Tony Rae is no stranger The Ocean Race fans. Having made his debut in 1985-86 onboard Lion New Zealand, the Kiwi veteran known as Trae has raced five campaigns spanning three decades – and won the trophy twice.
He’s back in Race HQ in Alicante – a place that he’s visited many times as he's prepared to go offshore over the years, but this time, he’s in a different mode. With eyes fixed firmly on the 2021-22 edition, he’s running a campaign – the first New Zealand entry in a decade.
“It is exciting, and being a NZ entry is something that I’ve been thinking about a lot. People have asked me over the years why there isn’t a Kiwi boat in the race, and it’s all very well to say it, but to make it happen is not so easy.”
In 2021-22, the nation will indeed have an NZ-flagged boat to cheer, led by a new Kiwi icon – skipper Bianca Cook. She made her name in the 2017-18 edition as one of the stars of the Turn the Tide on Plastic campaign, and she’s set to return next race for an even bigger challenge – skippering a team.
As someone who has sailed with some of the most iconic skippers in Race history, including Sir Peter Blake and Grant Dalton , Trae thinks that Bianca – who will be 30 when the Race begins – is more than capable of making the step up to skipper.
“Bianca did the last race on Turn the Tide on Plastic and she’s very positive about doing the race again,” explains Trae. “We’ve seen a lot of young skippers come through the race before, she’s got the drive and she wants to do it, so I’m going to back her all the way.”
He continues: “Ian Cook, her father, is the Commodore of the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron at home, and he got the wheels rolling on this project. To be part of running the campaign is something that I’m excited to take on.”
Bianca announced her campaign live during The Ocean Race brand launch in March 2019, and with The Ocean Race’s Richard Mason declaring that six of the eight VO65s are currently spoken for, it’s setting up to be an extremely competitive class.
“This time, with three Under 26, three Under 30 and three females, the VO65 class gives a lot of the younger generation sailors who want to do ocean racing a big opportunity – it’s the same opportunity that Bianca got on Turn the Tide on Plastic,” explains Trae.
And that diversity and opportunity is important, explains Trae. “It’s a special race,” he admits. “I don’t know anyone who has done the race that doesn’t take away some special moment or special friends from that time.
“My first race was in 1985 when I was just 23 years old. The race has always meant a lot to me, and coming to the HQ in Alicante, you see quotes from Sir Peter Blake and Mike Sanderson on the wall – people say it’s like being in a big family, and it does feel like that when you get involved again. Everyone knows what it’s like to do the race in different forms, whether that’s on the shore or sailing, and that’s why I think it’s so important to carry it on with a NZ entry, and allow more of the next generation to come and do it, and experience this.”