Audi Hamilton Island Race Week - Warm weather and whales

Close company on an island course at Audi Hamilton Island Race Week 2012
The annual mass migration to Audi Hamilton Island Race Week by sailors, their families and friends was in full swing today. As they flew in to the island in their hundreds by plane, or stepped ashore from their boats, all were treated to the scene they had come for – clear skies, a warm tropical breeze and an island that has never been better presented for the event.

As if on cue, some of the large number of whales and their calves that are in the region at this time of the year were turning on an entertaining display of leaps and dives just off the island’s shoreline.

Most importantly, everything is in readiness for the series, starting with tonight’s big waterfront welcome party, followed by the commencement of racing tomorrow.

On the marina arm within the island’s harbour where the cruising yachts gather, the sailors were renewing old friendships and meeting new mates, while not far away the crews of the Grand Prix level racers were fine tuning their yachts, or preparing for their final day of intense practice.

Two sailors in particular were the centre of attention – one a relative newcomer to the high-profile scene, and the other and old pro. Tom Slingsby, who led Australia’s gold medal charge in London last week with a win in the Laser class, was the new hero. Nearby none other than John Bertrand, who skippered Australia II to the ultimate prize in the 1983 America’s Cup match, was also being well recognised. Slingsby will be tactician aboard Peter Harburg’s 66-footer, Black Jack, for the week while Bertrand will lead a team of mates, who are sailing novices, aboard the 60-footer, Spirit of the Maid. That team includes Australian Rules football legend, Ron Barassi and Australian Government minister, Simon Crean.

Audi Hamilton Island Race Week is Australia’s premier keelboat regatta, and this year the 163 competing crews are destined to have their best time ever. Most importantly, the fleet represents a true cross section of the sport – from small SB20 sport boats through to a myriad of cruising yachts, two blisteringly fast ORMA 60 trimarans, and the best Grand Prix level racing yachts imaginable, including the Rolex Sydney Hobart race record holding supermaxi, Wild Oats XI.

While this ‘regatta for everyone’ continues to grow in status, so too does Hamilton Island. The Oatley family, who own the island, are avid sailing enthusiasts and supporters of the sport (they were among a group of corporate people who supported Australia’s 2012 Olympic sailing team), and this year they have made sure that the island – from the facilities to the beaches and lush tropical gardens – have never been better. It all makes for a great launching pad for next year’s 30th anniversary edition of the regatta.

If there is a potential problem on the horizon it is that the weather for the first two days, at least, might be too good – perfect for holidaymakers but not ideal for sailboat racing. Audi Hamilton Island Race Week’s Race Director, Denis Thompson, is contemplating a forecast for a very light breeze of around five knots for the first race, a 23-nautical mile loop from Hamilton Island around Lindeman Island then return.

'We will wait to see what the day brings,' Thompson said, 'If the winds are very light it is quite likely that the strong tidal flows around Lindeman Island will make it impossible for the smaller and slower yachts to complete the course. If that is the case then I will probably set a shorter, but equally interesting island course for those yachts and send only the Grand Prix division yachts on the full course.'

Luxury carmaker, Audi, returns as the main partner of Hamilton Island Race Week in 2012. The German premium brand will host a range of special events on the island for yacht owners and guests to enjoy during the week.