Photography by Salty Dingo
12 July 2022
As sweet as any siren song – though one thankfully promising and delivering the bounties of a tropical paradise – Hamilton Island lures the yachting fraternity and sorority north to its shimmering shores each August for Race Week.
Just south of Airlie Beach, the ideal provisioning point, Hamilton Island blends castaway casual with jet-set sophistication.
On offer are year-round sunshine, crystalline waters, sun-bleached beaches and coral reefs teeming with marine life, walking trails, myriad dining options, boutique shopping and golf on one of the world’s most scenic courses on its own island.
Within the first few weeks of releasing the Notice of Race, entry numbers topped 200.
“It usually takes us a few months to reach that number of entries,” said Hamilton Island Race Week (HIRW) Race Director, Denis Thompson.
“With not being able to stage Hamilton Island Race Week for the past two years, we expected a lot of entries Australia-wide, however did not anticipate they would come in so quickly.
“The Race Committee capped the regatta numbers at 220. There’s the issue of marina capacity. The marina staff are moving yachts around like pieces of a puzzle – it’s quite an exercise.
“We want to give all competitors a great experience and ensure there’s enough staff, accommodation and access to onshore events for everyone.
“That’s lower than the record of 257 back in 2016, but we have a waiting list of around 40 yachts, so the demand was certainly there.”
Thompson, a stalwart of Race Week in his current role since 2007 and prior to that, on the periphery of every event since its inception in 1984, said the allure of HIRW is multi-faceted.
“It’s a combination of things; it’s the right place, at the right time of year when the weather is considerably warmer than other parts of the country.
“There are so many islands in the Whitsundays that are perfect for sailing, and warm, calm water.
“There’s the camaraderie among sailors and visitors, and a great array of onshore events to keep everybody happy. Something for everyone!”
Thompson is responsible for plotting the racecourses, taking into consideration the tides each day and the wind conditions.
“It gets quite complicated.” he said. “This year, we have around 42 to choose from.”
However, not all the action is on water. Visitors are treated to a diverse range of onshore events, including gourmet lunches, poolside soirees, fashion shows, beach yoga and the final evening Prize Giving.
Along with various categories, including the IRC Australian Yachting Championship, which has attracted 49 yachts, and the OMR (Offshore Multihull Rating) for which eight racing multihulls are registered and 35 cruising multis, there is one hotly contended event that eclipses them all.
At stake are two prizes that require no tactics, no tacking.
The Prix d’Elegance is a much-loved pre-race tradition since 2007, this year scheduled for Thursday 25 August. Two of the 221 crews competing will take home a trophy for decking out their yachts in themed regalia.
Many crews go all out with matching costumes, bunting and signage, eager to take home the silverware and the sensational prize of a two-night stay for two supplied by Hamilton Island’s luxury retreat, qualia.
The concept hands crews a creative challenge while providing considerable entertainment for spectators watching the parade from the Flag Deck at Hamilton Island Yacht Club.
There are two categories in the Prix d’Elegance: the Best-Presented Yacht and the Best-Themed Yacht. In past editions, themes have spanned political satire, tropical island settings, bubble-baths, a wedding and even Michael Jackson.
“The Prix d’Elegance is a wonderful tradition at Hamilton Island Race Week that everyone enjoys,” said Thompson.
“We are amazed each year by the lengths to which crews go to in their endeavours to be declared the winners of what is a highly entertaining event.”
Looking ahead, Thompson is confident the weather will be warm and the south-east trade winds will blow 15 knots every day.
“That’s what I’m hoping for, anyway,” he said. “Ken Batt will be doing the weather again this year. He’s a yachtie himself and he knows the Whitsundays, so he knows what sailors need.”
After a two-year break, Thompson is “excited, nervous and looking forward to seeing old mates and some competitive racing.
“I love the ambience. The trade winds are always reliable. There’s good sailing, good people. It ticks all the boxes.”
The 36th edition of Hamilton Island Race Week will run 20 to 27 August.