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Hamilton Island Race Week Reviewed

29/08/2018


Sail-World NZ e-magazine - August 29 - Hamilton Island Race Week

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Wild Oats XI, Hamilton Island Race Week - photo © Craig Greenhill / Salty Dingo/Hamilton Island Yacht Club


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Welcome to Sail-World.com's New Zealand e-magazine for August 29, 2018

Hamilton Island Race Week is the largest offshore regatta in the Southern Hemisphere. This year's event attracted 233 entries from sports boats to supermaxis, racing around courses set among the 74 island jewels in the Whitsunday crown.

It's spectacular to the point of being surreal.

The water is aqua blue - like Bermuda. The air temperature pleasantly in the mid-twenties without high humidity. The breeze was multi-directional and always sufficient for sailing - except on the fortuitously scheduled mid-regatta layday.

Located 500nm north of Brisbane in the Coral Sea, the Whitsundays are unchanged since their time of discovery by Captain Cook in 1770, after he visited New Zealand's Bay of islands in 1769.

The Whitsundays are a pristine area for yacht racing with 74 islands in the group - photo © Craig Greenhill / Salty Dingo/Hamilton Island Yacht Club
The Whitsundays are a pristine area for yacht racing with 74 islands in the group - photo © Craig Greenhill / Salty Dingo/Hamilton Island Yacht Club

Comprising 74 islands, 68 of which are uninhabited, the Whitsundays are a pristine location - similar to New Zealand's Fjordland - also visited by Captain Cook three years later in 1773.

With that many islands, regatta organisers have an almost unlimited choice of course options - they published over 40 in the official program and added another three during the week.

Ashore, the facilities are understated, functional and very classy - as would be expected of an area developed by sailors for sailors.

The Oatley family have done a superb job of finishing the project started by Keith Williams in 1975, investing over $500million. A dirt airstrip was upgraded to take twin-engined jets. There is plenty of accommodation ranging from beachside to the 19 floor Reef View hotel.

The futuristic Hamilton Island Yacht Club - with its whale tail roof - photo © Kurt Arrigo/Hamilton Island Yacht Club
The futuristic Hamilton Island Yacht Club - with its whale tail roof - photo © Kurt Arrigo/Hamilton Island Yacht Club

You can be at the yacht club or your accommodation with five minutes of exiting the airport terminal.

A newly renovated Conference Centre reopened for this week's Hamilton Island Race Week and hosted the biggest prizegiving we've ever attended. It was packed to the gunnels.

With Rugby's Bledisloe Cup clashing with the start of the evening, the Australians were all early to arrive - while the Kiwis trickled in just before the first course was served - and with silly smirks on their faces.

You go everywhere on Hamilton Island by golf cart, which is a lot less lethal form of transport than the motor scooters and mad driving of Bermuda. Ashore it is much more relaxed without the cars - and even with golf cart speed limited to 20km/hr - you can get anywhere in five minutes or so.

The Hamilton Island Yacht Club features the bow of Wild Oats XI with the stern protruding opposite on the inside - photo © Craig Greenhill / Salty Dingo/Hamilton Island Yacht Club
The Hamilton Island Yacht Club features the bow of Wild Oats XI with the stern protruding opposite on the inside - photo © Craig Greenhill / Salty Dingo/Hamilton Island Yacht Club

On the water, it feels the same as Cowes Week on the Isle of Wight - an eclectic mix of yachts from sports boats to production cruiser racers, IRC, 40fters, TP52's and supermaxis, with a few varieties in between.

Ashore, Hamilton Island doesn't have the history and tradition of Cowes, but it is a facility designed by sailors for sailors - and functions superbly. The Oatley family, their advisers and Hamilton Island CEO, three times Laser World champion, Glenn Bourke have got the balance just right.

Whale wave in Whitsunday Passage - Hamilton Island Race Week 2018 - photo © Crosbie Lorimer
Whale wave in Whitsunday Passage - Hamilton Island Race Week 2018 - photo © Crosbie Lorimer
But Hamilton Island does have something that Cowes does not - whales - and lots of them.

Nic Douglass whose reports from around the world feature frequently in Sail-World, was able to achieve a regatta-goal of capturing a image of a whale's fluke every day on the water. Mostly they are moving through on pairs - a mother and calf - usually heading south.

The event is proud of the fact that they were one of the first to reintroduce multihull racing - which started with four boats when they first raced with the monohull fleet in 2012.

Hamilton Island Race Week 2018 - Multihull Div 1 Ave Gitana - photo © Crosbie Lorimer
Hamilton Island Race Week 2018 - Multihull Div 1 Ave Gitana - photo © Crosbie Lorimer

This year there were 44 multihulls - of varying hues - from the Sharon Ferris-Choat skippered Ave Gitana - along with an all-female crew - to the luxury million dollar cruising catamarans - which had a surprisingly good racing performance.

Starts and finishes are generally off the futuristic Hamilton Island Yacht Club, which like everything else on the island is a stunning and very functional piece of design/architecture - inside and out.

Hamilton Island Race Week started after a group of friends were shooting the breeze at the '83 America's Cup in Newport RI.

35 years on, Hamilton Island Race Week is the regatta you study closely to learn how these events should be run.

Like match racing's Congressional Cup which has been around for 20 years longer than Hamilton Island Race Week, this event has kept its character, doesn't rest on its laurels and always looks to improve.

Evening function - Hamilton Island Yacht Club - photo © Craig Greenhill / Salty Dingo/Hamilton Island Yacht Club
Evening function - Hamilton Island Yacht Club - photo © Craig Greenhill / Salty Dingo/Hamilton Island Yacht Club

The challenge for organisers is to keep improving the regatta without losing the gains already made. The temptation is to amp up the racing for Divisions 1-3 at the risk losing the body of the fleet.

This year's regatta was even more remarkable for the lack of a naming rights sponsor. Instead, the regatta was supported by the Oatley family plus two panels of Premium Partners and Event Partners.

Coming back to the marina on the final day we did a quick assessment on the regatta and venue. It was hard to rate it less than a ten on any aspect - except maybe the weather which would always get an eight score, as there is no such thing as perfect weather.

Hamilton Island reflects a sailing ambience - photo © Kurt Arrigo/Hamilton Island Yacht Club
Hamilton Island reflects a sailing ambience - photo © Kurt Arrigo/Hamilton Island Yacht Club

In previous years, when the event took place in April, the wags renamed the Whitsundays as the Wetsundays, with the event being re-titled Hamilton Island Rain Week. This year there was hardly a spot of rain and mostly plenty of sun and blue skies. It's a venue in which it is hard to take a bad photo.

The supermaxi's were the highlight of the week. For Sydneysiders, with four or so supermaxis in the harbour, they might seem a bit old hat. Pre-regatta the expectation was that racing with just two supermaxis would be a bit of a procession, but that was far from the case.

Black Jack had the edge in the light, Wild Oats XI held the upper hand in the breeze, and there was a big crossover in between.

Hooligan, Hamilton Island Race Week  - photo © Craig Greenhill / Salty Dingo/Hamilton Island Yacht Club
Hooligan, Hamilton Island Race Week - photo © Craig Greenhill / Salty Dingo/Hamilton Island Yacht Club

In the final race of the regatta over a 30nm windward leeward course, the two were never more than 100metres apart - which is nothing in supermaxi terms.

That, of course, begged the question as to how 100ftrs would look in the America's Cup?

The answer is very well. Their big sail areas look awesomely powerful, and the boats look as fast on the screen as they do on the water. Plus they have the majestic presence that only big yachts can achieve. Their wipeouts are as impressive as a thunderstorm - and make as much noise.

Mis Scarlet runs the Long Island shore - Hamilton Island Race Week 2018 - photo © Crosbie Lorimer
Miss Scarlet runs the Long Island shore - Hamilton Island Race Week 2018 - photo © Crosbie Lorimer

Four or five supermaxis would have been superb and really made for a top international interest event.

As mentioned the Hamilton Island Race Week compares well with Cowes Week, especially what used to be the Admirals Cup, which was sailed over a series of offshore courses (plus a few inshore using laid marks) - with countries entering teams of three boats. It is very challenging, absorbing racing in which it doesn't pay to look at the big picture - just make sure you are first to the next mark, by whatever route.

America's Cup skipper and double Olympic Gold Medalist, Iain Percy raced as tactician aboard the supermaxi Black Jack. Always sharply-focused you know that when you see Percy's distinctive figure on the helm or just alongside it, that they are playing for keeps. Sailors like Percy don't know how to do it any other way.

Double Olympic Gold Medallist - Iain Percy (GBR) calling the shots aboard Black Jack - Hamilton Island Race Week - Day 2 - photo © Richard Gladwell
Double Olympic Gold Medallist - Iain Percy (GBR) calling the shots aboard Black Jack - Hamilton Island Race Week - Day 2 - photo © Richard Gladwell

"I'm used to going around marks and not islands," he said. "So there is a bit of a trade-off. The marks are easier, but the islands are far more beautiful, that's for sure.

"Having to avoid whales and all the tidal issues has been a totally new experience and a wonderful one. It has been very new for me, and we have a great bunch of people on board and we're enjoying ourselves a lot on Black Jack.

"Like any time you are doing something new, it's great fun. But when you are sailing around those stunning tropical islands, it ticks all the boxes."

For the rest of this story click here

Wild Oats XI broaches soon after the start - Hamilton Island Island Race Week - Day 6  - photo © Richard Gladwell
Wild Oats XI broaches soon after the start - Hamilton Island Island Race Week - Day 6 - photo © Richard Gladwell

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Good sailing!

Richard Gladwell
NZ Editor

 
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Alive - Start - Div 1 - Hamilton Island Race Week - Day 6 - photo © Richard Gladwell
Alive - Start - Div 1 - Hamilton Island Race Week - Day 6 - photo © Richard Gladwell

 
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Racing multihulls - Leg 1 -Hamilton Island Race Week - Day 5 - photo © Richard Gladwell
Racing multihulls - Leg 1 -Hamilton Island Race Week - Day 5 - photo © Richard Gladwell

 
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Hamilton Island Race Week - Day 4 - photo © Richard Gladwell
Hamilton Island Race Week - Day 4 - photo © Richard Gladwell

 
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Hamilton Island Race Week - Day 4 - photo © Richard Gladwell
Hamilton Island Race Week - Day 4 - photo © Richard Gladwell

 
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Lighthouse on Dent Island - Hamilton Island Race Week - Day 6 - photo © Richard Gladwell
Lighthouse on Dent Island - Hamilton Island Race Week - Day 6 - photo © Richard Gladwell



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