Hamilton Island IRC Australian Championship: It’s about the journey… and the destination

When Hamilton Island hosts Yachting Australia’s premier IRC Australian Championship in August, the end of series spoils for the top scoring IRC boats in three divisions will go to the new national champions.

Among the current starter’s list are owners realistic about their chances and just looking forward to measuring themselves against a classy IRC line up, and the reward of being part of Audi Hamilton Island Race Week.

A diverse fleet from around the country is set to gather at Hamilton Island from August 15-22. Some entries will leap-frog north to the Whitsundays via a series of feeder coastal races and others will be delivered thousands of nautical miles in cruising mode to then switch to competitive mode for the six day showdown.

Two years ago Ian Box from Middle Harbour Yacht Club was sailing master at Race Week on someone else’s cruising division entry. “I was reminded how lovely it is to be there racing around those islands and I thought it’s time to bring my own boat, an XP-44 called Toy Box 2. The fact it’s the IRC championship is the ideal motivation for my Corinthian crew to take holidays and commit to the program,” Box said.

It mightn’t sound like much but Box has calculated he needs to find a one second per minute improvement to match it with the Sydney boats on handicap, the leveler that allows boats of different sizes and ages compete against each other. “It’s an elusive improvement…we’ll be endeavouring to sail the boat closer to its potential performance by beefing up the sail area. The increase to our rating hopefully doesn’t nullify the gain we are looking for.”

Darwin based John Mulkearns already has his Bavaria 38 Match Game Set sitting at Mackay ready for action. “We seem to perform alright on IRC so with our core crew of Darwin mates we’ve put a team together to give the Australian Championship a shot.”

The Northern Territory’s eight metre tides add another dimension to local racing. “Tides are a big factor here; we are pretty used to factoring them into our game plan. Though we aren’t so used to the Whitsunday patterns we’ve got a pretty good idea of what happens.” 

Game Set has in past won Darwin to Ambon and Darwin to Dili races. “It goes like a rocket ship uphill plus we’ve won a couple of Ambon races, which are generally a reach, and Dili races which are typically downhill, and it’s not a sled. It’s a good comfortable all-rounder with the hot showers and good pressure! It’s really a racing caravan,” Mulkearns admits.

Tasmanian entry Tilt is a recent purchase for Catherine and Peter Cretan.  The couple bought the Marten 49 on a whim six months ago, delivering it from Fremantle to Hobart. The boat left the Derwent River’s wintery waters last week for the slow 1,700 nautical mile delivery north for the Cretans’ first IRC contest. “It’s going to be a lengthy trip up the coast to Newcastle first, then another three weeks to get to Airlie Beach,” says Peter. “The whole thing for us is enjoying the journey up and back. It’s a long way to go for one event otherwise.”

Of the 25 in Tilt’s total group, including a full Tasmanian crew plus partners, 10 or 11 will race and “they are pathetically excited by the whole thing,” Peter adds. “I was at Race Week two years ago and before that on someone’s boat, and had an absolute ball.

“I’ve never raced before under IRC and had to go through the process of getting my handicap. We thought hard about the guidelines for building the crew, which includes the fact that we all have very different experience and skills…and personality traits. Above all, it’s got to be fun for everyone and within the parameters we’ll race as hard as we reasonably can. Realistically we don’t have high expectations of a result.”

All boats entering the IRC category automatically enter the Hamilton Island IRC Australian Championship. Principal Race Officer is weighing up his options for each of the three categories and he’s strongly contemplating a schedule of four windward/leewards and the rest passage races plus one long race for IRC class 1.

So far the Oatley family’s Reichel/Pugh 66 Wild Oats X is the largest Class 1 entry and organisers hope near sistership Alive, Phil Turner’s RP66 out of Tasmania, will join the fray.

Class 2 and 3 can expect a combination of passage plus medium distance races offering crews a variety of courses and scenery while taking into account the likely winds and tidal flow.

Twenty five IRC entries have so far been lodged for the Hamilton Island Yacht Club hosted championship, representing New South Wales, Queensland, Tasmania, Victoria, the Northern Territory and South Australia.

Yachting Australia’s perpetual silverware plus prizes and take home trophies presented by series sponsor Hamilton Island will be awarded to the winning crews at the final Audi Hamilton Island Race Week awards night on Saturday August 22, 2015.

– Lisa Ratcliff

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