Sailing nirvana

For sailors Hamilton Island Race Week is an unrivalled tropical tonic.

Written by Scott Alle / Race Week media
Photography by Kurt Arrigo

25 August 2018


There are only a few places in the world which infuse a regatta with a special quality that ensures long after the last beat or run you can recall the hue of the water, the warm breeze on your shoulder, and the sensation as the hull carves to the next mark.

Europe has the attractions of Sardinia and Croatia, while Australia, and indeed the southern hemisphere has the Whitsundays and Hamilton Island Race Week. My first Race Week was back in 2003, and I’ve been regular returnee, lured north by the promise of escaping the southern chill for some of the best island regatta racing anywhere.

While some years the south-east trades don’t fully co-operate, this year was a banner edition. Strong breezes at the start of the week tested untried crew combinations. Aboard Triton, the Lyons/Cause 60 our crew was re-shuffled which meant some people stepping into to new roles, and there were some challenging moments. But as the regatta progressed we improved and became a more cohesive team, who thrived on the opportunity each race brought. 



All up  233 boats across 15 divisions and close to 2,000 fellow sailors from Australia, New Zealand converged on Hamilton island for six days of strong competition on the water, and memorable shoreside camaraderie. After all, it’s not difficult to find a few friends on an idyllic tropical island, a spiritual home of sorts, to mariners.

For the record, the Sou’east tradewinds built to their peak of 25 knots on Monday August 20 and close to that number the following day. Layday on Wednesday was ideal pool and Whitehaven Beach weather with little breeze and cloudless skies, and the second half of the week brought lighter ESE winds between 6-12 knots on average, and just the one shower in the closing hours of Saturday August 25, 2018.

The supermaxi battle required an on-water umpire to be brought in on day four of racing, to monitor the pair. The Oatley family’s Wild Oats XI convincingly beat Peter Harburg’s same-length Black Jack in terms of first over the line results; now both crews return home to mull over where a few more seconds-per-mile can be teased out before the December ocean classic, the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race.

A six-day arm-wrestle between the TP52s resulted in Marcus Blackmore’s Hooligan scooping the IRC Division 1 prize from Matt Allen’s Ichi Ban, with a day to spare.

“We set a plan last year to win Hamilton Island Race Week,” Blackmore said prior to the final islands race, a new course out around Baynham Island to the south-east of Hamilton Island.

“We bought a boat from the Roemmers family in Argentina that had won the TP52 Super Series and set a goal. It was an emotional day yesterday; there’s been a bit of argy bargy between us and Ichi Ban,” Blackmore admitted. “We’ve been match racing all week; I don’t know how many tacks we’ve done this regatta and to ultimately win is pretty exciting.”


Team Hooligan added yet another victory to the owner/skipper’s tally, which includes the arbitrary division win at the first Hamilton Island Race Week way back in 1984.

In between the 100-footers and TP52s, Phil Turner’s RP66 Alive finished third overall and banked some crucial time on the water as part of their Sydney Hobart warm-up.

Like Ray Roberts’ Team Hollywood (IRC Div 2 winner) and Gerry Hatton’s Bushranger (IRC Div 3 winner), Hooligan elected to sail out the regatta they’d wrapped up on the penultimate day.

IRC Division 4 top place went to Graham Furtado’s X41 Matrix from Queensland and he and all the division winners will gather at Hamilton Island’s Convention Centre for the gala awards ceremony.

“We were able to race every day in a combination of light to medium to heavy winds. It’s always tricky because of the wind and tide. The team worked hard to come up with courses and shorten when we needed to,” said Race Director Denis Thompson.

“I think there’s good camaraderie around the fleet. Hamilton Island divisions has worked, maybe we’ll look at splitting into another division as some divisions were quite big, and to separate the racier boats,” Thompson added.

The dates for Hamilton Island Race Week 2019 are confirmed for August 17-24.

Crews will have the option to continue on from the annual Sydney Gold Coast Race in July to the Brisbane to Keppel race and straight on to Hamilton Island in the one leg. The Royal Queensland Yacht Squadron initiative, called the Brisbane to Hamilton Island Race and announced at the Race Week opening function, will give the larger boats in particular the option to finish at Keppel and then cruise north or race straight through.

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