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21 January 2005, 09:15 am
Gaff Riggers and Classic Yachts To Add Colour
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Australia Day Regatta
Sydney, Australia

The yacht that won Australia's first gold medal in Olympic yachting, Barrenjoey, will be among some of Australia's finest classic yachts competing in the 196th Australia Day Regatta on Sydney Harbour next Wednesday, 26 January 2005.
Barrenjoey, then owned and skippered by the late Sir William NORTHAM, won the gold medal in the International 5.5 metre class at the Tokyo Olympic Games in 1964.

Recently restored by Bill SOLOMONS, who skippered the beautifully varnished boat at the 1968 Mexico City Games, Barrenjoey contested the International 5.5 Metre Class World Chamionships conducted by the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron on the Harbour earlier this month, placing second overall in the Classic Division.

Buoyed by the revival of interest in the 5.5 Metre class, there will be a division for these famous three-crew keelboats in the 169th Australia Day Regatta, the world's oldest continuous sailing regatta.

Other 5.5 Metre class boats competing in the famous regatta include My Shout, skippered by another former Olympic sailor, veteran Gordon INGATE, along with Pam (Peter McDONALD), Barragoola (David De COSTER), Kings Cross (Mark LUTOWSKI) and Jabiru (Hugh FERRIER)

Fittingly, the Australia Day Regatta fleet also included a strong line-up of classic timber boats contesting the Gaff Riggers Division, including the famous Ranger, skippered by Bill GALE, along with John CRAWFORD's Vanity, Justus VEENEKLAAS' Tenacity, Tony TYSON's Redpa, Phil KINSELLA's Sylvia and John DIACOPOULOUS' Yeromais.

Appropriately for a nation surrounded by sea and founded and developed by seafarers, the 169th Australia Regatta is the focal point of celebrations originally held to mark the arrival of the First Fleet from England at Sydney Cove on 26 January 1788.

Modern and classic yachts and Sydney's famous 18-footers and historical replicas, will sail on Sydney Harbour 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 will finish near the flagship HMAS Parramatta, maintaining a Naval support for the regatta since the very first event.

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 700 boats are expected to compete in races organised by the 168th Australia Day Regatta committee, 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 169 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.

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 the frigate HMAS Parramatta as the Flagship for the 168th annual event, with other Defence Forces also involved in flying and parachute and sea rescue demonstrations on a Harbour where Australia Day events also include a Ferrython, a Tall Ships Race and a Parade of Sail.

Peter Campbell
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