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Along with fellow pianists Peruchin and Lili Martinez, he helped turn the piano in Latin music from a rhythmic to a lead instrument.He trained at a conservatoire in Cienfuegos and could have become a classical pianist, but the lure of Cuban music was too great.He hammed it up as well, carrying on one run into thin air as if he had run out of piano keys, or slowing one down to a stop and collapsing on the keyboard as if passed out.

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It’s an event that the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron has been running nearly every Friday night since 1964 and, according to Commodore Steve Mair, rum racing has been pitting boats against each other since sailing was invented as a sport.

While rum isn’t generally consumed until after the race, we did manage to squeeze in a quick glass of rosé as we set out for the starting line near the Harbour Bridge.

It was a hot ticket – as soon as I checked into my hotel, the phone began ringing with calls from strangers asking me if I had a spare ticket.

The Buena Vista DVD was top of the charts and we almost stopped the traffic when we went out shopping for kimonos.

Fast forward 60 seconds and the 10 of us sitting along the port side are lifted way up in the air, the boat tilted almost vertical, as the sail hits what I can only guess is a sudden wind gust.

Cue a few fearful screams (mainly from me, I’ll admit) and a huge laugh of delight from Nadia.

To keep the boat on an even keel, anyone not steering, pulling sheets (sailing lingo for ropes) or assisting the skipper must sit lined up along the port or starboard sides of the boat, listening out for calls of “Gybe! ” As soon as the command is issued, everyone has to duck and crawl quickly over to the opposite side of the vessel as the enormous boom swoops overhead, all without slipping or getting left behind.

Since this was my first practical experience on a boat since learning the basics in an Optimist dinghy on Lake Pupuke some 20 years ago, I really had no idea what to expect.

As we docked, we cracked open some more beer and rosé and celebrated a beautiful evening on the water with a delicious platter and piping-hot cheerios (from a Thermos) with t-sauce – a tradition on this vessel. If you’re keen to participate in the Havana Club Rum Race, call the RNZYS on (09) 360 6809 to secure a spot, or even just show up before the race to get placed on a boat.

The rum part comes later, at the prizegiving held at the RNZYS’s Dinghy Locker but, as exhausted rookies, we didn’t make it that far. Start times for the races can be found online at nz.

Rum racing is open for anyone to participate in and is truly one of Auckland’s best-kept secrets.

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