by Bob Fisher
Audi Hamilton Island Race Week began in a long-time expected fashion with a light (even perhaps ultra-light) south-easterly breeze for the Round Lindeman Island Race. It was a gentle preparation for the following five days of racing to come, but it provided those of us unused to the venue to absorb the surroundings from the deck of Sandy Oatley’s motor yacht, Andiamo (known irreverently as Sandiamo!).
Puerto Rican Lazy Dog crew settle in - MC38 Australian Championship - Audi Hamilton Island Race 2014
We watched to 180-odd starters gill for the committee boat start in their various classes and noted that the pin end was favoured and with that the determination of some competitors to be there. One who made it almost to perfection, and on port tack at that, was Marcus Blackmore in the newish MC38 class with the appropriately named (for this particular start) Hooligan. Blackmore went on to be the early leader.
But all good things must come to an end . . . Blackmore continued on his lonely port tack too long – 'I was convinced it was the right way to go,' he said after the race, 'but sadly I was wrong.' The early wind shift had a touch more south in it and the rest of the seven-boat fleet was lifted. Hooligan was never to recover.
IRC-A was first to start and while one can never be certain about the positions on corrected time, the performance of the 66ft Reichel/Pugh designed Alive brought a few raised eyebrows. The black-hulled boat from Hobart was ahead of the massive local favourite, the 100ft supermaxi Wild Oats XI as they approached Lindeman Island and the multi Hobart Race line honours winner had never failed to lead the fleet home here in any race.
One long tack into a port header towards the shore reaped dividends for helmsman Mike Richards to the delight of owner Bob Oatley, who had chosen to race aboard his flyer. As Etchells champion Matt Chew steered Phillip Turner’s boat into Dent Passage, it was clear that Wild Oats had taken over the lead. She was soon to be joined by the AC45 wing-sailed catamaran Wild Oats, but at the finish the early advantage enjoyed by Alive was rewarded with the handicap win. 'The boat loves the light air,' said Chew, 'we are focused on winning the light air races this week, then trying to hang on in the heavier breeze.' More wind is progressively forecast for the Audi sponsored regatta.
The IRC-A boats were the only ones to complete the full course; those in other classes variously had theirs shortened at four different locations as very little more wind materialized.
Those aboard Andiamo were given the opportunity of a quick (at 32 knots) tour of this section of the Whitsunday Islands including the staggeringly beautiful and blindingly white, Whitehaven Beach, a vast stretch of almost pure silica as fine as talcum powder.
No sooner were the boats back in the marina but the crews took full opportunity of the delights ashore to shake off the hours of concentration afloat at the many places that afford shoreside pleasure in glasses.