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In his immortal fantasy novel, Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame’s lovable character Ratty extols the virtues of ‘simply messing around in boats’. The advice seems sometimes lost on sailors who concentrate totally on racing: how many boats, bought as cruiser/racers end up racing nearly all the time, with, maybe, Xmas-New Year spent cruising. The cat-loving breed of sailors I met on the recent Seawind Rally is different: they’ve bought or chartered their boats for the specific purpose of having as much fun in as short a time as is humanly possible.

My introduction to the gang was at Whitsunday Rent A Yacht’s BBQ on the night before the first race. While mingling and chatting I met a middle-aged bloke named Barry, who wore a pony tail and a sarong — hardly racing kit — and who told me that he had a marina business in Cairns and had, "taken a little time off to attend the Seawind Rally."

"How long did it take you to get down here?" I queried.

"Two months," said Barry, without a trace of irony.

I figured that the Seawind Rally might just be dancing to the beat of a different drum.

Next morning, as our boat set the starting gate for the 13 Seawinds, I had the normal pre-start flutters and so did our skipper, Seawind’s Brent Vaughan, first mate, Dr Peter Birks and our apprentice sailor, Seawind’s events co-ordinator, Renee Clarke.

The boats lined up along our wake and, after the starting signal, the event looked for all-the-world like your average yacht race. However, as the boats stretched out down the choppy Whitsunday Passage, there were obvious differences: no feet hanging over windward rails, no headsail changes as the wind speed dropped, and no closely fought tacking duels. It looked competitive enough, but crews could be seen lounging — lounging, if you don’t mind — and skippers left their posts at times to check out passing turtles.

Over post-race drinkies, some attendees (how could you call them crew) confessed to taking a little nap during the race and others admitted to trolling a line during this hard-fought event. One skipper told me that the main reason he opted for a faster sail wardrobe for his boat was to hasten him to the prime party anchorages as quickly as possible.

As with a conventional regatta, the Seawind Rally’s first race-day ended with an on-shore party. The first three placegetters were duly acknowledged and then race director, Brent Vaughan, made it quite clear that the race positions counted only partly towards the overall rally score. What? As important as performance on the water would be, points would also be awarded for… karaoke!

I don’t mind talking into the mike for boat tests that appear on the Trade-a-Boat website, but reading the blurry words of a song I’ve never heard and singing to a tune I don’t know is… fun? Well, everyone else had fun and soon it was their turn… and I had fun. Then Barry got up and I was getting ready to give him a big gobful about wearing a dress, when he pulled a flute from behind his back and turned out to be pretty bloody good at it.

We should have known from the name of their boat Paso Doble that this mob would be pretty light on their feet. While one of the crew did a half-decent job of singing, a dancing couple demonstrated more skill than you see on Dancing with the Stars.

Where was Peter? He hadn’t turned up for our karaoke effort, so I went searching. He was jet-lagged, having flown in from Dubai only the day before, so I wasn’t totally surprised to see him, asleep on a deck chair, on the darkened beach. I could have woken him gently, but it was more fun to yell at him and watch him leap to his feet — especially as the tide was lapping around the chair legs!

And this was only Day One of the 2009 Seawind Rally.

A lot more happened, including the stomach-cramping hysteria of watching blindfolded skippers rowing their dinghies around a course, with steering instructions from a cox’n, but to get all the dirt you should sign up for the next Seawind Rally, in June 2010.

See some of the video at


by Allan Whiting


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