This Saturday at 9:30am, a giant sailing fleet, approaching 400 boats, four times bigger than the famous Sydney Hobart fleet will, for the first time ever sail down the Bayside suburbs from St Kilda to Sandringham before heading west to Geelong in the annual Audi Victoria Week sailing regatta.
The spectacular mass start in the Melbourne to Geelong yacht race for this enormous and colourful fleet is a historic change for Audi Victoria Week, one of the nation’s oldest sporting events and the largest sailing event in the southern hemisphere.
In 1844 the first sailing regatta in Australia took place amongst the tall ships on Corio Bay, Geelong and on the third of December 1859 – the newly incorporated Geelong Yacht Club staged its first long race. The 34 nautical mile passage race from Williamstown to Geelong.
It became firmly part of Geelong’s Anniversary Day, (later Foundation Day, ANA Day now called Australia Day) Weekend sailing event.
It has grown enormously in popularity over the last 151 years. In recent times more and more Sydney to Hobart returning boats from New South Wales, Queensland, South and Western Australia have joined the local fleet to celebrate Australia Day in Geelong.
The 2010 Sydney Hobart winner Secret Men’s Business 3.5 was the handicap winner of last year’s race and Geoff Boettcher and his South Australian crew will be on the starting line again this coming Saturday, for the 2011 race, along with a host of divisional winners from the Sydney Hobart and the Melbourne Hobart race.
But now history has to give way to technology.
As Principal Race Officer for Audi Victoria Week Denis Thompson explains ‘Right up into the mid-80’s even racing yachts typically had keels of less than three metres in depth but the modern offshore racing yachts are very deep drafted with keels between 3.5 and six metres in depth and the 150 year old course was causing many boats to skirt wide or risk running aground.
‘Going down the eastern shore towards Geelong increasingly in recent years, we have had depth issues, not just for the big Hobart boats like Loki (Audi IRC Australian Champion) that draw 4.4 metres, but for more and more yachts in the fleet.
‘We need to be out in deep water. So instead of the traditional start off Williamstown, our 2011 start will be off St Kilda and the fleet will sail down the bay to a turning mark off Sandringham Yacht Club and from there head towards Geelong, so the fleet will cross Port Phillip south of the Faulkner Beacon. Adding another two miles to the race’
So after 151 years, a change in direction for this giant race has delivered an awesome spectacle to Melbourne.
With the throb of helicopters over the fleet, Minister for Sport and Recreation, Hugh Delahunty, will be on the official start vessel MV Pelicans to fire the cannon, at 9:30am – signaling the start of the oldest race in the week-long sail carnival.
From there thousands of spectators will be lining the foreshore to watch the yachts come down the narrow shipping channel into Geelong just as they did in 1859. www.victoriaweek.com