How did the Clipper Cup get from Hawaii to Port Douglas?

Clipper Cup
Clipper Cup

The Clipper Cup was once contested on the waters of Hawaii. Now it's the prized trophy at Port Douglas Race Week in Far North Queensland. How did this valuable lump of silverware make such a journey? 

The yacht race that would create the name Clipper Cup originally began in 1972 when members of the Waikiki Yacht Club created a 755-mile “fun race” to “race the winds of paradise”. It was to be an annual summer race around the major islands of the island state of Hawaii. Local sailors and visiting yachts competing in the biennial Transpac or Vic-Maui races were invited to attend.

By the sixth “Around the State Race” in 1976, interest in it had noticeably faded and there was talk of disbanding it entirely. Yet a few WYC members were not ready to give up on what they knew was a good idea. Through their efforts, the race was transformed into a biennial series of races that attracted yachtsmen from around the world, and, with sponsorship assistance from Pan American Airlines, the Clipper Cup Yacht Series was born.

Pan Am was the principal US international air carrier from the late 1920s until its collapse in 1991. The airline was identified by its blue globe logo and the use of the word “Clipper” in aircraft names and call signs.  For example on December 21, 1988 Pan Am Flight 103 from London to New York blown up as it flew over Lockerbie in Scotland was named Clipper Maid of the Seas. The term Clipper was also used by Pan Am at this time for its business class called “Clipper Class” the “Clipper in-flight magazine” and its “Clipper lounge” at airports. The term was chosen by Pan Am as it is synonymous with global travel at great speed.

During the following four events, through 1984, the Clipper Cup series grew in popularity and international stature. The fleet expanded from 41 yachts to a record 78 entries representing Australia, Bermuda, Canada, Hong Kong, Japan, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the U.S.

Australia won the trophy twice, in 1978 (Marshall Phillips Big Shot, Tom Stephenson Magic Pudding and Syd Fischer Ragamuffin) and 1980 (Syd Fisher Ragamuffin, Marshall Phillips Sweet Caroline and Lou Abrahams Challenge).

Then, once again, the future of international offshore racing in Hawaii was threatened. Pan Am dropped Hawaii from its overseas routes and ceased its promotional activities in the Islands. The race series was revived under new sponsorship as the Kenwood Cup and the name “Clipper Cup” passed into the pages of history.

After a transaction for which there are few details, Dick Gooch brought the original Clipper Cup to Australia and it sat in storage at the CYCA in Rushcutters Bay for some years before being donated to Cairns Yacht Club in 1994 or 1995. Legend has it that the event sponsor that year, Mirage Resorts, purchased the trophy for $1.00 (there are no details from whom it was bought) to make sure it remained in Port Douglas. They then donated it to the club.

In 1995 the inaugural Mirage Resorts Clipper Cup attracted 44 entries from as far afield as PNG, New Zealand, Victoria and New South Wales. The seven race series commenced with the first three races staged by Cairns Yacht Club with the fourth being a 40nm passage from Cairns to Port Douglas followed by three further races staged by Port Douglas Yacht Club.

Billed as “Fun in the Tropical Sun” the first regatta was held in late spring as the usual south easterly trade winds mixed with the on set of the summer sea breeze. The honours went to the five week old Bashford/Howison 41 'Australia Challenge 2000' of Wayne Miller followed by Chris Packer's 'Thai Airways' and 'Bartercard Morning Mist'.

The first Port Douglas Carnivale in May 1994 was originally a concept conceived by Mike Burgess of Quicksilver Connections and Moss Hunt from Silky Oaks to stage a seven day yacht race from Port Douglas to Lizard Island with a Carnivale to be held in Port Douglas to celebrate the start of the yacht race. Because the winds at that time of the year were not conducive to racing north the yacht race didn’t eventuate but the concept of Carnivale has taken off to be a huge annual event. Yacht racing has become an integral part of the ongoing Carnivales and in 1999 the Mirage Resorts Regatta was moved to the week before Carnivale to expand the activities. From 2000 on the Clipper Cup run by Port Douglas Yacht Club has been a major event each year conducted over the two weekends of the Carnivale.

In 2012 the decision was finally made to re-introduce multiple divisions only this time each winner in each division would be recognised on the trophy. Twenty-three yachts contested the 2012 regatta and after several years of dwindling numbers it appears the tide is finally turning for the historic trophy and the races that determine the next names to grace her pedestal.

Today the trophy sits proudly on display at Port Douglas Yacht Club and is the trophy for the region's premier sailing event.

Entries are now open for the 2015 Micky Ink Port Douglas Race Week, from May 25 to 29, with the magnificent Clipper Cup as the major prize. For more details go to the Port Douglas Yacht Club website here.

– PDYC/Mick Gwilliams

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