Audi Hamilton Island Race Week 2011 and a 28-year dream of winning the Grand Prix division may be realised for Sydney yachtsman Marcus Blackmore in August following confirmation he will be entering his all-conquering TP52 class racer, Hooligan, in the great regatta.
Since January Hooligan has shown she is the hottest IRC rated yacht on the east coast circuit: she has won every major series she has contested, including Audi Victoria Week, the Audi Sydney Harbour Regatta and the NSW IRC Championship at Port Stephens. She is also on top of the points table for the Audi IRC Australian Championship, a series where the final round is scheduled for Hamilton Island.
'For many years I’ve had two great ambitions in sailing,' declared Blackmore. 'One – because I was originally a Queenslander – was to win the Brisbane to Gladstone race, and we’ve just done that; the other was to win the Grand Prix division at Audi Hamilton Island Race Week. So, there is no way I’m not going to be there with Hooligan and the team this year to give Race Week our best shot.'
Blackmore explained that his dream of winning at Hamilton Island was ignited at the inaugural Race Week in 1984 when he won the Arbitrary Division with his 43ft sloop, The Manly Ferry. Ironically, he bought that yacht from his friend, Bob Oatley, the famous Australian winemaker and yachtsman who, with his family, now owns Hamilton Island.
'Hamilton Island Race Week had everything going for it from Day One, and it just keeps getting better these days under the stewardship of Bob Oatley,' said Blackmore, whose enthusiasm for the regatta saw him take up the role of commodore of Hamilton Island Yacht Club for some years. 'When I saw Hitchhiker come across from Perth and win the Grand Prix division that first year I told myself that it was something I wanted to achieve one day, and hopefully that day will come in August.'
Hooligan is not likely to get it all her own way this year as some of Australia’s smartest IRC rated racers are expected to be there to throw down the gauntlet, including Stephen Ainsworth’s Loki, which won Audi Hamilton Island Race Week last year. Currently, after two rounds, Loki sits only three points behind Hooligan in the Audi IRC Australian Championship.
Blackmore received some good news last week as he began to make preparations for Hamilton Island. In response to a recent request from an Australian rival for a handicap review, officials at the Royal Ocean Racing Club in England stated they could see no grounds for change to Hooligan’s IRC rating certificate.
Hooligan was originally named Emirates Team New Zealand, and when Blackmore purchased her last year she was the yacht to beat on the international TP52 class circuit in the Mediterranean. Today he credits the outstanding effort put in by his crew, as much as the design of the yacht, for the success that has come Hooligan’s way:
'We learned a lot from the Kiwis when I bought the yacht, nothing more so than the importance of exceptional crew work. That’s really rubbed off on us: we are getting our asymmetric spinnakers set and drawing in just eight seconds after rounding a mark while some of our rivals take 18 seconds. That’s a big advantage in this level of racing.'
With more than three months to go to the start of Audi Hamilton Island Race Week on 19 August there are near 50 yachts on the entry list. This compares favourably with the same period last year: fair indication that a fleet of around 200 can be expected this year.
Hamilton Island Race Week’s naming rights sponsor, luxury car maker Audi, is Australia’s largest corporate sponsor of yachting.
Audi Hamilton Island Race Week: Website