The annual Festival of Sails has started proper on Australia Day with a bang – literally. The Mayor of the city of Greater Geelong, John Mitchell, had the honour of firing the starting cannon for the traditional Melbourne to Geelong passage race.
In 8-10 knots of southerly breeze and a comfortable seaway, close to 300 boats set off at 9.30am this morning from two start lines off Port Ormond, Elwood.
Five yachts on the front line were a little too enthusiastic, Rob Date’s Scarlet Runner and Nicholas Bartels’ Terra Firma among the eager beavers, and all had to re-start.
The second line started cleanly.
As the front runners, Michael Hiatt’s Living Doll, Jim Farmer’s Georgia, and Jason Van Der Slot’s Calm, skipped away to run their own race for line honours in the 34 nautical mile passage race, the rest of the huge fleet spread out, dotting Port Phillip Bay with white sails and treating the guests leaving port on The Spirit of Tasmania to a fantastic spectacle.
As the fleet approached the first mark of the course, off Sandringham Yacht Club, the wind had freshed to 12-14 knots and swung left. The lead boat was New Zealand 52 footer Georgia, which had started mid line. America’s Cup veteran Chris Dickson, who is enjoying his first race outing on Port Phillip Bay since the Admiral’s Cup trials in 1988, is calling shots on the Botin & Carkeek design.
'It’s great to be back and particularly on Australia Day. We are pleased to be here flying the flag for our cousins from across the ditch,' Dickson said at the Royal Yacht Club of Victoria this morning.
Georgia led Michael Hiatt's Farr 55 Living Doll and Rob Hanna's TP52 Shogun, as the fleet headed towards Port Arlington 17 nautical miles away.
Back in the fleet, the lads on Bart Newman’s Duncanson 35, Sea Breeze, were happy to make way for more serious types, announcing ‘it’s all about the beer’ as they punched slowly across the Bay with the backmarkers.
The first boat into the Corio Bay channel was Shogun.
Today’s forecast is for a building southerly breeze, up to 20 knots, which will put the first boats at the finish line early afternoon and bring the rest home well ahead of this evening’s Australia Day celebrations at Geelong.
Sir Rod Eddington, Victorian Major Events Company chairman, fired the five minute warning signal cannon.