Airlie Beach Race Week - Early entries turn up interesting character

Mark Hipgrave’s The Healer racing on Moreton Bay, Brisbane
Tracey Johnstone
Sifting through the early entry list for this year’s Vision Surveys 25th Airlie Beach Race Week has turned up an interesting character among the Cruising Division entries.

Mark Hipgrave is a return competitor in Race Week having enjoyed his time there last year. He finished a pleasing third in Cruising Division 2. Now, there’s nothing unusual with that bit of news. What is unusual about Hipgrave is that before he gets to Airlie Beach this year, he is taking himself off on a single-handed voyage, the longest in Australasia.

Hipgrave is racing his Benteau 36 footer in the Solo Tasman Yacht Challenge. The quadrennial single-handed race for monohulls and multihulls starts on Saturday 20th April from Port Taranaki with the 14-boat fleet racing 1,380 nautical miles to Mooloolaba in Queensland.

It’s a unique challenge for Hipgrave who has never competed in single-handed racing. 'The motivation for the trans-Tasman came from a meeting with a guy called Trevor Hill who sails on Moreton Bay on a boat called Apriori. He entered the race in 2010 and was the first monohull home. I had a chat with him at a social occasion and he was so full of enthusiasm about the event, I thought, gee, I can do that. So it became a three-year plan,' Hipgrave said.

His boat is now safely in New Plymouth after he delivered it across in mid-March with two of his usual The Healer crew members. While they were sailing the boat across the Tasman the subject of this year’s Airlie Beach Race Week came up. 'We all had such a great time at Airlie last year. The crew asked me on the way if I was going to do it again this year. I said I hadn’t really thought about it. With the foundation of the crew in place right there though, when I got back to Brisbane last week I jumped on the internet and entered for this year.'

Before Hipgrave gets to enjoy Race Week he has quite a challenge ahead of him. He has a wealth offshore racing experience with crewed boats, but he has no single-handed racing experience. He has been practising his single-handed skills on Moreton Bay off Brisbane and completed the 500 mile qualifying voyage. 'I did that in early January, going out around Elizabeth and Middleton reef and then came back to Brisbane.

There will be a raft of new experiences Hipgrave admits he will have to deal with including the Tasman Sea currents, staying motivated and 'when the wind drops, being prepared to change a headsail or take a reef out, rather than bob along at less than optimal speed'. Then there will be the excitement and pressure of racing single-handed in a fleet of tough competitors.

'I am not going out to win so much as there is an Open 40 and a Pogo 40 in the event. I would like to equal or beat the other 36 to 40 footers.'

Once Hipgrave has completed his solo adventure he says he will be happily staying close to land, heading north to Airlie Beach in readiness for his five crew to join him for more Race Week fun. 'We had such a ball last year. I am not just saying that. It was a laid-back, fun regatta,' he said.

The Vision Surveys Airlie Beach Race is on from eighth-15th August 2014. The Notice of Race and the online entry for the nine divisions is at http://www.airlieraceweek.com.

Entries close Friday 1st August 2014.
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