'The City of Sails' Auckland: New Zealanders take their sports seriously, as the Whitbread sailors have already discovered.

January 21, 1998|By Bruce Stannard | Bruce Stannard,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

AUCKLAND, New Zealand - Auckland is known as "The City of Sails," and with good reason. It seems everyone here either has a boat or has access to one, and they are almost always out on the water.

When the Whitbread Round the World Race fleet came barreling up the Hauraki Gulf toward the pale green shallows of Auckland's Waitemata Harbour, it seemed as if the entire city had become waterborne to meet them.

Tens of thousands of people lined the grassy hills around the harbor, and thousands more joined a joyous flotilla of welcome. It was the kind of welcome that Aucklanders take a particular pride in putting on and that visiting sailors have come to expect.

The Whitbread yachts raced right over the waters that will be host to the America's Cup here in 1999-2000, and already much of the city's waterfront district is being gutted, refurbished and redeveloped to accommodate the influx of sailors and Cup spectators from around the world.

Auckland is also known as a windy city, and that certainly is an accurate description. The wind, usually a brisk northeaster, never ceases to blow. The Whitbread boats came in with a 35-knot southwesterly.

Although the central business district is dominated by the usual high-rise towers and what looks like a huge Saturn rocket-like communications tower, the city's suburbs sprawl about delightful wooded hills, where people take a great pride in their gardens.

This is a mixed-race community and one of the most successful in the world. The indigenous people, the Maori, live in harmony with the Europeans, who have come here during the past 200 years, and with many other Polynesians from the island nations of the South Pacific. All of them share in Maori traditions and take delight in the songs and dances of welcome.

When the Whitbread fleet came ashore, they were greeted by spear-wielding Maori warriors dancing the traditional Haka. When they set sail Feb. 1 on Leg 5 to Sao Sebastiao, Brazil, they will hear songs that will call upon the Polynesian gods to calm the waters and make safe their journey across the wide waters of the Pacific.

When the Maori sing their farewell, even the bravest warriors allow tears to flow. They are tears of regret at the departure and tears also for the storms and trials that lie ahead of the seafarers as they journey across the sacred waters from whence the Maori canoes came thousands of years ago.

Charting the Whitbread fleet

Standings after Leg 4

Boat (Country) Pts.

EF Language (Sweden) ... 372

Merit Cup (Monaco) ..... 333

Swedish Match (Sweden).. 313

Innovation Kvaerner (Norway) .. 307

Toshiba (U.S.) ......... 299

Chessie Racing (U.S.) .. 294

Silk Cut (Britain) ..... 258

EF Education (Sweden) .. 100

BrunelSunergy (Netherlands) .. 96

America's Challenge (U.S.)**.. 48

**Withdrew from race

More coverage

Television: Tomorrow, 1 a.m., and Friday, 2 p.m., Sydney to Auckland, ESPN.

Internet: For more of The Sun's coverage of the Whitbread, go to www.sunspot.net/whitbread/. Other sites include www.whitbread.org www.us.net/whitbread/

Pub Date: 1/21/98

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