The historic 180th Passage Race heralds the opening of the 2023 Festival of Sails this morning, when the cannon is fired at 9.30am sending huge fleet on its way to Geelong in the 34 nautical mile race.
Starting off Williamstown, 250 boats were expected on the mass start in Australia’s oldest sporting event that originated in 1844 and hosted by Royal Geelong Yacht Club over the public holiday long weekend.
At stake is line honours and winning the race overall. Last year, Extasea, Paul Buchholz’s Cookson 50 took line honours from Bill Barry-Cotter’s Schumacher 54, Maritimo from Queensland.
Extasea, owned by RGYC sailor and Festival of Sails Chairman, Buchholz, will have serious opposition from two NSW TP52s this year. Sebastian Bohm’s Smuggler and Gordon Ketelbey’s Zen are set to mount challenges.
Also on the line is the overall win and with so many divisions, it could go anywhere. Among the contenders are veteran Victorian yachtsman, Bruce Taylor with his Caprice 40, Chutzpah. Taylor has a fully trophy cabinet from this event, the Rolex Sydney Hobart and others. All those vying for line honours are also in contention.
The race record of one hour 40mins and 17secs set in 2006 by Grant Wharington’s super maxi, Skandia, is unlikely to be troubled.
On the weather front, the Bureau of Meteorology predicts west to south-westerly winds of 10 to 15 knots, turning south to south-easterly at 15 to 20 knots during the day, making for a pleasant sail.
Meanwhile the Melges 24’s will be first to test the waters on Corio Bay in Geelong. Their National Championship gets underway from 1.30pm, with two windward leeward races on the agenda.
Held since 1844, the Festival of Sails traditionally takes place over the long weekend from 26-29 January, with the 180th Passage Race kicking off racing.