By far the largest contingent, and the heart and soul of the Festival of Sails 2012 starting line-up are the cruising division entries. This year’s event has so far attracted 127 cruising starters and riders divided into spinnaker and non-spinnaker divisions.
The fleet will gather on masse on Australia Day, Thursday January 26, for the traditional 34 nautical mile Williamstown to Geelong Passage Race, one of the highlights of the extensive water and shore-side Festival of Sails program.
Three hundred plus boats setting off at regular intervals off Melbourne’s St Kilda and Elwood is the largest start for an Australian keel boat regatta, and signals the start of the Festival of Sails for the majority of entries. The three Premier IRC divisions and the Sydney 38 One Design classes will have already contested a warm-up six-race series out of the Royal Yacht Club of Victoria, on Saturday 21 and Sunday 22 January.
The start of the passage race spectacle was what lured Paul Lindeman, skipper of the Oceanis 50 Biddy Hu II from the Royal Victorian Yacht Club, to submit his maiden entry last year. Not only was he part of the event, he picked up an early sea breeze and came away with third in the regatta opener. Building on this result he finished second overall in division at the series end after a tenacious tussle with Douglas Lithgow’s Soiree Bleau.
'We can only go one better,' said Lindeman today. 'We do go out to win, but also to have a great time. My family is too young to crew so they are ‘pit crew’ when the boat comes ashore. There are so many activities for them at Geelong, in particular Kids Zone.
'Royal Geelong is one of my favourite clubs and after listening to everyone talk about what a great regatta they host, plus the 300 boat mass start from Williamstown...we decided to be part of it last year and again this year,' added Lindeman.
Mount Eliza based Peter Russell’s Sydney 36, Wild Goats, is another cruising entry and in keeping with the essence of the cruising fleet , the boat’s moniker is a play on the more famous super maxi, Wild Oats.
Competing at the Festival of Sails is a 'bit of a blokes get together' admits Russell, whose crew of 'geriatrics' range in age from the 55 year-old for’ard hand to the most senior in the fleet at 63. 'The wives do come out, but only when it’s nice and flat, and when there’s a tall glass of Sav Blanc on offer,' jokes Russell.
'The whole experience is great fun, it’s the highlight of our sailing year,' he added. 'Rafting up with other boats and running into guys I used to sail with when I was a teenage makes it one big reunion.'
The timber importer’s only complaint is that 'the handicapper always gets it wrong', Russell’s best result from seven regattas at Geelong a fifth. Nevertheless, ‘Captain Bligh’, aka Peter Russell, will be back as part of the strong cruising contingent with his regular crew including ‘goldy’, named because his memory spans one lap of the tank, and ‘hoover’, who reliably polishes off any food left over below deck.
While Bligh and his mates are thrashing it on Corio Bay from Thursday January 26 to Sunday 29, ashore the free community Waterfront Festival will feature over 60 acts across three stages; roving performers; art and craft market stalls; a marine trade and boating lifestyle exhibition; an on-water ‘Come & Try Zone’ and a dedicated family friendly kids’ zone, all along the stunning Geelong Waterfront and in Royal Geelong Yacht Club.
Entries for the Festival of Sails 2012 close this Sunday, 15 January, at 1700 hours.