Bay of Islands Sailing Week are at risk of collapse, unless they see more support from entrants soon, say the event’s organisers. While overall entry numbers are at normal levels with 50 entries to date, seven weeks out from the regatta, there is a concerning lack of entries in the top windward leeward divisions.
The annual event, dubbed New Zealand’s best big boat regatta by legendary sailing commentator PJ Montgomery, offers two types of racing to competitors. Entrants can choose from ‘Open Racing’ for a mix of windward leeward racing plus a passage race each day, or ‘Island Racing’ to sail a single longer passage race around the islands each day.
In the past, the event has seen good support for windward leeward racing, with around half the fleet typically opting for the intense competition of these divisions, while the remainder choose more relaxed cruising races.
This year however, the event’s premier A, B and C divisions have seen flagging numbers, while the Island Racing fleets swell with names generally associated with the more serious side of yacht racing. With only two entries currently in A Division – TP52s Mayhem and Wired – and one each in B Division and C Division – Soto 40 Alegre and MG30 Sham Pain – organisers say these divisions simply won’t be viable unless they see more entries soon.
“We need to see numbers of at least four or five boats in each division,” says event Chairperson Ian Clouston. “Without those numbers, there isn’t enough to justify us running those races. The windward leeward divisions are the most intensive on our resources because we run nine races for them over the course of the regatta, while Island Racing sail just three races in total.”
It’s a pattern that organisers say is occurring throughout yacht racing both at home and overseas, with touted reasons including the escalating costs of running serious racing campaigns, crew availability issues, and a preference for later starts and earlier finishes that allow more time for socialising.
Among the smaller boats however, windward leeward racing is still well supported. The Young 88 class fleet already numbers eight entries, and E Division which generally sees a lot of smaller boats from the local area is also expected to grow, with five entered so far.
The Sport Boat fleet numbers four to date, and is expected to swell to around 10 in the coming weeks. The continued popularity of windward leeward racing with smaller boats lends weight to the theory that cost and crew issues are playing a part among the larger boats.
“Bay of Islands Sailing Week is well known for offering top class competition to our keelboat fleet, and that’s something we want to continue,” Clouston says. “We know a lot of people love the relaxed cruising race style of Island Racing, but we also don’t want to see the death of windward leeward keelboat racing in NZ, and we really need the bigger keelboats to support it for that to happen.”
Bay of Islands Sailing Week begins on Tuesday 23 January 2024, followed by three days of racing from Wednesday 24 to Friday 26 January 2024. The event is made possible with the generous support of North Sails, Explore Group, Bay of Islands Marina, Mount Gay Rum, Gurit, Grassroots Trust and Pub Charity. Entries are open via the website at www.bayofislandssailingweek.org.nz.