The first event of the NZ Masters Games was smooth sailing as more than 20 boats jostled for position on an uncharacteristically blue Whanganui River yesterday.
Terry Coles and Brendon Lawrence crew Rescue Two, one of a pair used by Sailing Wanganui to keep a watchful eye on participants. The nimble outboard motor-driven boat played host to us for the very first event of this year's games and gave us an insider's look at how the contest is run.
"It's all about the tides and the fact we sail on a tidal estuary," Coles said.
"We either have to race at the very start of the games or at the end, and next week there are no tides for us. Once the tide comes in, we reach a point called the top tide, where there's no movement in the water. It stays like that for about an hour before going out again, and we get about an hour-and-a-half each side of that to race."
Three 3.5km races of about 45min duration are run on each of the three days. Coles explained to us the 21 boats competing here cover four different classes: Paper Tiger catamarans, tiny one-man Lasers, the fast 470s and the bigger trailer yachts. It's easy to tell which is his favourite.
"The Tigers are such wonderful machines. When they go up on one hull, it's an amazing feeling. It's such a smooth ride, you just glide through the water."
Terry sold his own Paper Tiger recently as he's been spending more and more time coaching the next generation of Wanganui sailors at Pauri Lake.
"I had my Tiger, Wishbone, for about 25 years. John Goodare owns it now and he's racing it today. It's the first time in 45 years, I haven't owned a yacht at all," he told us, looking back at his old vessel as it rounded a buoy.
Coming back to the event at hand Coles explained the points system worked on low scoring, for example zero points for first place, one point for second and so on.
"On Sunday, all the points are added up, and you have the option of dropping two of your worst races to get the lowest possible score."
Cutting a corner or hitting a buoy with the boat meant having to go around it again, costing precious time, he said. We saw one 470 round the top buoy with mere centimetres to spare thanks to the skills of the two-man crew.
Each class starts 10min before the next, and this means each boat has to keep moving to keep the wind in their sails. One competitor seemed to wander off upriver and, when that class's race started, was about 500m away.
It crossed the start line about 15min late and was judged a "did not start" as a result.
Near the end of the first race the course had to be shortened because of low strength wind, meaning we had to grab the number one buoy and reposition it.
"We need more of the big stuff, lots of wind and whitecaps everywhere for us heavy guys," one competitor shouted out to us as he whizzed past on his Paper Tiger.
Fortunately, the MetService seemed to have listened to his plea as one official said they were predicting more favourable wind conditions for today's races.