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  • Roger Rushton

Auckland to Tauranga Race for the uninitiated

If you haven’t done the race before and are thinking of giving it a go here is some information that we hope may help. Share this around with your yachtie mates and encourage them to enter this year!

Frenzy racing in the 2017 Auckland to Tauranga Race

The 126 NM race starts at Westhaven at 0900 on Thursday 24th March 2022 for the cruising fleet (Division 6), and 1600 on Friday 25th March 2022 for the racing fleet (Divisions 1 – 5), takes Channel Island to starboard and finishes at “A” Beacon about a mile off the entrance to the Tauranga Harbour.

As Tauranga yachties we won’t pretend to know more about the journey to Channel Island than our Auckland counterparts except to say this 40 odd mile leg is usually the most straightforward part of the race. Because it is held on an outgoing high tide every year (except for the Cruising Division this year), we are given a helping hand out of the Waitemata Harbour and depending on the wind, we are generally given a friendly nudge along the way by the current until we are well on the way to Channel Island. It is here that the waves can tend to “stand up” a bit, especially when a brisk sou’wester meets and incoming tide. In these conditions you can enjoy the downhill ride with the comfort that it’s much better than going the other way. Channel Island has a flashing navigation light to identify it in the dark if you haven’t been round it before.

It is when you get around the corner that things can get a bit tricky. The current runs up to 1.5 knots in the 25 NM run to the “Hole in the Wall”. Last race there was quite a “park up” in the lee of Mt Moehau and you can choose to stay close inshore and hope to get the breeze that drops off the Coromandel Ranges, or take a much wider track to avoid the wind shadow. These two options ended up about 50/50 as the boats that went wide gained early in the piece and those who stayed inshore made their gains further down the track.

If rounding Channel Is. at night the Port Charles light can clearly be seen, and from here on if the trip to Tauranga is in the dark with good visibility you will always be able to see various lights down the coast all the way to Tauranga. You can safely set a course for the “Hole in the Wall” knowing there are no hazards along the way.

As you approach Port Charles the Ohinau light that indicates the eastern border of the “Hole in the Wall” should come into view. Another light will appear about five miles further on that belongs to “Old Man Rock” in the middle of the “Hole in the Wall” passage. This is lower than the Ohinau light and not as strong and can be seen just to the right of Ohinau. This is a good reference point to steer to as you can pass safely either side of “Old Man Rock” on the way to Mercury Bay. If electing to pass on the eastern side beware of a cluster of jagged rocks quite close in on the eastern side. The other hazard to be aware of is “Sunk Rock” that lies just under the surface at low tide between “Old Man Rock” and the Mainland. It is well charted and the GPS C-Maps all seem to have it accurately marked but it is best not to be too careless.

Getting the current on your side on the five mile passage in the stretch of water between Great Mercury Island and Mercury Bay can make a huge difference to your position in the race. It’s just the luck of the draw – you can’t do much about it unless you decide to go outside the Mercs but that option is a real flyer!

Once through the “Hole in the Wall” you enter Mercury Bay where there is generally a steadier breeze. Another 20 miles or so to Slipper Island which has its own elevated flashing light to guide you but watch out for the unlit Castle Rock just South of Mercury Bay and slightly West of the rumb line. In light conditions you might be wise to give that piece of territory a wide berth. There is often a big wind shadow from the big hills around Tairua and south of Pauanui.

Heading south towards Whangamata tends to find steady breezes again but beware a breeze from the southwest quadrant when you get off Waihi Beach. There is a big valley there that the wind can funnel down with gusts often well above the predicted wind strength. These tend to moderate as you pass Bowentown Heads, the northern entrance to the Tauranga Harbour. Watch out for Karewa Is. which is unlit, close to the rumb line and about 6 miles from Tauranga’s “A” Beacon. There is a strong flashing navigation light on Mt Maunganui which can be seen from Slipper Island which will guide you to the much weaker light on “A” Beacon, the finish line, about a mile off the harbour entrance.

If the wind is from the southeast (the dreaded direction) you might consider heading further out to sea in search of better breeze. Also bear in mind there does tend to be a slight northerly tidal set right up the coast that may be a little less further offshore which could help tip this choice in your favour. On the other hand, some experienced locals have done very well by staying close inshore.

The only other thing to draw to your attention is after finishing, when approaching the harbour entrance, the waves can stand up very sharply with an onshore wind and outgoing tide, 2-3 meters and very steep at times. This can mostly be avoided by keeping left of the main current quite close to the Mount but don’t go inside the second red floating marker just inside the entrance. Having said that, the harbour entrance is quite safe in all but the most severe conditions. It is probably closed only 2 or 3 days per year so don’t let that put you off.

We hope this article has been of some use to you and look forward to seeing you on the start line!

Roger Rushton

Altex Yacht & Boat Paint Auckland to Tauranga Race Coordinator



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