Hamilton Island Race Week’s second largest fleet since inauguration has 233 boat crews itching to get off the dock and into forecast trade winds; at least for the first three days of the annual Whitsunday series, August 18 – 25.
Regatta Director, Denis Thompson, expects 10-14 knot sou’east trade winds on Sunday will strengthen into Monday, possibly 20 up to 25 knots, then it’s likely winds will ease.
To reach the second highest fleet size Thompson accepted two late entries, one from an owner who did everything to get his boat to Hamilton Island bar remembering to submit his entry paperwork, and the second from crew part-way into a world cruise who decided to join the action.
Saturday evening’s function and fireworks at Hamilton Island Yacht Club heralds the opening of the 35th edition leading into six days of racing for more than 2,000 sailors from all walks of life – carpenters, CEOs, chartered accountants, kids and the odd canine.
Competition begins on Sunday August 19 and is split into two halves by Wednesday’s layday, a chance to enjoy one of the featured social events ashore or cruise to the award-winning Whitehaven Beach for a swim and wind-down before stage two commences.
The fleet is as diverse in size as origin. Every Australian state plus the ACT is represented, and encouragingly, New Zealand has fielded four top-shelf entries. Two of those, Race Week debutant Ave Gitana (Sharon Ferris-Choat) and William Goodfellow’s Miss Scarlett, continued their journey westwards following the Groupama Race around New Caledonia back in June.
Dougall Love’s weapon, the Rapido 60 multihull called Romanza, is another Kiwi entry and Race Week first-timer at the premier winter regatta. Across other teams, NZ sailing know-how will be imparted via talented individuals such as Ed Smyth from the Extreme Sailing Series, just one of Marcus Blackmore’s sailing celebrity line-up on Hooligan.
Blackmore’s TP52 narrowly placed second to Matt Allen’s TP52 Ichi Ban at the preceding Airlie Beach Race Week, but the result could have gone either way, according to both crews. Heavyweight tactician Tom Slingsby, fresh from his Finn world championship bid in Denmark, is joining Hooligan’s crew, as is Stacey Jackson who is still coming down off the high of completing her second Volvo Ocean Race.
Almost half the total number of entrants makes up the popular Hamilton Island Class designed for cruiser/racer yachts. “The cruising fleet has been quite dynamic at Airlie Beach across a range of conditions this week and a few are well-tuned for Hamilton Island,” Thompson commented.
The sparring session between the two largest in the fleet, 100-foot super maxis Wild Oats XI (the Oatley family) and Black Jack (Peter Harburg) will go another round as the pair makes their Rolex Sydney Hobart intentions clear.
Categories will be split into smaller divisions so similar size and handicap rated boats compete on the same patch of water. This means up to 15 divisions will fan out from Hamilton Island for daily passage races around the Whitsunday islands, the nursery for Humpback whales and their calves. Tuesday is earmarked for the Club Marine medium and long-distance race.
Hamilton Island Race Week in 2016 drew a record 252 entries.
Lisa Ratcliff/HIRW media