Production boats and fast racers all queuing up for Festival of Sails

A classy rating series fleet is taking shape for Victoria’s longest running annual sporting event, the Festival of Sails regatta January 17-26, 2015. The fabric of IRC racing in Australia has altered in the last couple of years, particularly at the top end. There’s more choice when it comes to one design versus handicap rated series and midsize family friendly production boats are proving popular as well as competitive on IRC results.

Despite the fluctuating landscape, Geelong’s annual Festival, over the Australia Day long weekend, is netting the interest of a good mix of owners from the always well-represented Beneteaus to Rob Hanna’s TP52 Shogun and the current Audi IRC Australian class B champion, Bob Cox’s DK46 Nine Dragons out of Sydney.

In August, well-known offshore yachtsman Ray Roberts bought back into the Australian scene after a long period campaigning only in Asia. He took the former Victorian Farr 55 Living Doll off Michael Hiatt’s hands, optimised it and rejoined the bluewater fleet out of Sydney with the renamed OneSails Racing.

The boat has a strong pedigree at Geelong, as does Roberts who says he’s excited about bringing it to the Festival with an international crew from Australia, the Netherlands and Sweden. “I’ve signed up to do the Festival of Sails again; I’ve been there three times before with other boats and won it twice. The series always attracts some of Australia’s best boats.

“I always like going to Melbourne in January,” Roberts elaborated. “There’s a sense of excitement with the Australian Open on, the weather is fantastic and the sailing is great. At Geelong there’s plenty to do with all the waterfront activities and food stalls. Then, if you can get some time off you can go down to the vineyards or down the coast to the great surfing beaches like Bells.”

Royal Geelong Yacht Club local Rob Hanna’s Shogun, has a noteworthy record at the regatta, highlighted in 2013 when Hanna and his crew swept to victory in the 2013 IRC Australian Championship run concurrently to the Festival that year. Shogun is racing out of Sydney at the moment and is set to join the Club Marine Pittwater to Coffs fleet on January 2, 2015 heading north and then doubling back and making for Geelong with the aim of keeping the class A title in the host state’s grip.

The field is wide open for the 50 footers in terms of pre-regatta Festival of Sails handicap favourites. The TP52s that repeatedly headlined at the major IRC tournaments over the past two years, in particular Karl Kwok’s Team Beau Geste and Marcus Blackmore’s Hooligan, have moved on to overseas owners.

Reigning IRC Australian class B champion, Bob Cox’s DK46 Nine Dragons, is another prominent Festival draw card along with Phil Coombs’ HH42 Simply Fun and Nicholas Bartels’ well campaigned Cookson 50 called Terra Firma.

“The Festival is something we enter most years,” says Coombs, a former Yachting Victoria President and Yachting Australia board member. “It’s probably the only time and environment where the predominant Victorian yachting community get together once a year to race and socialise. The interstaters are a bonus.”

On his 12 month old boat he adds, “A year in and we are happy with the boat, it’s very offshore capable and can win on any day around the cans if it’s sailed well enough. Our main thrust this year is the Sydney to Hobart race.”

Coombs’ Hobart lead-in was thrown into shambles two weeks ago when Simply Fun became tangled up in a port/starboard incident with another club racer. It’s been on the hardstand at Sandringham Yacht Club undergoing repairs and is due to be re-launched on Friday then set sail for Sydney on Saturday. “We’ve had a bit on,” the skipper admits.

Two previous Audi IRC Australian Champions, Bruce McCraken’s Beneteau 45 First called Ikon (class B champion, 2013) and Grant Botica’s Adams 10 Executive Decision (class C champion, 2013) have signed up for the 2015 Festival of Sails.

So emphatic was Botica’s win that two more Adams 10s are registered for the Rating Series incorporating the Victorian IRC and AMS championships beginning Friday January 23 with the traditional Melbourne to Geelong passage race followed by three days of racing through to the public holiday Australia Day on Monday January 26.

Festival Principal Race Officer Denis Thompson says, “The rating series fleet is a building nicely as is the new cruiser/racer division designed for the more racing style boats rather than the all-out cruisers. This division will be scored under AMS and performance handicap, and it’s attracting plenty of interest.”

Thompson is seeing similar trends relating to the flow of Festival entries which are “currently on par with this time last year at 180”. Organisers expect a combined fleet of 300 spread across racing, cruising, sports and one design boats, S80s, Sydney 38s and multihulls.

Early bird entry has closed. The next entry round closes on Friday January 9, 2015 and late entries may be accepted by the race committee up until Friday January 16.

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Lisa Ratcliff – Festival of Sails Media

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