As the curtain closes on the 2023 Festival of Sails, the Royal Geelong Yacht Club is celebrating a regatta full of twist and turns for the 297 boats and the 2750 participants, who battled daily challenges with variable winds, temperatures, and conditions.
For local 18-year-old Geelong sailor Georgia Delaney from Highton, this was her eighth year competing at the Festival of Sails.
“I’ve been sailing for the past 10 years and I started at Royal Geelong in their cadet program and have loved sailing ever since, usually out sailing four or five times a week” she says.
“For me, it’s a combination of the excitement of racing, the focus on concentrating on the tactics to get an edge and knowing you’re competing against a great group of friends from all over Australia.”
Delivered by the Royal Geelong Yacht Club (RGYC), the Festival of Sails is Australia’s oldest sporting event – older than the Melbourne Cup which began in 1861, older than The Ashes which began in 1882 and looking overseas, older than Wimbledon, which began in in 1887 and the America’s Cup which began in 1851.
And in 2023, the club celebrated the 180th running of the opening Passage Race from Williamstown to Geelong in a visual spectacular which saw hundreds of boats of all shapes and sizes taking off in a to race the finish for line honors on January 26, before three days of division racing sailing.
Festival of Sails Chairman, Paul Buchholz says the feedback from sailors about the event was overwhelming.
“We’re always very proud of our event, but when visitors to our club tell you that it’s the best event in more than a decade, well we think that’s a pretty impressive accolade,” he says.
“And given the impact that the pandemic has had on major events over the past couple of years, it was terrific to finally see our event – and many others – getting back to normal.”
The 2023 Festival of Sails which attracted an estimated 115,000 visitors along the waterfront, also coincided with the running of the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race over the January long weekend.
“It has been a buzz of activity and entertainment on and off the water this weekend and terrific to see Geelong hosting not one – but two – great events that have really showcased our region,” says Paul Buchholz.
“We’re also really grateful to have the consistent and generous support of the Victorian State Government and the City of Greater Geelong which allowed us to deliver a fantastic Festival yet again.”
Taking out top honours at this year’s event over the 36 nautical mile Passage Race was the Gordon Ketelbey’s Sydney TP52 ZEN who took line honours with a time of three hours 43 minutes and seven seconds, after competing in the 2022 Rolex Sydney Hobart just weeks ago.
And in an impressive double, the crew of Zen also grabbed the win in the headline Passage Rating Series under IRC.
Apart from attracting tens of thousands of visitors to Geelong’s waterfront each year, the economic impact directly attributed to the Geelong region as a result of Festival of Sails is around $14 million.