At any yacht club on twilight racing night, there’s a throng of eligible lads and gorgeous ladies draped on each other’s arm, talking tacking duels and share trends until finally they get married, buy a house, have two kids and get a yacht of their own.
2013 Sail Port Stephens
At this point in their lives they will go to Sail Port Stephens. That’s the loose theory, anyway, and it’s borne out by hard statistics showing that the sailing regatta, now in its seventh year, brings a substantial injection of visitors and tourism income to the NSW coastal township, just as winter is set to descend.
Over three days of racing from April 19 to 21, there were more than 120 boats locked in combat, and in the preceding days around 40 of these contested the Commodore’s Cup. Each yacht had a minimum of four, some as many as 12, crewmen and crew-women aboard – averaging around 600 sailors on the water at any given time.
For every person who sails, chances are they will be accompanied by friends and family members who don’t – in the case of the larger yachts it’s potentially 50 to 60 people, akin to bringing a small conference to town for a week.
On the event periphery will be sailing industry representatives, race committee folk and media crews, all needing to be accommodated, transported, fed and watered.
Spend-per-visitor figures are sketchy but government estimates suggest it is $131 per person for overnight trips and $104 for day trips, which quickly surpasses $200,000 for every day of Sail Port Stephen. And since BOAT is supposedly an acronym for Bring Out Another Thousand, this is a demographic that spends more than average.
As the money ultimately winds up in the weekly pay cheques of staff from clubs, restaurants, food outlets and shops, it will continue to buoy the local economy.
Michael Aylmer, chair of Port Stephens Tourism, feels the community is increasingly embracing the regatta: 'As an event it has grown from next-to-nothing to one gaining recognition up and down the coast, but there’s plenty of space and a lot of places for boaties to go … drop off the wheel as it were.'
Tars Bylhouwer from Port Stephens Tourism confirms that the ripples extend well beyond the direct impact of the event itself.
'The cash injection is huge and there’s a lot of on-flow – it is setting us up as a sailing destination,' he said. 'Yachties used to say that Port Stephens had too many shallow areas but when you look at the maps the port is 2½ times the size of Sydney Harbour and the sandbanks represent a very small proportion of that. If you exclude them it’s still double the size of Sydney Harbour.
'For residents, sailing becomes a prominent sport, kids get a chance to get involved, and there are all sorts of social benefits shooting off from that. They are big ticket items we tend to focus on here because tourism is not just a dollar thing, it is part and parcel of our lives.'
The region’s marketing efforts highlight the natural attributes – beaches, waterways, marine park and national park – and the outdoor experiences than can be enjoyed therein. Sail Port Stephens is an ideal fit for both categories.
The Commodore of regatta host club Corlette Point Sailing Association, Dom Grundy, also manages the Salamander Hotel and says the April timing is perfect from a commercial perspective.
'To bring them all into town at one time is significant. The Hotel will go very close to filling up, where it doesn’t normally,' he said. 'It brings focus to the town and reminds people in Sydney we’re only two hours away if they want a weekend away.'
Not surprisingly, Port Stephens is now NSW’s number three destination for short-breaks.
Sail Port Stephens 2013 was a great success in spite of the East Coast Low, with the inshore waterways providing great racing. With the Australian IRC (Grand Prix) Championships being raced off Newcastle, the week after Sail Port Stephens another record fleet is expected and that too is more good news for the region.