Six of the seven known original skippers from the inaugural Sail Port Stephens in 2008 gathered today at the regatta headquarters at d’Albora Marina Nelson Bay, along with members of the original management team, to reminisce.
The skippers group was presented with a special jug of ‘Sail Ale’, brewed in Newcastle as a one-off for the unique bunch, unofficially called ‘lifers’.
A test event coined the Retro Regatta ran in 2007 to trial the viability of Port Stephens hosting a major sailing event in the April school holidays. The following year the inaugural Sail Port Stephens attracted 25 boats and the support of foundation partners; Wests Diggers, All Seasons Salamander Shores, The Anchorage, d’Albora Marina and Port Stephens Council, and the three latter are still event supporters.
The regatta grew by 160% in April 2009 with a fleet of 64 boats, and a further 30% percent in 2010 with 85 boats. For the ninth edition entries are around 110 mark plus the juniors, spread across the widest range of divisions ever offered; the Commodore’s Cup, NSW IRC Championship, Super 11s, sports boats, performance racing and cruising, juniors and MC38s.
“When we came up with the idea of running a regatta we’d never run a boat race before so we thought we’d have a practice year,” recalls Paul O’Rourke, one of the founders and the current regatta director. “We had an IOR and a Hood division… it was a funny regatta with maybe 12-15 boats. We had a retro party …it’s still one of the best fancy dress parties I’ve ever been to.”
The 10th anniversary of the popular regional regatta, in 2017, is approaching and nostalgia is rife. The banter among the ‘lifers’ has been about the time a waterfall of rain cascaded off the boom and that other time, when crews parked up during the spectacular round-the-islands race and thought it a good idea to pull the lunch table out mid race.
Among the laughter Peter Lewis (Lu Lu Belle) paid tribute to Roger Hickman who was entered for Sail Port Stephens with his beloved Wild Rose but sadly passed away last month from a brain tumour. “It’s a shame Roger isn’t here, we all miss him. He was a big force behind this regatta.”
Derek Sheppard (Black Sheep) has three of Hickman’s Wild Rose crew racing with him and is flying the Wild Rose flag in honour of the champion yachtsman and Sail Port Stephens mentor.
A first-time association to honour Roger Hickman sees Sail Port Stephens link with the Hunter Medical Research Institute (HMRI) to raise funds for brain cancer research. The inaugural Broughton Island passage race, a 26 nautical mile lap of the pristine islands off Port Stephens, is scheduled for tomorrow, Saturday April 16, as part of the NSW IRC Championship and Port Stephens Trophy.
The HMRI Cup will be presented annually for the passage race and proceeds from tomorrow evening’s function for crews at Broughtons at the Bay donated to HMRI.
When questioned on some of the differences between that first year and now, Keith Masters (In The Mood) quips: “They haven’t changed the handicapping system! We just have a good time; we aren’t up here to take here to take home a plastic trophy, just to meet up with the fellas, and every year it gets better and better.
“I work for myself and it’s difficult to take time off,” Masters adds. “This is perfect; we can get the boat up from Sydney and back in a day more-or-less and the shallow water keeps the real big boats out, which leaves us space to be a little more competitive. They might rack up to the 50 footers but we don’t get eaten alive by the 60 footers!”
Phil Arnall (Anger Management), who arrives at the weekend, had this to say: “I remember the initial Sail Port Stephens regattas with fond memories. Actually we sailed in the precursor organised out of The Anchorage and we were the biggest boat, a Beneteau 40.7. I didn’t realise it would develop into the preeminent event it has. We are proud to be part of it and I look forward to the weekend races. In the meantime I will try to keep the economy going while you guys enjoy yourselves.”
Matt Bonser (Watch Me) admits his highlights are a bit different to the other guys. He runs the local Noakes shipyard and when competing with his Melges 24 he sees the jobs stack up when a sandbank or reef catches an unsuspecting crew out.
Other original skippers include Tony Kirby (Patrice, sailing on Virago II) and Greg Newton (Antipodes).
Denis Thompson (race officer), Geoff Campbell (treasurer), Paul O’Rourke (regatta director), Bruce Gosper, Pat O’Rourke and Merv McIntyre (regatta management) and Lister Hughes (umpire) have administered every Sail Port Stephens and all are present at Nelson Bay for the ninth edition.
Organisers plan to make a big fuss of next year’s 10th anniversary. Dates are confirmed for April 17-23, 2017.
Keith Masters, Greg Newton, Tony Kirby, Derek Sheppard, Peter Lewis, Matt Bonser. IMAGE: Saltwater Images
Sail Port Stephens is proudly supported by the NSW Government through its tourism and major events agency, Destination NSW, and Pantaenius’ major sponsorship continues for the third year. Visit the websitehttps://www.sailportstephens.com.au/ for all regatta documents plus information on accommodation and the soon to be released social program and like the event Facebook page for updates.
By Lisa Ratcliff, Sail Port Stephens Media