Being back in Auckland with Maiden has been such an amazing experience. I remember, as if it were yesterday, the night we crossed the finished line, first in our class, into Auckland Harbour in 1990, winning our second leg. It was such an important leg for us, because even though we had won the leg before, so many has said it was a fluke, we needed to prove that we could win a short tactical leg as well as a long heavy weather one.
The wind had been dying through the evening and Howard called us to tell us everyone had gone home because we were late. We finally motored into the Wharf at 1am and there were 14,000 people on the dockside – they had all come back!! It was an extraordinary welcome from the City of Sails. It was one of the longest stopovers and we loved every minute of it. The crew were so well looked after, and so was Maiden!
Maiden arrived back here five weeks ago to another special welcome, some more Kiwi hospitality and Maiden once more benefitting from a month out of the water at the absolutely outstanding Orams boat yard. I arrived the for the final week and the team have all been busy; speaking at Yacht and Sailing Clubs, school visits, the message of hope and a day sail with our Partner Inmarsat.
Today was our final day before Maiden headed off to Hawaii for a pit stop on her way to Vancouver. Yesterday we all kept everything crossed as the wind blew at 40 knots with horizontal rain all day. Getting Maiden off the dock at Orams to get her round to Viaduct Harbour was interesting – but the awesome Wendy Tuck and magnificent Maidens made it look easy as they treated the marina to a masterclass in how to move a yacht in those conditions.
This morning we all breathed a sigh of relief when we saw blue skies, sun and a gorgeous breeze! Alex and Greg were down at Market Square early setting up and Mack and I followed on. Maiden looked gorgeous in the sunshine and the girls looked ready to go. So, many old friends turned up to see us off, along with schools; Mercury Bay and Kerikeri High School and the Canterbury Youth Sailors.
PJ Montgomery who MC’d the Yachtsman of the Year Award 30 years ago was there, along with his daughter and also SJ Blake, daughter of the legend that was Sir Peter Blake who actually presented me with the Trophy and was always a huge supporter of Maiden. Too many friends to mention but we so appreciated their presence and were delighted to see so many new friends and so many young people.
Mel Homer MC’d the ceremony and began with a beautiful recital of a Karakia by 8 year old Annabelle Kline, a quick intro from me and then we heard from the inspirational Bianca Cook, Ambassador of the New Zealand Sailing Trust who have so wonderful, supportive, helpful and hospitable whilst Maiden has been here. The permanent crew and our new leg crew (all Kiwis) were interviewed along with Skipper Wendy Tuck and Co-Skipper Sharon Ferris Choat.
The Canterbury Youth Sailors who had flown up from Christchurch at some ungodly hour, presented Wendy with local leaves and flowers for King Neptune at the Equator. I then had the pleasure of presenting The New Zealand Sailing Trust with an ‘Honorary Maiden’ award which is made from part of Maiden’s hull which we had to cut away during the restoration.
The final part of the departure ceremony was the handover of the Message of Hope to Maiden by pupils from Mercury Bay School, then the lines were thrown off and Maiden was away, followed by Lion New Zealand and Steinlager II along with a myriad of RIBs, motor boats and various other craft all eager to wave her off.
The sail out of the bay was nothing short of magical. The breeze was perfect and watching Maiden, Lion and Steinlager sailing along together, so close to each other, was very emotional. Three stunning boats each with their own amazing stories and two of them loaded to the brim with school children! It really was very, very special.
We waved our final farewells and Maiden was on her way to Hawaii……..