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Port Stephens sets Sail with major event

by Sail Port Stephens Media on 17 Apr 2011
Fleet flying spinnakers. Sail Port Stephens Trophy 2011 Sail Port Stephens Event Media
Tourism and Sailing events have proven to be a great combination Australia wide.
It’s no accident that the peaks in tourist numbers in a whole range of well known tourist locations coincide with major sailing regattas.

Hamilton Island Race Week, Geelong Week, Airlie Beach Race Week, Magnetic Island Race Week, Geographe Bay Race Week, Port Lincoln Race Week and obviously in years to come Sail Port Stephens, all provide benefit to the community with a significant increase in tourist numbers.

Over the last week the fourth annual Sail Port Stephens regatta has shown why it’s the fastest growing regatta in the Asia Pacific and industry experts believe the event has a great future.

Port Stephens hotelier Paul O’Rourke came to the area 20 years ago after working in Europe and the Caribbean where sailing regattas are major events.

'I realised Port Stephens was a fabulous place for a sailing regatta and as early as about 1998-1999 I tried to get a regatta going but there was not wide support at that time. But all changed in 2007 when the Tomaree Events Forum became interested in my ideas.

‘We went to see the 450 boat Geelong Week regatta, the largest in the southern hemisphere and talked to the event organiser Doug Jarvis. We commissioned a study for a regatta here. After a year of planning and we ran the first event in 2008.

‘That first event was run as a stand alone and everyone saw that it was a really positive event that had good potential. Then the council came on board and they supported us through the second year and the State Government came on board for the third year. That allowed us to grow the regatta and make it a solid event for everybody.

‘We were taken by surprise at the speed of growth. Our biggest challenge will be getting some more marina space and that probably won’t solve be in the next twelve months so this time next year we won’t be a whole lot bigger, perhaps only 20% growth next year. But after that we hope to see entries at 200 plus boats.

‘From a leisure point of view it is good. The weekends and holiday trade is good but mid week events and conferencing has not been strong since the GFC and that's why events like this can drive mid week business and that's why it is so important.

‘Hopefully between Soldiers Point and d’Albora Marinas and even the Anchorage, we will accommodate more boats, extensions, temporarily moorings. That's what we want to plan together.

‘Sailors come here for the regatta then they are familiar with the area. After that initial stop they might even come here for holidays or for other reasons.

‘There is huge potential here in Port Stephens and it seems to be a real niche market for hosting regattas. If we can get the involved parties to have the regatta at the right time of year then it’s fantastic for business all round.

‘In years to come we envisage a race course that goes backwards and forwards from the Marina and would love to have little stands and little marquees down the breakwater wall to watch the start and watch the finish and visitors could come back three or four times.

'This year has been a fantastic year and everybody has enjoyed it. We have enjoyed hosting everyone and it has been a really positive experience for the competitors and for the organising team.

‘We would not have an event without our volunteer base and they have been fantastic. They have been out every day in the sunshine or rain every day from early morning into the evening, doing a great job. To them all was say thank you.’

Doug Jarvis (the driving force behind Skandia Geelong Week, which more recently become Audi Victoria Week, one of the top three events staged in Victoria- it has up to 100,000 visitors to the event each January) was approached by Paul O’Rourke and came from Geelong to visualise just what the community and business leaders wanted to see in an event so the Event organiser, the Corlette Point Sailing Association could bring their vision into a reality.

This week Jarvis was on the water at Sail Port Stephens and he made these observations.

‘There are very few events in Australia that have real opportunity.

‘This event has infrastructure, better infrastructure for an event than I have ever seen. It has a depth of accommodation, all kinds of price levels. It has got a race course that’s all weather and being so close to the biggest market in Australia it’s a logical place to run a sailing event.

'I don’t know of another sailing event that has more potential than this one.

Jarvis continued. ‘The vision overall is for family and friends sailing together. The event wants to create something that it is an on water experience. The strong emphasis on bring cruising sailors to the area is important. They come early and stay longer and they come back regularly.

'This place has such magnificent scenery. You feel like you are in the wilderness when you are sailing around the place so it is uniquely different in its beauty.

'It has all the Hamilton Island charm but doesn’t have the tyranny of distance. Remember to participate at Hamilton Island Race week can be a five week sailing venture. By contrast Port Stephens is only a day sail from Sydney.

'The local sailing community is very passionate about their area. They love this place and they want to create something that will benefit the whole community.

'There are opportunities at every level. The Australian Laser Masters Championships with 190 participating boats was held in February this year and a future Laser World Championships with 300 off the beach boats could be easily held here.

'There is a definite need for an annual Sailing Industry Conference in Australia. This could be the perfect venue and combining it with Sail Port Stephens provides a perfect setting.

'This is a venue of absolute quality. I had the pleasure of attending the Rolex Maxi Worlds in Sardinia and it’s a gob smackingly beautiful place but I don’t think any more beautiful than here.

'Hamilton Island will always be the premier destination for sailing in this country but I believe that it may not be on its own.'

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