Female sailor determined to inject Kiwi flair with historic Ocean Race entry

Bianca Cook is becoming a pioneer of the sailing world.

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Bianca Cook will become the first New Zealand woman to skipper in the race when she leads an all-Kiwi crew. Source: 1 NEWS

Not only is she leading the charge in forming New Zealand’s first Kiwi team in almost a decade for the iconic Ocean Race - she’s set to be the first Kiwi woman to skipper in the event.

“To be honest, I didn’t even know that was a thing," Cook told 1 NEWS. 

"I only found out because the media have hyped it up! It wasn't my ambition to be the first female skipper to helm a boat but it's going to be an absolute pleasure to do so."

She’s no stranger to sailing's greatest round-the-world challenge. Cook competed in the last edition of the Volvo Ocean Race for Turn the Tide on Plastic. Once that finished, she wanted to do it all over again, but this time with a New Zealand-backed team.

“This dream has been in the making since the last race. It’s been a while since a new Zealand team flagged boat was in the race, so certainly the wheels started to go in motion after the last race finished,” said Cook.

Cook and Kiwi sailing legend Tony Rae jumped at the idea of a New Zealand boat, bringing Turn the Tide on Plastic all the way to New Zealand.

“It’s come together with that good old Kiwi attitude: 'Lets just make it happen,'” said Cook.

Their goal is to create a Kiwi-centric team that’s not only backed by Kiwis, but raced by Kiwis too.

“Our ambition for this boat and this team is to get as many Kiwi sailors on board. We've got such a wealth of talent of sailors to pick from here in New Zealand,” Cook said.

But it’s been a challenging process so far. The boat was brought over from Lisbon in September last year but due to Covid-19 and lockdown restrictions it’s drawn out the milestone achievement of actually getting the boat on the water.

“We’ve been staring at it in the shed for a long time now and it’s got close to the door and then it’s gone back again and then it’s got yes we can, no , yes! And now we’ve got to this stage,” Rae told 1 NEWS.

It is now finally docked at Auckland’s Viaduct. They credit a lot of the journey to Bianca’s father, Ian Cook, with the help of his Yachting Developments company. The boat’s been serviced and transformed into a new-look boat.

The next goal is to get it ready and on the start line for New Zealand’s Coastal Classic in just a month’s time.

“I mean, it’s no Sydney to Hobart but it’s our great race north and it’s just an awesome race to get involved in,” said Cook.

That will be New Zealand Ocean Racing’s first expedition, but they also want to get around the country to show off what they say is not just a boat for them but a boat for all New Zealanders to love as well.

Cook grew up remembering the Whitbread days and looking up to Kiwi yachting hero Sir Peter Blake. She hopes her new journey brings back New Zealand’s passion for sailing.

“The dream is to have that Kiwi team and that Kiwi flag on the back of the boat and really get the country to invest in the team and the race again,” Cook said.

It’s been almost 10 years since a New Zealand flag was flown in the famous race with the New Zealand-Spanish entry, Camper.