Audi Hamilton Island Race Week–Heavyweights battle for the silverware

Hooligan - Audi Hamilton Island Race Week 2011
Audi Hamilton Island Race Week, organised by Hamilton Island Yacht Club Inc, has just passed the halfway point.

There is a ding dong battle for the coveted regatta silverware going on between two major sailing and business heavyweights.

Blackmore’s chairman Marcus Blackmore came to Race Week the grand prix favourite but has found himself a worthy opponent in last year’s winner, Stephen Ainsworth, former Aristocrat director and major shareholder.

Blackmore’s TP52 Hooligan has had the Midas touch this year, winning every major series it has contested including Audi Victoria Week, the Audi Sydney Harbour Regatta and the NSW IRC Championship at Port Stephens. Hooligan is also on top of the points table for the prestigious Audi IRC Australian Championship which culminates at Race Week.

Last year Ainsworth had a similar winning streak and was named Audi IRC Australian Champion.

The two are fighting it out at the top of the IRC Class A Grand Prix division, recognisable by the blistering speeds, carbon fibre and professional sailors dotted among the crews. Many America’s Cup, Admiral’s Cup, Olympic champions and round the world stars of the sport are this week stacked on the rails of Australia and New Zealand’s fastest ocean going yachts.

Ainsworth’s Sydney based 63 foot Reichel Pugh design spectacularly burst a mainsail early on in yesterday’s long race and retired while Blackmore went on to record his fourth win from six starts to be three points clear in the pointscore with four races remaining.

Luckily Ainsworth has a spare smaller mainsail and with the forecast indicating the strong south easterlies may persist, Blackmore can’t breathe easy just yet.

The line honours duel between the two 100 foot supermaxis, Island owner Bob Oatley’s Rolex Sydney Hobart record holder Wild Oats XI and Anthony Bell’s Investec Loyal has been one sided with Oatley’s champion team unbeaten.

Bell has once again combined a mixed crew of highly regarded sailors and sporting stars turned yachties in Phil Waugh, Larry Emdur and Layne Beachley, to try and upset the dominant Wild Oats XI in this year’s Rolex Sydney Hobart.

IRC Class B looks all but decided, Darryl Hodgkinson’s Beneteau 45 Victoire setting up a nine point cushion from moneyman and fellow Beneteau owner Paul Clitheroe and his 45 footer, Balance.

The 195 entrants at this year’s Race Week have been broken up into 11 divisions plus Simon Hull’s speed machine Orma 60 trimaran TeamVodafoneSailing demonstrating the multihull’s potential around the scenic island courses.

Wild Oats XI - Audi Hamilton Island Race Week 2011

The fleet of identical 6.15m SB3s are the smallest boats racing at Audi Hamilton Island Race Week and Wild Oats XI and Investec Loyal the largest at just over 30 metres.

Hamilton Island owner Bob Oatley is leading the line honours scoreboard in the grand prix class while his CEO Glenn Bourke, a multiple Laser world champion and America’s Cup sailor, has an unassailable lead in the SB3 class with his boat, Club Marine HI.

The hierarchy of Hamilton Island is having a busy week with yacht club Commodore Iain Murray not only sailing on Wild Oats XI but today hosting a sailor’s forum on the new America’s Cup Series for which he is the regatta director. Defending Oracle Racing skipper James Spithill was also part of the panel, travelling with the America’s Cup trophy from San Francisco to speak to the large gathering of sailors.

Conditions this week have been to the liking of most of the thousands of yachties gathered for the 28th Audi Hamilton Island Race Week with sunny skies and strong winds. Those not lunching are using today’s layday for repairs, particularly sail repairs with plenty of tears being stitched up before racing resumes tomorrow.

Competition wraps up this Saturday.

Audi Hamilton Island Race Week website