The sun gods were being kind but not so much the wind gods at the beginning of the first day of the three day windward leeward series at Sail Port Stephens.
The event is comprised of the NSW Yachting Championships (IRC), the Pallas Capital TP52 Gold Cup, and the inaugural Rob Hampshire Trophy (ORC), raced as part of the new regatta format which splits the it into three distinct events to better offer opportunities to sailors for not just great racing, but on shore experience.
With racing due to start at 1125 and wind blowing at 3-4 knots between glass outs, Principal Race Officer Denis Thompson briefed competitors for course A North of Cabbage Tree Island with a series of windward leeward races featuring the stunning local beaches in the background.
The three days are made up primarily of windward leeward courses with at least one passage race, points are scored under IRC, ORC and TPR, and yachts can choose to record multiple scores in whatever category they are eligible with six races the event goal.
Setting up for the first race, the start time came and went with boats drifting and Thompson sounding positive about the wind coming in and the clouds showing promise. His experience showed as just before noon the flickers on the water came as a slight breeze started to thread its way through the islands.
Drop and set mark instructions came over the radio and by 1215 it was game faces on as the wind came in and the postponement flag was readied to drop. Race one Division 1; clear start as the nine TP52s in the fleet used every bit of the light wind they could to muscle their way across the line. Secret Mens Business took the pin end and was first across with Zen in the middle of the line and second across, followed by 2004 TP52 veteran Quest third across the line towards the boat end.
Division 2 quickly lined up anxious to get away with Gerry Hatton’s Mat1245 Bushranger from RPAYC (Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club) being a little too anxious and getting an individual recall for their trouble. Farr 40 BlueTack from MHYC (Middle Harbour Yacht Club) and the big RP52 Virago from CYCA (Cruising Yacht Club of Australia) took the middle of the line to cross next with the RP showing its power to pull away from the fleet.
Division 3 was across the line at 1245 with Dale Sharp’s red Farr 31 So Farr (Lake Macquarie Yacht Club) leading the charge at the pin end and Jo Skelton’s Farr 30 Nocleks second across the line at the boat end.
The wind slowly increased once the first race was run so there was no delay with getting the next race away. The fleet were indulged as they raced in wind from eight knots up to double digits, so all were relishing in the conditions. As the wind kept increasing to around 16 knots the race committee was not going to call a halt to the action and sent competitors away for a third time showing that patience is a virtue that pays off to the happy sailors.
After three races on day one the overall standings for Division 1 (TP52) IRC are Matador, Gweilo, Quest and then Matador, Quest, Gweilo under the TPRating. David Doherty on Matador was very complimentary about the level of competition in the class “The competition is just at such a high level now and it keeps improving, the field just keeps compacting.”
Gweilo’s Matt Donald reinforced Doherty’s comments “There are nine boats in the race, with just a little shift here or there, someone else is in the lead. The new boats, First Light and Highly Sprung, are putting a lot of pressure on these older TP crews, Smuggler, Quest, Gweilo, Matador, it’s great to see.”
Gordon Ketelbey’s TP52 Zen is a consistent performer at regattas and has had well known sailor Sean Kirkjan as tactician for nearly five years. “Absolutely perfect sailing conditions today, well, after the first race anyway.” Kirkjan enthused. “Zen is a quite stiff boat, we need 12-14 knots so after the light conditions in the first race, by the third race we were enjoying every minute of the 16 knots.”
Division 2 has the King 40 Soozal owned by Keiran Mulcahy leading IRC and second under ORC. “We’ve taken the IRC trophy home twice before from this regatta, so we’re pretty keen to do it again. It is such an excellent atmosphere up here. We race against people we know well so there is as much competitiveness on the water as there is fun together off the water.”
Mulcahy also pointed out that two of his nearest competitors, Bushranger (MAT1245) and Nine Dragons (DK43), are boats designed by the same designer as his. Bushranger, first on ORC and third on IRC for day one, is having its last hoorah at the 2023 Sail Port Stephens. Owner Gerry Hatton is very excited about his new MAT1220 which has just landed in Australia. He is also another Sail Port Stephens regular. “It’s a family affair for us. My son, my grandson, my son in law, they’re all crew. We won the first one back in 2008 and have been coming ever since!”
Division 3 has a seven strong fleet and Dale Sharp and crew on his Farr 31 So Farr are leading on ORC and second on IRC. Two of the crew, Mark Long and Sue Butterworth, were at the presentation to celebrate their wins and a great day of sailing. “It was fabulous sailing and racing today. Glad we got three races in. Close and frantic competition but our little boat at the back of the fleet got better every race!”
Day two of this second event for the 2023 Sail Port Stephens will see a passage race for all divisions and we’ll leave the last words to Principal Race Officer Denis Thompson, “This is the best racecourse in Australia.”
Sail Port Stephens is supported by the NSW Government via its tourism agency Destination NSW, Port Stephens Council and subsidiary sponsors.