Breakout genesis

Being confined to land over lockdown has inspired the emergence of a new offshore race from Sydney to Port Stephens, the Pantaenius Breakout Series.

Written by Scott Alle
Photography by Salty Dingo / Marzena Kalbarczyk

03 June 2020


On Saturday 8 August, what is promising to be a large fleet of racing and cruising yachts will assemble in Sydney Harbour for one of the first major offshore sailing events since the sailing hiatus imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sails magazine has jumped on board as the Official Media Partners of the series and will be providing coverage in the lead up to, and during, the series.

Meanwhile, Sails Editor Scott Alle explains how the Pantaenius Breakout Series (PBS) came together – and what it will offer others keen to get the salty blue water back in their veins.


Very early into our COVID-19 land confinement, I was attempting to find a way to explain what it is exactly that draws me inexorably to the water.

The sensation of a boat coming alive, flinging sheets of cobalt-blue spray aside as it powers up on a fast reach off the coast remains, for me, a near-mystical experience.


Percy Bysshe Shelley, whose sailing skills, unfortunately, didn’t match his poetic gifts, with fatal consequences, once described a sublime outing on the Bay of Lerici: “We drive along this delightful bay in the evening wind under the summer moon until earth appears another world.”

There it is: the otherworldly nature of what we, as sailors, do. We venture out into that other world of the sea and, in doing so, we literally leave the land behind to become part of a completely alien environment with all its uncertainty, beauty and elemental power.

Sometimes we don’t appreciate what we have until, particularly in the case of COVID-19, we can’t do what we naively take for granted.

So, in late March, I emailed Paul O’Rourke, CEO of the Newcastle Cruising Yacht Club (NCYC), suggesting a blue-sky event to look forward to – a cruising rally from Sydney to Port Stephens.

Deep in the midst of iso, I wrote in one of my SailsLive editor’s note: “In the wake of the cancellation of our sailing lives as we know them, we need a bit of a circuit-breaker.”

Paul swiftly replied that NCYC would love to be involved and offered free berthing for participating boats, which is now officially extended to Breakout Series entrants. Very quickly, Rick Pacey from the Port Stephens Yacht Club also kindly pledged their support and cooperation.

Next, Paul put me in touch with Peter Lewis, Commodore of Middle Harbour Yacht Club, who immediately grasped the event’s full potential and crucially set about enlisting the support of the other major Sydney sailing clubs for the Breakout Series, a moniker that seemed to resonate as our confinement dragged on.

Thanks to Peter and David Staley, the highly efficient Sailing Manager at MHYC, we had a draft Notice of Race by early May. That has now been finalised into the NOR released today.

So, what started out as a low-key, casual cruise up the coast has evolved into something hundreds of sailors can participate in. An opportunity, as Peter puts it, “to celebrate everything yachting stands for” as we emerge from the sporting and social restrictions required to keep everyone safe during the pandemic.

We were also very fortunate to receive a commitment of financial support from Jamie McPhail from Pantaenius Sail and Motor Yacht Insurance. We thank Jamie and the team at Pantaenius for their ongoing sponsorship of sailing and this event.

Port Stephens Council has also come on board with sponsorship, while Flagstaff Marine has generously donated the use of a Beneteau Swift Trawler 35 as a start boat at Port Stephens.

The details of the Pantaenius Breakout Series format are, as MHYC Commodore Peter Lewis explains:

“We’ll take off on Saturday 8 August from Sydney Harbour and arrive at Pittwater to overnight at the Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club.

“On Sunday 9 August, we’ll head to the Newcastle Cruising Yacht Club, which is right in the heart of town. There will be berths for just 60 vessels, so if the fleet extends past this number, we’ll look at sending some further on to Port Stephens itself.

“Then, on Monday 10 August, there is the race to our final destination, Port Stephens, which is followed by a lay day.

“We will have three days of racing from Wednesday 12 August, with a passage race out and around the islands and back. Anyone who knows the area will appreciate just how tactical this will be.

“There will then be two more days of racing inside before boats can make their way home under their own recognisance.”

For those who have sorely missed the challenge of offshore racing, the PBS will offer three categories: Performance, Two-Handed, and Cruising (Non-Spinnaker). Depending on entry numbers, there could also be three Performance divisions.

Five entries will be the minimum requirement for the Two-Handed division, while it’s envisaged there will be enough interest for two Cruising divisions.

A more leisurely option for the passage will also be available in the form of a Breakout Cruise, stopping at the same overnight destinations to Port Stephens as the racing fraternity.

Each participating club will host a shore function depending on what kind of social interaction is permitted in early August.

The Commodore of Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club Michael Lockley agrees the Pantaenius Breakout Series is shaping up to be a welcome tonic after a long break off the water: “RPAYC members are very excited by this initiative, and we are looking forward to welcoming the sailors who stopover on the first night at the Alfred,” he says.

The concept of a NSW coastal race has really captured the interest of racing and cruising members alike.

Further north, Newcastle and Port Stephens sailors are similarly looking forward to the arrival of what’s predicted to be a big contingent from Sydney during the series.

“After the cancellation of two major regattas in April, the communities are keen to roll out the welcome mat,” says Newcastle Cruising Yacht Club CEO, Paul O’Rourke.

“Visiting fleets from Sydney importantly provide big-fleet sailing for our local boats, raise the profile of our sport in the community, and contribute to the local visitor economies,” he adds.

Paul confirms several Newcastle-based boats are planning to head south for the unique event and there is already a strong groundswell of interest among sailors in Sydney.

The Making Waves Foundation will be bringing their TP52, a likely pacesetter at the pointy end of the fleet, and the proceeds of raffles and prizes at the various host clubs will go to the foundation as the nominated charity for the series. There will also be prizes for the boats with most youth sailors (18+ years due to going outside) and the most female crew members.

The strong spirit of camaraderie present throughout the whole process – not only among the host and founding clubs who have come together to make it happen, but also clubs like the Royal Motor in Newport stepping in to assist with overflow berthing – has been extremely positive. In addition, the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia is assigning average points to any of its boats taking part as they will miss one of the club’s Winter Series races.

Despite four first-class sailing venues along the 150 kilometres of coastline stretching from Sydney to Port Stephens, I have never taken part in an event that integrates them all into what promises to be a week of unforgettable experiences. I hope you can join us for the Pantaenius Breakout Series.

Race documents and online entry can be found at For all enquiries, contact

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