No sooner had the Notice of Race and entry form for the 2023 Festival of Sails hit the official website, local Geelong sailor, Brendan Garner, clicked to enter for his 36th year of competition at Australia’s oldest and largest keelboat regatta in the southern hemisphere.
“My first was 1987 as a 12 year-old. It was on Dad’s Etchells in the Passage Race,” the Leopold sailor recalled of the regatta, which was inaugurated in 1844 and is hosted by the Royal Geelong Yacht Club (RGYC) each year.
“I’m doing the Passage Race on my cruising boat, ‘Mustique’. Then I will race my Etchells, ‘Panther’, doing the Guyon Wilson Series.”
The Passage Race celebrates its 180th year when the Festival of Sails is held from 26-29 January: “It’s a very impressive milestone for Royal Geelong Yacht Club to have such a long-lasting and continuous event,” Garner commented.
“It’s a highlight on the calendar for sailors in Victoria and around the country. It’s spectacular to watch the start from the shore or on the water. I just can’t miss the Passage Race. Once the race is finished, the boat turns into the accommodation for the regatta.”
As usual, the Festival of Sails is a family affair for the Garner family. “My eldest son Ben (17) will sail with me and maybe the other two – I haven’t checked with them yet. Josh (who turns 14 next week) and Will (10) will race in the Cadets on the Sunday, as will Ben, who sails with Will.
“Kids get life skills in the Cadet; they learn the nature of looking after somebody.” Garner reckoned. “My 17 and 10 year-olds sail together, so when Will was seven, Ben was looking after him, for instance.”
One family member will be missing in 2023. Garner’s father, John.
“Dad passed away earlier this this year. We last did the Passage Race together two years ago. It was his last,” Garner revealed.
John was a huge supporter of the event he sailed for so many years, while fulfilling several roles at RGYC during 40 years of service. His son continues the tradition, having joined the Board last year.
Garner holds the annual regatta in high esteem: “A lot of it is about catching up with mates from previous years and previous events. The social aspect I find very good. As is the sailing. And the festival atmosphere is a lot of fun.”
A multi-faceted sailor, from seven to 17, he sailed in the International Cadet class, moved to Fireballs, then 29ers, 49ers, did Teams racing in the Tasar and match racing in the Elliott 5.9. Moving back to the Fireball “when the kids came along.” Garner also raced a Mumm 30 with Bruce Eddington, winning the Australian and Super 30 Australian titles and they contested the Route de Illes in France.
The Geelong sailor moved into Etchells and SB30s, with victories in both. He also won the Sydney 38 Australian Championship on Kirwan Robb’s Ikon.
Offshore sailing has held its appeal too. In 2011,Garner sailed across the Atlantic from the USA to England. He contested six Sydney Hobarts, with second overall in 2010 on Jazz. He also scored division wins in three Hobarts. The last was 2013, with second on Senna, the yacht he skippered for owner, Chris Manton.
Garner says of his sailing longevity, “It’s always been sailing, it’s in our blood.”
And it goes further. His business is Garner Marine Services in Geelong.
“We even build the occasional Cadet – I have the mould. We’re building three for the upcoming Worlds. My middle son and Nate Field built their Cadet in 2018, which I oversaw. That was pretty cool and Josh is still using the boat today.”
Di Pearson / Festival of Sails Media