Recognised as Victoria's oldest sporting event, Royal Geelong Yacht Club's annual Australia Day regatta has a new sponsor in Skandia, and is now known as Skandia Geelong Week.
Skandia's involvement is bound to increase not only public recognition of the regatta, but the size - more boats than ever and expected to enter the 2004 event.
Already the sponsor of England's largest yachting regatta, Skandia Cowes Week, Skandia saw the similarity between the two events and venues - a 'twinning' and were pleased to come on board for Australia's largest yachting event. In time, it is expected that yachts will cross the ocean to participate in both series', creating a world circuit of Skandia events.
Dating back to its humble beginning in 1844, 17 years prior to the first running of the Melbourne Cup, the regatta was initially organised by a committee consisting of professional sailors, local publicans and waterfront traders.
The first ever regatta was referred to as; 'a modest affair of only four races', comprising of events for first class sailing boats, 'second rate' yachts and rowing events for four oared gigs, cutters and whalers.
Attracting crowds of more than 3000 people in the mid 1800's, the five-day regatta has continued to grow in size and status, to eventually become the gala yachting event of the year - the largest sailing regatta in Australia.
Following a successful event in 1858, the regatta organising committee formed the first yacht club in Victoria, hence the Geelong Yacht Club was born, with Corio Bay being the only venue for spectators to enjoy yacht racing during that period.
A significant piece of Victorian sporting memorabilia, the 30 guinea silver cup for first class yachts in 1858, won by Paddy from Cork, now sits proudly on display at the club. The 1858 trophy marks the birth of the Royal Geelong Yacht Club and the official start of the annual regatta.
However, the Skandia Geelong Week is now more than a sailing event, having grown from a small yacht race to a major regatta, encompassing many classes and over 400 boats from Australia-wide. Over 30,000 visitors are expected in Geelong in January 2004 to take part in the festivities over the Australia Day long weekend.
As part of Skandia Geelong Week, and in keeping with tradition, onlookers will be treated to a re-enactment of the 1858 Geelong Race in which a number of Classic yachts and Couta boats participate, many dressing in the costume of that period - the sight is not to be missed and does take one back in time.
As the regatta has increased in size, so has the entertainment; competitors coming ashore each day to enjoy entertainment from live bands, fireworks, the famous flying Roulettes and a food fest in a carnival atmosphere. Add to that the large contingent of volunteers now needed to operate an event of this magnitude, and you have the recipe of a bigger and better Skandia Geelong Week.
The premier event is the Scotchmans Hill Series for individual yachts. With six races over three days, this grand prix series offers competitors a variety of courses and conditions. Commencing with back-to-back windward returns on short courses, then a 34nm passage race the following day, followed up by more windward returns and an Olympic style final. Over 200 yachts are expected for this series, the sight a spectacular one for onlookers, both on the water and land.
The series starts with two races off Williamstown in Melbourne, where conditions vary significantly from those experienced in the protected Corio Bay. In January, expect a fresh afternoon sea breeze to chop up the top end of the Bay, whereas the typical Corio Bay would be relatively flat, but the breezes shifty, and conditions can go from nothing to 35 knots throughout the day. Crews need to stay on their toes throughout the series. It is not unusual to see different top placegetters every day, making for a heart-stopping final.
Spectators and crews alike always enjoy the passage race, with a nail-biting finish just off the Royal Geelong Yacht Club. With yachts finishing in quick succession, it is not unusual to see place changes in the final 10 minutes of the race.
Those crews familiar with the fresher choppy conditions usually do better at the top end of the Bay, which makes for a fairer series. The Melbourne component also adds another dimension for participating interstate yachts. "Competitors really enjoy the twin venues"
, Regatta Chairman Michael KELLY said.
The Scotchmans Hill (a prestigious local vineyard) Series still has enormous potential and has rapidly become the feature event on the Victoria keelboat calendar. A quick look at the previous winners in the grand-prix divisions clearly shows the word is spreading, with more and more yachts joining the fray each year.
Following on from the Rolex Sydney-Hobart Yacht Race, a number of yachts are expected to invade Victorian waters and travel to Geelong for the new look Skandia Geelong Week.
Those showing interest include the two Sydney based Farr 52's - Hollywood Boulevard, owned by Ray ROBERTS and Matt Allen's Ichi BAN. Roberts finished second in the Melbourne-Geelong race and won all five windward return races last year to clean up in the IRC class, so is keen for a repeat performance.
Two top performing Beneteau 40.7's are expected, the Sydney-based Michael Spies steered Fitness First and wellknown Melbournian, Kevin WOOD with his Ticket of Leave. The latter won the IMS class and finished 2nd in IRC last year, shortly after his IMS win the Offshore Keelboat Series.
A number of Sydney 38 owners, all potential prize grabbers, have put their hands up - including three Victorians; Lou ABRAHAMS with Another Challenge, John SAVAGE with 38 Degrees South and Chutzpah owned by Bruce TAYLOR.
In some close racing, all three had their moments of glory, Another Challenge coming out as the top 38, finishing 4th in IRC, and 2nd in IMS, Chutzpah finishing 3rd in IMS. However, 38 Degrees South last weekend won the Sydney 38 class of JPMorgan Regatta against 24 others, so would have to be hot favourite.
David BUCKLAND'S Sydney 38, Full Bore from Port Lincoln in South Australia, looks like putting in another appearance, along with fellow South Australian, Geoff BOETTCHER with his Cookson 12 Secret Mens Business, and of course, expect to see most of Victoria's top performing boats including Owl & Pussycats, Rob DAVIS' well-performed Beneteau 31.7, Cadibarra, owned by Nigel JONES, Gordon MATHER'S Revenge and the Geelong based boats, Advantedge owned by Len KINT, and Garry RUSSELL'S Whitehorse Bindaroo.
Of course though, the star of the show will be Grant WHARINGTON'S newly launched Skandia. At an intimidating 98 feet long, the largest racing maxi in Australia with a canting keel and the latest in yachting technology, including electronic winches and an engine that retracts back into the boat for less drag, Skandia has already shown her class winning line honours in every race of the recent JPMorgan Series off Sydney Heads, to take 2nd place overall in IRC. She is also line honours favourite for the Rolex Sydney-Hobart this year.
Wharington won line honours in every race of the series last year, including the Melbourne-Geelong race, with his former maxi yacht Australian Skandia Wild Thing. Wharington his year will be looking to break the two-hour barrier; he finished in 2hrs 46min.55sec last year.
There are separate divisions for, IRC, IMS, Australian Measurement System, (AMS) as well as the Victorian Yachting Council Performance Handicap, (VYC), providing competitors a number of opportunities to grab a trophy.
Skandia Geelong Week is made up of a number of boat classes, and one of the more exciting is the Sports Boats.
To win the famed jacket that is synonymous with the US Masters, the winning crew of the Bundaberg Rum National Sports Boats Championship wear both the characteristic grins and the prized championship jackets.
A member of the inaugural winning crew in '98 and one of the early casualties of a dramatic 2001 series, Paul HEYES (Deadly Sins) still wears his yellow jacket proudly."I've worn my championship jacket at yachting regattas all over Australia. It's a fantastic concept that is attracting plenty of interstate interest. New South Wales yachts have dominated the last three years and subsequently the jackets have headed north. We will have to work hard to ensure that pattern is broken next January,"
Heyes is referring to Chris WILLIAMS with Team G.U.E. from Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club in Pittwater, who will re-appear in 2004 to defend the title he has won for the past three years. His major competition will come from the local, Barry WALKER'S Houdini and Melbourne's Chicken Run owned by Andrew SAYLE - both gave him a tough run for his money last year.
An exciting and increasingly popular class with a broad rule base, which gives plenty of room for experimentation, it is hoped in excess of 20 Sports boats will make their way to the Skandia start line in 2004.