But what a fantastic week of racing. For us it was a week of competing against Crusader.
Leg 1, Wellington to Akaroa, 195 nm: The first 4 hours were epic... Out of Wellington and nearly to Kaikoura in 4 hours. 40-50 ish knots tailwind, many gusts into the 60s and a few recorded in the 70s.
These clips are with a reef in the main and a #4 headsail. Blink felt like she was on rails, was balanced, and probably could have been pushed a bit harder. But we were building a handy lead on Crusader and the conditions were, well, intense - so we just kept sending it over the waves....
Then we got south of Kaikoura and stopped. The local wisdom is that you never go inshore here in a northerly, boats have stopped nearer shore in no breeze for days. We headed further out, expecting to find enough wind to fill our sails in the slop. Never happened. Crusader ended up well inshore of us and got away, we never caught up again in the light airs all the way into Akaroa. We did learn a bit about trying to move the boat in light air. But not enough ...
Leg 2, Akaroa to Napier, 350nm: After a drift-off out of the harbour we got around Banks Peninsula with a massive lead, Crusader so far behind they were hard to identify. Then the routing was upwind all the way up the coast of the South Island and - given Blink's big speed advantage upwind - thought this would go our way. But no - the Crusader team in the biggest (and one of the riskier?) round-the-outside manoeuvres I've seen completely avoided sailing upwind, and when we again ran out of breeze near Cape Palliser they were 94 nm more east than any other boat in the fleet. They got the breeze they went looking for, and moved from a 30-mile deficit to a nearly 10-mile lead. Overnight. Wow.
Despite our losing power and not being able to cant the keel or use the boat electronics after we broke an alternator bracket just east of Cape Palliser, we went chasing after them and over the next 40-odd miles we got close, really close, about 15 miles from the finish line. Game on. We were less than a mile abeam and slightly behind, went for one more gybe to take an expected shift and maybe overtake, and stopped in no wind. Crusader didn't, disappearing over the horizon for a 2-hour win. Really.
Leg 3, Napier to Wellington, 205nm: At last a chance to stretch our legs upwind, at least to Cape Kidnappers. There were no options for Crusader but to follow us out, and again we had a few miles handy lead as we headed down the coast back to Wellington. Until later that evening when we again parked on mirror-smooth water, Crusader caught up again and we sat for a long time, 40m apart, in surreal moonlight.
Then a wonderful highlight of the week. Here were these two high performance raceboats becalmed in the middle of nowhere at sea, supposed to be racing but stuck still in the wee small hours of the morning ... we fired up our stereo and played Mahna Mahna from the muppets at high volume from our cockpit speakers.
The breeze eventually filled in and we were away again the next morning. In increasing breeze up to high 20s and even 30s around Cape Palliser Blink again had a healthy lead, several miles. With the harbour entrance in sight, the Code 0 on and powering towards the finish line at 12 knots, and Crusader apparently well tucked away behind, it all looked good for us to at last convert one of our recurrent leading margins into a race win. But no. Another windless park-up at the harbour entrance. Yes you understand correctly - Wellington Harbour entrance, no wind. We all know that never happens.
But anyway you can probably guess the outcome. Crusader and Blink were about 50 m apart, roughly side by side pointing in to the harbour, Blink in about 0.5 knots of westerly and Crusader picked up a good easterly (yes, dear reader, easterly) puff with their Code 0 ready. Off they go, we never regained the lead, despite an absolutely brilliant gybing duel in a nearly windless inner harbour at night. Crusader got us by 51 seconds for the full trifecta.
Kudos and trophies well deserved by the Crusader team for nailing every single opportunity.
Despite the disappointment of no silverware, we had a brilliant time, have formed a basis for a solid amateur offshore crew, and learnt a great deal about the boat. We'll be much better armed in the future. It really suited Crusader to have minimal upwind sailing and very little reaching (at least at the same time that Blink was) as those points of sail would be a advantage to our more powerful and not much heavier boat. But that did make for some spectacular racing, and pushed both teams pretty hard. I'll be using the happy memories of that big downwind ride from leg 1 to bore people with when I'm old and deaf.
The experience of all 3 legs was encapsulated nicely by an event the next day. Rob's flight to Auckland was cancelled due to fog, resulting in him getting becalmed in a queue the length of Wellington Harbour. 2 hours later some of the Crusader crew arrived, checked in, and flew out an hour before the next plane Rob could get on.