The Bledisloe Cup wasn’t forgotten at the recent Hamilton Island Race Week, where a flotilla of rugby union fans floated amid the sea of diehard sailors – the night before the big game. Karen Tan was there.

For the yachties there was the official Owners and Skippers welcome at the formal cocktail party. Rugby union fans had a different treat – a massive screen with the big game, set up centre stage for prime viewing at the yacht club.

Among the throng – a small but patriotic New Zealand crew onboard the aptly-named Kiwi II. Wait. Let me correct that. Three Queenstown New Zealand businessmen – Brad Rule, Jason Scott (‘Scottie’), Jimmy Macalister and one expat Scotsman, cum Kiwi – the lofty former international rugby player, Marcus Barnett. And me – an Aussie lass invited to join the crew.

The cocktail party was always going to play second fiddle to these blokes, who took up their positions – knowingly out-numbered by Aussie fans – and knuckled down for the usual Trans-Tasman rivalry and, more importantly, the much-anticipated rugby game.

“We shared a table with some Aussie boys and they were sure they were going to pull it off. By half-time though, not only were they losing the rugby but they were also losing the drinking game,” says Scottie. “Aussies might have fast boats, but we definitely hold our own drinking beer and socialising,” adds Brad.

The rest, as we say, is history, and I won’t dissect the painstaking details (for the Aussies, at least), with the humiliating defeat at the hands of New Zealand (a 36-0 win for those who’ve forgotten!).


Fast-forward to Day One, Race Day, the morning after the day before. The Kiwi II crew dribbled onboard, one by one, with some very sore heads! It also included me – one lone Aussie female who happens to be a journalist. I missed my original boat and inadvertently ended up as honorary Kiwi crew for the day.

“We were that desperate for crew, we would take anyone! Nah, we saw a damsel in distress, so the Kiwi boys did the gallant thing and offered assistance by inviting her onboard,” recounts Scottie.

So that was how I ended up competing in HIRW Day One – joining the motley crew. All very hung-over but likeable lads who quite clearly were working out the race details on the fly. But that was part of the appeal.

“I noticed you were looking for a boat as you walked by and offered to drop you off at the boat that had just left – knowing full well you’d be stuck with us for the day! You were awesome though – until you let go of the rope!”

Oh yes, a slight little sail ‘issue’ may have been caused by the Aussie amateur when releasing the winch, but there was a quick group-save of the ‘flapping-in-the-wind’ Code Zero – and the freshly-commissioned 50ft Beneteau sailed on.

“We didn’t know about the race briefing and were on the wrong VHF channel. We had to call out to the other boats to find out what was going on,” admits Brad.


With mixed sailing experience among the crew – some handy, some “not so much” – it paid for instincts to kick in, especially when any pre-planning and logic got left behind! The funniest part was when skipper Scottie pulled out from the berth – having forgotten to untie the stern line.

Scottie confesses they didn’t even know there was a briefing in the morning, as the race control couldn’t text the information to an international phone number. “So we had to ask a fellow yachtie what course we were doing – five minutes before the start.”

Brad thought he saw a shark, but it turned out to be a whale or dolphin fin. Wildlife spotting (including two massive whales) enhanced what turned out to be a leisurely experience, with the slight breeze making for a slow pace.

No records were broken but the crew forged home safely, even if it was towards the tail end of the fleet. The fifth Kiwi crew member, Ben Collins, had flown in during the day, in time to welcome his compatriots back to the marina.

Kiwi II and her crew improved over the following days. With lessons learned and valuable experience gained, the funny moments continued to roll in, fast and hard!

“The lay day was probably our best result but we won’t go into that,” recalls Scottie. “On Thursday we struck more grief. With winds knocking on 30 knots and reefed sails we approached the start zone. A big gust unfurled our code zero. Panic erupted, as one of the sheets came loose and went around the prop.


“We were thrust into survival mode, trying to keep clear of fellow competitors and also avoid rocks – and then the rope ensnared the rudder. We had to dive under the boat with a knife to clear the rope and withdrew from the race. We deserved a hard-earned beer by that stage.”

But fortune turned on the final day.

“We were pretty disappointed with ourselves but our chins were held high at race end,” says Scottie. “Brad and Ben had gone home so our Aussie rivals kindly lent us three of their crew. We had a good start, and were going strong, but it was windy and a bit rough. We lost iPads overboard and down below everything was topsy-turvy.

“But we were on fire and holding our own, even up to one mile off the finish line, enjoying a fierce tacking duel with Holy Cow, an Aussie boat painted up like a cow. From day one our goal was to beat them, and after about 20 tacks we crossed the line a boat length in front. This was our highlight of the week and the boys from Queenstown received a fifth place for the day. Thanks to the Aussie spirit for giving us a hand when we needed it.”

You’ve got to love yachting. The people you meet. The places you stay!