The AP flag was hoisted at 9am, with race officer Denis Thompson declaring that the committee would reassess the weather hourly. At 12.15pm, the siren’s mournful wail was dispersed by winds gusting to 39 knots.
A freak storm front also wrought havoc on Saturday night, with 60-knot gusts accompanied by horizontal hail and lightning. Mast-top instruments bore the full brunt while stray sails and gear were sent flying.
Luckiest of all was Wild Oats X which, with its 4.5-metre draft, was awaiting the tide to enter The Anchorage Marina. The crew saw menacing green-tinged clouds approaching and made a dash for the harbour with minutes to spare, bumping the keel but sustaining no damage.
It was a slightly sour end to a sweet day of sailing aboard Oats, which blitzed the Broughton Island race to cross the line 10 minutes clear of Marcus Blackmore’s latest TP52 Hooligan.
Navigator Adrienne Cahalan noted that the 30-mile course, which also weaves through the three islands off Port Stephens Heads, presented numerous challenges for the canting-keeled 66-footer.
Ultimately, they needed more time or distance against the smaller and more nimble rivals, finishing a creditable fourth overall.
Of the four races sailed in IRC, Hooligan won three and took third in the other to wrest the NSW Championship title from last year’s winner, the TP52 RKO. Despite the dominance, they were only 1.5 points clear of Tony Kirby’s Patrice, which won the opening race, had a rare dead-heat with Celestial in Race 2, then posted two 2nd placings.
While disappointed that Ichi Ban, a more recent incarnation of the Botin hull, couldn’t make the regatta, Blackmore was rapt with the performance of his recent purchase, formerly Azzura.
“I had a lot of success with my last TP52 … they rate well and they’re a marvellous boat to sail, so I decided to do it all again,” he said. “There’s no question it’s a better boat than my last TP – it’s easier to sail and doesn’t stick its head in the water, so we’re really pleased with it.”
Blackmore was also proud and appreciative of his crew.
“The old adage applies, a champion team will beat a team of champions. Sure, I’ve got some champions on the boat but that doesn’t detract from the team effort – some of these guys have been with me for 15 years or more on all kinds of boats.
“There are very few IRC regattas in Australia. This one is outstanding, with a great race committee led by Denis Thompson, and I really thank the organisers.”
Celestial claimed 3rd place with 11.5 points.
Nine Dragon’s skipper Bob Cox successfully defended his Division 2 title, posting 8 points to hold off Gerry Hatton’s Bushranger on 13 and Joe De Kock’s stock-standard Farr 40 OD on 15.
“It was lovely to see Hooligan accelerate from the line, and I promised the crew that I’d buy one if I won the lottery,” Cox joked. “But we had a very good Division 2 fleet and Bushranger was right there again. I’ll certainly be back next year.”
The new NSW champions in the Super 12s are the Ker 40 Showtime, for Division 1, and the Melges 32 Tow Truck in Division 2 after three passage races were staged. Unfortunately, plans for a series of windward-leewards today were scuttled by the breeze.
“Those windward-leewards would’ve been great today but you can’t control the weather gods,” Tow Truck skipper Anthony Paterson said. “Still, we’re very happy with the result and had a lot of fun.
“Our boat was in full one-design mode but it’s very quick in the light stuff and we can keep up with the bigger boats. We had a great team on board that just kept pushing.”
Paterson favours the Super 12’s handicapping system over PHS but, as a skipper of a smaller entry, would prefer to see the divisional length capped at 40-feet. “Once you get above 40 it changes the dynamic,” he added.
On the Performance Racing podium were the Archambault A32 Esprit, Sydney 38 Challenge and Salona 38 Sticky.
X43 Quest 3 took Performance Cruising Division 1 honours by one point from the Sydney 36 Amante. Equal on 14 points were Peter Byford’s Jeanneau 469 SO L’Esprit and Rob Aldis’s Kayimai, with L’Esprit winning on countback.
Newcastle’s Tim Gleeson won Division 2 aboard Summersalt, despite not winning a race. Second was the Jeanneau Sunfast 3200 Steadfast, from Swan 48 Sumatra.
Still licking wounds after winds reached 25-30 knots in their Saturday passage race, the Australian Sports Boat fleet was the first to pull the pin today. Nevertheless, the regatta was declared a huge success, with competitors experiencing fresh nor-westers on Day 1 and 2 under cloudless blue skies.
Andrew York, with crew Freddo Kasparek and Andy Maher, successfully defended their national title in Reo Speedwagon by claiming two of the four races.
In second place was Juno skippered by Reg Lord, a first timer at Sail Port Stephens regatta. Lord said his J70 performed well under handicap and he is keen to return. “Port Stephens delivers the most beautiful sailing on the East Coast,” he added.
In terms of bragging rights, the top four boats all hail from the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia.
Dates for Sail Port Stephens 2019 are 8-14 April, the week preceding the NSW school holiday break.