Classic battles loom at Australian IRC Championships

Matt Owen, the CEO of Canberra Yacht Club, doesn’t need many excuses to get out of the chilly capital city in August, and this year the Hamilton Island IRC Australian Championship is the bonus offering at the prestigious annual Hamilton Island Race Week.

Owen had planned to contest the Flying 15 worlds in France instead, but health reasons made Race Week in the Whitsundays a more feasible option for the multiple Australian sailing champion who, along with his Local Hero crew, is a regular top three finisher and 2014 divisional winner. This time the ACT based crew is preparing to have a stab at the smaller boat division of the national title awarded by Yachting Australia to Hamilton Island Yacht Club to conduct from August 15-22, 2015.

Local Hero’s name is already on a Race Week entry list that is climbing towards the 200 boat mark. Owners of eligible boats considering lodging an entry are reminded the deadline is this Saturday, August 1. After then entry will be at the race committee’s discretion. Enter via the official website

Local Hero’s owner Peter Mosely kindly lends his 36-footer out to Owen and the CYC crew each year, saving them the headache of trailering a boat from Lake Burley Griffin to Queensland. Instead, a bunch of CYC sailors keen for offshore experience deliver it from Sydney to Hamilton Island via the Sydney Gold Coast yacht race that wrapped up this week.

Owen anticipates the resumption of a great divisional battle with Andy Kearnan’s Summit 35 L’Altra Donna and Jason Close’s racy Archambault 31 from Melbourne, More Noise. Depending on the final divisional split Owen could also face Roger Hickman’s vintage Wild Rose in its 30th year of competition, and getting better with age.

After a winning streak capped off by the Rolex Sydney Hobart race’s highest honour, an overall win on corrected time, Wild Rose and her crew took a six month sabbatical, only appearing at the NSW IRC titles at Sail Port Stephens in April. Well-rested and keen to wind up again, the crew just finished the Gold Coast race and now head to Airlie Beach then Audi Hamilton Island Race Week to defend their IRC division 3 crown held since April 2014 when Newcastle Cruising Yacht Club hosted the championship series.

“We are definitely keen to defend the title and we’ve done everything we can to prepare, including buying new sails especially for the championship,” Hickman said. “We might have been lucky to get it once; if you can get it twice well… then maybe it’s more than luck.”

Hickman runs through his target list: “We’ve had some good tussles with Local Hero in the past. Justadash is a hot favourite and Robbo Robertson’s Corrobboree is really an unknown. Robbo and I go way back, we are the same vintage. Lots of yachties dream of racing against Robbo and knocking him off. Even if we came fifth and he placed sixth in division, that would be OK,” he jests.

Corrobboree is a Robertson 950 the Sunshine Coast yachting veteran Robbo Robertson built and launched in 1991. After 20 odd years belonging to another owner, Robertson bought his old boat back and did a number on it. “They should take old men’s cheque books away from them, to stop them doing stupid things,” he says humourlessly.

The impending championship has Robertson fired up. “I’m really looking forward to going up there and trying to win. The IRC championship has attracted a very good assortment of yachts and owners. I think the competition could be a bit fierce,” he predicts.

Division lists will be finalised by PRO Denis Thompson once entries close this Saturday, August 1, and published. Robertson has this suggestion for the race committee: “I’d be happy if they put Hicko [Hickman] in a different division.”

Only slightly bigger than Corrobboree is John McDougall’s sporty Melges 32 called Mac 2, to be campaigned by a crew of Etchells sailors from Gosford on the NSW central coast with an average age in the mid-50s.

“We love the event, it gives us the opportunity to sail around the islands and the timing is great for us as it’s just before our season starts,” says the owner’s brother, Andy McDougall. “This will be Mac 2’s third Race Week, we love the weather and the racing is very well run.”

Olympic gold medallist and America’s Cup winning sailor Tom Slingsby will have his celebrity hat on at Audi Hamilton Island Race Week as a guest speaker at various upmarket functions, including the popular Sailor’s Dinner on Monday August 17 at Romano’s. Keeping a much lower profile around the various establishments will be his dad, David, who is mainsheet hand on Mac 2.

The IRC fleet is likely to be broken up into three divisions to contest a mixture of windward/leeward and passage racing around the islands over six days, August 16 to 18 then a layday before the second half, August 20-22, to decide three new Australian IRC champions.

– Lisa Ratcliff

M.O.S.S Australia
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