The 168 Australia Day Regatta, the world's oldest continuous sailing regatta, will be sailed on magnificent Sydney Harbour tomorrow, Monday 26 January 2004, to mark Australia's National Day.
Appropriately for a nation surrounded by sea and founded and developed by seafarers, the Regatta is the focal point of national celebrations originally held to mark the arrival of the First Fleet in Sydney Cove on 26 January 1788.
Modern and classic yachts and Sydney's famous 18-footers and historical replicas, will sail on Sydney Harbour, venue for the 2000 Olympic Games regatta, while many of Australia's leading ocean racing yachts will race offshore to Botany Bay and return. There, they will round a buoy not far from where Captain James Cook first landed in 1770, and where the First Fleet initially anchored before sailing a few miles north to the more favourable Port Jackson (Sydney Harbour).
Returning to Sydney, the ocean racers, which include maxi yachts Nicorette, Brindabella and Grundig, will finish off Sydney's famous landmark, the Opera House.
Smaller craft, dinghies, skiffs, catamarans and small keel yachts will race on waterways along the New South Wales coast on Australia Day. In total, some 450 boats are expected to compete in races organised by the 168th Australia Day Regatta, headed by renowned yachtsman Sir James Hardy, a former America's Cup, Admiral's Cup, Olympic representative and World Champion sailor.
The first formally organised Australia Day Regatta was held on Sydney Harbour on 26 January 1836, with sailing and rowing events to entertain the citizens of the first settlement in Australia, then a colony of England. Today, Sydney has a population of near 4.5 million people but the Harbour still retains its charm with many areas of natural bushland retained on the rugged sandstone headlands.
Yacht racing is held almost every evening of the week during the summer with daylight saving making twilight racing the most popular. On any Saturday, as many as 500 skiffs, dinghies, sailboards and yachts race within the waters of Port Jackson, up to 200 race in offshore events in the Tasman Sea, some day races, others overnight. With its mild climate, winter racing is almost as popular at weekends.
The first of 168 successive Australia Day Regattas in 1836 was called the Anniversary Regatta and comprised yacht and rowing races for prize money. However, several regattas were held earlier, the first aquatic event being a challenge in 1805 between Captain John Piper and a smart crew of four watermen in a gig, against crews from visiting ships. Piper, one of the colony's most colourful earlier residents, won the race for a huge stake of 200 guineas. The 3.5 mile course was from Bradley's Head to Sydney Cove.
A descendent of Captain Piper, Sydney yachtsman Dean Harrigan, will skipper his own yacht, Big Kahuna, in the ocean race to Botany Bay and return.
The captains of visiting Royal Navy ships, HMS Success and HMS Rainbow, organised a professional rowing and sailing regatta in 1827 to mark the 40th anniversary of the foundation of the colony. This was such a success that in 1836 it became an annual event, drawing thousands of spectators to the harbourside and on ferries and private craft, as it still does today.
The Navy is still involved in the Australia Day Regatta, providing HMAS Canberra as the Flagship for the 168th annual event. The Patron of the Regatta, Her Excellency Professor Marie Bashir AC, Governor of New South Wales, will be aboard to watch the yacht racing and other Harbour activities.
Australia Day 2004 on Sydney Harbour will be highlighted by the 168th Australia Day Regatta, sponsored by the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, but there will also be a Surfboard Challenge, a Ferrython (a colourful race between highly decorated harbour ferries), a Tall Ships Race, Jazz on the Water and, above the Harbour, spectacular fly-pasts by FA-18 jet fighters, aerobatics and army parachute jumps in the harbour.