By Chris Beattie
It is entirely appropriate that a brewery sponsors Hahn Premium Hamilton Island Race Week. I say this after having just attended my first-ever Race Week from August 19 to 28. My conclusion comes from exhaustive – and exhausting – research conducted at the many bars, parties, do’s, receptions and various other social occasions at Race Week. This yacht racing is thirsty business, and nowhere – apparently – is it more thirst-inducing than at Hamilton Island.
Hahn’s own statistics make for sobering (intoxicating?) reading. Last year’s event saw Race Week visitors consume the equivalent of 80,000 stubbies and there was no reason to assume this year’s event wouldn’t eclipse that figure.
This year marked the 27th running of this premier event and as a first-timer I have to admit to feeling a little humbled by the efforts put in by the race crews. And this was just on the island – once they were out on the briny things got really serious.
It is hard not to get swept up in the sense of occasion and celebration surrounding the Hahn Premium-sponsored, week-long event. Even getting there was a source of excitement and wonderment as I was lucky enough to hitch a ride north from the Gold Coast on one of Maritimo’s new 52-foot flybridge cruisers. We took three days to cover the 600nm distance, along the way dropping in at such captivating Queensland landmarks as Lady Musgrave Island and Fitzroy Reef. We’ll tell you more about that trip in a future issue, but it was a fitting entrée into the whole Race Week experience.
I barely had time to unpack my gear on arrival, when my attention was drawn to some activity on Catseye Beach, directly in front of the Reef View Hotel on the north face of Hamilton Island. As I gazed out across the channel to Whitsunday Island and the closing stages of Saturday’s Lindeman Island race, I was entranced by the spectacle of a pod of whales frolicking in front of the lead boats only metres from enthralled crowds lining the uncovered reef reaching out from the beach. As the whales breached and blew plumes of spray seemingly in salute to the finishing boats, it occurred to me that this really is a very special part of the world.
What followed over the next week was a mix of experiences as I both covered, and participated in Race Week. With a primarily power background, I was literally thrown in the deep end, being offered a spot on the Sydney Yachts-built 60-footer, Vanguard, owned by yachting identity, Dick Cawse. Instead of being an impartial observer, I would become a competitor, albeit one chosen primarily for his contribution to the overall effective weight of the boat. Nevertheless, I was able to experience Race Week from the deck of one of the event’s main contenders and I have to say it was an eye-opening experience. (See Life in the fast lane elsewhere in this report).
But the focus for competitors and organisers was the action out on the water. And there was certainly plenty of that.
ONE WITH THE LOT
A record fleet, exciting conditions, great racing, the world’s newest super maxi, a number of other new technologically advanced yachts, older and smaller boats, some of the best yachtsmen in the world, a huge cruising fleet, great social activities and plans for a new yacht club – Hamilton Island’s Hahn Premium Race Week 2005 had it all.
Across six divisions, a massive fleet of 207 yachts; 197 from Australia and 10 international entries, vied for the trophies.
Whilst the various Cruising divisions fielded the largest number and were spectacular to watch due to some mass spinnaker starts and close racing, Neville Crichton’s 98ft Kiwi super maxi, Alfa Romeo, undoubtedly stole the show, dominating on most days and in all conditions.
But despite the sheer spectacle and performance of Alfa Romeo, it was Hamilton Island’s owner and Sydney businessman, Bob Oatley, who won the series with his 66ft canting-keeled Wild Oats.
A Reichel/Pugh design (in fact, the top four placegetters in IRC Racing came from that stable), the light silver-grey hulled Alfa Romeo looked sleek and alternatively exciting and frightening with its length, which seemed to go on forever, and a huge rig that towered over everything before it.
Crichton’s boat was definitely worth a look, as it streaked away to line honours victory each day, leaving nothing but spray in its wake.
The event was Alfa Romeo’s first showing and Crichton, a Sydney-based New Zealand businessman, confessed that while he loved driving big boats, he did not particularly understand canting keels or their computerised technology. “And I’m not interested in doing so – someone else can figure that out. I had this boat built predominantly for big boat events and I drive; we have others to figure out the technical side,” he said emphatically.
In what became a big boat affair, Alfa Romeo took line honours in all but the Baynham Island Race, from which it retired. Alfa Romeo won handicap honours in five races, with Wild Oats, Wild Joe, Loki and Brindabella trailing.
In the end, Crichton had to settle for third place overall, but he was unperturbed – European maxi series and the Sydney-Hobart are his bigger picture. In the latter, he will line up against other super maxis, including Bob Oatley’s Reichel/Pugh, due for launch later this year.
Oatley, who had Mark Richards driving his boat, could not make every race, as he and son Sandy, owner/skipper of the Davidson 59, Another Duchess, took time out to see to Hamilton Island business, including the design and building of what Oatley says will be, “one of the smartest yacht clubs in the world”, and to their new golf course on Dent Island.
However, the Sydney businessman was thrilled with his win, echoing the thoughts of his helmsman, Richards: “We are enjoying ourselves and the racing immensely.”
Second place overall went to Oatley’s former canting-keeled 60ft Wild Oats, now known as Wild Joe and owned by fellow Sydney businessmen, Steven David.
David said of their nine race series, “It’s been a fantastic event, brilliant – and good to have nice trade winds for a change.”
Stephen Ainsworth’s new 60ft Loki (non-canting keel), completed the picture for Reichel/Pugh, finishing fourth.
With the big boats, in particular, Crichton’s super maxi dominating IRC Racing, those under 50ft did not get a look in, despite their best efforts.
Warwick Hoban, Hahn Premium Race Week’s Regatta Director since the event’s inception 26 years ago said: “Categorically, there will be two divisions next year. We will be surveying all competitors.” Hoban, who hails from Melbourne, has only missed one Race Week, but did all the lead-up work on that occasion virtually from a hospital bed.
Handicapper and race entrant, Michael Spies explained: “This regatta has highlighted that no measurement or rating rule can be expected to cater to boats across such a broad spectrum as Alfa Romeo and the classic timber Kaufman 41, Koomooloo.
“The IRC rule has been forced into areas that were never the spirit or intent of the rule. It appears that switched-on yacht designers are ahead of the rule makers,” he said.
Some of the other standouts in the IRC Racing that provided some great viewing were Loki and Dick Cawse’s 60ft Lyons/Cawse, Vanguard (NSW), although Loki proved faster downwind in most clashes. Two new Cookson 50s, Chieftain, owned and skippered by Irishman, Gerard O’Rourke and Melbournian Michael Hiatt’s Living Doll were close at times, but Chieftain was superior. O’Rourke was supremely happy with his three podium finishes for fifth overall.
Three DK46s, Ray Roberts’ Hollywood Boulevard (NSW), Phil Coomb’s Dekadence (Vic) and newly-launched Shogun, owned by Robert Hanna (Vic) had great racing, too, with some very close finishes, as did the two Reichel/Pugh 46s; South Australia’s Hardys Secret Mens Business (Geoff Boettcher) and Victoria’s XLR8 (Graeme Troon).
Had the smaller yachts been separated into their own division, it is likely Hollywood Boulevard would have been the victor from Hardys Secret Mens Business and Dekadence. The reality, though, was sixth, seventh and tenth, respectively.
Weather conditions were the most challenging seen for some years. On the Day 1 Lindeman Island Race, competitors enjoyed 8-10 knot sou’easters, which they are used to at this venue, but despite light airs, Alfa Romeo managed to shave nine minutes off the previous record owned by fellow Kiwi Stewart Thwaites (Konica Minolta) to set a new record of 1 hour, 58mins, 45secs.
Other records were not possible, as some courses were changed from previous years, including the second day’s Edward Island Race, which was shortened to around 57 miles, due to prevailing light winds. The start was postponed for an hour and a half as breezes faded and swirled and, as Crichton and others discovered, 0-9 knots of south/south-easterlies provided at least two ‘parking lots’ and left a number of yachts out ‘till very late in the evening.
With a lay day following, crews took time out to enjoy the social side of Hamilton Island, then on Tuesday, much to most people’s happy surprise, a building 15 knot sou’-easter sprang up that reached 20 knots at times. The IRC Racing, Sydney 38s and PHS sailed four windward/leeward courses for two days, while the Cruising classes set off on two 20-mile races.
Wednesday provided an even bigger challenge, with a fresh 18-20 knot sea breeze on a choppy sea. The smaller yachts had a hard time, but by afternoon and the second windward/leeward race, conditions had settled down to around 15 knots.
Thursday’s Whitehaven Race, for the racing classes only (Cruisers got an additional lay day) was sailed in squally winds that reached 32 knots on the dial at times, with lumpy and choppy seas.
A number of competitors had their hands full at the windward mark and again coming up to the finish, as winds barrelled through the channel to Whitehaven. Alfa Romeo clocked a top speed of 28 knots as it powered towards the finish in relatively calm conditions, but as the rest came home, a number of spectacular Chinese gybes and big round-ups caused minor crew injuries on some yachts. The Sydney 38s saw the worst of it, with two in a skidding competition to the finish.
There was no let-up on Friday as the 29-mile Baynham Island Race got underway. A spectacular spinnaker start just off the Hamilton Island marina saw 16-18 knot gusting winds that got up to around 24 knots at times. Crichton, mindful of the congested start and biased line, elected to start spinnaker free. However, this decision caused his retirement, as first one main batten broke through a gybe, then, as the boat gybed again, another one went. The decision to retire cost Crichton the series trophy – but, in all likelihood, saved his new mainsail.
If competitors thought they had seen it all, they were wrong. On Saturday, the final day, the weather did just about everything North Sails’ weatherman, Kenn Batt predicted for the 22-mile South Molle/Daydream Island Race.
Whilst the rest battled heavy and gusty 25-36 knot winds on a choppy sea that unleashed its fury on the fleet, the Sydney 38s had their own battle on windward/leeward courses. Even the most experienced sailors had difficulties in the conditions. In the pre-start, a number were on their ears and during the spinnaker start, steerers had trouble controlling their vessels.
This final race caused many a retirement and a lot of damage, including torn sails, broken steering cables and more. One man was airlifted with concussion after being struck by the boom. Most had trouble holding their kites and many, yet to start, waited until gybing after the start, before setting. Alfa Romeo cruised it, making it look easy in the process.
BEST OF THE REST
Of the other classes, in the Sydney 38 ODs, Guido Belgiorno-Nettis’ Transfusion won from Shining Sea (Steve Kulmar) and Geoff Bonus’ Calibre – all NSW entries. Racing was tight and provided a number of winners, but in the end it came down to the top two. A shattered main block on Shining Sea ended its chances, as newcomer Belgiorno-Nettis scored five wins from 11 races to be unbeatable.
Hamilton Island’s Managing Director, Wayne Kirkpatrick, had to settle for fourth overall; his trio of third’s coupled with mixed results kept him out of contention.
Ken Hart’s Jeanneau 40 Night Owl (Qld) and Cavalier Express, Geoff Mitchell’s Cavalier 395 (NSW) thrashed it out for the PHS prize. Hart (“We’re a bunch of blokes in our 60s”), managed four wins in the series to Mitchell’s one, coupled with four second places. A broken halyard in the final race put paid to Mitchell’s chances.
My Girl, Dan Nolan’s Cavelier 395 (NSW), pipped the Doug McCarthy-skippered Volvo 60, Seriously Ten-Getaway (WA) for third, but McCarthy took line honours in all but the first race.
Of the six classes, tightest competition came in Premier Cruising, as the top five placegetters seriously battled throughout their six-race series. One boat did stand out though – John and Deb Balderstone’s new Sydney 47CR, Jem.
In its maiden regatta, Jem won three from six races. Melbourne entries rounded out the top three; Ross Wilson’s Beneteau 44.7, Eagle Rock earned second, with a win in hand, and Jem’s sistership, Gomez (Steve and Mary Chiodo), the 2004 winner, finished third after top five placings in every race. Steve lamented: “Our handicap changed recently, and though we paced well against Jem, we gave her time.”
The IRC Cruising class was dominated by Michael Spies’ Sydney-Hobart-winning Beneteau 44.7, Dimension Polyant. Spies took four of six races to win, from Stephen Mackay’s Archambault 40, Cabernet Sauvignon (NSW) and Warwick Sherman’s Cookson 12, Occasional Coarse Language (NSW).
Jeanneau designs dominated the Cruising division. Le Bateau, Robert Maidment’s 45.2 (NSW) scored a runaway win over Michael Milne’s 52.2 Jamata (NSW), with Greg Maguire’s 54, Rex (Qld), completing the hat-trick.
For full results, go to: www.hiyc.or.au
Stand in front of a high-speed fan under a garden sprinkler. Pretend the floor is tilting from one extreme angle to another. Have a mate yell abuse at you while swinging a large piece of carbon fibre at your head. And try not to vomit the contents of your stomach all over your shoes. This is the glamorous world of yacht racing Hamilton Island-style…
By Chris Beattie
“Go mate, go!” yelled Vanguard tactician, Bazz. Easy for him to say.
Here I was on my first-ever serious yacht race, being told to let go of a perfectly secure hand hold on a wildly swaying boat, so I could lunge across three metres of wet, unstable deck, while dodging a massive swinging boom, with only the vaguest possible expectation of gaining a secure hold on the other side.
If I missed my mark, the deep blue sea beckoned. Behind us was a fleet of big boats that would find it hard to notice a bobbing journo in their path. Only seconds before, I’d watched as a crew member from Brindabella took an unscheduled swim. He floated helplessly by as we powered down the western side of Dent Island. We threw him a life vest and wished him the best. I decided to hold on a whole lot tighter.
Five minutes earlier, we’d jostled and gybed our way to the start line. Yachts had swung this way and that. A swirling confusion of boats of all shapes and sizes seemed to be involved in a crazed game of ‘chicken’, the idea seemingly being that no one has right of way and everyone is a target. Insults and threats were exchanged as nearly 200 boats competed for the best positions prior to the start of the race. Another boat’s bow sprit had briefly threatened to ram itself up my nether regions, at the last minute smashing into our hull, provoking more cursing and insults as I scrambled desperately to remove myself from the point of impact.
So this is yacht racing? This is the gentle art of harnessing the wind to propel you forward calmly and gracefully across the water?
“Fresh to frightening,” was the forecast by owner-skipper, Dick Cawse as the crew hunkered down for its pre-race briefing on the deck of the Sydney Yachts-built 60-footer, Vanguard. As far as instilling confidence in a yacht racing novice goes, Dick’s prediction would best be described as unhelpful.
Up ‘till now, my experience of Race Week competition had been from the comfort of the Maritimo 52 camera boat, under the expert direction of skipper, Brook Stevens. From the flybridge, we had watched in relative luxury as the boats had jostled, tacked, gybed and otherwise manoeuvred themselves during several days of intense competition.
But my comfort would be short-lived. An invitation from Vanguard crewman – and Club Marine employee – Mick Johnstone to join the crew for a day’s racing saw me perched, budgie-like on the aft deck prior to the start of Friday’s Baynham Island race. I was instructed to stay there unless otherwise instructed. In other words, stay out of the way unless yelled at.
A total of 17 people, including one utterly useless one, made up Vanguard’s crew for the 26nm race. Dick Cawse spent much of his time at the computer station below decks, occasionally passing on weather and other information to well-known racing identities, helmsman, Peter ‘Messo’ Messenger and tactician, Darren ‘Bazz’ Williams.
As it transpired, I couldn’t have picked a better day – or boat – for my first serious yacht race. While such formidable boats as Alfa Romeo, Wild Oats and Wild Joe competed for line honours (Alfa Romeo would drop out with batten failure early on), we were at the head of the rest of the field and soon locked in a race-long duel with Loki, another 60-footer owned by Stephen Ainsworth. And we also had classic maxi, Brindabella breathing down our wake after she recovered early man overboard, Andrew Jackson.
Being rammed twice in the stern by another boat didn’t help our start, and by the time we’d cleared the northern end of Dent Island and begun the run south, we were back in tenth place. But savvy tactics and good crew work saw us move past some of the early front-runners and a quarter way into the race we were bow-to-bow with Loki, with Brindabella a few boat lengths astern of her. And that’s the way it stayed for the rest of the race. Although we never lost our advantage, we were never separated from Loki by more than a boat length or two. Indeed, during the homeward, downwind leg we often overlapped, requiring constant sail and rigging adjustments as Messo and crew attempted to maintain our slender advantage. There was a lot at stake, too, as both crews had been having their own ‘regatta within a regatta’ since the start of the Hogs Breath event a week earlier.
Strong south easterlies, occasionally gusting to nearly 30 knots, had us battling up to the top mark at Baynham Island, and once the kites were up on the downhill run it was a drag race back to Dent Passage. At times we saw 21 knots on the boat speed indicator as we rode the wind and waves home. Two hours and thirty-six minutes later, we crossed the line two boat lengths ahead of Loki, with Brindabella close behind. It was the duel of the race and Vanguard took a hard-fought, and well-deserved win. Hand shakes and cheers all around were followed by a few coldies back at the dock. I felt genuinely privileged to have joined the crew and the experience gave me some insights into life in the fast lane, yachting-style.
I have discovered that to crew on a racing yacht, you need to have a few qualities, number one being an affinity for discomfort. From my limited experience, I deduced that racing yachts are designed to provide maximum discomfort to ensure that no one stays in one place for too long. It is a clever and effective ploy, because fear and good sense would normally prevent otherwise sane crewmen from rushing wildly from one side of the boat to the other during tacking and gybing manoeuvres. There are many sharp and solid objects on the deck of a racing yacht, and I still bear the outlines of some of them from numerous bruising encounters on the day.
Crewmen also need to be totally immune to the sort of language and abuse that would inspire hatred and mutinous thoughts in lesser mortals. An example of a typical Race Week exchange: “Tie that (bleeping) line down you (bleeping bleep) or I’ll come down there right now and (bleep) your (bleeping bleep) you (bleep)”. Instead of turning murderously on the person issuing the threat/instruction, yacht race people merely do what is (bleeping) asked and carry on as though this was a normal conversation between crew mates. It’s obviously a product of the heat of battle, but I’d venture that Fletcher Christian would not have lasted long on a racing yacht.
Ultimately, though, I discovered that yacht racing is, at this level at least, all about passion, intensity, mateship and the will to win. Crews go into ‘race mode’ as soon as they leave the docks. Light-hearted razzing and comments about the competition disappear, replaced by an air of anticipation and nervousness. Once out on the water, it’s a non-stop battle of cunning, tactics, acrobatics and skill to see who can be the best boat and crew on the day. And the battle rages for every second of the race. No one sits still; all eyes are constantly looking out for the opposition or for any advantage that can get them first across the line.
My sincere thanks to Dick Cawse, Messo, Bazz, Mick and the rest of the dedicated crew of Vanguard for giving me one of my most unforgettable boating experiences. From my own humble perspective, you deserved to win the duel of the race and I wish you many more wins in the future.