Sailing with the Smallwoods: Life in the fast lane

 

Sharon and Julian Smallwood enjoy life in the fast-lane (well sort of) when Airlie Beach and Hamilton race weeks come to town. 

The cruising life follows a different agenda to most, but that doesn't deter us from entering into the spirit of competition once in a while. “Two boats is a race,” says Julian, who has been known to “throw everything up” in a bid to be first over the imaginary finish line at an anchorage.

Since arriving in the Whitsundays at the beginning of the month, we've been thoroughly impressed with the buzz surrounding both Meridien Marina's and Hamilton Island's race weeks. The people are smiling, the bars are pumping and the waterways are a spectacular sight with a myriad of sails on the horizon.

We were a little too busy gunkholing around the fabulous anchorages here to catch much of the action of Meridien Airlie Beach Race Week, which officially started on Thursday, August 13. Determined to rectify this we nosed into Hamilton harbour to catch up with some friends who were on the spot. I was intrigued by the bareboats being stripped of dodgers and excess deck gear. When the spinnakers were loaded aboard I realised they would be chartered to race.

On Friday 21st the festivities truly began with the long-awaited opening of the Hamilton Island Yacht Club, described by Qld Premier Anna Bligh as “the Opera House of the north”. We were nowhere to be seen at the accompanying Captain's dinner, having positioned ourselves 12 miles to the south on Lindeman Island. Here we planned to be first on the scene when the fleet appeared for day one's event — the round-Lindeman race.

Northerly winds put us in the perfect place; Plantation Bay on the south coast lies close to the channel between Lindeman and Shaw islands through which the fleet would have to pass.

Saturday August 22nd, 9.45 am — we checked our watches and consulted the race week website. No specific course was given, we could only guess which way the fleet would approach. We figured the unseasonably light winds, coupled with a roaring tide, would make a clockwise course more practical. We were either lucky or right!

Taking our dinghy around the point we spotted the first of the fleet's sails in the distance. The Audi committee boat, Ghost, soon joined us. First to the channel was last year's winner Black Jack, closely followed by Wild Oats X. Next came a mini flotilla of IRC Grand Prix yachts including Wild Joe and the 29m Lahana. From our dinghy we had a true ring-side view as these gentle giants battled with the wind shadow of Shaw Peak. Had the trade winds been blowing at their usual strength the fleet would have passed through in a flash. Instead we were treated to multiple sail changes and an incredible display of tactics as they struggled to maintain momentum. “I want one of those,” said Julian as a massive code-zero headsail flew to the top of Wild Oats' forestay.

In all, we were lucky enough to enjoy at least an hour of front row spectating at what must be one of the world's most prestigious sailing events. Imagine our surprise when back aboard Brilliant II that evening we spotted ourselves on Race Week TV. Go to http://www.hamiltonislandraceweek.com.au/ and watch the video highlights from Day 1, 2009. You might just see someone you know!

* Click on the blog link at the top of the page for Sharon's profile and photo.

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