• Ben Stoner's "Weene" sailing on Sydney Harbour.  Photo: Andrea Francolini.
    Ben Stoner's "Weene" sailing on Sydney Harbour. Photo: Andrea Francolini.
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This Thursday’s 176th Australia Day Regatta on Sydney Harbour will be a showcase of more than a century of Australian yacht design and construction, as well as a near century of development by Sydney’s iconic 18-foot skiffs.

More than 140 sailing craft including state-of-the-art ocean racing yachts, harbour racing keelboats, classic yachts, many gaff-rigged, along with state-of-the-art modern 18-footers and replicas of the skiffs that raced on the harbour early last century, have entered the regatta with racing on the harbour and offshore.

The 176th Australia Day Regatta is the oldest continuously-conducted sailing regatta in the world. First held in 1837 to celebrate the founding of the Colony of New South Wales, it has been held every year since, including through times of war, with Sydney Harbour today the centre of celebrations of Australia Day throughout the Commonwealth of Australia.

The Australia Day Regatta Inc management committee, headed by John Jeremy, organises the regatta, with three Sydney Harbour clubs whose own history dates back to the 19th century, Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron, Sydney Flying Squadron and Sydney Amateur Sailing Club, still involved in the on-water conduct of the regatta. Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron this year is celebrating 150 years of conducting yacht racing on Sydney Harbour, the Sydney Flying Squadron began running skiff races in 1891, while ‘The Amateurs”, as it is fondly known, has officially existed since 1872.

The 2012 Regatta will comprise the traditional Sydney Harbour races, a short ocean race to Botany Bay and return, as well as keelboat and off-the-beach regattas on the Parramatta and Lane Cove Rivers, on Pittwater, Botany Bay, Lake Macquarie, and Lake Illawarra and at Port Hacking and Gosford, more than 600 boats are expected to take part in New South Wales.

There is also a link with another traditional regatta, the Australia Day Sandy Bay Regatta on the Hobart’s River Derwent, first held in 1849. Australia Day Regatta medallions will be presented to dinghy class winners at the Sandy Bay Regatta.

In a further connection to early sailing on the Derwent, among the entries in the Classic Yachts division of the 176th Australia Day Regatta is Weene, a Tasmanian One Design yacht launched in Hobart 101 years ago and still racing competitively.

Weene is the oldest boat among the fleet of more than 30 yachts in the Classics division, among the line-up being the 1966 Sydney Hobart winner Fidelis and other former ocean racers Anitra IV and Mister Christian.

The Classics also includes the gaff-rigged sloop Ranger whose octogenarian skipper Bill Gale has sailed in every Australia Day Regatta since he was a young lad.

At the modern end of yacht design are the recently launched, state-of-the-art ocean racers, Ed Psaltis’ Ker 40 AFR Midnight Rambler and Warwick Sherman’s Occasional Coarse Language, heading a fleet of nearly 30 boats entered for the City of Sydney Sesquicentenary Cup as part of the Grant Thornton Short Ocean Point Score. Among these and other yachts that contested the bluewater classic, the recent Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, is the Corby 49 Vamp, skippered by Cruising Yacht Club of Australia commodore Garry Linacre.

The SOPS fleet, together with another 26 boats entered for the Grant Thornton Short Haul Series, will set sail from Sydney Harbour at 11am, with the return leg retracing the short voyage of the First Fleet on from Botany Bay to Port Jackson on Australia Day 1788 to found the colony that was to become the Commonwealth of Australia.

Heading the 176th Australia Day Regatta fleet racing on the Harbour will be the 60-footer Sydney, owned by Regatta president Charles Curran, with the yacht being skippered by David Kellett, treasurer and executive member of the International Sailing Federation.

As president, Curran will be entertaining special guests aboard HMAS Sydney which as Flagship is maintaining the strong link between the Australia Day Regatta and the Australian Defence Forces, with the Royal Australian Air Force and the Royal Australia Army also participating in events in the air and ashore.

Racing on the Harbour for more than 90 keelboats, a dozen or so modern 18-footers and seven historic skiffs will start from a line near the flagship, with the warning signal at 1.15pm. Division 1 of the Classic Yachts will head off first on a course around fixed harbour marks. The finish line will be in a similar position near the Flagship.

 - Peter Campbell

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