The Lipton Cup has produced some close finishes in its time but few as dramatic as the conclusion to the 100th staging of the famous event recently.
After 20 nautical miles and more than four-a-half hours racing, the first two boats were separated by only 11 seconds as Orion II edged Limited Edition by little more than one boat length.
It was a race that saw multiple lead changes as boats had to contend with strong currents, a dying breeze and then a massive 180-degree wind shift. It's a race that only adds to the legend of the Lipton Cup and the stories will only get taller as the event moves into its second century.
"It was an epic race and most befitting of the 100th running of the Lipton Cup," said Orion II owner and skipper Martin Robertson.
"We were all absolutely elated to win but for me it was a huge relief as much as anything. In the Lipton Cup, anything can happen in one race and usually does, and that's what we got with this one."
Robertson should know. He first raced in the event for mullet boats 45 years ago and still holds the record as the youngest skipper to win the Lipton Cup when he triumphed in 1976. His win this month was his fourth in the last five years and 10th overall.
Robertson played down his own ability, describing himself as a "pretty average" helm, and gave most of the credit to his crew of Joey Allen, Graham Andrew, Pete Waters, Alistair Gair and Orsa Levent.
They held the lead briefly at three times during the race and were locked in a tight battle with Tamarau and Tamatea as they closed on the finish. The trio opted to sail on the city side of the harbour, with Limited Edition choosing a more northerly route where they found more puff that put them in the lead heading into the final two laps between the marks off Westhaven and Bayswater.
"By now the new southerly breeze had filled in and there was no opportunity for passing," Robertson said. "We closed in on them by Bayswater for the last time and made quite a nice mark rounding and they didn't make such a nice job of it and didn't tack quite quickly enough. That gave us the chance to tack inside them for the final reach back to the finish and we were able to just sneak through and hold them off. It was a great race and great occasion."
Tamarau finished third, only 65 seconds behind Limited Edition, with Tamatea another 60 seconds back in third. The top seven boats all finished within eight minutes of each other, highlighting the closeness of the race.
It was a little more clearcut in the gaff rigged fleet, with Corona finishing ahead of Arawa and Nomad third.
Tere Kanae took handicap honours, followed by Rangi Manu and Valeria.
Robertson doesn't really know what his future in the Lipton Cup looks like and Orion II presently sits on a mud berth in some mangroves near Robertson's base in Warkworth.
The Lipton Cup has survived wars and pandemics to be staged every year so it's likely there will be a few more twists to come.
- Pic: Orion II won by the narrowest of margins. Photo: Don MacLeod.