Tight TP52 competition at Hamilton Island Race Week

CYCA Rear Commodore and TP52 Zen crew member, Tom Barker, experienced a full-circle moment as he lifted his two-year-old daughter Bella onto his shoulders during the post-race presentation area on lay day eve at the Australian Yachting Championships at Hamilton Island Race Week (HIRW) 2022.

“To me, this year on a personal note is quite special,” Barker said, as the crowd around us celebrated the end of three action-packed days.

“I’ve brought my daughter Bella [to Hamilton Island] for the first time. My parents first brought me here when I was her age and we did many, many years of racing in the cruising division and other divisions, so it’s kind of cool to have my daughter here now.”

Barker, 38, was born and raised in Gladstone in Central Queensland before he moved to Sydney. He is the offside trimmer on Gordon Ketelbey’s TP52 Zen when he’s not in the role of navigator. He said he was stoked to be back at HIRW following the Covid-19 imposed two-year hiatus.

“I’ve been here [for sailing] a dozen times at least. After missing the last two years, it’s so good to be back. It’s some of the best sailing in the world,” Barker said.

He’s not the only one who’s excited. An impressive 200-plus yachts, across a number of divisions, are competing in the event in the crystal-clear waters on the fringe of the Great Barrier Reef.

Tuesday’s light-to-moderate south-easterly winds created milder conditions compared to the first two days of fresh southerly winds. The seven TP52s taking part in the Australian Yachting Championships made their way around the 25 nautical mile course in “gorgeous sunshine, warm wind and warm water.”

The course took the fleet around a cluster of vivid green islands that are part of the Whitsunday Islands.

David Doherty’s Matador thrived in Tuesday’s lighter conditions, to come first in IRC Division 1. This puts Matador in hot contention for the overall lead, sitting one-point behind Max Klink’s Caro (SUI).

Matador’s mainsheet trimmer, Damian Abbott, said it was a perfect race in terms of manoeuvres and tactical decisions.

“Today our success was no mistakes, nothing went wrong and there were a lot of gains in that. It was fantastic,” Abbott said.

Unlike Barker, this is Abbott and Doherty’s first HIRW. Unfortunately, Doherty has been unable to make the first three days of racing due to illness, so Matador has had different crew taking hold of the helm. But Doherty will be back on Thursday and looks forward to joining to crew for remaining three days of racing.

“David Doherty is doing phenomenally well,” Terry Wetton, a founding member of the Australian TP52 Sailing Association said. “He’s brand new into the class – he had his first season last year. He’s got a hot young crew and their sailing is amazing on both TPR and IRC [in many regattas].”

Matador’s build is more suited to lighter conditions, but that won’t stop the crew from having a red-hot go at winning the event.

“We’ve had two seconds, one first,” Abbott said. “We’re going to be looking pretty good [on the leader board]. But there are heavy winds to come, so we’ll see what happens.”

Barker and the team on board Zen, representing Middle Harbour Yacht Club, are currently placed fourth overall in IRC Division 1 at HIRW in a fleet of seven TP52s. Consistency has been key for Zen, which has placed fourth on IRC in all three races so far.

“On Zen we pride ourselves on being a predominantly Corinthian crew,” Barker said.

It was a privilege, he said, to be “mixing it up with the calibre of” Max Klink’s Caro, Matt Allen’s Ichi Ban (CYCA), Matador and Geoff Boettcher’s Secret Mens Business (Cruising Yacht Club of South Australia).

“It’s great to have seven really competitive 52ft boats on the start line. It is great for the crews, for the owners, for sailing generally. It really helps us all lift when we’re all on the water together.”

Secret Mens Business (SMB)
Peter (Billy) Merrington can usually be found on board Matt Donald and Chris Townsend’s TP52 Gweilo (CYCA). But this week, the 23-time Sydney Hobart Yacht Race competitor is imparting his knowledge as the mainsheet trimmer on board Geoff Boettcher’s SMB (CYCSA).

Merrington said he was impressed by the performance of the predominantly South Australian crew who got together rather late in the lead-up to the event.

“The boat is sailing really well, it’s a fast boat,” he said. “But we’re not quite there. Luck has not worked in our favour; it happens in sailing.”

SMB is placed fifth overall in IRC Division 1. Merrington said time was on their side, and if things went to plan in the next few days, the top boats should be concerned.

“The rest of the week is pretty windy, that should suit our boat pretty well. Our crew’s coming together more and more as the week goes on, so expect to see some good results from SMB which will set it up for the week.”

Merrington is enjoying the tight TP52 racing and is already looking ahead, ready for even more TP52s to join in on the fun when HIRW returns in 2023.

“It’s really awesome to have all the TP52s here. It’s a really competitive fleet of boats. I think everyone is keeping an eye on our fleet to see how it all goes. It’s exciting sailing.”

For news on the Australian Yachting Championships: https://www.revolutionise.com.au/yachtingchamps/

For HIRW results, see: https://www.topyacht.net.au/results/2022/hirw/index.htm

For more information on the Australian TP52 Sailing Association, see: https://www.tp52aust.org.au/

Greta Quealy/Australian TP52 Association

JPK August 2023