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NSW Government renews funding for iconic Port Stephens regatta

by Mark Rothfield 20 Jun 2023 23:34 PDT

The NSW Government is extending its long-standing commitment to Sail Port Stephens, Australia's second largest sailing regatta, with funding allocated for 2024 and further renewal options secured for 2025 and 2026.

The announcement comes in the wake of the most successful regatta in the event's 16-year history, which injected an estimated $2million into the region's visitor economy.

It is a significant stimulus for continued expansion as past investment from Destination NSW - the NSW Government's Major Events and Tourism agency - has been critical in enabling Sail Port Stephens to exponentially grow from a small regional event contested by fewer than 30 yachts to the largest in NSW in terms of entry numbers.

This year, 220 sailcraft of all shapes and sizes participated during the three-stage regatta, while a further 160+ entries were attracted to satellite championships held during summer, placing Sail Port Stephens just adrift of Geelong's Festival of Sails that has been running since 1844.

"Destination NSW came aboard as an event partner just a few years after Sail Port Stephens began, providing the foundation to attract further support from Port Stephens Council and commercial sponsors who are equally committed to the event's success," regatta director and co-founder, Paul O'Rourke, says.

"Such is the ever-increasing demand from sailing competitors today that we eventually outgrew our original week-long regatta format and this year extended the timeframe to make better use of the finite number of marina berths and moorings.

"That change has been a huge boost for the event, encouraging fresh participation, and also for the tourism sector during what's traditionally a quiet period at Port Stephens. We really want to continue that trajectory as well."

Looking ahead, Sail Port Stephens organisers are aiming to further refine the format and implement new community-engagement aspects. In particular, the inshore Bay Series has strong growth potential, having rapidly gained popularity among off-the-beach and trailerable sailing classes.

"With Destination NSW's support, we're setting our sights on becoming the biggest and best regatta in Australia," Paul O'Rourke adds. "Funding is imperative as our new format requires significantly more onshore and offshore resources to continue providing quality race management and the first-class après social program.

"Fortunately, the Government sees the benefits that sport tourism events bring to regional areas, not just in direct financial boosts but also increased awareness and sustainable participation rates. We're extremely grateful and will be working hard to further leverage the support."

The Sail Port Stephens passage-racing series, which takes in the beautiful inshore and offshore islands surrounding Port Stephens, has long been a strong drawcard, while the combined NSW Yachting Championships and TP52 Gold Cup regatta is now a stand-alone event that will become further embedded on the national calendar.

The off-the-beach Bay Series began in 2019 with just 13 entries and this year featured over 90 boats from the J70 class, Lasers, Finns, RS Aeros, OK dinghies, Australian Sports Boats, Windsurfers and International Canoe.

Event dates for 2024 are 15-20 April for the Passage Series, 26-28 April for the Windward-Leeward Series and 3-5 May for the Bay Series. See www.sailportstephens.com.au.

Sail Port Stephens is supported by the NSW Government via its tourism and major events agency Destination NSW, along with our valuable sponsors and event partners.

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