The first race of the series, the UBS South Molle/Daydream Island Race, kicked off at 10.00 (local time) under sunny skies off the Hamilton Island Marina - a spectacular sight as a mass of spinnakered boats responded to the starter's gun.
In the IRC Big Boat class, Grant WHARINGTON's 98ft canting keeled super maxi Skandia got off the line well to lead his contemporaries including Island owner Bob OATLEY's Wild Oats X and the smaller 60ft Wild Joe (Steven DAVID), both from Sydney.
Skandia (Vic) was looking good, holding off the rest, but doom struck. 'We blew up a spinnaker block - it took out the life rails and stanchions,' the boat's designer Don JJONESsaid.
Andrew PLYMPTON, Yachting Australia President and crew member aboard Skandia took up the story: 'Then we put up another chute, but it was too light and shredded. Our boat speed was fantastic up to that point - we were doing 20 knots and we were all pumped up,' he said, adding tongue in cheek: 'That boy WHARINGTON is doing beautifully - doing a good job!'
Skandia's problem was Wild Oats' gain. OATLEY's boat with Mark RICHARD's at the helm sailed through Skandia to lead the race comfortably until the two went to windward. Skandia managed to claw back around 12 minutes of their lost time by the finish, with Wild Joe coming home third.
South-easterly winds were in the 17-18 knot range, with plenty of gusts earlier on, sorting out the men from the boys. A number rounded up and broached in the fresher conditions, but everyone got back on track.
For some, match racing, particularly in the latter part of the race, provided exhilarating competition. In the Big Boat Class, two 60 footers went head-to-head and the result was a different one from last year when Vanguard appeared to have the upper hand.
Stephen AINSWORTH's Loki and Dick CAWSE's Vanguard sailed tack for tack in the ideal upwind conditions today, but it was Loki getting the better of Vanguard by 49 seconds over the finish line to beat her rival on handicap also.
'It was a great sail,' commented CAWSE dockside this afternoon. 'It was quick, enjoyable and no dramas - just great match racing with Loki - she beat us by two boat lengths, it was that close,' he added. 'Great racing.'
Sailing master Gordon MAGUIRE was thrilled with Loki's performance today. 'The two proper boats in our division had a great race today,' he said, referring to their lack of canting keels. 'We've put a lot of work into making things better aboard Loki.
''We've been trying to strengthen our weaknesses - and our upwind performance in heaver winds has been lacking until now. We've played with the rig and sails and tightened up our crew work. It paid off today - we actually extended our lead as we match raced to the finish - we were quite excited. This was our debut with our new rudder too.'
In the IRC Racing division, Geoff BOETTCHER's Hardys Secret Mens Business from Adelaide got off the line smartly in the spinnaker start, pursued by two Victorians, Michael HIATT's Living Doll and Graeme TROON's XLR8. Positions soon changed as the 50 footers mowed down the smaller contemporaries further up the course.
With three Cookson 50's, two Reichel Pugh 46's and two DK 46's included in the larger entry IRC Racing division, it was inevitable that some match racing would take place. Three separate breath-holding match races up the windward leg to the finish line had onlookers enthralled.
The two canting keeled 50's, Pussy Galore (Anatole MASFEN) from New Zealand had the upper hand earlier in the race, but Eoin (Gaelic for Ian) FEHSENFELD's Aero gave the Pussy Galore crew a run for their money, until some over zealous crew work and blown up genoa cars put an end to Aera's chances. Living Doll, with a conventional fixed keel, could not keep up with her fellow 50's downwind, but sailed well enough to make the podium.
'This is our first race with our new boat,' said Aera's owner. FEHSENFELD is actually a Kiwi, but moved to Geelong in Victoria four years ago. An anaesthetist, his crew is made up of surgeon friends, the boat's designer Mick COOKSON and Quantum Sail's Rodney KEENAN.
'I am hoping the crew will come together and we will come to Sydney and sail all those regattas prior to Christmas. We are very happy with our performance today, considering….,' he said.
Ray ROBERTS and his crew on the DK 46 Quantum Racing (NSW) just managed to hold out their Victorian counterparts on Dekadence, owned by Phil COOMBS, in a fight to the finish. ROBERTS' crew nearly came unstuck when a whale got in their path and would not move.
'We banged on the side of the hull, but it wouldn't go away - we had to do a big swerve to miss it, about half a mile from the finish,' said Quantum's navigator, Julie HODDER. Others too, reported seeing whales up close and personal - many losing concentration, enthralled by watching whales at play.
'We only got Dekadence by about two boat lengths today - the racing is much closer than last year. We battled both downwind and upwind with them and we're looking forward to some tight racing on the windward/leeward courses during the week,' ROBERTS said on coming ashore this afternoon.
The tight finishes continued with the two Reichel/Pugh 46's in a South Australia versus Victoria match race, with Geoff BOETTCJER's Hardys Secret Mens Business (HSMB) getting the better of the Victorian's on time. However, it was XLR8 across the line first - and only two boat lengths in it after a match racing duel all the way to the finish line off the marina at Hamilton Island.
'We were very happy with our start,' said BOETTCHER aboard his boat today. 'Both us and XLR8 have changed the bulbs on our keels, so neither of us really knew how we would go. They are a bit quicker than us downwind and over took us, but we made up a bit of time going up the beat. I'm really looking forward to the rest of the week,' the South Australian businessman said.
Both boats have a glitterati of sailors aboard. Sean KIRKJIAN, Steve 'Reggie' KEMP, sailmaker Brad STEPHENS and Brian CUMMINGS are just some of the 'names' on HSMB, while XLR8 has the services of former America's Cup sailor John SAVAGE, sailmaker Ross LLOYD and JP MARQUET, amongst others.
Racing continues tomorrow, the IRC classes starting their 60 nautical mile Club Marine Edward Island Race at 08:00 (local time).