The Cruising Yacht Club of Australia, Australia's premier ocean racing club, last night announced its Ocean Racer of the Year Awards, recognising excellence in four categories of ocean racing.
Over the years, the Award winners have included many of the nation's outstanding sailors and this year's nominations presented the selection panel with one of the most difficult choices, in particular, for the prestigious Ocean Racer of the Year.
The four categories are Ocean Racing Crewperson, Ocean Racing Rookie, Ocean Racing Veteran and Ocean Racer of the Year.
The CYCA Ocean Racer of the Year is the most prestigious award given by the CYCA to an individual. It is awarded to an owner of an ocean racing yacht that has excelled above the others in the previous year.
Four yachtsmen have stood out as having achieved outstanding results for themselves, their crews and their countries over the past year - Neville CRICHTON with "Alfa Romeo", Bob STEEL with "Quest", Bob OATLEY with "Wild Oats" and Colin O'NEIL with "Aftershock".
Bob OATLEY has enjoyed major successes in Australia and internationally with his Reichel/Pugh 60-footer "Wild Oats", the first yacht built in Australia with a canting keel.
Making its debut at the 2001 Hamilton Island Race Week, "Wild Oats" won the highly competitive IRC Division, and then took line honours in record time in the 2003 Pittwater to Coffs Harbour Race, also winning the IRC Division on handicap.
In July, "Wild Oats" and "Aftershock" won the famous Admiral's Cup in England for the first time since 1979.
Neville CRICHTON won the IRC division of last year's British Trophy Series, and then went on to take line honours in the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race before campaigning his Reichel/Pugh 90 "Alfa Romeo" in Europe with unprecedented success, including taking line honours in the Rolex Fastnet Race, the Rolex Giragalia Cup and the Rolex Middle Sea Race. The Sydney-based New Zealander recently was named New Zealand Yachtsman of the Year.
Bob Steel has had a long list of handicap wins with his Nelson/Marek 46 "Quest" in Australia's major ocean racing events and offshore regattas, including the CYCA Blue Water Championship 2002-2003, the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race 2002, the 2003 Australian IRC Offshore Championship and IMS and IRC Division 1 of the 2003 Sydney Mooloolaba Race.
Last night the three nominees for Ocean Racer of the Year, Bob OATLEY, Neville CRICHTON and Bob STEEL were recognised by the CYCA with a Special Commendation going to all three, a first in the 16 years of the awards.
Following this presentation, Commodore John MESSENGER announced that the panel had selected Bob STEEL as the Ocean Racer of the Year.
"In the 16 years that we have presented the Ocean Racer of the Year Awards, there have never been so many nominees worthy of recognition for the category of Ocean Racer of the Year, but unfortunately there could only be one winner,"
said Commodore Messenger at the presentation.
The CYCA's Ocean Racing Crewperson award goes to a non-professional crewperson who has, by their deeds, provided enormous assistance to an owner in order to go ocean racing.
The 2003 Ocean Racing Crewperson this year went to David Ellis, crewman on last year's Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race Overall winner, "Quest".
David, who is nicknamed 'Dellis', has been sailing for more than 30 years starting with 16-foot skiffs in the 1970s as the for'ard hand for Mike GREEN, another "Quest" crewman.
From there he moved into keelboat racing, competing in his first Sydney Hobart Race in 1977 on board Patrice III. Kenwood Cup, Admirals' Cup with Syd FISCHER's "Ragamuffin" in 1985, line and handicap honours on Sovereign in 1997, line honours win on "Ninety Seven" in the stormy Hobart of 1993 and finally an overall win in last year's Rolex Sydney Hobart Race are just some of the highlights of his sailing career.
The CYCA Ocean Racing Rookie of the Year goes to an owner of a yacht who is new to ocean racing and has shown promise in the sport.
The only interstate winner in this year's awards went to Christian JACKSON from the Royal Geelong Yacht Club for the Rookie of the Year.
Christian, from Victoria's surf coast has been a Club member for only two years but in that time has completely immersed himself in yachting.
His first purchase was a Catalina 24, which took out the 2002 Melbourne - Hastings Race in the PHS Division. This wet his appetite sufficiently to purchase the IMS Elliott 49 "prowler" which he optimised before achieving the following results:
Line honours in the 2002 Hastings Race
New race record in the Melbourne - Launceston Race
Second over the line in the Melbourne - King Island Race this year
Handicap honours in the Southport - Mackay Race
Line honours in each race she competed in at Hogs Breath Week and Hamilton Island Race Week.
He flew to Sydney to be present at the award ceremony and was accompanied by one of his crewmembers, Tony Fowler.
The CYCA Ocean Racing Veteran of the Year goes to an owner or crewperson who falls into the category of being a veteran and has achieved noteworthy results.
John WALKER, who is skippering his boat Impeccable in this year's Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, his 20th, collected the Ocean Racing Veteran of the Year Award.
At 81, John is the oldest skipper in the fleet, and remarkably, he has completed all 19 Hobarts on "Impeccable", last year picking up a 3rd in division for both IMS and IRC divisions of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race.