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Wet and wild end to huge Sail Port Stephens regatta

by Mark Rothfield 5 May 23:34 PDT 3-5 May 2024
Sail Port Stephens Bay Series Day 1 - J70 fleet and Black Betty © Promocean Media

Sail Port Stephens 2024 has wrapped up after 11 huge days of sailing, spanning three weeks and involving 215 boats. It culminated yesterday with the inshore Bay Series comprising J70s, sports boats and off-the-beach classes.

Racing began on Friday for the J70s, which included TP52 luminaries Sam Haynes (Celestial) and David Doherty (Matador) who'd contested the Sail Port Stephens NSW Yachting Championships and TP52 Gold Cup the prior weekend.

The Australian Sports Boat Association (ASBA) was also competing for its NSW titles, with three windward-leewards being completed in the 8-knot sou'easter under surprisingly bright skies. Malcolm Dean stepped off the TP52 Frantic to helm his Shaw 650 Black Betty to three wins in the sports boats, while Celestial finished the opening salvo on 4pts, two ahead of Matador.

Joining them on Saturday were 65 dinghies, representing the Finns, RS Aeros and OK dinghies along with a mixed fleet of International Canoes, B14s, 5o5s, scow Moths and more.

Only one race could be sailed as the wind petered out, Matt Viser leading the Finns, Justin Bakker the RS Aeros and Kevin Holdt the OKs. Dean extended his lead, while Matador pulled a point back on Celestial with a brilliant win in fading airs.

Sunday's conditions were in complete contrast, bringing ample wind and lashing rain to test the mettle but also providing memorable rides. Tim Peachey's Leech 650 The Cube got out of shape on a run, showing its keel to the world before righting itself.

In the final wash-up, no pun intended, Sam Haynes edged out David Doherty by a solitary point, with Southport's Gary Holt third.

"I really enjoy sailing both the TPs and the J70s," Haynes said. "My TP is set up more for ocean racing and I've been doing quite a lot of the one-design J70 ahead of travelling to the European Championships with a Corinthian team.

"We're then doing the Corinthian Worlds, so it's good to get back into the class before that campaign. It was a really testing regatta but we performed pretty well and just managed to hold on against Matador. Nine boats is a good fleet and I think this is a great venue."

Gary Holt was one of three sailors to complete every race of the three-part regatta, after buying a J70 immediately after the Windward-Leeward series to extend his stay.

"I'd been thinking about a J70 program and [yacht manager] Mitch White found me one that wasn't officially for sale," Holt explained. "Then I found out the J70s were coming to Sail Port Stephens, so I said to Mitch 'we'll buy it now'!"

Holt had skiff and 49er ace Harry Price among his crew, along with Harry Miller and Jack Acton.

"I've had a great time here, except for today - I've never been so cold in my life - but I never expected to be on the podium in my first series. I bought the boat to qualify for the world championships in Argentina in 2025; we're also doing the Long Beach regatta in June."

Malcolm clocked another ASBA state title with consistent sailing in the cross-section of conditions.

"Today was pretty tough as we couldn't even see the top mark because of the visibility, but the boat's going well. We've done a fair bit of work on sails with East Coast Marine and Sail, and we pretty much went the right way for most of this regatta."

Yardstick results in the RS Aeros saw the gong going to former world champion and Olympic 49er sailor Ben Austin, with a perfect scorecard in yesterday's challenging conditions. Now competing at Georges River Sailing Club, he held off Justin Bakker and Gary Ratcliffe.

Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club's Ian McKillip, sailing Ken, claimed the Finn division from Marcus Whitley of Woollahra Sailing Club and RPAYC's Chris Links, ahead of a strong inter-state contingent.

Toxic, helmed by Paul Foster from Wangi Amateur Sailing Club, prevailed in the OKs, beating fellow Lake Macquarie boats Two Cents (Mark Skelton) and Going Left (Lachlan Hornsby), while Craig Phillips piloted the canoe Black Pearl to win the Mixed.

Dates for the 2025 Sail Port Stephens have been announced, with the Passage Series running March 31-April 5, the Windward-Leeward Series 25-27 April and the Bay Series 2-4 May.

Event website: www.sailportstephens.com.au.

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