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North Sails 2021 Innovation - LEADERBOARD

Marlay Point Over Night Race from an original sailor

by Marlay Point Overnight Race 7 Feb 2019 15:07 PST 9 March 2019
Marlay Point Over Night Race © Event Media

The Marlay Point Over Night Race (MPONR) celebrated its fiftieth year of sailing in March 2018. One of the original sailors who raced in the first MPONR was Bill Shand, who at 88 years old raced again 50 years later.

Every sailor who has competed in this iconic Australian sailing event can tell a story of their overnight sailing experience. This is Bill's story.

Bill describes the MPONR as a lifetime experience, sailing at night in safe conditions with at worst only sand or mud to contend with, unlike the challenges of a race at sea.

"This is a race where an ordinary sailor can compete", Bill said. The MPONR was conceived when the Lake Wellington Yacht Club brainstormed running a race that would foster interest in night sailing for the ordinary sailor.

Bill and his brother, Hal, entered the very first MPONR on Bill's Flying Fifteen, Reliance II, in a fleet of twenty nine sailing boats. After an evening's party which, he recalls, had a TV on the foreshore in order to watch the Lionel Rose world boxing bout, the race began at midnight.

Finding the entrance to McLennan strait, the seven mile narrow connection between Lake Wellington and Lake Victoria, was difficult as the lead lights were not working. Reliance II bumped along until they could see the dim opening to the straits.

Boats drifted along the straits with the current as the wind had disappeared. Seven miles later at dawn, Bill and Hal came out into Lake Victoria. They then sailed on down in light winds to Metung to take line honours at 2:30 pm on Sunday. They then had to sail back to Paynesville where there was a crane suitable to lift out the keel boat onto its trailer.

The MPONR grew and the halcyon days of the high-rolling eighties saw a booming trailer sailer industry. In 1987 there were 680 entrants making it arguably the largest yacht race in the world at the time. Since then the entries have declined as a succession of heavy weather races, more stringent safety requirements and changing economic times have all taken their toll.

Bill's first experience with sailing as a lad, was on his billy cart which he fitted with a square rigged sail made from the canvas off the veranda blind. He admitted it could not tack up wind.

He first sailed on a Snipe dinghy with friends, then built and sailed a Gwen dinghy for a few years until he saw his first Flying Fifteen (FF) fixed keel yacht at age 30. "That was it; I just lived for sailing. I still do", Bill exclaimed. He had had enough of being tipped out of dinghies and relished the stability of the FF.

Unable to find an FF for sale in Australia, he proceeded to build his own in timber and veneer. Before he finished outfitting it, friends wanted to buy it, and there began his almost 60 years of building FFs. Tired of pulling out the 2,500 staples required for fixing the veneer on his moulded timber FFs, he experimented with fiberglass. He went on to develop and produce over 250 high quality and competitive FF yachts.

Bill worked as a building contractor and found that building the FFs would tide him over when he was in between contracting work. However life was extremely busy when the two vocations were both on the same deadlines.

Bill has competed in Victorian, National and FF Worlds in Ireland, with his brother Hal and in Hong Kong, New Zealand and the Isle of Wight with his long time sailing (26 years) crew David Parish. He has also competed in 3 or 4 FF Worlds held in Australia.

He sailed his second MPONR in the 21st race again on his Flying Fifteen with David Sanders as crew. This time he used a battery in the boat for nav lights and a Cyalume light stick to illuminate the jib. As they couldn't see the full sails, they just pulled the sheets, 'sailing by feel' until the boat sailed smoothly.

When the 40th anniversary of the MPONR came in 2008, Bill was set to race in his FF Reliance II (now the 24th with the same name, as he kept selling the others) However, the race organizers refused to allow it as the FF did not meet the current safety guidelines for overnight racing.

For the 50th anniversary the rules were bent to allow Bill and David to sail on his FF as a classic boat. At 88, Bill was excited and ready to race but was strongly dissuaded from doing so by his family and friends. Though disappointed, Bill bought Bubblegum, a Timpenny 670 trailer sailer for the event and they sailed it for the very first time on the night.

This time there was a gentle breeze hard on the nose and lead lights burning brightly marking the entrance to the straits. The wind faded again, and boats diced around with each other as the current carried them along. The race finished at the Gippsland Lakes Yacht club in Paynesville with Bubblegum finishing 9th out of the 80 boats in Division 1.

More than 200 yachts, 600 crew, families and supporters from all over Australia, plus hundreds of spectators celebrated this 50th anniversary MPONR.

Asked if he had his eyes set on sailing the 51st MPONR on the 9th of March, 2019, when he'll be 89 years old, Bill replied, "I haven't decided yet. I've got to stay young."

Previously hosted by the Lake Wellington Yacht Club, this iconic race that runs on the Victorian Labour Day in March each year is now hosted by Gippsland Lakes Yacht Club under the guidance of the LWYC.

Have you got an MPONR story? This race should be on every sailor's bucket list to do at least once in a lifetime. Entries are now open for the 51st MPONR.

See mponr.com for information and Notice of Race.

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