Monday, March 12, 2012

Volvo Ocean Race - Welcome to Auckland!

We wanted to be the first to welcome the winner of the Volvo Ocean Race Leg 4 to Auckland. They were expected to arrive around midnight and that would mean getting out and away from the other boats that would be there to greet them.

So we decided to go out to Tiritiri Matangi Island which they would round on the seaward side. It's about 25 miles from Auckland. But we needed a fast boat to even stand a chance of keeping up with Groupama as it roared into Auckland.

Earlier in the day we spent about 15 minutes fitting a WatchMate-850 to our friend's boat. His boat is an old wooden speedboat with an interesting history but it's so dated looking and reminicent of something out of Miami Vice - so although I don't know if it actually has a name - we've always called it the "Don Johnson".

The WatchMate was connected to 12V and a VHF antenna plugged in. The hardest part of the install was finding a few screws on board to fix the bracket securely to the boat. Good thing we did because that WatchMate took quite a pounding as we bashed into the chop of wind against current late last night.

We knew the challenge would be finding the boat that far away from the city and getting close enough to it. It was dark and overcast but warm. Visibility was reasonable and we were able to see a few masthead tricolor lights in the distance. But how would we know which was Groupama? We also knew the Volvo Open 70 would be moving so fast it might be impossible to catch up to it if we weren't positioned well, especially in the swells which made it uncomfortable when going fast in the tiny speedboat.

We arrived in the lee of Tiritiri to wait but it didn't take more that a few minutes. Our timing was nearly perfect. We picked up Groupama on the AIS as it came along the other side of the island. We still couldn't see it but raced to the south end of the island to intersect. And there it came out of dark and from behind the island at 19 knots! We were barely able to keep up at times due to the sea conditions. Stu drove expertly and we had the most amazing ride all the way back to Auckland alongside this incredible sailing machine.

Today we were back out on the water to watch the next three Volvo boats arrive (Puma, Telef√≥nica and Camper). This time it was during the day, a light drizzle, and we didn't go so far out. Instead, we joined the hundreds of other boats of all shapes and sizes chasing them into Auckland.

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