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Paul Wilson reports on the spectacular Hamilton Island Race Week 2004, which saw thrilling action as the mega maxis duelled for supremacy amidst record numbers of competitors.

In Australian yachting circles Hamilton Island Race Week has become an absolute ‘must do before I die’ event.

Hence the concern among yachties when the island’s ownership became an issue in 2003. Especially given the uncertainty about the attitude potential owners would have towards Race Week. Aussie sailors faced the very real possibility that Race Week 2003 could be the last.

However, after many years of attending Race Week himself, and competing in his various yachts, invariably named Wild Oats, Bob Oatley stepped up, and to the surprise of many, bought the island!

In fact it was at the conclusion of last year’s Race Week that Bob Oatley and son Sandy, decided to make the island their own, and therefore cement the future of Race Week.

Of course in reality the deal involved many meetings with island management and much negotiation at a very high level. But a collective sigh of relief was let out by all competitive yacht owners, Australia-wide, when it was finally announced that the Oatley family were to become the custodians of what I believe is the premier yachting destination in Australia – Hamilton Island.

So with ownership issues no longer a concern, the Race Week committee, headed up by the evergreen Warwick Hoban, set to the task of once again trying to outdo their performance of previous years.

A total of 187 yachts were entered to compete in the 2004 event. Although actual race numbers were some three or four shy of that figure, it still represents, once again, a record number of competitors.

And quite simply the racing was spectacular!

The major interest for most was the duel between the mega maxis Zana (Konica Minolta) from New Zealand and Wild Thing (Skandia) based out of Mornington in Victoria.

Ultimately Skandia was to prevail. But Konica Minolta did take the honours in three out of the eight races. But these victories were less than convincing. It was clear that Skandia was being plagued by post manufacture gremlins, which once rectified will no doubt see the boat as one of the fastest maxis in the world.

Once again, the Sydney 38s put on a fine display with the cut and thrust of this aggressive and highly competitive One Design division thrilling all, competitors and spectators alike. Cydon, owned by Leon Christianakis, eventually came through to take the honours, only a mere five points ahead of Another Challenge owned by yachting great Lou Abrahams.

But for me, the most amazing sight for the week was when I saw the magnificent yacht Astor in full sail for the first time. This majestic 86-foot schooner is now 81 years-old. But despite the passing of time she still presents in near-perfect condition.

Astor was designed by William Fife and was built at the Fife Yard in Scotland from hand-shaped teak planks bronze riveted to English oak frames. She is currently owned by Richard and Lani Straman from Newport Beach California.

Astor also has a strong connection with Australia, having won line honours in the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race three times in 1961, 1963 and 1964. In fact, she only just missed out on a fourth line honours win by a mere 57 seconds in 1962, which would have made her the only yacht in history to do so. Her final result for Race Week in the Classic Yachts division was second, on a countback, after finishing with equal points to Sundowner.

So where to from here for Race Week? In discussions with Warwick Hoban, he states there are only three limiting factors for Race Week. They are, enough transport for crew and family to and from the island, the ability for the island to accommodate them all, and finally the ability to safely berth the yachts which enter the event.

Zana (Konica Minolta)

Asylum

 

Well, as far as Warwick is concerned, Jet Star has satisfied the transport requirements, with talk of Virgin Airlines soon to be servicing the island as well. Bob Oatley has plans to substantially expand the resort’s accommodation capacity. Along with this will be an upgrade of the facilities and expansion of the marina, including at least two more arms. There is even talk of another 100-berth marina to be built somewhere on the island, but I’ve been sworn to secrecy about the location!

I hope you enjoy the pictures accompanying this article. I have attempted to capture the spirit of Race Week. It is a yachting regatta that draws competitors from all over the world, and if you can ever get there to see it yourself you’ll realise why.