by Rob Mundle
Colourful memories of the inaugural Hamilton Island Race Week, staged in 1984, have surfaced this week with the discovery of historic photos taken at that event.
What a blooper! Syd Fischer’s maxi, Ragamuffin, harnesses a tropical trade wind off Hamilton Island using a blooper as well as a spinnaker
The images are the work of Sandy Peacock, a Sydney-based advertising agency owner who was at the 1984 regatta working as a yachting journalist and photographer. He found the 62 transparencies, and a copy of the story he wrote about the event, in a long-forgotten box of images stored at his northern beaches home.
Now sponsored by Audi, Hamilton Island Race Week is Australia’s premier keelboat regatta. This year will mark the 30th anniversary of that inaugural event, and will also mark the 10th anniversary of ownership of Hamilton Island by Australia’s 84-year-old ocean racing legend, Bob Oatley, and his family. The regatta is scheduled for August 17 to 24.
The leaping ‘Gherkin’: Jack Rooklyn’s maxi, Apollo, affectionately known as ‘The Gherkin’, bursts through a wave during the inaugural Hamilton Island Race Week in 1984
For its first eight years of competition, Race Week was staged two weeks after Easter, but the unstable weather pattern at that time of year led to the series becoming known as ‘Hamilton Island Rain Week’ in the ‘Wetsundays’, and the annual Mardi Gras street parade became the ‘Muddy Gras’.
Even so, while the fleet numbers were strong and the parties became more legendary, organisers succumbed to the pressure of the wet season and rescheduled the series to late August each year, when the weather in the Whitsundays is far more satisfying for sailors.
Sandy Peacock’s images certainly reveal the mood swings of the weather that first year, and they also confirm that among the impressive fleet of 93 were some of the great yachts and famous names of the sport in that era. They also show that even in the first year, cruising yachts were the numerically strong base for the series – and that ‘dinghy jousting’ was part of the lay-day entertainment.
The two big maxis at the regatta in 1984 were Jack Rooklyn’s Apollo (affectionately known as ‘The Gherkin’, because the hull was dark green) and Syd Fischer’s Ragamuffin; the latter is seen in Peacock’s gallery carrying a ‘blooper’, a special downwind sail that was a popular trend at the time.
The 1983 Australian Admiral’s Cup team yacht, Hitchhiker, was brought across from Perth by owner Peter Briggs, to compete at Race Week, and Graham Lambert’s Admiral’s Cup team contender, Too Impetuous, was also there. The sailing identities were too many to name, but there was no one more saluted than Hugh Treharne, who in September the previous year was tactician aboard Australia II when she won the America’s Cup in Newport, Rhode Island. Ironically, it was when the island’s then owner, Keith Williams, was in Newport watching Australia II win the cup that he came up with the idea for Race Week.
In comparing ‘then’ with ‘now’, it is interesting to note how the format for the racing has changed. In 1984 the distance race was a 250-mile overnighter around the Whitsunday Islands. This year the distance race will be a mere 60 miles.
In a closely fought series, Hitchhiker became the inaugural Audi Hamilton Island Race Week champion after beating Too Impetuous by one point. Interestingly, the winner of the Arbitrary Division was Marcus Blackmore with his 43-footer, The Manly Ferry. At Audi Hamilton Island Race Week 2011 and 2012, the same Marcus Blackmore won the IRC Grand Prix Division with his 52-footer, Hooligan.
Dinghy jousting was part of the lay-day entertainment
Luxury carmaker, Audi, returns as the Title Sponsor of Hamilton Island Race Week in 2013. The German premium brand will host a range of special events on the island for yacht owners and guests to enjoy during the week.
More at www.hamiltonislandraceweek.com.au