Colour & Excitement

Wild Oats XI at Hamilton Island Race Week

Wild Oats XI at Hamilton Island Race Week (Photo: Andrea Francolini)

Australia’s most celebrated offshore sailing regatta and one of the country’s premier social events, Audi Hamilton Island Race Week 2011 promises to eclipse previous years with more excitement on and off the water.

Marcus Blackmore, the manwhose name is behind one of Australia’s leading health product companies, has dreamt of winning the Grand Prix division at Audi Hamilton Island Race Week since he competed in the inaugural event 28 years ago, and this year that dream might just come true.

Right now he has the hottest Grand Prix level ocean racing yacht in Australia. In the first four months of this year his 52-footer, Hooligan, which he imported from Europe, won every major event she has contested, including Audi Victoria Week, the Audi Sydney Harbour Regatta and the NSW IRC Championship at Port Stephens. She is also on top of the points table for the Audi IRC Australian Championship, a series where the final round is scheduled for Hamilton Island.

Apart from wanting to win, there was another reason behind Blackmore’s decision to have his yacht and highly talented crew from Sydney take part in what is Australia’s premier keelboat regatta: “Hamilton Island Race Week had everything going for it from day one in 1984, and it just keeps getting better these days under the stewardship of Bob Oatley and his family,” says Blackmore.

Blackmore’s dream of winning the premier racing class at Audi Hamilton Island Race Week was ignited when he won the Arbitrary Division in 1984 with his 43ft sloop, The Manly Ferry. Ironically, he bought that yacht from his friend, and famous Australian winemaker, Bob Oatley, who has owned Hamilton Island with his family since 2003.

Remarkably, if he wins at Audi Hamilton Island Race Week – which will be staged from 19 to 27 August – Blackmore will have achieved his two great ambitions in the sport in a matter of months. “Because I was originally a Queenslander, I always wanted to win the Brisbane to Gladstone race, and we’ve just done that,” he said. “The other dream was to win the Grand Prix division at Audi Hamilton Island Race Week. So, there is no way I’m not going to be there with Hooligan and the team this year to give it our best shot.”

While Hooligan will almost certainly start the favourite in its division, Blackmore isn’t assured of success as some of the most competitive offshore racing yachts and elite crews from Australia and around the world will be competing.

Even so, as is always the case, there is far more to Audi Hamilton Island Race Week this year than the upper echelon of the sport: there will be every conceivable type of sailboat, from tiny sportboats through to cruising keelboats and catamarans, and huge superyachts, making an appearance.

Beyond the on-water activity, the key element is the incredible social calendar for the week – one that is probably better than anything seen at any similar regatta in the world; and it has something for everyone – including some surprises. The fact is that Audi Hamilton Island Race Week is beyond compare in so many ways. Last year Danni Minogue made a surprise appearance attending the inaugural Barefoot and Black Tie function that was staged at a beautiful island beach setting. Once again Collette Dinnigan’s exclusive fashion parade was a highlight, as was the always popular Moet & Chandon Lunch. At the same time, down at the Marina Village the festival feel was all pervasive – the atmosphere absolutely electric for the week as the crews and spectators alike enjoyed this very unique event.

Racing at Hamilton Island Race Week

Racing at Hamilton Island Race Week (Photo: Andrea Francolini)

When it comes to comparisons on the all important sailing side of Audi Hamilton Island Race Week, this year there’s nothing that tells the story of the series better than the comparison between the largest entry, the 40-metre sailing superyacht Janice of Wyoming, and one of the smallest entries, the seven-metre long sport boat, Ketchup.

Janice of Wyoming is owned by an American businessman, and when launched in 2005 she was considered one of the most stylish yachts of her type in the world. The tiny Ketchup is owned by Steve England, from Cairns. The one thing both owners have in common is that they entered Audi Hamilton Island Race Week for the same reason: to enjoy racing on some of the most beautiful waters known to man, to experience exceptional camaraderie, and to indulge in a wonderful on-shore social scene. But when it comes to their yachts there is a big difference: Janice of Wyoming is more than four times wider than Ketchup is long, and at 198 tonnes the superyacht is 200 times heavier. The big boat also has near 20 times more sail area. Also, while Janice of Wyoming is likely to be sailing with more than 30 guests and crew in the lap of luxury, the seven-metre long Ketchup will be doing things very differently. That sailboat doesn’t even have a cabin as such: below deck is like being in a fibreglasslined cave. However, there will be one common denominator for these two extremes of Audi Hamilton Island Race Week and that is the fun factor.

This year will also see the debut of one of the world’s most radical ocean racing yachts. Bob Oatley’s youngest son, Ian, will be campaigning his new carbon fibre sloop, Q. Apart from the name there is nothing unusual about this yacht when it is seen at rest, but on the race course it’s a stand-out. As soon as the wind gets up and the yacht begins to heel over the simple press of a button sees the entire keel rotate around the hull until it comes completely clear of the water. It is Ian Oatley’s own concept, based on the simple equation that when the keel is above water level, less drag and less ballast translates to more power and greater speed. It will surely be followed with great interest.

Bob Oatley will be back again this year with his Rolex Sydney Hobart race record holder, the 30-metre supermaxi, Wild Oats XI. This amazing yacht is expected to be joined in the superyacht division by two other behemoths of ocean racing, the similarsized Loyal (Anthony Bell) and Lahana (Peter Millard and John Honan).

Some 200 yachts from around Australia,New Zealand, America and Europe are expected to line up for Audi Hamilton Island Race Week 2011, and if all the stars align as planned this one is certainly destined to be the best ever.

STORY: Rob Mundle

The above article was originally published in the July 2011 Edition of REEF Magazine