From third generation sailors to first timers, the fun and camaraderie is attracting sailors of all ages to Geelong’s Festival of Sails presented by Rex Gorell Land Rover.
Tony Kopp, owner of the Young Rocket 780 design called Astro Boy, has been coming to the regatta with his dad Andrew, also an avid sailor, for the past 20 years.
“Dad’s owned many boats for years and used to drag me down here to the Festival of Sails. Then I got hooked on it,” he says.
These days the tables have turned and Tony, 37, from Williamstown is competing in the Club Marine Cruising with Spinnakers division 3, with dad Andrew part of his crew.
Astro Boy, named so because it’s a Young Rocket design and Kopp wanted a space theme, is sitting fifth overall on day three of the competition.
“It’s a social thing for us. I have so many friends here. We are taking it pretty seriously but at the same time it’s a lot of fun,” Kopp says.
“I love sailing on Corio Bay because it’s flat water. I’m thinking of moving the boat here. The music is good, the bars are good, there is so much food,” Kopp says of the festival’s shoreside component.
Mhairin Hilliker, 22, is experiencing her first sailing regatta on-board Astro Boy.
“A good mate invited me down and I wanted to see what it was all about, and the social side of the Festival of Sails was pretty appealing,” she says.
“The crew have been super supportive. It was especially exciting at the start of the Melbourne to Geelong Passage Race. It’s a good way to learn everything that goes on aboard a boat – a crash course. I’ll definitely be taking any opportunity I can to go sailing in the future. Hopefully I’ll be back next year.”
White Onyx owner Ben Solly says “sailors breed sailors”.
Solly, 57, who sails out of Melbourne’s Sandringham Yacht Club and owns the boat with his wife Katherine, was introduced to the sport by his father and has been sailing since he was nine.
His love affair with the ocean has been embraced by his daughters, Eliza and Philippa, who are part of the crew aboard his X Yacht 412 which is competing in the Club Marine Cruising with Spinnaker division 1.
“In general, the sailing fraternity is a very tight knit group. Sailors breed sailors,” he says.
“Our own children have gone through the junior program. If you look at our crew Eliza is the youngest and she is 21 and I’m the oldest at 57. There’s quite a strong bubble which is building in the next generation.
“It’s a great sport; everyone is welcome and you can do it all of your life. You can start at nine and go on until you are 90.”
Daughter Eliza, 21, has been on the water since she was a baby and sailing on her own since she was seven or eight.
“I love the competitive side of it but also that you can do it in a relaxed nature with your friends, and enjoy being out in the environment.”
Eliza recently completed a three year 49er FX campaign hoping for a spot at the Rio Olympics. She says one of the highlights was the chance to travel. “You get the opportunity to travel around the world. A lot of it was in Europe; I did heaps of regattas in Spain, France and a little bit in Miami and Weymouth in England where the sailing was for the 2012 Olympics.”
“I think there are more opportunities for younger people coming through. There are smaller keel boats younger people can get together on and the social side of it is an attraction as well, for the younger generation.”