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Audi Sydney Harbour Regatta: with another record fleet in 2009, the Audi Sydney Harbour Regatta has cemented its place as one of the most popular--and fun--events on the annual sailing calendar.

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This year saw fleet numbers continue on their upward march, as has been the case in each preceding year, reaching a record 308 boats for the fourth running of the event. Perhaps it's no surprise to see this particular regatta growing in popularity. If there was ever a sure formula to entice racing yachties to show up in their droves, it might run something like: a highly-competitive sailing program on the spectacular Sydney Harbour, held on one of the last weekends of the summer racing season, with a great lineup of social events for the whole family at the MHYC, and--perhaps best of all--'the richest prize in Australian sailing', a free Audi Q5 up for grabs!

The Audi Sydney Harbour Regatta ticks all boxes and once again the MHYC again put on a great event showcasing yacht racing in all its diversity, from classic yachts to modern racers; etchells to maxis. With 15 competition classes spread over eight course areas (seven on the harbour, one offshore), the harbour was once again transformed into a kaleidoscopic display of sails and spinnakers of all colours, shapes and sizes, adorning some of the country's most spectacular sailing craft.

Ideal sailing conditions greeted the fleet on Saturday morning when racing got underway at 11am, with wind speeds up to 17 knots early on but forecast to taper off to 8 knots by the afternoon.

Australia's Farr 30 world champion Guy Stening blitzed his class early in the day and won all three races on Optimum in the healthy 14-knot sou'easter which was creating some exciting sailing around the Sound in North Harbour, just inside the Sydney Heads. "Conditions were perfect," said Stening, but perhaps not for everyone. Doug Cameron on Clandestine was within a boat length of Stening coming down to the bottom mark rounding in Race 2, but a dodgy spinnaker set saw the kite wrap around the forestay and tear in two, ending his race.

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Further up the harbour towards the Bridge, the J24s, Ynglings and Cavalier 28s were doing battle in the lighter wind conditions outside Double Bay.

The three IRC divisions were not only competing for a shot at taking home the Audi Q5--the Sydney Harbour Regatta is also the second event in the Audi IRC Australian Championship, which commenced with Skandia Geelong Week in January and will include the Sydney Gold Coast race in July and Hamilton Island Race Week in August. The Division 1 category was as usual contested by some of the hottest yachts in the country, including Stephen Ainsworth's brand new Loki, Bob Steel's TP52 Quest, fresh from its Rolex Sydney Hobart win, and Bob Oatley's Wild Oats X skippered by Mark Richards.

Sunday held the promise of a change in the weather which would deliver stiffer winds of 13 to 18 knots and a chance for the bigger boats which floundered in Saturday afternoon's lighter air to make back some ground. It was a stark change from Saturday's warm sunshine and light breeze. By the afternoon, ominous clouds which had been gathering on the horizon rolled in to dump torrential showers on the fleet. The bigger boats in the IRC divisions battled it out in the premier classes on the offshore course, with a change in the weather to bumpier seas and stronger winds also heralding a change in fortunes for many of the former day's frontrunners.

Three-time Olympic sailor Karyn Gojnich called on Alex Murray-the wife of America's Cup veteran, current Olympic squad member and yachting legend, Jain Murray--to assist in her in her Ynglings division. Murray, a great sailor in her own right, sailed bow in the final two races, but the two could not do enough to match Hamish Jarret who sailed away with the win on Pourquoi.

Andrew and Gaye Bristow completed a clean sweep of the Flying Tiger class aboard Hello Tiger, winning six from six in the nine-boat one design fleet.

After leading IRC Division 1 during Saturday's racing, Bob Steel's Quest nearly came undone after placing a disappointing sixth in Race 5 on Sunday morning. Graeme Wood's Wot Now was able to wipe away Quests slender two-point lead built up the previous day to snag the top spot on the leaderboard going into Race 6, setting the stage for a gripping final-race showdown between the two TP52s. But Wot Now was unable to capitalis--e on its momentum, coming in sixth across the line in the final tussle and surrendering the division win back to the CYCA's Quest, which placed third. Stephen Ainsworth's Lolei, with its gun crew including world champion sailor Cameron Miles at the helm, launched a valiant fightback with a string of second placings to claim third overall, despite pulling out of Race 1 with a broken vang.

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Bill Esbary's Le Billetled the Division 2 IRC fleet on Saturday afternoon, but by the end of the second day of competition it was Queensland's Rod Jones who was again showing his winning ability with his yacht Algeria ahead by five points at stumps.

"We found the first couple of races a bit of a struggle, but it got better and better from there. We had just great racing in a great fleet of boats. It was difficult, we got wind speeds from 5.9 knots up to 18--it was up and down all day. Everyone onboard worked extremely hard, there's a great group of people on the boat," Jones said. The win means back-to-back victories for Algeria in Division 2 of the Audi IRC Australian Championship following victory at Skandia Geelong Week in January, with two races to go.

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CYCA member and the lucky winner of the Audi A4 Avant in the inaugural 2006 Sydney Harbour Regatta, Howard Piggot, sailed his Beneteau Brilliant to victory in IRC Division 3, giving himself another shot at a free Audi.

Which brings us to the free Audi. With so many classes represented in the regatta, there were over 20 category winners by the end of the weekend--but just one car. So it was off to Oran Park racetrack for the Audi Final Challenge on Monday to decide who would be the overall winner of the regatta. Every boat had two chances to win and had to demonstrate their prowess in the wet conditions on the tight slalom course. The most consistent driver overall would be announced as the winner of the Audi Final Challenge and take home the new Audi Q5 SUV. Audi's motorsport ambassador and two-time Super Touring Car Champion Brad Jones, put two crew members from each of the 24 category winners through their paces in Audi's sporty S5 tiptronic V8 quattro coupe.

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Competitors had to endure the nervous hours before the official winner was announced back at MHYC on Monday night, with CYCA members Brett and Karen Pearce of Broulee, which raced in PHS Division 3, receiving the keys to the new Q5 from Audi managing director, Joerg Hofmann. Brouleds winning driver was aptly-named crew member Troy Fortune, who returned a fast and accurate time with just 0.02 seconds separating both of his slalom runs.

Photos Andrea Francolini
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Title Annotation:Race & Regatta Round Up
Author:Henry, Matthew
Publication:Offshore Yachting
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Apr 1, 2009
Words:1202
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