Report and photographs by Paul Wilson

 

An incredible 182 yachts entered the 2001 Hahn Premium Race Week - but light winds and strong tides tested both the competitors and the race organisers. If the entries for Hamilton Island's annual Race Week were charted over the years, the graph would look like the income curve of a highly successful corporation. The number of entries this year eclipsed last year's entry list by 31.

 

Regatta director, Warwick Hoban, said that that the major limiting factor to the number of entries is the avail-ability of hotel accommodation. But with plans for a number of additional facilities to be built on the island over the next few years he feels that there is no reason why the number of entries couldn't exceed 200.

The only time there has ever been a bigger fleet of offshore yachts compet-ing in an Australian event was during the 50th Sydney to Hobart Race in 1994. That year 372 yachts headed south to Hobart - a world record for any category one event.

But the impact of the number of entries for Race Week only hits home when it is considered that this is a week-long regatta not held near a major metropolitan centre, like Sydney or Melbourne, but at a location more than 1,000 kilometres north of Brisbane.

 

Sure the race is held in the Whitsun-days, one of Australia's most preferred tourist and cruising destinations. And sure the regatta's home base is the beautiful Hamilton Island. But given that the vast majority of the competitors are so motivated that they have either sailed or trucked their boats from as far a field as Tasmania, South Australia and even Western Australia, then this must truly be a real indication of just how much the week is enjoyed by all.

This year also saw a record number of international entries drawn from a diverse range of countries. If Aussie skippers had to travel a long way, then spare a thought for the crews from England, the USA, Hong Kong, Sing-apore, and of course the ubiquitous Kiwis. There was even an entry from the Solomon Islands. All-in-all 15 crews made the journey from overseas to compete.

All of these combined to make this the 18th running of the event the largest ever. The weather for the week was fore-cast to be 'Picture Postcard Perfect'. In other words, beautiful blue skies and very light winds, and for once the Met boys got it right. Saturday, day one of racing, ended in controversy. Only 37 yachts finished inside the six-hour race time limit in the light and shifting winds, which on occasion were shifting up to 180 degrees. Deliber-ations and protests went throughout the night, with organisers and skippers all finally agreeing to abandon the race under the fair sailing rule because of the unfair nature of the conditions during the race.

Day two was the prestigious 85-nautical mile Coral Sea Classic, and race organisers were facing what was shaping up to be yet another virtually windless day. Exactly the same cond-itions happened last year, which saw the competing yachts throwing out anchors to avoid being swept back across the start line as they battled a flooding tide with no breeze. In a smart move, the organisers delayed the race for an hour and moved the start line from the narrow and tide affected Dent Passage to south of Hamilton Island in the Whitsunday Passage. The gamble paid off. The winds picked up as the day's temp-erature rose, and the fleet was able to make a clean start.

Finally, the yachts could stretch out and enjoy the comparatively brisk 10-plus knot breeze. All of the maxis, lead by Brindabella, pulled away from the start line and were set to show the rest of the fleet a clean pair of heels. All, that is, except for the big and very impressive looking twin-ruddered Open 60 Grundig Xena, owned by Sean Langman, which crossed the line early. As skipper Langman executed a crash gybe to re-cross the line, one of the boat's rudders hooked up the big, square Hahn Premium pin-end start buoy. Xena had sailed some 100 or so metres up the track before some-one finally looked back and realised what had happened. The intrepid professional sailor David Witt, who was onboard as the sailing master, lept over the side to clear the rudder. But it was no quick or simple operation, the line had to be cut to free the tangle.

However, Xena's problems didn't end there. After recovering Witt from the water and as Langman was attemp-ting to haul back the fleet, he suddenly found himself on the wrong side of a port and starboard incident with Restless and the 35 footer was forced to take radical action to avoid a collision. With Restless now flying a red protest flag, Langman had no choice but to once again put his big boat through a penalty 720 degree turn.

But as the saying goes, problems come in threes and Langman may well have regretted returning to retrieve David Witt from the water. Late that night while leading the race for line honours and with less than a mile to go in the race, Witt drove the fancied yacht up hard onto an unmarked reef off Plum Pudding island. Xena struck so hard that all her keel support bolts were bent and unconfirmed reports say that four of the crew were flung forward across the deck and broke their noses.

Xena was stuck fast, but fortunately the tide was on the rise, and 20 minutes later she was off and heading for the shipyard. Line honours for the race went to Colin O'Neil's Davidson 59, After Shock, which was only 100 metres behind at the time Xena went aground. Basically, the week continued from there in a similar pattern. Light winds had the fleets chasing for shifts and organisers juggling times and locations to get the best conditions. It made for some tough and at times very frustrat-ing sailing.

Long days out on the water meant that by the time crews returned to Hamilton Harbour, they were in for some stress relief. And my guess is that with more than 24,000 Hahn Premium stubbies consumed for the week, a lot of stress got relieved!

And while we're on that subject, how's this for a catering list. Two tonnes of prawns, three tonnes of steak, one tonne of fish, 15,120 eggs and half-a-tonne of bacon was consumed during the week. In one night alone, 100 kilos of bugs, 75 kilos of spanner and blue swimmer crabs were eaten. And during a ‘Daiquiri Night' eight kilos of mangoes and three large trays of strawberries all went through the blender. Hamilton Island Resort management quoted that a figure of more than 2,500 crew and supporters invaded the island. I suppose that is a lot of mouths to feed.

But despite the light conditions, there were smiles all round. There's just no way you can get annoyed when your on one of the most beautiful islands in the world. And at the end of the day I guess that's why Hamilton Island Race Week is and, always will be, a successful regatta that yachties will just keep coming back for again and again. And let's not forget what all those yachties were actually there for, the overall winner Bob Steel and his crew on board Quest with a very impressive race result of three firsts, three seconds, a fifth, a sixth and a 13th to claim the Hahn Premium Australian IMS Championships The Sydney-based Quest, with Ron Jacobs as tactician, finished the nine hard fought races with a 14 point win over second place getter, Ashley Reed's Shipping Central, steered by Michael Spies with another two points back to the former Sydney Hobart winner, Yendys, now racing as Sting with Terry Mullions at the helm.

IRC winner, Eun Na Mara
IMS winner, Quest
 

This was the second time Bob Steel and Ron Jacobs have combined to win the event. Their previous win was in 1995. Ron Jacobs also sailed as tactician on the 1996 winner, Cary Ramm's No Fearr and with Rob Kothe in 1998 when Sword of Orion won the overall title. Nick Chapman's ‘grand old lady' Eun Na Mara from Melbourne, sailing in her 94th year was the star performer of the regatta when she won the very competitive open IRC Championship and the Hahn Premium Gold medal. Eun Na Mara beat Wayne Kirkpatrick's Asylum by 24 points with Lou Abrahams' Another Challenge another 12 points away, third. Come on 2002!

Results

Big Boats
1. Heaven Can Wait - Warren Johns - 793 points
2. After Shock - Colin O'Neil - 778 points
3. Another Duchess - Bob Oatley - 775 points

IMS
1. Quest - Bob Steel - 783 points
2. Shipping Central - A.Reed & M. Spies - 769 points
3. Sting - Terry Mullens - 767 points

IRC
1. Eun Na Mara - Colin Chapman - 787 points
2. Asylum - Wayne Kirkpatrick - 763 points
3. Another Challenge - Lou Abrahams - 751 points

Performance Handicap
1. Coyote - Peter Hansen - 770 points
2. Stealthy - Alan Carwardine - 757 points
3. Cruise Control - Murray Walbran - 744 points

Open Cruising
1. Scoundrel - John Alexander - 395 points
2. Savoir-Faire - Malcolm Roe - 389 points
3. Double Image - Brett Cooper - 387 points

Cruising
1. Marisa Raeburn - Reynolds - 393 points
2. Octet - Bruce Moore - 389 points
3. Boardroom - John & Kim Clinton - 387 points