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21st Birthday Party for the Australian Women's Keelboat Regatta

by John Curnow on 15 Jun 2011
Hot to Trot crosses in front of Wild Child with Allegresse in the background. - Australian Women's Keelboat Regatta Alex McKinnon
The twenty-first, consecutive running of the Australian Women’s Keelboat Regatta (AWKR) on Melbourne’s Port Phillip attracted 17 all-female crews. It would be a very auspicious occasion for the event’s founder, Gai Clough, who is delighted that her ‘baby’ has grown into such a special regatta.

Held out of Royal Melbourne Yacht Squadron (RMYS) in cosmopolitan St Kilda, the near 200 competitors enjoyed sunshine and mild breezes for all three days of the Queen’s Birthday long weekend. Apart from some persistent fog on Sunday morning, the blue skies were very warmly greeted.


This regatta usually has either frosty and blowy weather or the sublime, if coolish, conditions that were enjoyed this year. In fact, it was the central part of the East coast of Australia that experienced the more ferocious and cooler of conditions on offer over the long weekend. Crews from as far afield as Port Douglas often make the journey to Melbourne for this regatta, but in 2011 the entries were all Victorian. Individual sailors, like Helen Wilmer on Wild Child, did make the Interstate journey, however.

Notably, there were eleven owner/drivers out there in both brand new and new-to-them vessels, which ranged in size from 25 to 40 feet. The AWKR offers three categories of racing. IRC, Performance and the Australian Measurement System (AMS). The latter is the fastest growing of the very hotly contested categories and importantly, all three winners are considered equal overall champions. The chance to be one of those Topcats was made easier in 2011, by the fact that some of the reigning champion crews were not back out racing.


Going into the event, Jo Norbury and her Chikara Chicks were considered the crew to beat and they had chosen to race one of the perennially favoured Adams 10s for the regatta. In this case, it was the very well maintained and sailed, Executive Decision. Linda Goldsmith, Vice Commodore of RMYS said before the regatta, ‘With lightish Sou'easterly breezes expected, it is the most open AWKR for years. I'm not taking or making any bets, but having said that, Joanne Norbury and her top notch crew are racing the super-quick, Executive Decision, so I'm sure they're going to be very competitive’.

‘As a club and organiser of the event, we’re very proud to again have a female Principal Race Officer, Amanda Wakeham. AWKR is one of the very few major Australian Regattas with a female PRO. Also, Alexandra McKinnon will be shooting the AWKR and that is really thrilling. Both facts are a testament to the AWKR's philosophy of supporting women in all areas of sailing.’

Jo Norbury and her crew did do very well, in the end, taking out both the IRC and AMS categories. ‘We’re pretty happy with our crew effort. The dynamics and synchronisation were definitely there and our onboard communications were clear, precise and professional, which is great. Not everyone knew each other, for whilst we have been together for the last six years, we had a couple of new members this year. Genevieve Popp (an ex Cadet Champion) returned to be on the tiller, which she has done with us for the last six years.’


‘The breeze was really kind to us and we were able to shine. Many thanks to Grant Botica for the use of his boat and we’re sorry that some of your crew thinks we do better kite sets than you do normally. We’re fairly humbled by the IRC win and it’s the first time we’ve entered that category and first time I’ve ever raced IRC. To get both it and the AMS trophy is both extraordinary and exciting.’

‘We’d like to thank our coach, Bill Trueman and also Di Trueman, who takes my kids for the weekend, which allows me to concentrate on the task. In fact all the shore crew are essential for the AWKR, as I’m not the only one with children.’


Receiving the award for most improved crew, was Michelle Tapp from the Elliott 780, Hot to Trot. ‘I am so amazed and really excited. We're grateful for the platform that RMYS provides with the AWKR. I was in shock when we got the award and it helps to make the bruises feel a lot better this morning. Our crew work was done well and we kept improving. We talked through all the hoists and gybes and got it going towards the end. It was a good job from a bunch of girls who come together each year, just for this regatta. Many thanks to the boat’s owners, Noel May and Neville Rose, for providing us with their boat each year. They got a lot from this and we're delighted to see so many smiles from them.’

‘We’re really inspired by this result and will practice more before the next one, so look out!’


Winning the final racing category, Performance, were Kathryn De Garis and crew aboard her boat, Allegresse. ‘Well, wasn't it simply an amazing weekend! We are just so pleased and delighted that things went from bad to better, thence on to pretty good and finally to really good, as the wind built and our team settled in, which significantly improved our sailing. The AWKR certainly is a long slog, but so much fun. It is a huge job running and skippering a boat, gathering and training crew and then directing the multitude of activities, which racing involves. Why do we do it?? Because it is more satisfying and challenging than anything else I can imagine!!! We are such lucky women to be able to participate in this sport and are so thankful for all the amazing people that make the running the regatta at RMYS possible. They give so much of their time and enthusiasm into putting this whole thing together. Well done and thank you.’


If there was an award for friendship, then this crew may well get that too. On Saturday night, they hosted a post-race party onboard their Beneteau First 35.5 for all seven of the entries from their home club at Brighton. 11 people on deck and a staggering 27 below decks, saw the freeboard of the yacht diminish somewhat. Not perturbed, Kathryn simply said, ‘We all had a great time, after a super day.’

The full results are available here.

Janina Goethel and the organising committee of the Australian Women’s Keelboat Regatta would like to thank all the competitors, owners and volunteers. No event is possible without the support of sponsors and so the efforts of the many companies and individuals, including the generous contributions of Helly Hansen, are greatly appreciated.


RMYS website

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