King of thrills

Ocean racers set a course for destination King Island, starting 9 March.

Written by Jane Austin/ORCV

04 March 2024


On 9 March 2024, the 114 nautical mile race across Bass Strait, organised by the Ocean Racing Club of Victoria and supported by the King Island Boat Club, starts.

The fleet will set off from Queenscliff bound for Grassy Harbour, and this year’s 53rd ORCV Melbourne to King Island Race promises thrilling battles throughout the feet. Racing under AMS, ORC, multihull, double-handed, and PHS, boats compete for the King Island Trophy awarded to the overall winner on AMS.

Sailors don’t race in this event just for the sailing. One mention of crayfish, the infamous rib eye fillet steak sandwiches and local cheeses has the fleet of close to 200 sailors onboard salivating, ready to knock down the door to the wonderful hospitality of the King Island Boat Club, which uses the event as its major annual fundraiser.


Sailors will be hoping for northerly or westerly winds rather than a strong southerly breeze, which could cause steep and choppy seas. Still, while nothing is certain, the conditions in Bass Strait are generally quite favourable at this time of the year.

Newcomer, Toecutter, the Hick 10 designed, co-owned and built by Robert Hick and Brad Bult and launched in October 2023, is shaping up as an early favourite to take home the coveted silverware, although this is Bult’s first King Island race.

“We did well in the Melbourne to Devonport and the Sydney to Hobart Race last year… we’re still learning a lot about the boat and slowly getting better, which is the main objective.

“We are sailing with the same crew we took for the Sydney Hobart; they are all experienced ocean racers, some I have sailed with for over 20 years, and some are a bit younger.

Bult and Hick, from the Royal Yacht Club of Victoria, are certainly focused on winning the race on AMS handicap.

“We will be focusing on the AMS; line honours will probably be taken by one of the bigger boats unless something dramatic happens, but we’ll be aiming for an AMS victory,” said Bult. 

Solera, an Elliott 1350 from the Royal Geelong Yacht Club skippered by Stuart Richardson and sailing with his mostly Geelong-based crew, will also be a boat to watch.

“Last year, we sat out there for about six hours waiting for the wind, which eventually came in, and we had a good little run home.

“The optimal conditions for us [Solera] include a nice westerly that would be perfect, or anything on the beam behind us is good,” said Richardson.

The race is open to multihulls and monohulls, with this year’s fleet featuring the 2023 Melbourne to Hobart multihull line honours winner Peccadillo (Charles Meredith).

Six entries will sail double-handed in the race, with Foggy Dew (Robert Darcy/Barry Grogan), Alex-Team Macadie (Jock Macadie/Ryan Evans) and Quest (Peter Tardrew / Rod Gunther) among the entries.

Lillian Stewart from Tasmania is sailing with ORCV Commodore Cyrus Allen (White Spirit) double-handed, with this race forming part of their preparation for the 2025 Melbourne to Osaka race.

“Racing to Kind Island offers some of the most spectacular but also tactically challenging sailing with glass-top oceans at times.

“Taking the race on double-handed brings with it a dynamic and trust in the crew unlike any other sailing, and I warmly welcome the challenge and the growth that comes with it,” said Stewart.

The seasoned crew of Soiree Bleu, skippered by Douglas Lithgow, has done well in previous races to King Island and is hoping for light conditions.

“I’m never really confident as so much depends upon the weather, but as one of the lower handicapped boats in Division One in previous years, the light conditions seem to suit us,” said Lithgow.

Lithgow loves the welcome from the KIBC and the local hospitality and, after racing to the island nearly 10 times, is looking forward to seeing more of what’s on offer this year.

“It’s such a social atmosphere, but the funny thing is I’ve never had a good look around. I’m hoping that will change this year with a local farmer planning to show me around,” said Lithgow.

It would be hard to find an Australian mayor prouder of their jurisdiction than King Island Mayor Marcus Blackie.

“We’ve got a few things to brag about here on King Island, like the world’s freshest air, the world’s cleanest rainwater, Australia’s best cheese, Australia’s best grass-fed beef, Australia’s best Golf Courses, Australia’s best lobster, Australia’s best crab, Australia’s best sea kelp and, now back by popular demand, Australia’s best Tungsten!

“There are some things, however, that we don’t have – such as no traffic lights, no parking meters and virtually no crime.

“We have had a rare dry summer, so you will currently not be seeing us at our best. However, our people will more than make up for that,” said Blackie.

Mayor Blackie is wildly supportive of the race to King Island, the skills of the sailors and the fastidious preparation of the boats.

“I very much look forward to being at the finish of this great race and will pay tribute to the skills and precision of all the yachts and crews involved.

“The least we can do after a hard ocean race is to show the sailors our great hospitality,” said Blackie.

In this year’s race, the ORCV also shines a light on the sustainability of the marine environment and the impact of polyfluoroalkyl substances (aka PFAS) or ‘forever chemicals’, on the health of Pro Divers, Australia’s smallest species of penguin, which call Grassy, on the east coast of King Island, home.

All sailors can access guidance from ORCV to reduce the ‘forever chemicals’ they take with them on the race and do their bit to reduce the impact on the Pro Diver penguin population and the broader marine environment.

The race is part of the ORCV Offshore Championship.

Primitive Cool holds the race record in a time of 09h 50m 21s set in 2014. 

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