|Vision Surveys 25th Airlie Beach Race Week|
Australia's premier east coast events of Airlie Beach and Hamilton Island are back-to-back weeks' of action for grand prix boats and the many racing divisions. With the new Port Airlie Marina recently completed, the record 135-yacht fleet was split between it and the Abel Point Marina to the north of town. The scenic Pioneer Bay with a shoreward 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 furthest mark of White Rock near Shute Harbour.
The wide and inclusive nature of this event is for me the great attraction so this year, just like the last, smaller trailer-sailors with family groups were rubbing shoulders with the elite grand prix yachts. In between were nippy sports boats, fast trimarans and majestic catamarans; many from local builders.Winners and grinners
The largest and the newest grand prix race boat in the fleet, Matt Allen's 60-foot carbon rocket-ship 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 40 knots at times to win. The Ker 46, built by Australian builders McConaghy China, I rated as my top race boat this year after sailing her with owner Tony Kirby, who was understandably delighted he told me when I had a beer with him afterwards. "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 – went to the latter, as owner and plastic surgeon Daryl Hodgkinson made the podium, adding to his Hobart win earlier in the year.
The largest part of the fleet at Airlie was made of up 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 to see 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 its 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 strings but they won anyway and in style on their comfortable Moody 45 deck saloon.
Among a larger multihull fleet than the previous year Andrew Stransky's self-built 51ft wooden Fantasia continues her successful return from Asian waters to overcome some expensive and fancy opposition - including George Owen's APC Mad Max and Wayne Bloomer's stylish Schionning G Force Chillpill. "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 the tall, blonde Andrew when I caught up with him at the sailing club. Along with wife Elizabeth and 15- year old daughter Mara, the five-year-old catamaran is also their home.Interesting yachts
There was plenty 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 had laboured for the last two years rebuilding her with new deck, mast and cabin.
In Dolce's cockpit we had a thrilling ride - on one particular down-wind run from the White Rock near Shute Harbour making 17-knots 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 in the year from Germany. Designed by the wellknown Judel & Vrolijk team, the GRP hulled 42-footer is optimized for ORC handicap racing.
Along with two other sister ships already in Australia these are interesting race boats. More interesting is the fact that this is Craig Neil's first yacht, as he explained to me as we bashed our way to windward. "For many guys the JV42 would be their second or third boat so I've jumped in at the deep end but really enjoying racing with the big guys," laughed the Sydney businessman. The metallic silver painted hull had received some local modifications with the keel bulb weight increased and the rudder remodelled.
International Airports – Cairns Or Brisbane
National airports – Hamilton Island Airport, Proserpine Airport
Another interesting yacht was the 39-foot 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 its large daggerboards well on some of the bumpy upwind legs.Wild winds and dramas
Many boats and crew suffered from the gusty conditions, especially on the offshore legs when the south going spring tide kicked up the southerly swells and among the serious casualties was the Beale 780 trailer-sailor Rum Gutz that lost its lifting keel, 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 keel box. Among the protests that Regatta Director Denis Thompson had to deal with was redress requested from Ichi Ban for going in search of the missing Farr 400 Vento that had broken her mooring but miraculously was 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.Onshore action and wet t-shirts
After each hard day's racing there was plenty onshore action and stylish eateries along the main street for crews to kick-back in. The bars buzzed with backpacker action as the miss wet-shirt got underway amidst a rowdy multinational crowd. 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 25 th birthday party. Elsewhere, the town pirate party at Mama Africa's bar saw many Johnny Depp lookalikes swashbuckle 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.
For all results and more information on the event: www.abrw.com.au
Charter and Stay
For some sailors at this year's event chartering a boat was the easiest option and a cost-effective way to race, so for sailors visiting from Asia there is plenty choices of both monohulls and multihulls from companies including Cumberland Yacht Charters, Queensland Yacht Charters and many more. Check out the www.airliebeach.com/bareboatcharters/welcome.html. After the regatta 74 islands await you nearby for world class cruising including the legendary Whitehaven Beach on the national park island of Whitsunday. Accommodation in Airlie Beach is plentiful. With quality apartments including the Blue Horizons Resort which I found comfortable this year, to a wide range of hotels, right down to back-packer budget accommodation there's plenty to choose from in Airlie beach and nearest airports are only an hour away at Prosperpine or Hamilton Island. Night life is also plentiful with music filled venues and quality fish restaurants a speciality. Other attractions include the free open-air beachside swimming pool and wood surrounds for bushwalkers. The nearby coastal town of Bowen is a classical Australian coastal town with a retro feel or for those seeking modern cinemas and bigger town facilities Mackay is just down the coast.