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Round North Island: Father-son team set for 'bucket list' race

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Most 24-year-olds would recoil at the thought of being disconnected from much of the outside world for days on end – let alone spending it confined to the same 9m x 3m area as their dad. 

Nick Gardiner isn’t one of them. 

In fact, the Marlburian-turned-Aucklander has spent most of the past three years planning a 1200nm “bucket list” journey around the North Island aboard a 30ft boat with Dad Ian. 

The Gardiners are one of 38 teams and one of two father-son crews set to start the 2023 Round North Island race on Saturday (February 25) – a gruelling two-handed trek spanning Auckland, Mangonui, Wellington and Napier. 

It will be Nick’s second attempt at circling Te Ika-a-Māui – he and Ben Beasley finished 26th on line honours and took out their division on Moving Violation in 2020. 

The duo was a crowd favourite as the youngest crew and, with their Elliott 7.9, the smallest boat in the last race. While they did briefly consider a repeat performance this year, the opportunity to sail with Ian on Drinks Trolley – a Thompson 30 they bought not long after finishing the 2020 race – was too good to turn down. 

Nick Gardiner was part of the young crew aboard Moving Violation in 2020. Photo / SSANZ

Nick Gardiner was part of the young crew aboard Moving Violation in 2020. Photo / SSANZ

Nick, who left home more than six years ago, chuckles when asked if spending so much time with his father will be an adjustment. 

“Well, one of the things I learned from 2020 is that a lot of the time you’re actually sailing single-handed as the other person’s asleep. Besides, there’s not much he doesn’t already know – and at least he’s bringing up our boat’s average age! 

“I see him whenever he’s up here [in Auckland] for work but this is just a really cool opportunity to sail with him, to hang out and catch up.” 

There’ll be enough time for that, too, with Moving Violation finishing the 2020 race in 10 days, 15 hours, and 20 minutes. 

“I’m confident this time we’ll be much faster as we have a much bigger boat,” Nick said. 

“Drinks Trolley is more of a sports yacht, so it has a big cockpit and is designed to have between four to seven people racing it. We’ve certainly noticed the fact that we were light on crew, so we’ve modified the boat for this race, adding 600l water ballast tanks. 

“It makes things a bit more physical for us but hopefully it gets us places quicker.” 

They’ve also made changes to make the ride slightly more comfortable. 

“Moving Violation was a very comfortable boat downstairs whereas Drinks Trolley is a racer and we’ll need to slum it a bit,” Nick explains. 

“We’ve done things like waterproofing because a wet sleeping bag is no fun.” 

If his experience three years ago is anything to go by, the sleeping bags aren’t the only items in the firing line…  

“We had quite a few gnarly moments the last time - two broaches in a row in the middle of the night in Cook Strait that knocked us over and then, on the south coast of Wellington, on the way in, we saw peaks of 60kn,” Nick said. 

“At Cape Palliser, there was no wind, but we had swell coming both ways and that was a different kind of torture and the most water we had in the cockpit all race.” 

Nick and Ian Gardiner will team up for the 2023 Round North Island race on Drinks Trolley. Photo / SSANZ

Nick and Ian Gardiner will team up for the 2023 Round North Island race on Drinks Trolley. Photo / SSANZ

Isolation was another factor, especially on the West Coast where Nick Gardiner and Beasley didn’t see another soul for days. 

“We were well known for going quite far offshore and there was about three days we didn’t see anyone – no planes, no ships, nothing. 

“People deal with isolation and boredom in different ways. I was heavily focussed on trimming and steering and making the boat go faster but there are other ways of passing the time like snacking and sleeping.” 

A special moment this year will be entering Marlborough Sounds – “where I grew up sailing” – and he’s not expecting too much backseat driving from the older Gardiner. 

“Dad is a very safe sailor. He hasn't grown up as much with the racing side of things, so I've tried to teach him faster ways of steering and I think he has some real potential,” Nick said. 

“I have resigned myself to the fact that I’ll be doing most of the foredeck stuff and the sail changing but I’ll endeavour to get Dad as involved as possible to make my life easier.”

Meet the 2023 Round North Island fleet here.