An adrenaline-filled boat race on the Waitemata Harbour

An adrenaline-filled boat race on the Waitemata Harbour

Nadia and NADIA magazine associate editor Lucy skive off work early one Friday to gybe, tack and shriek their way through an adrenaline-filled rum race on the Waitemata Harbour.

We’re on a Marten 49 high-performance sailing boat called Carrera in the middle of the Waitemata Harbour, halfway between the Auckland Harbour Bridge and Orakei Basin. Nadia (a rookie sailor) is at the wheel and we’ve gone from zero to 100 real quick. We’d hit a languid, low-wind spot on the harbour when skipper and owner of the boat John Meadowcroft asked Nadia if she’d like a turn at the helm.

Fast forward 60 seconds and the 10 of us sitting along the port side are lifted way up in the air, the boat tilted almost vertical, as the sail hits what I can only guess is a sudden wind gust. Cue a few fearful screams (mainly from me, I’ll admit) and a huge laugh of delight from Nadia. She’s still at the wheel and completely in her element.

Nadia, myself, and our photographer, Todd, along with about 10 other people, are aboard Carrera to take part in the Havana Club Rum Race. It’s an event that the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron has been running nearly every Friday night since 1964 and, according to Commodore Steve Mair, rum racing has been pitting boats against each other since sailing was invented as a sport. While rum isn’t generally consumed until after the race, we did manage to squeeze in a quick glass of rosé as we set out for the starting line near the Harbour Bridge.

As a sailing novice, I was half expecting to spend the whole trip sipping said rosé while watching the sun set, but it quickly became apparent that this was an all-hands-on-deck scenario. FYI: if you can’t scamper from one side of the boat to the other at a moment’s notice with your wine glass in your mouth, you’d better get rid of it quick-smart.

To keep the boat on an even keel, anyone not steering, pulling sheets (sailing lingo for ropes) or assisting the skipper must sit lined up along the port or starboard sides of the boat, listening out for calls of “Gybe!” or “About!” As soon as the command is issued, everyone has to duck and crawl quickly over to the opposite side of the vessel as the enormous boom swoops overhead, all without slipping or getting left behind.

Since this was my first practical experience on a boat since learning the basics in an Optimist dinghy on Lake Pupuke some 20 years ago, I really had no idea what to expect. There were times when the boat was almost completely on its side with our feet skimming the waves, and others when we were so high up in the air I nearly got vertigo looking behind me, straight down into the water. But the thrill and the adrenaline rush is second to none and I can see why the crew on the Carrera do this almost every Friday night, rain or shine, throughout the year.

Rum racing is open for anyone to participate in and is truly one of Auckland’s best-kept secrets. It’s also a great way to try out one of the many experiences the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron has to offer, if you’re thinking about becoming a member.

You don’t have to own a boat either – just jump onboard with an experienced crew to get a feel for it. And if you’ve always had a hankering to learn the ropes of sailing, the club’s Learn to Sail programme runs classes for teenagers, adults, beginners, experienced sailors, or ladies only; there are also courses in fishing techniques if that’s more your thing.

Our time on the water lasts for just over an hour and all of us newbie yachties agree that it’s incredible to be able to view our city from another perspective – sailing past the Devonport naval base on our way up to the first mark, and seeing the Ports of Auckland in action on our way to the finish line.

Carrera didn’t win her race this time round, but we were all in good spirits as we sailed back to the mooring at Westhaven Marina. As we docked, we cracked open some more beer and rosé and celebrated a beautiful evening on the water with a delicious platter and piping-hot cheerios (from a Thermos) with t-sauce – a tradition on this vessel. The rum part comes later, at the prizegiving held at the RNZYS’s Dinghy Locker but, as exhausted rookies, we didn’t make it that far.

The next day, I bore battle scars on my knees, which were bruised and beaten from my clumsy crawling from one side of the boat to the other. But you know what? I think you could make yachties of us yet. Ahoy!

Set sail

If you’re keen to participate in the Havana Club Rum Race, call the RNZYS on (09) 360 6809 to secure a spot, or even just show up before the race to get placed on a boat. Start times for the races can be found online at It doesn’t cost anything to take part, but you might like to shout the skipper or crew a drink at the club afterwards if you’re feeling generous!

Lucy Slight

Lucy Slight Lucy is the associate editor of NADIA magazine.


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