The Festival of Sails 179th Melbourne to Geelong Passage Race started under spinnaker with over 200 yachts in a gusty 12-18 knot northerly breeze.
There was a mixed bag of boats making the most of the sensational conditions as they left Williamstown with 50ft monohulls to 24ft multihulls leading the charge towards Geelong in the early stages of the race.
It was the team aboard ‘Extasea’ that navigated the changing wind conditions across Port Phillip Bay best. The Cookson 50 from Royal Geelong Yacht Club took line honours after finishing in under 4 hours.
The Queensland-based Schumacher 54, ‘Maritimo’, was hunting ‘Extasea’ up the channel by minimising gybes with their symmetrical spinnaker. However, Ray Roberts and Michael Spies aboard ‘Maritimo’ ran out of time to close the distance and came home in second place.
Following shortly after was the Reichel/Pugh 40, ‘Chutzpah’ skippered by Bruce Taylor, which finished third fastest across the line.
Despite being a downwind race, the sailors had to make some big tactical decisions in navigating the large marine farm exclusion zone in the middle of the bay, alongside a large drop in wind pressure.
“It was tricky because everyone went to the west side and we went to the east. We were a little bit unsure what was happening, but the breeze came in just in time,” Extasea’s owner, Paul Buchholz explained.
Local knowledge paid dividends for the Geelong based sailor, who skippered his team into Corio Bay in first place. “Corio Bay is fantastic, and it’s my hometown, so it’s always good to come up that channel ahead.”
Buchholz has been competing in the Passage race since 1987. He hasn’t missed a year yet and is looking forward to the festival that comes alongside the racing.
“Part of the deal with this weekend is to catch up with old friends and make new acquaintances as well,” he said.
The south-easterly sea breeze pushed in shortly after the front runners crossed the finish line, which favoured the smaller boats for the IRC overall trophy, as they finished in stronger wind pressure.
‘Antagonist’, from Royal Melbourne Yacht Squadron, skippered by James Lynch, came away with the Lou Abrahams Perpetual IRC Trophy for the 2022 Melbourne to Geelong Passage Race.
Festival Chair, Roger Bennett, was elated with conditions Port Phillip and Corio Bay provided for the sailors to kick off the regatta.
“What a fabulous welcome back for the iconic event,” Bennett shared. “It’s a rare treat for the sailors to sail under spinnaker all the way to Geelong – and what a way to start the weekend.”
“Like many major events, it’s been a roller coaster at getting this event off the ground and it wouldn’t have been possible without the ongoing financial and operational support of the Victorian Government and City of Greater Geelong.”
Plenty more racing is still to come with three more days of racing scheduled, including the Melges 24 National Championship as part of the Festival of Sails.
Lisa Darmanin/Festival of Sails