by Rob Mundle
Audi Hamilton Island Race Week is riding high off the back of the Australian Sailing Team’s phenomenal result at the London Olympics. The sailing euphoria is buoying spirits for close to 2,000 yachties making the annual pilgrimage by road, plane, ferry and boat to Hamilton Island.
Sailing symmetry: Racing starts at Audi Hamilton Island Race Week this Saturday
There will be a sprinkle of gold dust spread all the way to the Mecca of winter sailing with Olympic Laser gold medallist Tom Slingsby arriving today to join Peter Harburg’s Black Jack crew. He’ll bring his new found fame and tactical nous to an already highly competitive Queensland outfit.
Other members of the world-beating Australian Sailing Team will join Slingsby on Tuesday 21 August for an official welcome home and tickertape parade on Front Street.
The regatta boasts a line-up of 163 sports boats, cruising yachts, cruiser-racers and Grand Prix level keelboats, plus two high-performance trimarans. On shore over the next 10 days, sailors and their families will clink glasses with actors, fashion designers, super models and celebrity chefs, and enjoy an early taste of spring in the tropics.
Out on the race track the stage is set for another classic saltwater showdown in the stunning Whitsunday Islands with racing kicking off this Saturday, 18 August, through to the decider on Saturday 25 August. The lay-day on Wednesday 22nd will offer competitors a well-deserved rest, and a chance to catch up on the social itinerary, which is as busy as the on water program.
The cream of Australia’s IRC Grand Prix crop is readying for the starting blocks in what will be a tough contest. Many crews have arrived early to train and squeeze the last ounce of potential performance from the boat and crew in the final countdown to the starter’s gun this Saturday.
The decision was made to simplify the national championship concept, returning it to its successful roots as a stand-alone sailing event. This year Audi Hamilton Island Race Week will be the deciding event and in future years the championship will move to other clubs and states.
All yachts entered in the three IRC classes are automatically entered in the Audi IRC Australian Championship.
In division A, previous Audi IRC Australian champion and Audi Hamilton Island Race Week overall winner, Stephen Ainsworth, and his stunningly fast RP63 Loki, are in the box seat based on their recent success in the Audi Sydney Gold Coast Yacht Race.
Also with his eye on the championship crown is last year’s division A Race Week winner, Marcus Blackmore, sailing his TP52, Hooligan. Blackmore has assembled a dream team including round-the-world yachtsmen Stu Bannatyne and Tom Addis and America’s Cup sailor Billy Merrington, to take on other same sized challengers including Jim Farmer and Chris Meads’ New Zealand entry, Georgia, and Rob Hanna’s Shogun.
At 98 feet, the Mark Richard’s skippered Wild Oats XI (owned by Bob Oatley) will lead the division in terms of size while Connel McClaren’s New Zealand 40 footer, Icebreaker, is the smallest. Theoretically both are level pegged on handicap, however Richards doesn’t like their chances given the supermaxi’s rating. Barring mishap they will be unmatched for line honours.
Division B will be ‘fiercely fought’ according to principal race officer, Denis Thompson, while division C’s is equally impressive with its strong Beneteau line-up, plus Roland Dane’s Jessandra II, two-time Audi IRC Australian champion, Peter Sorensen’s The Philosopher’s Club, and John Bacon’s MC38 Dark Star.
The SB20 class is readying for its world championship at Hamilton Island later this year, the 29th edition of Audi Hamilton Island Race Week providing the perfect shakedown for the world title. Local talent and Island CEO, Glenn Bourke, is a front runner for a class win next week and to add yet another notch to his world championship belt come December.
The Melges 24s and 32s will be tightly packed while the large cruising fleet, the backbone of the longstanding event, will provide the colour and entertainment, and for the more serious there will be plenty of rivalry within divisions.
A light wind regime is expected to ease competitors slowly into the on-water program. Given the forecast, Saturday’s 23 nautical mile opening Lindeman Island Race could prove a tricky icebreaker. Should light air and big tides come into play, navigators and tacticians will have to be on their toes as they snake in among the islands of the Whitsunday Group.
Regatta forecaster Kenn Batt sees good things after the opening light day with a steady return to the SE trade winds typical for this time of year. The talk on the dock is 25 knot winds by Tuesday.
Friday night’s official welcome party at Hamilton Island Yacht Club will open proceedings with Race Week skippers joining VIP guests and the Island’s owners, the Oatley family, on the eve of Australia’s most awarded keelboat regatta.
All information regarding the 29th Audi Hamilton Island Race Week can be found on the website www.hamiltonislandraceweek.com.au