Pantaenius Newport to Coffs Race – not everyone beats south at Christmas

The Pantaenius Newport to Coffs Coast Yacht Race has returned to its traditional start date of December 27 – the day after the ‘big’ race, the Rolex Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race, gets underway and boats beat south to Hobart.

This is a great time of the year between Christmas and New Year when yacht racing is at the forefront of most people’s mind. In its 72 year history the Rolex Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race has become an icon of Australia’s summer sport, ranking in public interest with such national events as the Melbourne Cup, the Australian Open tennis and the Boxing Day cricket test. This amazing event attracts huge media cover from around the world.

Not as well know but still one of Australia’s major ocean sailing events at this time of year is the race better known as the ‘Coffs Race’ (#CoffsRace2017). Now with the support of global yacht insurance company Pantaenius as major sponsor this race is returning to its traditional start date on December 27. Under the new stewardship of the Royal Motor Yacht Club and in association with The Coffs Harbour Yacht Club these partners are looking forward to running the 37th edition of this race.

For owners, skippers and crews who are not playing in the big league of the Sydney to Hobart or who don’t have the time to mount a huge sailing campaign, the Coffs Race is the one to enter over the Xmas break. Boats big and small will gather in Pittwater jostling for a good position to cross the start line between Lion Island and Barenjoey Headland at 1pm and then once outside the Pittwater will head north and race up the coast to Coffs Harbour.

The Coffs race was started 37 years ago by long time ocean racer Max Tumbridge who has now retired to Port Macquarie. Max started something that is still going strong today. In recognition of his energy and commitment to the race Max has been awarded the title of Patron of the Coffs Yacht Race and will be on hand at Coffs Harbour to welcome in the fleet.

Max says, “in the beginning the race was designed for ‘quarter tonners’ with four crew and ‘half tonner’ racing boats with five crew which were the lead type of race boat at the time. Over time these types of boats were superseded but the newcomers to the race added an extra dimension and kept pushing the boundaries and challenging the technology of ocean racing”

This 230 nautical mile race is a tactical race. Often called the ‘rock hop’, crews must contend with both head or tail winds and the strong southerly set. Unlike the Sydney to Hobart boats Coffs racers have to pick there distance off, minimise their exposure to the current, especially in bumpy conditions with wind against tide. They will ‘rock hop’ between the headlands in a zig-zag track up the coast. Knowing the inshore back eddies and harnessing the wind shifts particularly the off-shore north westerlies at night are all part of the tactician’s skills required to win this race.

Co-owners Michael McDonald and John Lattimore have entered their boat again in the Coffs Race. Michael describes his boat Stampede as a downhill flyer. Stampede is an Inglis 39 designed by Jim Inglis and built by Gary Saxby. The owners have raced Stampede extensively over the last four years. They race out of Lake Macquarie on Saturdays and Wednesdays out of RMYC Toronto. They are also members of Newcastle Yacht Club. This year the pair are hoping for a southerly wind, as the last Coffs race was a headwind which was a real challenge for Stampede combined with the southerly set.

Michael loves the Coffs race, as it is a great navigational challenge. Logistically it also really suits him. “It is the right time of year when crew have time off work and it is not hard to get back home if you have to turn about or stay-on for the New Year festivities in Coffs Harbour”.

After rounding Smoky Cape and Nambuccca Headland and dodging the outlying islet the racing boats arrive at the beautiful and secluded Coffs Harbour. After the devastation caused by the cyclone of 2016, the harbour at Coffs has been rebuilt and the locals are keen to welcome back the fleet.

Rob Brown Race Directors says, “The Sydney to Hobart is a fantastic race and many sailors dream to be part of it. But for those who are only dreaming, or are limited by time constraints the Coffs Race is a fabulous alternative – a short quick tactical race, heading north – that ends at a great destination”.  

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