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The 31st Audi Hamilton Island Race Week was declared the 'best ever' by more than one commentator, myself included, says editor ANTHONY TWIBILL. Under the clearest blue skies and near perfect sailing conditions as the regatta progressed, Hamilton Island's biggest event of the year was another resounding success--on water and off--with a plethora of shore-side events entertaining sailors and guests throughout the week. LISA RATCLIFF, LAURA MCKEE AND ANTHONY TWIBILL report.

Interstate and international crews from 182 boats called Hamilton Island home in mid August for this year's Audi Hamilton Island Race Week. Starting out with a light breeze under azure skies, the week's racing was boosted by the return of the trade winds and ideal conditions declared the "best ever" by yachting journalist Rob Mundle who was part of the first-ever regatta in 1984 and has been involved ever since.

The 31st edition in 2014 marked nine years of Audi's title sponsorship of this premier Australian yachting event, which included an impressive 13 different divisions to better suit the wide range of competing boats. The line-up included three IRC divisions, six PHS cruising divisions (spinnaker and non-spinnaker), two One Design classes for MC38 and Melges 32 yachts, and two Multi-hull divisions (racing and cruising).

DIVISION BY DIVISION

The best of winter sailing in the Whitsundays capped off racing at Audi Hamilton Island Race Week. Bucket loads of sunshine and puffy 18-20 knots of SSE trade winds farewelled the fleet from Dent Passage for the final time this series.

Keeping it fresh, the race committee offered crews a navigator's choice for the deciding race. At Sidney Island off Lindeman Island, IRC divisions 1 and 2 opted to head for home either via Dent or Hamilton Island. The remaining divisions made the same choice at Isolated Rock.

A full spectrum of conditions over six days created opportunities to climb, and slip down the pecking order. Gear and crew were challenged in various wind ranges of seven to ten knots and shortened courses on day one to double that on the final days racing.

IRC

Karl Kwok's all-conquering TP52 Team Beau Geste cleaned up another major Australian regatta and title at Hamilton Island this year. The Hong Kong-based TP52 has been campaigned on the Australian east coast for the past two years and raked in the spoils--the TP52 Southern Cross Cup and the 2014 Audi IRC Australian Championship raced off Newcastle among the biggies.

"We had persistent winds this week, no matter how strong or weak, there were no car parks," said Kwok. "The first day we ran aground due to a miscalculation. After that we got better each day and rounded off all our rough edges."

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Beau Geste has now headed back to Hong Kong for the Southeast Asian racing circuit.

Phil Turner's RP66 Alive from the Derwent Sailing Squadron finished second in IRC division 1 by four points among the big boat division.

In IRC division 2 Stephen Barlow's Farr 4,0 Forty had enough credits to stay on dry land for the final day while the rest of the division fought for the minor placings in the last day's 22 nautical mile race island course. It was perhaps a lucky break for Barlow and his Sydney-based crew as they came ashore the previous afternoon with 100 buckets of water slopping around the bilge, a result of rudder bearing damage.

"We were going to race (the final day), but luckily we didn't need to as we were half sinking when we came ashore," said Barlow. "It's been a great regatta. We are surprised how we finished given the quality of the IRC competition at Audi Hamilton Island Race Week."

Post-race the co-owner of Forty, Sam Hill, organised for a couple of bottles of the island's finest to be sent to the winning crew. Hill was back in Sydney and had calculated Forty couldn't be beaten well before the news hit the crew dealing with the palaver.

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Ross Wilsons' race week regular Eagle Rock, a Beneteau First 47.7, took out second and Geoff Boettcher's Secret Mens Business third.

In IRC division 3, the victor Local Hero from Canberra Yacht Club led the pointscore from the outset. Four wins from six races for the near two-decade old boat was even more impressive given Hamilton Island Race Week is the one time each year the ACT crew race aboard the 36-footer that is Airlie Beach-based.

"Yesterday was the best, a cracker breeze to claim the series; and luckily we did," said skipper Matt Owen. "None of us sail on this boat regularly, just one regatta a year. We saw almost 20 knots of wind yesterday, which was a little bit scary for us with big waves and whales about. We've had a reasonable record at Race Week; a standout being in 2010 when we won our division and walked away with an Audi as well.

"I've done 11 or 12 consecutive Race Weeks," said the multiple Elliott 7 and Flying 15 national champion. "We've got our Flying 15 world champs in France next year so sadly we won't be at Hamilton Island. It's really cool that I get to sail at Race Week with all of my mates. We don't need an excuse to get out of Canberra in August, as it's only five degrees there at the time ... a bit 'chilly willy! "

Newcastle based Beneteau 40.7 Schouten Passage, campaigned by the Howard family, finished up second on the points table and Andy Kearnan's Summit 35 L'Altra Donna third in the six race series.

ONE DESIGN MELGES 32S

Barry Cuneo's Melges 32 Envy Scooters out of the Royal Queensland Yacht Squadron was one of a small Melges fleet that spent the majority of the week on the windward/leeward track in Turtle Bay to the east of Hamilton Island. The boat's results in the final two windward/leeward races in blowy conditions cemented Envy Scooters' overall win, but not without a casualty. Rob Brown, one of four seasoned yachtsmen mentoring the RQYS youth crew in this stepping-stone to their world championship later in the year, was thought to have torn a medial ligament in his knee. It was a long week.

Klaus Lorenze, one of the young sailors under the tutelage of Cuneo, Brown, Grant Wharington and RQ coach Adrian Finglas, said, "We are so excited to have had the opportunity to learn from the 'old guys'. We want to thank them, RQYS and in particular Barry for investing in the program." A major highlight was meeting Olympic Gold medalist Tom Slingsby who spoke to the boys about transitioning from dinghies to keelboats. Second placed overall in the Melges 32 class, Stephen O'Rourke's Panther broke its rudder on the penultimate day of racing, finishing their series.

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MC38

The crew on Leslie Green's MC38 Ginger celebrated winning the McConaghy MC38 class' Australian Championship at Hamilton Island.

John Bacon's Dark Star from the Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club finished with a bullet in the final day's passage race and held off class newcomer, Marcus Blackmore's Hooligan, to come in next best behind Ginger by six points after 12 races.

Variable SSE winds of nine to 15 knots had the one-design fleet taking plenty of water over the decks, with Chris Hancock's Vino topping 14 knots of boat speed on the downhill kite run.

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PHS PERFORMANCE RACING

Having dominated Performance Racing for most of the week, Hamilton Island based Bruce Absolon's V060 Spirit of the Maid came ever so close to taking out the division. There weren't quite enough miles in the closing race to put enough distance between the 60-footer and the smaller boats to take the handicap gain, allowing the Beneteau 40 Peter Lehmann Breakthrough to slip in to first, on equal points with Spirit of the Maid.

"You have to time these things," said Breakthrough's skipper Ben McGrath sailing for the CYCA in Sydney. "We had the choice of heading home via Catseye Bay or via Dent Island passage. Six out of 10 boats chose Dent Island and we chose Catseye. That was our winning leg."

"We are over the moon to end up on equal points with first," Absolon said. "It's the highest the boat has ever finished at Race Week." Another highlight for the Spirit crew was being presented with the specialty Don McLean trophy for the best performing Queensland boat at the awards presentation. McLean's son, Lach, made the presentation.

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CRUISING

With the largest divisional numbers by far, it was the year of the cruisers at Audi Hamilton Island Race Week 2014, though the word 'cruise' is misleading. A cutthroat finish to the regatta on day six, Saturday August 23, brought out the division's competitive edge at the critical stage of the regatta.

Overall regatta numbers were boosted by 29 entries over the prior year thanks to the growth in the cruising and multihull divisions, with the standard of the cruising boats coming to Hamilton Island over the past five years having also increased considerably.

Downwind starts in the downwind current of Dent Passage are where many cruisers, and racers, have in the past come unstuck at the start. Barely a boat was caught out this year for misjudging and jumping the start line before the signal sounded, an encouraging trend noticed by the race management team.

The final day's racing saw a spectacular spinnaker start in Dent Passage on Saturday August 23 for the cruising fleet in the 16 - knot average SSE trade winds, which left the channel adjacent to Hamilton Island decorated in a plethora of rainbow hued kites.

It was Charles Cupit's Bavaria 45 Three C's that had the last hoorah overall in cruising division 1, coming in ahead of Four Bells and Infinity.

Division 2 Skipper Peter Byford aboard his three-month-old L'esprit pipped Boadicca by just one point in a nail-biting race on day six of racing. Byford has raced in five Audi Hamilton Island Race Weeks but had never tasted success. "I've never been on a podium in five years," he said. "We are over the moon!"

The 46-footer's crew of 11 included two of Byford's sons. "They are 36 and 31 years old. I've been sailing with them since they were seven. It's got better as we've all got older," he laughed.

The crew demonstrated their competitiveness when they continued to the finish line in fresh breezes on day five having offloaded a crewman who had taken the top of his finger off in an accident.

In cruising division 3, it was the magic produced by Wizard of the Wind that hailed the Brisbane crew as champions. Skipper Michael Waldie said the Catalina 42 showed she had the goods on the final day of racing. "We are stoked, it was fantastic. We worked better and better every day, that was the highlight of the week. Also, the Piper Heidsieck lunch at qualia was amazing."

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The 14-year-old boat built in California competed last year but didn't collect any silverware. Armed with brand new sails and three fresh crewmembers, it was their turn this year. There was one bumpy moment during the six-day regatta that didn't have the crew laughing though. "We had to evict a snorer from our apartment and onto the boat. It was affecting the performance," Waldie chuckled.

Second placed Synergy may not have taken the gold but they got the surprise of a lifetime when a whale showed its belly right in front of their boat.

Oasis rolled in third for division three overall results.

CRUISING NON-SPINNAKER

Still Dangerous proved their moniker is apt with victory in the non-spinnaker division one, beating Russian skipper Mikhail Beleoborodov in his chartered Sunsail boat, Rhythm. Skipper Ivor Burgess was thrilled with his second division win in four years.

The odds of taking out the competition weren't looking good on the final day. "We didn't think we had a cat's chance in hell on the final morning with the handicap. It was very tough competition out there, we had the Russian crew behind us and it was an international contest. We were sailing for Australia," he laughed.

The 74-year-old, who has raced in five Audi Hamilton Island Race Weeks, said sailing at Hamilton Island was a luxury he and his mates treasured. "The week was great; there were beautiful sails, sceneiy and blue water. It was just beautiful, it's magic. We've had a lot of parties."

The 45-footer is a favourite toy for Burgess' and his veteran crew from Sydney. "One of the crew members said to me 'Ivor, you are saving some elderly guys from a boring retirement'," he said.

Division two saw 46-foot Supertramp take out the top spot overall. The Mooloolaba-based boat was steered by Alan Pick, accompanied by his wife Sue.

Principal Race Officer Denis Thompson commented on the standard of the cruisers saying, "the level of sailing has lifted considerably over the last five years. Ten years ago we'd get boats turning up 15 minutes late for the start with whatever old sails they had up. Now we've got a host of privately owned cruiser/racers --Beneteaus, Jeanneaus, Bavaria--and all with the latest sails!"

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MULTIHULL DIVISION

Much of the growth in numbers this year came from an increase in the entries of multi-hulls from a bare handful last year to full fingers and toes this year. Multi-hull owners had the option to enter the racing or cruising division.

In multihull racing, it was make or break for Wayne Bloomer's Schionning G-Force Chillpill from Brisbane, which had to beat Scott Gralow's same design. Bulletproof, in the final race to take out the series. Bloomer and his crew, including sailmaker Paul Mitchell from Airlie Beach, and the winner of the multi-hulls division last year, Matt Johns, pulled off the overall win to finish the series with a one point break to Gralow.

In the larger multi-hull cruising division, William Dicker's Seawind 1000 Miz Behavin--delivered to the owner just two weeks ago--had a welcome win at the boat's inaugural Audi Hamilton Island Race Week.

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The Oatley family's AC45 branded Wild Oats, shadowed the fleet during the week and a daily prize of a demonstration sail aboard the high-tech, high-speed America's Cup catamaran for the daily winner helped to raise funds for the CYCA's Safety of Life at Sea Trusts charity.

RACE MANAGEMENT TEAM

Principal Race Officer Denis Thompson paid tribute to his race management team saying, "The team worked efficiently and hard all week. It might look easy running races but starting big fleets in Dent Passage in wind and current is hard work. Day one also had its challenges as we had to set up four different finish lines around the islands to shorten courses due to the light air.

"I was happy with the variety of courses offered, we popped in a couple we hadn't used for years and finished the final day with a navigator's choice, which went down well. Some of the races ended up 'soldier's courses'--unfortunately we can't shift islands to make them all windward/leewards.

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"I would like to thank my team for their fine effort over the six days of racing," Thompson concluded.

Hamilton Island CEO Glenn Bourke oversaw the smooth running of the 31st edition of one of Australia's premier yachting regattas, commentated for Audi's guests and raced part of the week aboard Bob Oatley's supermaxi Wild Oats XI in IRC division 1.

"We had a great diversity in conditions from the beginning to the end of the week--there was something for everyone this year," said Bourke. "The best breeze in years mixed with the entertainment on offer and the opportunity to catch up with old sailing friends really made the week. Our aim is to always do it bigger and better next year."

Trophy winners were awarded at a spectacular final presentation function on Saturday 33rd August. www. top/ach t. net. au/results/2014/ ahirw/series/index.htm
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Title Annotation:AUDI HAMILTON ISLAND RACE WEEK
Author:Ratcliff, Lisa; McKee, Laura; Twibill, Anthony
Publication:Offshore Yachting
Date:Oct 1, 2014
Words:2676
Previous Article:Clouds part for Airlie: after a few days of unsettled weather, wind and white-outs, conditions for the final day of sailing were ideal.
Next Article:2015 IRC champs back to Hamilton.

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