The Festival of Sails 2014 entry list is creeping towards 300 and the fleet size is ahead of the same time last year, a trend few regatta organisers can claim in the new financial climate.
Between the cruising with spinnaker, cruising with non-spinnaker, cruiser/racers and classics the numbers are 'huge' says Principal Race Officer Denis Thompson who is making his way to Geelong this weekend to put the finishing touches on the Royal Geelong Yacht Club event before the first warning signal sounds.
The 2014 Festival of Sails starts next Tuesday, January 21st and continues over the Australia Day long weekend to Monday 27th, 2014 when marks will be lifted and the silverware awarded.
A smaller race management team will remain on the ground for the next event on the club calendar, the 2014 Gill Melges 24 World Championship starting two days later, Wednesday 29th January.
The majority of the Festival race program will play out on Corio Bay on the Australia Day weekend, preceded by the return of the traditional Williamstown to Geelong passage race on Friday 24th delivering the mass fleet from the north of Port Phillip to Geelong for one hell of a party.
So like boats can sail against each other there are 14 different divisions to cater for one-design classes such as the Melges 24s staging their nationals through to the huge Cruising division, which accommodates makes and models of boats spanning many eras.
The Festival of Sails has the enviable tag of being Victoria’s oldest ongoing sporting trophy; in fact it’s older than the Melbourne Cup by 17 years. This doesn’t mean the event is shackled in rigid customs and stuffy rules however.
Each year organisers respond to changes in lifestyle and the sport to keep the event relevant and on the calendar as one of the ‘must do’ regattas on the eastern seaboard.
For the 2014 171st Festival staging the RGYC adopted Thompson’s recommendation to establish a Cruiser/Racer division for the more racing oriented boats that were entering the Cruising division, and interest in the new division is considerable.
So far 54 entries, from Sydney 36CRs and Northshore 38s to Adams 10s and Beneteau First 36.7s have been allocated to the new division.
'The more lightweight cruiser/racers with the fancier sails will race together and leave the cruisers to their own contest,' said Thompson.
Hugh Torode, owner of the Beneteau 40.7 Shepherd Centre is the lone New South Welshmen among a sea of Victorian Cruiser/Racer entrants. His boat is on its way back from the Sydney Hobart yacht race and heading to Torode’s true home.
'While I’ve been in Sydney for 30 years I was born down the road at Colac and I went to boarding school in Geelong then lived and worked there,' said Torode adding, 'I’m really coming home '.
He’ll catch up with various relatives while at the Festival including his dad who used to compete at Geelong race week with his H28 with young Hugh as crew.
Last year Torode hired a boat and sailed in the Cruising division, five years ago he had a crack at the Racing Series and enjoyed it and this year’s he’s taking the middle road as a Cruiser/Racer entrant.
Registration for the Southern Hemisphere’s largest keelboat regatta has reached 296 with two days to go before a late fee applies.
Numbers in the Racing Series division are up on last year and will feature newcomers to the grand prix arena, Matt Allen’s Ichi Ban and Tony Kirby’s Patrice, as well as old favourites.
The sports boat division is down on numbers for good reason; they’ve just had their nationals in Western Australia. 'While they are mobile they are not that mobile,' banters Thompson.
For owners still tossing up whether to add their boat name to the growing list there’s yet another incentive in addition to the great sailing, family friendly venue, daily entertainment program, culinary offerings, beach and water activities and Club Marine Boating & Lifestyle Expo.
Thanks to new event sponsor, Optimum Time Sailing Watches, the standard entry fee has been extended until the close of entries this Friday, 17th January, a saving of $100.
A competition is also underway, the prize an Optimum Time Series 3 Sailing Timer. To enter, upload a photo of your best start at this year's Festival of Sails to the event Facebook page www.facebook.com/FestivalofSails and remember to hash tag your image fosgeelong optimumtime
The event will conclude Monday 27th, the Australia Day public holiday, with the trophy presentations and the final Shoreside Festival program of activities.
Notice of Race available here
by Lisa Ratcliff
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8:28 AM Thu 16 Jan 2014GMT
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