For the first time in 20 years, Geelong hosted a sailing World Championship, all part of the colour and competition at the Festival of Sails.
The Festival of Sails is an enduring and loved event run at a blessed location for sailing, Geelong’s Corio Bay, a rare north-facing and protected inner harbour offering flat water and a range of summertime conditions and reliable afternoon sea breezes.
There aren’t many Australian keelboat regattas that can report a stable fleet, yet the 171 year-old Festival remains relevant and a popular destination for a huge spectrum of boat owners and crew from around the country, from sports boats to multihulls to offshore racers.
In January a fleet of 310 sought division honours and under the 2014 event banner multiple Australian class titles and one Victorian title were staged by the host, Royal Geelong Yacht Club.
West Australian boat Black Betty was largely unknown outside her home state until she clinched the Optimum Time Racing Series Division 1 IRC win and the Victorian IRC Championship in the GP42’s maiden racing appearance outside of her W.A. home waters.
Adding to the glory for owners Gary McNally and Brian McMasters was their defeat of two of Australia’s newest yachts competing in debut regattas under the helm of two of the best skippers on the east coast – Tony Kirby’s Ker 46 Patrice and Matt Allen’s Carkeek 60 Ichi Ban.
It’s a major shot across the bow to the country’s IRC competitors and one heck of a way to announce Black Betty’s arrival on the national scene.
The team, who play their war cry ‘Black Betty’ by Ram Jam (1977) on the way to the start line, is planning to carry on their success at the Audi IRC Australian Championship in April and Audi Hamilton Island Race Week in August.
“I guess we wouldn’t have travelled thousands of miles to compete if we weren’t confident,” McNally said. “We worked hard to optimise her for the racing and it paid off. We built larger sails and tweaked her for windward leeward racing.
“We’re usually at the pointy end of the fleet at home and now this is proof that we can race and win against the best anywhere.”
Division 2 Racing Series
Racing Series division 2 and the Victorian IRC and AMS Championships result was dominated by a familiar boat disguised with a new identity.
South Australian Andrew Corletto bought Darryl Hodgkinson’s all-conquering Beneteau First 45 Victoire last year and has been racing under the new name of Shining Sea with similar success.
Fresh from finishing third in the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race division 3, Corletto sailed to an emphatic division 2 Victorian and AMS Championship win at Geelong, more than 10 points clear of Bruce McCracken’sIkon and Philip Dash’s Justadash.
“I bought this boat because of her sailing pedigree, but that does bring a certain amount of pressure and expectation with it,’’ Corletto said. “Fortunately we raced really well, and the boat just knows what to do.”
Division 3 Racing Series
Well-known Victorian sailor David Ellis dictated the division 3 results, claiming wins in six of eight races to finish first on eight points with his Archambault A31 Penfold Audi Sport.
Ellis fished seven points clear of Jason Close’s Beneteau First 35 White Noise in second place, with Martin Vaughan’s Sydney 36cr Wild Side completing the top three, with 26.5 points.
Cruising & Cruiser/Racer
The two Cruising and two Cruiser/Racer divisions wrapped up their points chase with a spectacular Sunday twilight race on a balmy evening off the front of the RGYC.
Paul and Angela Woodman’s two month-old boat Summer Wind, a Bavaria 44, proved its merit early with a clear win in the Club Marine Cruising with Spinnaker division 1. When the final points were tallied there was a comfortable nine-point separation to David Stoopman’s Samskara.
Kim Beveridge’s Sandringham Yacht Club Beneteau 38.5 Firefox was named winner of the Club Marine Spinnaker division 2 and Peter Bone’s Baltic won the Coca-Cola Cruising Non-Spinnaker division.
The Cruiser/Racer division was a new addition to the divisional list designed to separate out like boats, and the response was very encouraging, particularly among the cruising fleet.
Festival of Sails’ Principal Race Officer Denis Thompson said, ‘‘It was the program they wanted and the numbers were big. Normally we have a lot of entries in the cruising divisions and they’d only do the long race down from Melbourne then 50 or 60 percent would stay on for the rest of the series. This year it was more like eighty percent.”
On the divisional split Thompson elaborated; ‘‘It’s always hard to know what mix to offer because trends change through the years. I think we have the mix right here and that is reflected in the entries. It’s one of the few regattas around the world that is going up in entries.”
‘‘I was really happy with the race management team and the weather always helps, if it behaves itself things flow along.”
Conditions were ideal throughout the seven-day regatta with racing proceeding as per the schedule and only momentary stoppages waiting for the reliable afternoon sea breeze to show its hand. The wind range was from five to 25 knots offshore on the Saturday for the outer harbour course and mostly 10-15 knots out of the south or sou’east with not a drop of rain.
Over the weekend thousands of holidaymakers flocked to the foreshore to soak up the Australia Day long weekend offerings; food, wine, stalls, fireworks, kid’s program, Try Sailing, beach volleyball, entertainment at Steampacket Gardens and each afternoon and evening at the Royal Geelong Yacht Club.
It’s the only regatta in Australia where a carnival sits alongside a major sailing event, where Geelong’s residents and visitors can soak up the vibe of a premier regatta and non-sailing family members are entertained ashore.
Immediately following the Festival there was a quick dismantle of some of the site infrastructure and rebranding for the Gill Melges 24 World Championship 2014, which began just two days after the last Festival trophy was presented.
This is the first time in almost 20 years that Geelong has played host to a sailing world championship and the Melges 24 first worlds outside the northern hemisphere. As with the Festival, the Victorian Government and City of Greater Geelong provided significant support to the event host to stage the A-grade event.
The RGYC and event managers New Tack have also won the right to host the International 14-foot skiff world championship immediately before next year’s 2015 Festival of Sails.
By Lisa Ratcliff
As published by www.sailsmagazine.com.au on 30 January 2014