Sail Port Stephens has smashed fleet records again this year and today on the water it was not hard to see why.
Nine times larger than Sydney Harbour and with no commercial shipping and a resident bottle nose dolphin population of around 100, Port Stephens is a sailing paradise.
Farr 40 and Sydney 38 regattas have been held here over the last decade and recently the Australian Laser Masters titles were conducted on the waters of Port Stephens.
This week it’s the turn of the Commodore’s Cup, the NSW IRC Championship and the SB3 Australian Championship.
The first three days of Sail Port Stephens 2011 are being sailed for the Commodore’s Cup. With the emphasis on cruising boats, there are many boats and crews quite new to racing. However it’s a particularly friendly environment with Principal Race Officer Denis Thompson and his team going out of their way to welcome those sailors new to the scene.
And so to day one.
After the over night rain skies cleared, it was overcast in the morning with a soft north westerly, then almost glass. The breeze filled in and the day finished with a light north easter and in glorious sunshine.
Today’s course was the iconic Pub to Pub race. From a start line just off the d’albora Marina seawall at Nelson Bay in a 5-8 knot north westerly, the Cruising with Spinnaker division headed east under spinnaker while the Non Spinnaker division goose winged towards Shoal Bay. The course took them back past Peppers Resort, towards Salamander Shores, Soldiers Point and back, around 14 nautical miles for the Cruising with Spinnaker fleet and a mile less for the Non Spinnaker division.
Conditions softened as the fleet headed east to Halifax Point. ColorTile, Warren and Kirsty Buchan’s Sayer 45, was first to the Shoal Bay mark.
Tony Kirby brought his X-41 Patrice Six down the shore just behind her larger competitor.
Then came Lake Macquarie’s newest racing yacht, John McNamara’s IRC modified Farr 40 Iota, (formerly Splash Gordon and most recently Eleven). Coming in hot from out in the Bay under asymmetric kite she impressively slid around the mark, ahead of Mick Hinchey’s Sydney 38 Not Swish, Chris Rabbidge's Farr 40 Edake, Peter White's Xstatic and Andrew Daily's Bear Necessity.
Behind them Ian Humphries Vismara V43 Rhumb sailed very wide as did Denis Coopers’ Sydney 36 Amante. Graham Mobuckson's Margaret Rintoul V was suffering in the soft conditions.
Behind the leaders a battle was taking place between George Snow’s Argo Blue and her Beneteau Oceanis 50 sister ship John and Kim Clinton’s Holy Cow. Holly Cow was in the lead as the two rivals sailed into Shoal Bay but Argo Blue manage to hold a kite, ducked the Cow’s stern and led into the mark by a metre.
No quarter was given as the sun came out at last. However the breeze was dying.
Up at the front of the fleet coming back around Halifax, Iota sailed wide, found better pressure and sailed into the lead. Just short of the Anchorage as the wind swung to the north east and ever so gradually began to build, Iota crept her red kite skywards and accelerated.
Behind her, one by one, the spinnakers popped.
The entire fleet was ghosting west, looking for lanes of pressure. Patrice Six ventured bravely out into the bay and lost her way.
Iota was on fire as she held her spinnaker right into the Salamander Shores mark and was sailing north into building pressure towards Middle Island, long before ColorTile closed on the mark.
ColorTile Tlost her second place just short of Middle Island as Edake sailed through her, as did Rhumb.
Iota sailed to an impressive Division 1 win. Mainstay (Bradley Sewell) was second followed by Excapade (Noel Gough).
Peter Hewson from Iota dockside said 'We had more than our fair share of luck today. This was just our second outing. The learning curve is very steep. Yesterday we won the Newcastle to Port Stephens Race, so it’s a good strike rate.'
PRO Denis Thompson finished the Non Spinnaker division at the Peppers Anchorage mark.
The Jeanneau 409 Mirage with Ron Jacobs, a Grand Prix veteran sailor with some serious winning form across the years, cleaned up in the Non Spinnaker division. Second place went to Jim Thomas' Dances with Wolves a Beneteau 40.7. Third was Allsail The Frog (Russell Waddy.)
Ron Jacobs and the NSW Jeanneau distributors have brought some 15 Sydney and Pittwater based Jeanneau cruisers to this event.
'Today was a glorious day on the water. It was very soft initially but the north easter was lovely at the end. The race committee did a good job getting both fleets across the line' commented Jacobs.
And for some fellow sailors a kind word from John and Kim Clinton. ‘The foredeck crew of Holy Cow needs to send a big 'thank you' to Menace for rescuing the Cow's Turtle Bag!!!! Our bag went overboard on the final leg to the finish line and was kindly delivered back to us by Menace after we crossed the line.
'It was a beautiful day on the water enjoyed by all.’