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Henri-Lloyd - For the Obsessed

No result without resolve

by John Curnow, AUS Editor 21 Apr 15:00 PDT
Location. Just one of the many drawcards for the ever-burgeoning Sail Port Stephens regatta © John Curnow

Normally, when you think of the triple it might be Line Honours, Corrected Time, and Race Record. So then, how about sail it, sponsor it, and truly support it? This was the notion that arrived as I pondered the recently completed Sail Port Stephens (SPS). In turn, that meant a conversation with Pantaenius Sail and Motor Yacht Insurance MD, Jamie MacPhail was required.

Usually, when you have a glamour location, it can be enough to get the competitors. Build a better mousetrap and all... You know, why use a shovel, when you can bring an excavator along? However, when you really inject some of your passion into the mix, well the outcome gains so much more, and it is little wonder the event is always oversubscribed.

"Sailed in the first one 15 years ago, and all bar one of them ever since. Pantaenius has been sponsoring it now for 12 years, so we are very much imbued into the fabric of the event, which is what we like to do. Bringing ideas and then the resources along to make things happen is all part of the enjoyment", said MacPhail.

Those ideas include the Pantaenius Team Cup, which this year had 40 teams representing an impressive 27 clubs and associations. There is also the super-well attended, possibly even world-famous Friday night drink and snack on Pantaenius. This sausage sizzle, hamburger and even Frankfurter fest is a real crowd pleaser, and for 2024, there were 550 meals and drinks handed out.


"We very much want to see people mix and mingle after sailing, and this is a sure-fire way to bring conviviality to this must-do event. 118 boats took part this year and there are always 40 to 70 boats on the waiting list, irrespective of whether or not the event coincides with the school holidays."

"There are plans to have 40 new swing moorings placed into Salamander Bay, out from the sea grass. These will be served by a shuttle tender during SPS, and serve as back up for cruisers and holiday makers at other times. It is terrific to see all the State and local government bodies get behind this, as it is a terrific way to boost capacity swiftly and cost effectively", said MacPhail.

If SPS can go out to 160 plus boats it will very much cement its place in the calendar, and remember, this is just week one of the three-week soirée, with Grand Prix racing to come, and then Off The Beach. Being closer to Sydney (and Brisbane for that matter) than other marquee events is a big bonus for many, and no doubt a significant cost saving, as well.

"I actually think that all of this additional support to create that fun environment is what's made it as big as it is and so oversubscribed. This year the new Street Party was inaugurated and based on the smiles all-round from sailors to organisers, vendors to local Council, I think we can say that one has now been added to the repertoire for future years. 3000 attendees speak volumes, as well, and would not have been missed by the stakeholders. I think it's really important that people understand that this event is about yachting, it's about camaraderie, and it's about friendship. It's the social side of the event that we really drove with the event's creators all those years ago and still do today."

The speed hump

There is a bar at the end of the long jetty at a club I have sailed from at a lot, and it's known as the speed hump, for it slows you down before you get the clubhouse proper. MacPhail reflected on the very early days of SPS when the organisers were keen to grow it all. "We said, you've got to get people to stop when they get off their boats and sit and talk to each other. You've got to create an environment where they stop and they want to buy drinks, they want to sit down, reminisce about the day and build relationships."

Given there is no clubhouse per se at Nelson Bay, it requires a lot of effort to coordinate Lessees and make it mutually beneficial. The upshot is, make it work and you get everybody to stop, talk and make friends. They then go back to their clubs and the word spreads. A fun regatta in a great place, and more often than not, the weather brings the brochure images along, as well. Next thing you know, the available berths are the first things to sell out each year.

SPS is available to everybody who goes yachting. There were four clubs from Lake Macquarie, two from Port Hacking, Gosford, Cronulla, Newport, and so it goes on, showing that it was not just the usual suspects. That highlights just how much everyone is welcome. What was also interesting was just how new the fleet was, with every production builder represented, like Beneteau, Jeanneau, Dufour, and so forth, the majority of which lie in the 30 to 50-foot bracket. Indeed, one of the oldest groups would have been the venerable Sydney 38s, of which there were half a dozen or so.

Having a young fleet out there shows just how much people do want to use their craft, and remember, this is a very family focused regatta, and that has to be good the for the future of our sport. The great bulk of the fleet were 2010 or newer, with the next group stemming from the 2000s decade. There was even a brand-new Swan 48 in for the show, as well as some sports boats, like the rocketship '89er', Don't Panic, from dual Olympian, Nicky Bethwaite.

Formula, not formulaic

"SPS is just a fantastic mix of people, it's become such a successful regatta, and we're really very proud to have been involved so intimately for 12 years, I have to say", said MacPhail.

The super-proficient Michaela Claes, Pantaenius' Operations Manager, makes it so with all the added media support they provide through their own channels, all of the prizes throughout the week, and even bolting to the car to get more sunglasses and dry bags when the results find 'extra winners' out of nowhere. She's integral to the Friday night cook up, and no doubt had more than a guiding hand in the street party. Claes was also instrumental in the creation of the Pantaenius Teams Cup, and the Australian Club Championship.

So it is not about the cookie cutter. It is about being immersed, and interactive, and then honing and tailoring as time moves on. Sure, handing out caps, assisting the organisers, and making sure there are prizes on every race day is as crucial as a drink and a snack, but generating big ideas and then delivering upon them is what takes you to the fabled 'next level'.

All I can say is look out, for if capacity can increase, then SPS could well be king, and I remember one icon of the business having that very chat with me when I went to my first SPS in 2010.

OK. There it is. There is so much more on the group's sites for you. Simply use the search field, or 'edition' pull-down menu up the top on the right of the masthead to find it all. Please enjoy your yachting, stay safe, and thanks for tuning into

John Curnow AUS Editor

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