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Auckland’s own ''America's Cup”''

Tuesday 16 December 2003

Auckland’s own ''America's Cup''

It’s big, it’s old, it’s contested by yachties, and it’s ours. Auckland’s Anniversary Regatta, which will be sailed for the 164th year on 26 January 2004, is New Zealand’s oldest sporting event and one of the world’s biggest one-day regattas.

The regatta’s organisers, Auckland Anniversary Regatta Inc, are figuratively putting up the spinnakers in an effort to get all of Auckland behind them to restore this historic event as the centre piece of the City of Sails’ birthday celebration.

Civic bodies are supporting the committee’s drive to make Auckland’s 2004 Anniversary Regatta a special day, not just on the water but on shore as well.

“When the Regatta was incorporated into a long weekend, it lost something of its special character,“ says Jon Hollies, chairman of Auckland Anniversary Regatta Inc.

“Instead of flocking to Auckland’s vantage points to watch the racing, as they used to, many people now leave town for the weekend.

“We want to rejuvenate the Regatta and make it once again the focus of an Auckland-wide celebration of our city’s official birthday.”

The regatta itself is even older than the America’s Cup event – the first Auckland regatta was held on the day the city was founded, on 18 September 1840, 11 years before the first America’s Cup contest was sailed in 1851.

That first regatta on the Waitemata Harbour was an impromptu three-race event that took place after representatives of Lieutenant Governor William Hobson rowed ashore from the barque Anna Watson and took formal possession of the site in the name of Queen Victoria.

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A report in The New Zealand Advertiser and Bay of Islands Gazette of 24 September 1840 said the official party rowed back to the Anna Watson and then: “After partaking of luncheon, a regatta took place between a five-oared gig belonging to the Surveyor-General and a six-oared gig belonging to the Anna Watson, both pulled in excellent style by amateurs. This was followed by a match for a purse of five pounds between two whale-boats pulled by sailors, and by another between two large canoes paddled by natives.”

The Auckland event has been held every year since -- though in 1842 the date was shifted from September to 29 January.

The 35 races in the 2004 regatta are expected to attract entries from yachts in more than 60 classes ranging from tiny Optimists to Vintage A-class keelers and historic yachts. The regatta will be sailed on both of Auckland’s harbours – there’s a full programme of races on the Manukau as well as the Waitemata – and involve approximately 1000 sailors from age eight to 80-plus.

The America’s Cup has gone, but competitors in one race in Auckland’s Regatta will compete for a trophy that is even older: the Lewis Tankard. Whereas the America’s Cup was created in 1848, the Georgian sterling silver Lewis Tankard is hallmarked London 1744.

The oldest cup among the Auckland Anniversary Regatta trophies is the sterling silver Agnes Cup, hallmarked London 1861. With a replacement value of $15,000, it is the most valuable of 50 cups and trophies that Auckland Anniversary Regatta Inc has just had repaired, polished and valued to restore them to their former glory in keeping with regatta’s rejuvenation.

Those Aucklanders who plan to follow tradition and take a picnic basket to a vantage point on Bastion Point or North Head should look out for the grand old vessels that will be competing in the Classic Yacht division.

One of the Classic Yacht skippers is the late Sir Peter Blake’s brother, Tony Blake, who will be at the helm of Waitangi, the oldest yacht in the regatta at 109 years. Built in 1894, it is a 56ft gaff-rigged topsail cutter that needs a crew of 12 to 15 with lots of muscle-power, because there are no winches.

Special on-shore events on the harbour’s edge include free jazz performances at Viaduct Harbour and on Princes Wharf. For details of local events around Auckland listen to the radio, read local newspapers and visit council websites.


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