Airlie Beach Race Week 2014 report
The Vision Surveys 25th Airlie Beach Race Week 2014 got off to a flying start that never slowed, thanks to a week of big winds that brought thrills and spills to the fleet of 135 racing yachts.
This year’s enormously-popular 2014 Airlie Beach Race Week saw the record 135-yacht fleet split between the newly completed Port Airlie Marina and the Abel Point Marina to the north of town. Scenic Pioneer
Bay with its backdrop of cascading hills and seascape of islands is a beautiful place for sailors to enjoy, especially during the passage races that took us south along the coast to the farthest mark at White Rock near Shute Harbour.
For me the great attraction of this event is its wide and inclusive nature. And this year, just like the last, smaller trailer-sailer family groups rubbed shoulders with elite grand prix yachts. In between were nippy sportsboats, fast trimarans and majestic catamarans, many from local builders.
AIRLIE BEACH RACE WEEK
The largest and the newest grand prix raceboat in the fleet – Matt Allen’s 60ft Carkeek carbon rocketship Ichi Ban – didn’t have it all her own way during the six days of racing, thanks to the efforts of the smaller 2013-built Patrice which withstood winds touching 40kts at times to win. This Ker 46 by McConaghy was rated as my top raceboat this year after sailing her with owner Tony Kirby, and he was delighted with the win. "All credit to my crew who had to work really hard during all the six days and I was pleased the boat stood up well to the wild conditions," said Tony.
Elsewhere in the top IRC fleet, the battle of the two canting-keel Cookson 50 yachts Pretty Fly III and the newer Victoire saw victory going to the latter. Successful owner and plastic surgeon Daryl Hodgkinson making the podium to add to his Sydney Hobart win earlier in the year.
The largest part of the fleet at Airlie comprised 66 cruising yachts spread across four divisions, so it was a good event to watch the big four manufacturers Beneteau, Jeanneau, Bavaria and Hanse slug it out. But particularly enjoyable was seeing Tony Horkings’ Australian-built Northshore 38 Lee-Way spoil their party by winning the top division.
The non-spinnaker division is a good way to sample the racing without too many strings to pull, so this 16-strong fleet was the safest one given the massive conditions. Not that Belinda Cooper’s quilting club ladies crewing eventual winner La Quilter weren’t partial to pulling some strings, but they won anyway and in style on their comfortable Moody 45 Deck Saloon.
Among a larger multihull fleet than previous years, Andrew Stransky’s self-built 51ft wooden Fantasia overcame some expensive and fancy opposition (including George Owen’s APC Mad Max and Wayne Bloomer’s stylish Schionning G-Force Chillpill) to win.
"Really happy to win but we broke a lot of gear – daggerboard boxes, halyards and padeyes – so we were working on the boat till late every night to have it ready the next day," explained Andrew, when I caught up with him at the sailing club. Along with wife Elizabeth and 15yo daughter Mara, the five-year-old catamaran is also their home.
The Farr 30 Skeeter of Matthew Fisher leads Ocean Affinity through a stormy Pioneer Bay.
There was plenty of eye candy for us yachting tragics to ogle, so I was particularly pleased to sail the wooden Inglis 47 Dolce along with owners Pierre Gal and Doug Gayford. Thought to be around 25 years-old and sister ship to the legendary Wild Thing of top Victorian racer Grant Wharrington, the Coffs Harbour-based duo have laboured for the past two years rebuilding her, with new deck, mast and cabin.
From Dolce’s cockpit we had a thrilling ride. On one particular downwind run from White Rock near Shute Harbour, we made 17kts with our small spinnaker up. We competed strongly with the larger carbon-hulled Martin 49 Ocean Affinity that eventually won our Performance Division thanks to a faultless effort by skipper Stewart Lewis, while Dolce took a very commendable third overall.
Another yacht I enjoyed taking the tiller of was the JV 42 Elena Nova that owner Craig Neil had imported into Australia earlier this year from Germany. Designed by the well-known Judel/Vrolijk team, the GRP-hulled 42-footer is optimised for ORC handicap racing. Along with two other sister ships already in Australia, these are interesting raceboats.
More interesting is the fact that this is Craig Neil’s first yacht he told me as we bashed our way to windward. "For many guys the JV 42 would be their second or third boat, so I’ve jumped in at the deep end but I’m really enjoying racing with the big guys," laughed the Sydney businessman. The metallic silver painted hull has received some local modifications with the keel bulb weight increased and the rudder remodelled.
Another interesting yacht was the 39ft catamaran Rushour of Drew Carruthers that preferred the heavier conditions and impressively won all but one race. The 2011-built GRP hull is a Rogers 12 design and I watched it use those large daggerboards well on some of the bumpy upwind legs.
Dramatic weather with heavy rain and winds gusting to 40kts pushed crews to the limit.
Many boats and crew suffered in the gusty conditions, especially on the offshore legs when the south-going spring tide kicked up the southerly swells. Among the serious casualties was the Beale 780 trailer-sailer Rum Gutz that lost its lifting keel and capsizing before its crew were rescued near the Cones Islands.
Three yachts also lost their masts on the stormy first day but more was to come during the week with the luckier ones merely damaging spinnakers. Even some locals succumbed by going too near Pioneer Rock during the spring ebb tide and cracking their keelboxes.
Among the protests that regatta director Denis Thompson had to deal with was the redress requested by Ichi Ban for going in search of the missing Farr 400 Vento which had broken her mooring but was miraculously found drifting unscathed. I was crewing on Elena Nova at the time and took part in the successful search that thankfully ended well when the yacht was found near the Cones Islands.
After each hard-day’s racing focus switched to the onshore action and stylish eateries along the main street for crews to kick back in. The bars buzzed with backpacker action as a wet t-shirt competition got underway amid a rowdy multinational crowd. Meanwhile, up at the sailing club, the most hotly contested event was the bruises competition, pushing crew to reveal more and more embarrassing bits of flesh as the Mount Gay rum flowed and the band belted out old favourites at the event’s 25th birthday party. Elsewhere, the pirate party at Mama Africa’s bar saw many Johnny Depp lookalikes swashbuckling along main street.
On the final Friday the fireworks blasted among the rain clouds to signal the grand finale of a bruising but brilliant Vision Surveys 25th Airlie Beach Race Week.
Visit abrw.com.au for all the results and more information.
Originally published in Trade-A-Boat #457, September / October 2014. Why not subscribe today?
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