Written by Rob Mundle
Photography by Andrea Francolini
The milestone 200th entry into the 2017 Audi Hamilton Island Race Week provides a much needed boost to the Hamilton Island team who have made a mammoth effort to ensure the iconic Whitsunday destination is looking its best for the August 19 kick-off.
The Western Australian TP52 class racing yacht, M3, which experienced adversity of its own, running aground in early 2016 and narrowly escaping the scrapyard, is not only the 200th entry for this month’s Audi Hamilton Island Race Week but a welcome message to the hard-working team that their efforts are appreciated by all competitors and guests.
M3 was caught in a huge storm during a delivery trip from Coffs Harbour to Sydney and was subsequently washed ashore onto a beach south of Seal Rocks. The remoteness of the location meant there was no commercially viable way of salvaging the yacht, until NSW National Parks officials stepped in. The location was part of a national park, and accordingly, the yacht could not be cut up and taken to the closest dump. Instead, it had to be removed so there was no trace of it left behind.
An amazing salvage effort ensued: a trench was dug in the sand so the yacht could be stood upright, then both the keel and mast were removed. The keel was then put on a truck and sent south while the mast was strapped to the yacht’s deck.
Soon after, when calm weather prevailed, a long line was attached to the bare hull so it could be dragged across the sand and towed offshore by a large workboat positioned beyond the surfline.
Eventually, all the pieces came together at a boatyard and M3 lived to sail again, now at the 2017 Audi Hamilton Island Race Week for the first time.
The lodging of the 200th entry confirms the popularity the regatta holds with sailors nationally and internationally. It is now anticipated that the final fleet for the series will be between 225 and 230.
“I’m really impressed by the support for the regatta,” said regatta director, Denis Thompson. “It appears that the final fleet will be only 20 or so less than last year’s amazing record of 252 entries.”
The fleet size also reflects the confidence sailors have in the regatta, particularly in the wake of Cyclone Debbie which devastated much of Hamilton Island and the tropical Whitsunday islands region last March.
Hamilton Island’s CEO, Olympic and world champion sailor, Glenn Bourke, said that the support for Race Week will be seen as a huge “thank you” to the island’s 1200 staff.
“One of our first priorities after we emerged into the outside world and saw the carnage the cyclone had wreaked with its 260kph winds was to establish goals,” Bourke said, “and one of the highest on the list was for us to be ready for Audi Hamilton Island Race Week.
“Within days of the cyclone, we had our 1200 staff and 300 contractors from the mainland combining their energies and initiating the recovery process. Staff were doing jobs they had never imagined spa therapists were street sweepers, restaurant staff were undertaking repair works and administrators were clearing felled trees and foliage from the roads and gardens.
“Come Race Week our general accommodation, like the Reef View Hotel and the Beach Club, will be back at nearly 100 percent occupancy while our premium resort, qualia, will be delivering a new level of delight to guests.
“It goes without saying that our wonderful staff have gone above and beyond the call of duty to make sure everything possible is in readiness for Race Week. I’m sure the sailors and Race Week visitors will appreciate their efforts as much as the island’s owners, the Oatley family, and I do. At the same time I want to thank everyone visiting us for Race Week for their wonderful support.”
M3 skipper, Brent Fowler, said from Perth this week that the yacht’s charterer, Garry Ralston, and the crew had no hesitation about being at Race Week despite the impact of Cyclone Debbie.
“We’re looking forward to the competition we’ll face in the IRC Racing division,” Fowler said. “We’ve campaigned this yacht on the east coast since 2015, the most recent series being the Festival of Sails at Geelong. That experience and what will come in next weekend’s Sydney to Southport Race should have us really ready for racing at Hamilton Island.”
German luxury carmaker, Audi, is returning for the 12th year as principal sponsor, and is similarly proud to be a partner of the Hamilton Island team in their massive effort to prepare the island for this significant event.
The brand continues to be committed to playing a role in bringing high quality, competitive offshore racing together with a benchmark onshore social calendar that is as inclusive as it is exclusive.